TripAdvisor recently announced the winners of their 2016 Traveller’s Choice Awards. Hotels all over the world were lauded for excelling in their categories, but the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, India, came out with the highest accolade – number one hotel in the world. So, what is this palace doing so right and can you do the same (without being an actual royal abode)?
First impressions are lasting impressions
The way your guests experience their arrival is likely to influence the way they perceive the rest of their stay with you, and numerous reviews of the Umaid Bhawan Palace mention the welcome to the palace.
The General Manager of the hotel, Vincent Ramos, told the Daily Mail that the greeting “is supposed to be a welcome to meet all of the five senses – everyone is greeted as though they are the king returning”.
Of course, not every establishment has the budget for choruses of trumpets and velvet canopies that befit Indian royalty, but ensuring that your guests will remember their arrival for all the right reasons needn’t cost you much.
The way your guests experience their arrival is likely to influence the way they perceive the rest of their stay with you
Training staff to greet people with a smile can go further than you realise, and other little touches like complimentary fruit juice, a cloth to wipe away travelling grime and a helping hand with their bags will make a difference to guests who have travelled to stay with you.
Treat your guests like royalty
Did you know that the Middle English definition of the word “courteous” is “having manners fit for a royal court”? And this word is used again and again to describe the staff of the Umaid Bhawan Palace in guests’ reviews.
Of course, this palace is in fact literally a royal court, as it is also the private home of the maharaja and his family, but there is no need to let a little thing like the absence of actual royalty stop you and your team from being courteous to your guests.
Making guests feel like royalty comes naturally to the staff of a functioning palace, but what is it that differentiates royal service from other service? Possibly it is the fact that, as Ramos says, “We cater to anything and we never say no – it isn’t in our vocabulary”.
You can do the same by being flexible with guests and going the extra mile (and I don’t mean you have to fly in Scottish salmon at two in the morning). Does your kitchen close at three-thirty, sharp? Make sure that there is someone on staff that can make an exception for the mother of the screaming toddler and whip up a cheese sarmie at four. These little things are what make guests feel as valuable as royalty.
Treat each guest as if they were your favourite
Umaid Bhawan Palace’s reviews are dotted with anecdotes describing services and surprises provided by the staff that made guests feel special. One reviewer mentions that her daughter’s birthday fell on the last night of their stay and the staff prepared her favourite dessert especially for her, and another fondly recalls how the kitchen offered to prepare special meals for her daughter when she was feeling ill. Several reviewers also point out that the staff made an effort to remember their names and food and drink preferences.
Attentive, personal service doesn’t cost a thing and you can replicate this feeling for your guests no matter what your hotel is like. Make a note of guests’ names to help you and your team to remember them, and if guests make specific requests remember them so that you can offer them the same again when appropriate.
In a large hotel you can take a leaf out of the Umaid Bhawan Palace’s books and assign team members specific guests to attend to so that remembering each guest and noticing things like sick children or birthdays is less of a challenge.
Create an atmosphere
An atmosphere is something difficult to describe and even more difficult to create, but if you get it right is will be something that your guests will reminisce about long after they have forgotten the particulars of their stay.
Because it is an authentic royal court, the atmosphere of the palace comes naturally. As Ramos told Travel Weekly, “Umaid Bhawan Palace is more than a hotel, it is still home to His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II and his family, where we welcome all to visit”.
You can ensure that the atmosphere in your property is as pervasive and authentic if you find what comes naturally to your property and believe in it, live it each day and in every interaction with your guests and, importantly, ensure that your team does the same.
In the Umaid Bhawan Palace, the team’s belief in the palace’s identity (and therefore the ease with which it creates the atmosphere that guests praise so highly) comes right from the top down, from the general manager and even the maharajah himself.
“Umaid Bhawan Palace specialises in the luxury of a bygone era that is rare to find today. And that is the secret of this place. Guests pay so much that we have to meet their expectations. We need to provide value for money,” Ramos told india.com, but judging by the TripAdvisor reviews, guests disagree. The palace exceeds expectations.
Although the luxury of the Umaid Bhawan Palace is not what every hotel is trying to achieve, managing guests’ expectations, no matter what style of accommodation you provide, will ensure that they are never disappointed. Exceeding expectations is more about ensuring that guests’ expectations are reasonable in the first place.
For example, if some of your rooms are nicer than others, don’t only show guests the better ones on your website or online travel agency listing, and disappoint them when they get to you. Rather let them see pictures of all of your rooms and be pleasantly surprised when they end up in the nicest one you have available.
Love what you do
This is possibly the most important lesson that you can learn from the Umaid Bhawan Palace, or rather, from the team that makes it what it is. As Ramos told the Daily Mail, “The service here is very different to elsewhere because where the Indian nobility service differs is that our work comes from within the heart … we like connecting to human beings. That is where we get our joy.”
The maharaja is also passionate about hospitality, and not just that of his own palace. “Jodhpur has always been my life,” he told Vir Saaghvi from NDTV Good Times. “We have been working for quite some time to make Jodhpur a destination, apart from the palace.”
Whether you run a palace or a backpackers, loving what you do and believing in the service that you provide for your patrons is what will ensure that your guests have the stay that they were hoping for (or a better one) and that they remember and recommend you fondly.