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TOURISM MATTERS: Visitor expectations vs experience

Adrian Loveridge

TOURISM MATTERS: Visitor expectations vs experience

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I cannot think of many, if any, more important aspects of the hospitality industry than constantly listening and responding to your guests’ comments, whether negative or positive. The customer is king.
I recently stayed at two “four-star” hotels in the Florida Keys. The first, Hawks Cay, was excellent and met every expectation. The second, a major brand, fell dramatically short and I thought that it was only constructive and objective to report our experience.
Sadly, during our stay at the hotel, management did not respond to concerns raised and as I had prepaid in full, weeks prior to arrival, I felt we did not have the option of moving to another property.
Even though the nightly rate was close to US$200, I made the mistake of booking a standard room, largely based on the individual property’s own website description, which included “153 oversized rooms” and “most with balconies”.
It transpired that well over 40 rooms did not, in fact have balconies, and describing the two rooms we saw or occupied as being oversized must border on misuse of the English language.
There were other issues, including the level of noise during the night, non-smoking areas that effectively were not and sliding doors that would not lock.
As is my custom following a hotel stay, especially for the first time, I posted a review on TripAdvisor and at that time I noticed that this particular property had not responded to a single one of over 900 postings, good or bad,  by previous guests’ comments, good or bad, since July 2002.
It seems inconceivable in these days, considering the power of social media, that any major brand could consider this best practice.
Undaunted, I contacted the corporate headquarters and finally received the following email from them, some 16 days after check-out:  “We apologize for the delay in the response from the hotel. We have been in contact with the guest services team at the Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort. Due to being understaffed, the team has not had an opportunity to respond to your concerns yet”.
I cannot recall during my nearly 50 years working in the tourism industry ever being told this before.
Days later, following the intervention of the office of Bill Marriott, the hotel finally proffered an apology, with the promise of a room upgrade during any future stay.  
Sadly, they did not address any one of my concerns at the outset.
Perhaps not widely known is that TripAdvisor closely monitors all contributors’ reviews and frequently reports back to the individuals just how many people have read them. In my case, the last number was well over 7 000, of which 92 per cent were geographically located in the United States.
Not for a second would I herald TripAdvisor as a gospel in influencing choice, but when used properly, it can provide  invaluable insight, especially when you are considering choosing a hotel or location for an initial stay.
The objective of this week’s column was to concentrate and focus on what our visitors reasonably expect and something we all have to practise to bring them back.
Over the last month there has been a lot of discussion regarding the extraordinary concessions Barbados has granted to Sandals.
With over four weeks now under their belt, it’s time to personally experience if the “Sandalize” effect will help take the sector out of the current morass. More next Monday!
• Adrian Loveridge is a hotelier of four decades’ standing.