Monday, 22 April 2013

Service, service, service: selecting the right ones

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” M.Gandhi

Travelers, and generally those who pay (own) money for any kind of travel related service, expect value. Value in what they see, feel and learn. It’s really down to these three things.

Landscapes, breathtaking views, stunning interiors, inspiring monuments, fascinating traditions and cultural artifacts can do a whole lot to attract tourism, but cannot do it all. They are the hardware of the destination, the preconditions of tourism, but service is what enables them to create economic value. The service is the software. And as is with software it is more prone to bugs, flaws and mistakes.  Hospitality unfortunately is more about service than anything else. It's a whole lot about  how you felt while there. There are tons of good and bad examples of how service can make or break a business in tourism.  I have included here are just a few ideas, and tips to help SELECT, TRAIN and RETAIN your best service people.

Does he really mean it?
I take the risk of stating: good service cannot be learned by anybody. Period.  There are types of personalities that would never be able to serve at quality levels. They are just not meant to make others feel good, always, under any circumstances. They don't like to care and think love of others is a weakness.  There are others who have the right personality fundamentals to serve. They are empathetic, attentive, quick, they know how to listen (and not just pretend), they have decent memory, they are creative, have good humor, they are extroverted and just love people. They get their energy from others and not from themselves.

So the better you are able to select those who have these fundamentals, even if they have never worked in a service job, the better off you are. One can save months of frustration and lost business by avoiding hiring service people who are not meant to serve by design. They typically have very high level of self-confidence and esteem, are impatient and impulsive, they often prefer conflict over compromise, they like to take the bull by the horn, they are critical and skeptical by nature etc. They can be great at many other important things but not at service. Let them strive in areas where they can excel and save them buy the misery of pretending to serve.
There is whole science (preached by expensive consultants and usually practiced with major flaws) of best selecting your employees, but at the end of the day it is an art. That of reading a personality and understanding if it fits in your team or not.  Here are some tips that might work: ask the applicant to rearrange the seating in the interview room, or to serve the coffee for themselves. Watch they way they relate to you, to details. Ask them to show you the way to the bathroom, or to explain you the shortest way out from the building, etc. etc. These are situations, where facial expression, gestures, style and approach to helping the other are reviled. It won’t tell you who is the best to hire, but if you have the right feelers, it helps you avoid disasters and save time.

I am not saying anything new by the fact that Oman does have a huge potential in the fundamentals of tourism, but it has to come a long, long way in service. Combining the genuine friendliness and helpfulness of Omanis with consistency and promptness of service will yield the desired results.

Any similar ideas to share? Some more to come on training and retention soon.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Wadi Shab Resort II. - ideas for the concept

I have finally seen the Wadi Shab Resort during the last week-end.  My assumptions shared earlier turned out to be fairly accurate. I found the location and the views just great so I thought to put down some ideas (not all) that with minimal extra costs can do some more justice to this place. This is not really a visitor review (it is meant to be more for hoteliers and/or owners) but is does offer some info for you if you are interested in spending a relaxing week-end there.

Entrance (below) and some ideas (above)
The hotel has a great LOCATION, stunning sea views and good visibility from the road. It is practically impossible to miss as you drive south, unless you are sleeping.  They have also done a good job with road signage along the way from both directions: Muscat and from Sur. You have multiple signs indicating the decreasing distance until the hotel.
They have recently updated the imagery on their website, which is much better than it was before.  The building nicely blends into the environment but the finishing of the structures though is not meant to have a very long life.  (They better start allocating a replacement reserve by now.)

The steep slip road leading up to the ENTRANCE from the highway is not completed yet, but ironically, the dark red color of the gravel it confers an interesting visual factor with some sense of arrival. This sense of arrival however vanishes as soon as you park your car and head to the gate.  There is a whole lot that can be done here to improve that experience and impress the guests. Plants in pots and some landscaping could already achieve a lot. A real extra would be to put some stone carved imagery (like on the Cornish) on the barren wall facing the parking depicting the main attractions you can visit reach in the area (Wadi Shab, Tiwi, White Beach, Sink Hole, Sur etc.).
wilder ideas (above) and the current

The SIGNAGE within the resort is unfortunately not as good as the roadside one. These signs lack originality and they are often misplaced. Having a set of creative well designed (perhaps poled) signs would result in a greatly improved visual and visitor experience.

The RESTAURANT has a boat themed terrace which I found interesting and creative. With an absolutely stunning sea view it does give you an impression that you are on the deck of a boat. The details could be further enhanced by furniture and related decorative objects but the concept is good.

The ROOMS are a bit small for a resort but still manageable. The view of each unit from outside and especially their terrace could be enhanced perhaps by hanging some plants or similar.

The POOL is relatively nice and it even has a small wading pool on the side for toddlers. A (partial) shade would improve the pool experience especially in hot season. There is a small playground as well but it needs some soft pavement, maybe even artificial grass over it to make it more enjoyable and safe.

The terraces (above) and ideas to enhance them
For its 34 rooms, it has a relatively large OUTSIDE AREA, a large part of it steeply sloping toward the beach, which is not really used for anything. It is rocky and rough but a couple of nice patios could be set up further down closer to the beach, for watching the sunrise, or just have a relaxing hour in the shade listening to the waves.  With a smart design it could also be used for barbecues in the evening.  The fence around the property, especially from the beach looks a bit overdone. It resembles more of urban or industrial fencing than a resort one. I don’t think there are many intruders in the region especially interested in a property with constant surveying.  Just lowering it and changing the wire fence into some friendlier material or design would do a great deal (if not taking it away altogether).   Also adding more plants on the terraced area (I know it’s costly to maintain and replace) will change  the rugged exterior into a more friendly one adding more life to the place.
The nice restaurant terrace (left) ideas to enhance (right)
In terms of ACTIVITIES within the resort, there is a whole lot more that can be done, such as: water sports (banana pull, water ski, kayaking, etc), animated programs for kids (during week-end), cooking workshops for quests etc. etc.  I assume this will come with time and an increasing request from the guests. The place is also a nice hub for a number of daytrips in the region, so local guides could also find this an opportunity. Wadi Shab, Wadi Tiwi, Sink Hole, Ras al Jinz, Sur dhow yards, Dhayqha Dam, and many more are all under or around 80km.

As for the interiors…I have no idea, but as OPNO mentioned before, the place could certainly help a creative eye with some Omani affinity and a modest but reasonable budget.

I know this is intended to be a mid market hotel, so we cannot expect a whole lot but the overall experience and subsequently the occupancy and the revenues can be enhances significantly by a similar thinking to that of above.
Idea for beach patio and maybe grill area

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Is there any impact of the week-end shift on tourism in Oman?

Every major policy decision has a macroeconomic impact.  These impacts can be modeled fairly accurately.  Econometrics uses the so called input output tables to quantify the impact of certain decisions.  Such modeling can be applied to assess for instance the cost benefits of hosting the Olympics in a city, that of introducing VAT or other taxes, or the impact of a visa policy on tourism. The macroeconomic implications of changing the week-end from Thursday Friday to Friday Saturday can also be assessed.  If you have the right economic and statistical data, by applying a proper modeling it is actually possible to estimate the increase/decrease of total economic output, that of the GDP and job creation as well.
I am sure there have been a lot of considerations given to the recent week-end change and the benefits far out weight the costs especially in the context of SMEs and job creation in the private sector.

Let’s have a lighter look on the possible impacts on tourism and the hotel sector in Oman.  It is important to note that I have not performed any input-output modeling on this; therefore I am not in the position to give any quantitative impacts.  My intention is only to identify some soft considerations. It remains to be seen if they will turn valid or not on the short and medium term. Perhaps some entrepreneurs and hoteliers can work towards making full use of the advantages and mitigate the potential draw backs.

1. The yielding week-end: from May 1st there will not be a spread of domestic week-end demand for hotels between Thursday-Friday and Saturday. Leisure demand will peak on Friday and Saturday creating more occupancy on these days and the ability for hoteliers to drive (increase) the rate and yield better. This logic will apply for short haul airlines fairs as well, more people wanting to travel at the same time. (+)

2. Busier Dubai: Perhaps by having the same week-end we won’t experience a calm-working-day-Dubai on Thursdays any more. This perhaps will encourage some people to spend the week-end at a domestic destination as opposed to up in the “city of life”. (+)

3. More alignment with sender markets: I know tourism and especially hotels are a 24/7 business but still, sales and marketing teams, agencies etc. are having their regular working hours. With the new week-end they will be able to work one more day in line with the agencies of the main European sender markets of Oman. This would have some positive impact in service and perhaps in volume as well. (+)

4. Less net holidays: By aligning the private and public sector holidays, at least based on recent articles, public sector workers will benefit from less statutory days off than before. This could have a negative impact on domestic tourism, hence local hotels restaurateurs.  This impact could be slightly balanced off by the foreign corporate hotel demand on those working days which initially were holidays. (-)

5. More Omanis in tourism sector: Another one on the positive side would be the initial intention of the measure, namely to present private sector jobs as more competitive and to attract more local labor to such businesses, like hotels. (+)

6. The one extra day when shifting: a once off benefit would have to do with “transition Thursday” being a day off which could result in a slight positive impact for domestic tourism, balanced off to some extent by less hotel demand from corporate guests on that particular day.

Overall I estimate the shift will not have a massive impact on tourism and hotels, but if any it will have more positives than negatives.
Any other consequences you can think of?

Picture source, slightly modified.