A POWERFUL STRATEGY THAT DRIVES STAFF AND GUESTS ENGAGEMENT
When I look for a new role - but often also when I choose where to stay - there are several aspects I consider before deciding if I am looking at the right hotel for me: product, rating, size, location, company culture and mission, and overall reputation. The history and heritage of the property is another important component I value. Hand in hand with that goes something I have recently discovered as a powerful approach used to engage staff and guests: the fascinating art of storytelling.
It's really nothing new, but I had not realized the potential of this strategy until recent times, and mainly thanks to the last couple of properties where I've worked, true masters of storytelling.
Not only an easy way to spread interesting and exciting stories and engage the guests' curiosity, but also a persuasive action to appeal to staff and attract candidates. Well at least, it definitely works on me.
When I started learning more about what storytelling really can do for a property, I became totally intrigued and enchanted by it, and I started making it a part of my staff training and customer service blueprint.
We all know what it is, because it's part of our lives. It happens in many situations of our day to day: from the dining table conversation to a regular day in class, from the interaction with a colleague at work to the walk with a friend. It's everywhere around us and it happens all the time, we all do it and we are all exposed to it constantly.
Storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing stories. Humans have been doing it forever, because it represents one of the ways we build relationships with each other and we find common ground. By telling and listening to amusing anecdotes we connect and relate to one another, and we bond.
Different cultures have their own stories and their own ways of telling them, but the common goal no matter where you are from, is to try and create a certain feeling in the listener's heart and to stimulate their imagination. It's a way to entertain, educate, preserve culture and build moral values.
As a mean to generate feelings and connect with people, it is obvious that hospitality makes great use of it. Storytelling is deeply engaging to customers, because people can relate to stories. In our business, guests don't pay for a product but for an experience, and they value the way hotel workers make them feel. Telling a story does all that, and it does it for free.
Nowadays, when local authenticity and a good story are more valuable than a wildly recognized corporate brand, guests are more drawn to chose properties that offer that personable service and that have something unique to tell. Small independent hotels are built for that.
Storytelling expert Regitse Rosevinge is a content creator and hospitality consultant, and a new friend who I've had the pleasure to meet and collaborate with recently.
In 2018, she founded Berlin based Room22.agency - a boutique agency specializing in content marketing and storytelling for hotels and restaurants. Regitse is also a published Author, e.g. of the currently released e-book "Storytelling for Hotels".
She has been working creatively in the hospitality industry for almost a decade. Overtime, she has noticed that many - especially smaller properties - had a growing need for quality content. In order to assist brilliant hoteliers and marketing managers in creating the best possible stories around their brands she started her own company, which allowed her to provide assistance and consultancy through platforms such as social media and newsletters.
She has helped me realize even more the importance of spreading the word on why storytelling is so effective and influential.
In her words "Storytelling is the glue that connects all of us - both to each other and with our favorite brands. In hospitality, storytelling is like magic; it transport people to a different world. It should be integrated in a hotel's daily marketing activities and strategy. It should be implemented in anything from the room's description to the website copy and social media posts. Storytelling for hotels taps into the history and location of the property. Every staff member should be immersed in it as part of the onboarding process. You can't work for a hotel (and be an ambassador for it) without knowing the roots and DNA of the place. There are many stories hidden in the corners of any property, even if it's a new one. Every worker should know about these in order to make an experience holistic for the guests. A hotel stay becomes so much more enjoyable and memorable for them if storytelling is present - before, during and perhaps even after their stay.
Stories make it easier for potential customers to place themselves in your hotel. People want to know what it’s really like, how it feels, how it will make them feel. Guests look forward to their stay if your story wins their heart in the initial stage of booking.
Any hotel will stand stronger and gain more trust from both future customers and employees if their brand message and storytelling are in place. Every hotel can provide a lot of travel content, but it should always promote the idea that the adventure can only happen at their property".
The way I see it, is that storytelling in a hotel opens the doors to a dream. Let me share a couple of the best examples I know, and let's see if that works on you...
At Hotel Riggs DC, designer and creative director Jacu Strauss was able to completely amaze me with the most enchanting stories about his design choices, which we have then brought to our team and to our guests.
My favorite story has to do with the First Lady Suites.
Riggs DC guest rooms include four suites entirely dedicated to four First Ladies, who have triggered Jacu's creativity and imagination, because of their eclectic lifestyles and interests. Each suite has its own unique personality and décor based on the life of the First Lady it's designed after.
Ada McKinley and her deep love for flowers and plants inspired a floral and vibrant pink and purple room with hints of bouquet colors. Caroline Harrison and her collection of porcelain - that later became a tradition for the White House - inspired a blue and china white suite, with decorative porcelain items from DC's vintage stores and antique markets. Louisa Adams and her passion for music and for encouraging musical entertainment during gatherings at the White House, inspired a music themed room that includes a grand piano and string instruments. Angelica Van Buren, the youngest woman to ever act as first lady (who also wasn't the wife of the president, but of the president's son), was known for her extravagant lifestyle, and the suite décor reflects her playful personality and her expensive taste.
When I read about these women the first time, I remember thinking I had not really heard of them before, reason being that they all were figures from the 1800s. I thought it was a curious choice to select individuals that people probably would not remember, so I asked Jacu what was the reason for that, and that's when I realized how intelligent and fascinating his thinking process was, and what a great story this was going to be for our guests. When you are looking for a story to tell, you should always keep in mind your surroundings, and if you are in Washington DC the first thing that people think of is obviously government. There needed to be some government inspired component in the property, but instead of the predictable figure of the President, Jacu decided to go for the First Lady, typically a beloved and caring personality who people associate to positive feelings. The difficult part is - no matter who you go for, if you pick someone current people will always associate it with one government party or the other, and the whole thing becomes political. So best to go for figures people don't know or don't remember, and that nobody can connect with one view or another. You stay neutral and still achieve the wonderful story you had in mind. There! The magic was created, and I was hooked.
Pulitzer Amsterdam has plenty of beautiful stories within its walls, due to the uniqueness of the property and the rich history that belongs to its houses. In fact, storytelling is the core of the guest experience.
Here is my favorite one: around 1975 the hotel's owner at the time purchased an additional house nextdoor - the famous Saxenburg House - he converted the apartments into guest rooms and set-up the Saxenburg Room on the ground floor as a wedding venue. The house became part of the hotel and it's still one of the most fascinating sections of the property to visit.
The owner had a great relationship - and created a successful cooperation - with KLM, the Dutch Royal Airline. Their partnership brought many guests to Hotel Pulitzer, who were coming to Amsterdam with KLM direct flights from several destinations, including New York. KLM staff members were also staying at the property, and the relationship became stronger and stronger over the years.
When the Saxenburg Room went under renovation to be turned into a wedding venue, KLM executives decided to give a present to the owner, to honor the partnership. The gift was a diamond, which during the works was placed on the high ceiling of the banquet room. When you are in the room and you look up at the ceiling you see a big blue painting resembling the sky; in the middle amongst the clouds you see an airplane trail coming from a sparkling dot: that dot is the diamond, still there representing the strong bond between Pulitzer and KLM. The story tells if you can get it out without the help of a ladder or of any tool, or if it falls from the ceiling and you find it, the diamond is yours!
Did the stories keep you reading? Did they stimulate your imagination? Did they make you want to see the places I was talking about?
If they have, that's because I used them to bond with you.
So how do we create a good story and how do we tell it right? How is storytelling really done?
It needs to be interactive, the storyteller and the listener are engaged in a two-way interaction. In fact, how the listener responds to the story influences the story itself, and the efforts between speaker and audience are joint together. The story cannot be told the way it's told in theatre, where the audience is only listening and taking in the information. It's instead product of the collaboration of the two parties.
It's impactful and immediately builds a connection, because it's meant to touch particular emotions, create special feelings, and stimulate the imagination of the audience, who is wowed and wants to hear more.
It's tailored towards your audience. The way the story is perceived in the listener's thoughts changes based on one's understanding, personal experiences and beliefs.
The story therefore is not told in a repetitive identical way every time, but it takes a different shape and focuses on different details depending on the audience, what is significant for them, what will make an impression for them. In a sense the audience contributes to create that story.
The tone of the story needs to adapt to the circumstances. The attitude and emphasis of the communication cannot be always the same. You choose how you are going to tell the story... you give people visuals, you show them colors and smells... you give them the details, or you choose to make them wonder.
It doesn't require extra budget and it doesn't cost anything. A good story can be built with just some deep knowledge of your property and its history, a good training, and a genuine passion for building connections and creating emotions.
It's extremely engaging and attracting for your employees. The best way to engage people and make them proud and excited about their workplace is to teach them the special stories behind it, and coach them on how to tell them to others.
Finally, it doesn't require a rich history, a great story can be found anywhere. There is always something intriguing to share and tell about a building, its founders, its creation and design. If the story does not lie within the hotel, you can look for it in the surroundings, in the community, in the people who made it or who work there. In the end, what really matters are the values you communicate.
As last and perfect example of story built around your local surroundings, let me tell you about a typical situation at Pulitzer, and how storytelling has achieved to turn an obstacle around.
The hotel is located on the Prinsengracth, just a couple of steps from the Westerkerk, the majestic tallest church in Amsterdam. Guests sometimes are annoyed about the church bells, that ring at the hour and that can be heard around the area and from the property. Next to the Westerkerk, also sits the famous Anne Frank's house, the same house where she hid during the years of the German occupation of the Netherlands.
Those same church bells were heard by Anne Frank, and they were the only connection she had to the outside world during those years. That's the captivating part of the story that is told to guests who are not so happy about the bells: they call it noise, but it's actually a magical sound that connects them to the past, to a special person, to historical events.
They shouldn't be bothered by them, they should consider themselves lucky if they hear them, because they are participating in a piece of history.
When guests hear this, they immediately feel different about it, they let go of their negative feelings, and they appreciate being part of something much bigger than them. That's the magic of storytelling.
So that's what it does, it unifies workers and guests, it establishes a connection to the hotel, it builds motivation, it creates magic, it opens the doors to a dream.
Do you have exciting stories about your hotel that you can share with me?
If so enter them in the comments or send them to me
at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to read them!!