EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE CAN BE FOUND ANYWHERE
As much as we can all agree on the fact that the word service refers to the action of helping someone or contributing to the welfare of others, it is also a very personal and subjective idea.
As for the concept of luxury that I discussed in my very first article, what constitutes good or great service is also quite different depending on who you ask.
It also depends on when you ask, because our needs and expectations change in time and as we earn more life experience, and are different depending on specific situations.
If you ask me, regardless of time and circumstances, good service means anticipating needs and expectations to create a stress free experience. But great service happens when people are capable of connecting deeply and creating that wow factor I have already mentioned a few times.
So far in my life, I have been very lucky and I have had many opportunities to travel to many destinations. For someone in my industry - but not only - traveling is the best thing you can do to open your mind and to explore and discover other ways (often better ways) to do things. I owe it mostly to my parents if I have such a strong travel gene, as since I was little they started taking me around with them wherever in the world they were going. It’s certainly not the first time you hear me saying this, but there is nothing that makes you richer than going out there and exploring how people live, think, work.
When you do that, you can experience the way other people and other cultures relate to service and what they mean by it, and discover what represents the best approach for you. It is important to underline the “for you” part, as it is all quite personal.
On this occasion I would love to share the best service I have experienced myself.
As I said I have travelled quite a lot and stayed in many different accommodations of different kinds, and I have certainly been exposed to great service in many occasions. But there are two episodes of my travels that stuck with me, and that I will always remember, and these are the stories I would like to tell today, hoping they will entertain you and inspire you in some way.
I would like to start by saying that I certainly belong in luxury hospitality, but I strongly believe that great service can be found absolutely anywhere.
And in fact, my two stories happened in completely different environments.
The first story, brings me back to my honeymoon trip, in Thailand.
After spending a couple of nights in Bangkok, my husband and I traveled to a remote part of the country and flew up north, to Chiang Mai.
Before our trip I had done quite some research about the location, which is not only home to beautiful forests, antique temples and a vibrant downtown, but also to many luxury properties: independent boutique hotels, in addition to Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons, Sofitel, Anantara, Shangri-La, and many others all have representation in this part of the country. Now, I have stayed in several luxury hotels in my life thanks to lucky circumstances, but like most of us I am not usually able to afford to stay in one. However, since this was a special trip, I thought I would check what kind of rates were out there in the luxury niche. My eyes landed on a property that caught my attention for its remote location, outside of the city and completely surrounded by the natural beauty of the destination. As soon as I saw the pictures, I immediately felt that sense of asian charm and zen that I was looking for.
I had found the one. We just couldn’t afford it.
So I thought I would try and contact the reservations team, introduce myself as a fellow hotelier, mention the special occasion, and see if they could help me with a better rate.
If there is one thing I really love about our industry is that hospitality people will always look out for hospitality people. We are one big family around the world and we always try everything we can to help our colleagues. In light of this I was hoping for some help, but I certainly did not expect what was coming...
I received pretty quickly an email back from the Reservations Manager, congratulating us on the occasion and offering a very special hotelier rate, with a complimentary upgrade to a scenery view deluxe room, breakfast and “honeymoon delights” included.
I was so blown away by their flexibility and willingness to help I did not hesitate to book. We were over the moon excited to be able to stay at that wonderful property.
During the weeks before our arrival, we were contacted by Zindy - our dedicated concierge - who assisted us every step of the way and made herself available to us from the moment we confirmed the reservation. I am typically a “do it yourself” kind of traveler, but I couldn't resist Zindy’s charm and kindness, so I exchanged multiple emails with her and arranged a few tours and reservations with her help.
When we finally arrived at Veranda High Resort Chiang Mai on a February morning, our expectations were at that point really high, but reality was so much better...
As we walked amazed through the beautiful nature that surrounded the hotel entrance, we reached the most spectacular outdoor lobby and front desk area I have seen in my entire life. Gorgeous, serene, elegant, enclosed in all the colors and sounds of the outside, all in all simply magnificent. I remember thinking "This might just be the most amazing front desk job in the world".
After check-in, we were offered to sit in the lounge with a refreshing welcome drink, while Zindy made her way to us. It was so nice to finally meet her in person that my first instinct was to immediately lean in to give her a hug. My colleagues and friends know very well that I’m a hugger, so that was a very natural gesture for me, but I stopped and thought a hug would not be appropriate for her culture. As every good guest relations worker, Zindy knew how to read me and adapt to my ways, so she dove in the hug with me. We bonded right away.
She gave us a tour of the property and guided us to our accommodation, where the honeymoon delights started coming to life. They had prepared a tasteful presentation and welcome amenity for us that made the already spectacular room and arrival process even more delightful.
We were off to the best possible start.
During the days that followed, things keep getting better and better thanks to Zindy and the entire team of Veranda High Resort.
Zindy visited us at the pool and at the bar a couple of times to say hello and to ensure we had what we needed, she would always pick the right moments and would never be invasive, always pleasant, graceful and appropriate.
Breakfast was maybe the best moment of the day. It surely helped that it was served over the infinity pool overlooking the beautiful forest, that the setting was stunning, and that the food was fantastic. But walking in and having the staff welcoming us with that beautiful contagious Thai smile, remembering us and our favorite table every day, making us feel relaxed and pampered like never before, was just a wonderful way to start our day.
On our last night, we decided to dine at their signature restaurant, and celebrate there the end of a remarkable experience. Zindy booked a very special table for us in one of their elevated private cabanas. When we arrived I remember everybody looking very excited about the fact that we were dining with them.
Before dinner, to our surprise, the General Manager himself came and invited us to have a drink with him. Zindy had informed him we were having dinner at the restaurant that night and he said he really wanted to meet us. We had a great time chatting with him, and learning all about his experience at the property. We obviously raved about the service received and thanked him especially for Zindy. I remember he said “I was sure she was going to be the right one to assist you”, implying he had specifically requested her to be our private concierge for the stay. To say we were impressed that the GM would go out of his way to stay late at night, and dedicate some of his time for a drink with us is an understatement. Who were we to deserve all this??
This is the beauty of their service: their ability to make you feel like you're the only guest in the hotel, no matter who you are or how many people they are taking care of at the same time. You feel like it’s all about you.
It is no secret that when it comes to service, Asian hospitality workers are steps ahead of the rest of us, I had experienced it before and I was expecting it again this time, but the staff at Veranda was just as good as it gets. It was the most incredible treatment I have received in my life.
I will always remember Thai workers for two unique qualities: the first one is their smile, kindness and sense of peace, so beautiful and contagios; the second one is that they never say no.
If only we would learn from them... If only we could be like them...
When we returned to our room after dinner, the turndown included a thank you display over our bed, and a farewell note and amenity, with little stuffed elephants - the iconic animal of Thailand.
And then unfortunately the sad moment to leave came, and we said goodbye to the most incredible people we have had the luck of being served by.
The second story brings me to a trip I took with my husband and my parents a couple of years ago, driving through Croatia and Slovenia.
In Croatia we stayed in Sibenik, and considering the plans we had for the week, we decided that staying in a house was easier than staying in a hotel. So I researched Airbnb, and found a beautiful property of just the right size for the 4 of us, located in a convenient spot, close to the most interesting attractions of the area. The two floor house was built at the end of a remote little road and therefore very private and quiet, it included two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a spacious living room and kitchen, and a gorgeous outdoor area with pool, grill and dining area. All in all, it was the perfect house to rent to ensure we had privacy and comfort. As it was no luxury hotel, I booked it with the idea that it was a nice property, reasonably priced, perfectly located and convenient, but I did not have expectations in terms of what service we would receive.
Once again, I had no idea of what was coming...
The host of Casa Rosa in Sibenik was Antonio, who managed bookings and customer service for his cousin, the owner of the house. Antonio is the person I discussed details with before arrival, and who assisted us during our stay.
Antonio is someone who myself and my family will remember for the rest of our lives as one of the most pleasant and genuine hosts we have met in our travels. His authentic hospitality reminded me that you don’t need a fancy luxury 5 star hotel to find great service. His service style was casual and relaxed, but warm and pure. He proved himself to be trustworthy, always available and extremely flexible during the entire time we dealt with him, qualities that can only be found in a real hospitable heart.
Other than the routine greeting emails, welcome tour, information and recommendations that are standard in the Airbnb management process, Antonio did so much more than we ever thought he could do for us. When we were in need of something he would be available in a heartbeat, never making us feel like we were bothering him or asking too much. When we asked where we could buy a specific thing, he wouldn't tell us where to buy it, he would get it for us himself and bring it to the house. When we asked for recommendations on where to eat, he wouldn't just tell us where to eat, he would have his friend pick us up and take us there. He was capable of exceeding expectations and to turn simple requests into wow moments.
Amongst all the others, Antonio particularly blew us away on two occasions during our stay.
The first adventure has to do with the fact that we were in Croatia in June 2018 - right in the middle of the soccer world cup - if you are a soccer fan you might remember that Croatia did extremely well in that world cup. In fact the Croatian team made it all the way to the final, its very first final in a world cup, and it was a fun coincidence that we happened to be there exactly at that time. As my dad, my husband and I are big soccer people (and my mom played along) we followed the world cup during our vacation, and decided to find a place where we could watch the game between Croatia and Nigeria. When Antonio realized that was our plan, he invited all of us to watch the game at a local bar with his friends and people from the town. We had one of the most fun and special nights I can remember, watching the soccer game, talking to him and all his friends, eating mussels that they were cooking on the street, drinking Rakjia - a national drink - laughing and cheering, and finally celebrating Croatia’s victory!
This is the thing I love the most about traveling: it’s mingling with locals, doing what they do, watching their team with them, eating what they eat, being part of their culture. That night Antonio allowed us to do all that, to be a part of it, and turned our vacation into a real experience. I will never forget that night of soccer, mussels, rakjia and laughs!
The second adventure I mentioned briefly already: it has to do with a restaurant experience. We had asked Antonio for a recommendation on where to eat lamb, as it’s a local specialty around the mountain areas of the country. He had the perfect place in mind for us: he told us to drive to the little harbour 5 minutes from the house and wait there for someone who would pick us up. We didn't know exactly what to expect but at that point we had learned to trust Antonio and we did as we were told. When we got to the harbour, someone arrived… on a boat. We got on the boat - no questions asked - and left for a super fun ride on the lake, at the end of the ride the most beautiful secluded little corner of paradise awaited: Antonio’s friend’s restaurant. Special place, special treatment, excellent lamb. No tourists were there, you couldn't have known that place existed unless someone local would have told you (and unless you had a boat). We couldn’t have asked for a better recommendation, but also wouldn't expect the kind of treatment we were given throughout the night. Because Antonio sent us, we had a beautiful outdoor table right on the lake with a spectacular view, we were given a taste of their specials, we were treated like family. We simply had the most incredible meal and experience, and once again felt like one of them.
It was hard to leave that gorgeous property and location, but mainly it was hart to leave the hospitality of Antonio and his family. At that point we had met his wife and his children, and they were all simply beautiful people.
Needless to say after our departure I left a fantastic review on tripadvisor and recommended Casa Rosa to all my friends. Antonio maybe doesn't even know how much he impacted our experience and how unique he made it, but he should. He is the perfect example of how service excellence can be found anywhere and how a vacation can be turned into a journey inside someone else’s lifestyle and culture. We will always remember him.
So there you go, these are my special stories...
There are many stays and places I remember from my travels, but none of them are imprinted in my mind with so many details, none of them held on to my heart like these two, and it’s all because of the people who created those experiences. They gave me something different than all the others, they made me feel like I was the only guest that mattered to them, they made me feel part of their world, they created a special bond. The bond that happens only when you let yourself be amazed by people and you take their lifestyle in. It’s the magic of travelling.