Less Service Is Sometimes The Best Service


John Andrews, Ruthanne Terrero and Geoffrey Gelardi
Our third annual Awards of Excellence gala at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino brought together the industry’s leading luxury travel advisors and suppliers. The awards were created in 2008 to recognize the individuals, destinations and companies that set luxury travel apart from the rest. I am pictured here with John Andrews, at left, concierge of London’s The Goring, and our award winner in the category Top Concierge Worldwide. At right is Geoffrey Gelardi of The Lanesborough, who won the award for Top General Manager of a Luxury Hotel/Resort Worldwide.

The very best luxury travel advisors know when not to recognize their guests. For example, they know not to send a “welcome home” note to Mr. Jones following his trip, just in case he wasn’t traveling with Mrs. Jones on this particular romantic getaway.

The top hoteliers also know when to leave certain guests alone; A-listers who spend much of their lives in the limelight, or running away from paparazzi, don’t want to be fawned over. They don’t need overly solicitous pampering; they want solitude.

In most circumstances, however, when discretion doesn’t dictate behavior, most luxury travel suppliers try to recognize the guest as much as possible. People want their likes and dislikes to be known and it often gives them a little thrill when they’re spoken to by name in a place they’re spending a lot of money to visit.

One fellow travel journalist, though, having recently visited a well-known luxury hotel, wished she’d been left alone more. Seems every time she stepped out, she was accosted by one employee or another who addressed her by name and engaged her in conversation. “Sometimes I just wanted to relax and be anonymous,” she said.

A friend of mine just returned from a cruise, which she loved. She was a bit peeved at one tiny thing: “Every morning when we stepped out of our suite and walked down the hall to the elevator, the steward assigned to us would spot us and yell out our names. She was only trying to say good morning, but it got a bit trying after awhile. We felt like she was stalking us.”

A few years ago, I wrote a column about a colleague who stayed in a luxury hotel for his honeymoon. His suite butler kept knocking on the door every few hours to ask if the newlyweds wanted anything. “He made us anxious,” my co-worker said of the butler. “It made me want to write a pilot for a reality TV show called ‘When Luxury Travel Goes Wrong.’”

The fact is, the practice of recognizing guests needs to be a balanced strategy. Just saying a client’s name over and over, or bothering them to provide them with services they don’t necessarily want isn’t luxurious, it’s annoying.

Geoffrey Gelardi, managing director of The Lanesborough, who is profiled in this issue and was honored as General Manager of the Year as part of the Luxury Travel Advisor Awards of Excellence, gets guest recognition right. The high retention rate of his staff means that they really know the guests from years of servicing them. As a result, The Lanesborough’s guests are acknowledged when they arrive at the hotel as if they’re returning to a very elegant residence. It’s not as if their name is being heralded down the hallways; the style of service is discreet, and yet the client feels recognized.

There are lessons here for luxury travel advisors. If you don’t know a client too well, don’t cozy up to them as if you’re best friends. This might work with some people, but likely not those who are ultra-affluent and who are used to maintaining a distance with the people they work with. Keep the number of times you “touch” them limited and save up the details you need to send them for their trip and mail it off in a package. Once you feel you know them well, and that they are comfortable with you, you can communicate with them on a less formal basis; however, be sure that you’re doing it only in a manner with which they’re comfortable. Exercising discretion is one of the best practices you can incorporate into your day-to-day luxury travel business.

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