Over and over again, the most bitter of all hotel experiences is the moment of arrival. When everything should suggest opening the doors of imagination and hospitality, we usually see something like a wall barring the way to happiness: the reception desk, the final frontier. No way to find the way! The Iron Curtain falls. So, “what can I do?”, wonders any innovative hotelier; perhaps it is the most convenient way to welcome the customers; maybe it is the most useful method to take their ID; surely it is the most practicable place from which to control visitors. Others, owners of small charming hotels, claim that furniture like this helps the communication with the newcomer, and no digital check-in could replace the warmth of human contact.
Right! Counter always engenders a face-to-face relationship. Or rather, between guests and hosts. Let’s review the story. In the beginning, the reception desk was just a table where travelers usually signed their contract in a leather-bound book, beautifully delivered by the receptionist, who played the principal character of the hotel according to a Hollywood script. At the desk, this meritorious host could not miss the bell dings, nor the registration trays, nor the daily rack pricing and, of course, nor the picturesque key rack, almost always shared with the mailbox. Over time, that bureaucratic counter has accumulated all kinds of electronic gadgets: the computer, the analog display, the printer, the credit card reader, the phones, the fax terminal, the scanner for identification documents, the card encoder, the money detector, the calculator, etc. At a glance, rather than a reception desk, the current counter looks more like the control center of NASA in Houston.
Does it make sense to keep both all these devices and that vintage look in the new Internet era? Is it so annoying to convert the reception desk and, instead of this place, set up a new sort of welcome liturgies there, just like the tricky check-in counter has been replaced happily at airports by e-ticketing and online billing? Obviously not. If the hospitality industry has not gone further in the way of reinventing the check-in paperwork it is because it is not trying at all to assume the cues of current social motility. Maybe hoteliers are definitively not ready to satisfy the hyper-communicated traveler who expects more relief than reception, more hospitality rather than registration, and a higher level of hotel experience than police control. Let us not forget receptionists -the real masters of a hotel- have frequently been accorded a higher social status.
It is time for a change. The «non-reception» reception is coming.
Our idea of non-reception could anticipate a non-place where the hotel performs the liturgy of welcome. In low-cost establishments, this ritual does not exist or does not have to be executed by any human intervention. Modern online registration procedures with coded cards and some ancillary services are more efficient than diligent waiters or costumed receptionists, actually. With this particular insight, it works as at Citizen M, which, in more urban environments, was influenced by the suburban hotel series represented by Formule 1, Ibis, Nuits d’Hotels, etc. It makes no sense in this category of establishments to hire a group of officials aligned along the counter when guests may not require their services. The mandatory check-in of travelers could be facilitated by electronic means in their room, after their arrival, or even at home online, as the airlines usually do. In contrast, in the experiential, urban or rural hotels, whether large or small, where the customer comes first, the liturgy should be warm, hospitable, pleasant, enjoyable and very personal. Tear down the barriers! In those cases, what is desirable is a human closeness that only a sofa, a table, or a wellness center can ensure.
The liturgy of welcome can start with a snack while the hotel staff is unveiling their facilities. Why not an introductory musical performance? Why not a relaxed presentation of amenities around a unique appetizer? Or, why not a local welcoming mode to grant the picturesqueness of the site. As some have experienced, the Camino de Santiago hotels have implemented a charming liturgy with slippers at the end of each milestone of this traditional road in Spain.
Fernando Gallardo |