Personal service remains the key differentiator in the global luxury hotel sector, which is seeing luxury brands diversifying their services to create unique experiences for their guests.
This is the view of Jeff Wielgopolan, US-based Senior VP Learning & Development at the Forbes Travel Guide. "More luxury hotel brands exist than ever before and they are all trying to tell their own, unique story. A lot of luxury brands are diversifying to provide different options to their guests, but personal attention and quality of service are still paramount. Luxury is (getting) what you want, when you want it."
Hands-on leadership and happy staff are needed to achieve service excellence, says Wielgopolan. This, he adds, requires a combination of strong leadership inspiring and constantly guiding passionate and committed staff; and ongoing training to create a service-orientated culture.
The National Tourism Service Excellence Strategy has long identified service level inconsistencies in South Africa. Staff, for historic reasons, may equate service with being servile; and a socio-economic disconnect exists between the living conditions of previously disadvantaged staff and their luxury work place.
Addressing these challenges, Wielgopolan says: "A smile is an action, but being happy is an energy. Staff have to be happy in their jobs, they have to find a purpose with it; they have to get recognition for it. A lot of backhouse investment into employees is needed so that they can go out and take care of their guests."
Jeff Rosenberg, the Forbes Travel Guide's Cape Town-based VP Partner Services: Africa, says South Africans have an innate sense of hospitality. "What they need is the right leadership to release it! A lot of hotels have become too business focused. You find general managers sitting behind computers looking at balance sheets instead of being in the lobby greeting their guests. Old-style inn-keeping needs to be rekindled. It's an intangible feeling and energy that make the difference between the best and the wannabes."
"We have some fantastic examples of top-class service and hospitality in South Africa. We are very excited to give them the recognition they deserve," he says.
* The Forbes Travel Guide will, for the first time, rate South African luxury hotels, restaurants and spas in its 2020 edition.
This article has been edited since publication.