Sunday 20 April 2014

Checking up on checking in

Be honest. How would you rate the quality of service offered by the hotels of Botswana?

Do our hotels offer world-class service or is there still a very long way to go?

I don’t mean the top-of-the-range luxury camps that are winning international awards, nor do I mean the cheaper back-packer accommodation. I mean the mainstream, normal hotels that most of us and most tourists to Botswana stay in. Hotels for normal people.

Rather than guess, we actually asked people what they thought. It was hardly a scientific experiment, it was no more than an informal snapshot of what a mixture of personal contacts, customers and members of our Facebook group felt. In total we got the feelings of around 160 people, all of whom stay in hotels and are in a position to comment. They know what they’re talking about.

The results were disappointing. Only 2% of the people questioned rated the service as “Excellent” and only 3% said it was “Good”. 59% described the service as “Ok” and 36% thought it was “Bad”. I suppose the only good news here is that not one person described the service as “Terrible”.

To put it another way, only one in twenty said the service was Good or better. 95% said it was merely “Ok” or worse. Ask yourself this. Is “Ok” good enough?

Then there were the comments people made when we asked them to expand a bit on their feelings. Are you ready for this?

“They are nothing but accommodation”, “You feel like you’re being a nuisance when you ask for something”, “Most hotel staff don’t want to go the extra mile”, “We have lots of hotels staff with negative attitudes” and perhaps most damningly, “It’s clearly no more than a job”.

That last one depresses me the most because the hospitality is more than just a profession, I’d say it’s almost a vocation. You have to really WANT to work in the industry to do so, otherwise it’s just endless, back-breaking, stressful work. Just like the restaurant industry, very few people choose to work in hotels because they want to be millionaires. They do it because they enjoy meeting people, find it exciting and really enjoy serving people.

But obviously I’m wrong. There are clearly people in our hotel industry that don’t have a vocation for service and who seem to confuse (as I heard someone observe recently) service with servitude. They don’t understand that it’s not degrading or humiliating to serve someone, it’s not slavery. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s an honorable, respectable, even patriotic thing to do.

I recently met with a visiting American who complained that at the major hotel where she was staying in Gaborone, she found it impossible to satisfy her fundamental American need to get a second cup of coffee at breakfast. You should know that the coffee top-up is to Americans what oxygen is to the rest of humanity. If they don’t get it, life can’t go on. I know this sounds trivial but the real problem, she said, was that none of the breakfast staff would make eye contact with her while she was at her table. Was this a cultural thing, she asked?

I don’t know if that’s the case, but I do know that when she’s back in the Land Of The Free and Home Of The Brave, she’ll be warning her compatriots that they need to take their own coffee to Botswana if they’re courageous enough to come here.

Some people might think that the “cultural” issue is a sensitive one but my view is simple. Get over it. If our nation’s prosperity is at stake then to hell with it, we should bow to the tourists who expect us to bow to them, accept business cards the way the Chinese expect us to and give the Yanks their second damn cup of coffee before they need to ask for it.

And our nation’s future really IS at stake. As Professor Roman Grynberg recently said in an article in Mmegi, “our Government revenues and expenditure might be balanced now but they are completely and utterly unsustainable”. Sooner or later, as Grynberg explains, we’re going to lose the revenues we get from the SA Customs Union and from diamonds and we’ll have little left unless we’ve actually diversified our economy rather than having just talked about diversifying it.

Tourism has a critical part to play. It can’t solve all the problems of the future but our environment is a natural resource we can and should exploit. The problem is just persuading the people in the industry that, with the exception of certain Chinese restaurants I’ve known, rudeness isn’t charming. Rudeness doesn’t encourage tourists to come again or to recommend a destination to the people they know.

Even if we’re not rude, carelessness can ruin our reputation almost as quickly. If we’re known as the country that can’t be bothered to offer our visitors a welcome and the level of respect they deserve why would they come to us instead of our rival countries?

The good news is that there ARE people offering excellent service throughout the country and a lot of them work in the hospitality industry. The problem is that we don’t have nearly enough of them. We also don’t have enough time to match-make them and get them to selectively breed new ones. We’re going to have to make do with what we’ve got. We’re going to need to find a way of using our existing services stars and get everyone else to emulate them.

So what are we waiting for? What are YOU waiting for?

No comments: