What I really love when I inspect hotels

I am back from a 2 days hotels inspection tour in Tuscany, I have visited a good number of hotels and met staff and directors.

We will talk in a specific technical post about the procedure and the to do list of a hotel inspection. Now I will tell you what I really love when I inspect hotels.

IF YOU LOVE YOUR JOB YOU ARE HAPPIER

This time I want to focus on what I love and I find funny in doing hotels inspections, through a couple of really genuine and positive moments of one my visits ( you can find tons of articles about the positivity that comes out when you love your job and when you work with pleasant people, I suggest this: https://hbr.org/2014/11/being-happy-at-work-matters).

BEHIND THE SCENES: A FEMININE TALK WHILE VISITING ROOMS

It has been for me a pleasure to meet the director of the hotel. I always dealt with Luana, the receptionist and group agent but rarely with her.
She is a shy woman, very passionate about her hotel.

This hotel is a hystoric palace in Cortona, one of Tuscany’s oldest and characteristic little towns, a sort of hidden gem.

Luana took some keys and opened the doors of 4 or 5 rooms, different for category and views.

We visit one room per time, she points out the glass chandeliers from Burano and she confesses me that in every room there’s one. Those chandeliers are crafted and so the spare parts will never be the same than the originals. Unfortunately last week during daily rooms cleaning an employee broke one part, which is normal because their are so fragile.

We arrive in one of the Suites and I admire the wrought iron bed, with a central handpainted oval part. I love it very much! She tells me that a local artist painted the oval and that it was quite expensive. I totally believe.

However she says that they are thinking that for a Suite it would be better to have a bed with a fabric headboard so next winter closing they will replace it.
I don’t want to insist but the wrought iron bed is perfect where it is, isn’t it?

 

Every year during the winter closing they renew curtains and bedspreads. What a marvellous attention to details, as if it was their own house (even more, I’d say).

BEHIND THE SCENES 2: A CHEF FOR BREAKFASTS

Despite its 4 stars the hotel doesn’t have a proper restaurant, and this would appearently be a downside. But this is not the case: they decided to focus their attention on Breakfast. They have a Chef specialised in breakfasts, I met her with pleasure.
I have never seen a breakfast as complete and genuine as their, there’s an elegant Breakfast Menu on each table.

The buffet has many desserts (I love desserts, I admit): homemade cakes, 5 or 6 different homemade jams. A lovely basket contains different breads ( useless to say: homemade!) on which you can spread your favourite jam.

On the salty choice there is ham, sausages, eggs, bean creams…but what really surprised me was the choice of fried vegetables as eggplant in batter, prepared each morning at 6,30. Wonderful!

 

“EXCUSE ME: WHAT WERE THE GREEN CHIPS IN THE COOKIES LAST NIGHT?”

At a certain point during my “inspective breakfast” (it’s a hard work….I know !!) an american Client came on me, the chef and the director, talking near the salty buffet table, and asked for a recipe.
The previous evening she was relaxing in the reading room near the hall and tasted some biscuits that were available nearby the sofas.
“What were the green chips in the cookies? Pistachio? Green Tea Leafs?”
We started talking as four friends about crumbling tea leaves in the dough of cookies.

THE HOTEL STORYTELLING FOR OUR CLIENTS

I would really like that people staying at this hotel, as in others, knew about all those details, that they could appreciate deeply those chandeliers and those renewed curtains, that could realize the passion of a young chef for jams and vegetables.
It’s impossible to tell all of this to every Client, but knowing those aspects allows us to tell some detail in addition to the standard description when we propose a hotel instead of another.

We believe in the importance of hotels storytelling to our Clients.

FINAL NOTE:

since we don’t want to reduce our job to a classical review of hotels, we have decided not to publish the names of the hotels we partner with.
Of course the hotel I refer to in this article is one of our favourite choices in Toscana.

Why Hotels choice is crucial in tour operating

Whether you are a specialist tour operator or a generic one, you know very well that your hotels choice will strongly impact your product.
Hotels have a double role in your tour: economic and emotional.

Hotels as a main cost in tour operating

Operational costs of a tour include many voices but certainly Hotels are one of the heaviest.

Our Clients say that the cost of hotels is between 30 and 44% of their expenses. This including both the Bill itself and the preliminary phase of hotels scouting.

The rates accorded are the result of an efficient negotiation – we will talk about this in another dedicated post. Negotiation starts with an online search and comparison of rates, preferrably on its website. Online portals cannot allow an apple-to-apple evaluation, but can be a reference during contracting.

As we know well, in a successful negotiation both parts want to be satisfied.

  The negotiation process involves economical and psychological aspects. We think that having always impeccable kindness and good manners is an essential attitude of our contractors. This of course regardless of firmness.

Hotels Scoutings

The scouting of a hotel is often part of a more general scouting of the itinerary, for obvious costs reasons.

But often people that scout hotels are guides or even employees of the tour operator. They have a long list of aspects of the overall tour to check. To minimize the expenses of flights, room & board and other logistical costs for their stay in the Country, they are often surcharged and not totally focused on the hotel.
We have an experience of hotels inspections of many years and we can rely on a hotels database that covers Italy and a large part of Europe too. We have a spin-off activity that we developed thanks to some tour operators that offer various European itineraries over Italy. Our filter can allow tour organizer to by-pass this part of the scouting with confidence.

Hotels impact on your Guests emotions

The hotel is the place where your Guests rest after a day of exploring and experiencing. They close the door, find a little bit of privacy and look back on their day.
The wrong hotel can ruin their experience: they will never forgive you for a bad hotel choice. Nowadays individuals have a lot of tools to evaluate you and your products. Basically, they will never recommend you and this is critical because returning guests are even the 70% of our Clients travelers, according to our Surveys.
Probably your Guests will take a lot of photos of their hotels rooms and will post them immediately on social media with many comments. Emotions are king!
This happens both if you are offering luxury tours or budget ones. Budget tours are even more difficult for a tour programmer. It’s harder to guarantee maximum order, cleaning and quality that in a 5 star resort (http://homesuitehomeblog.org/the-role-of-housekeeping-in-hotels-reputation/)

Some bad habits in tour operating

Finally, we can say that it’s strategical to choose the right hotel in each destination and to rely on specialists to optimize the choice and the negotiation. Furthermore, being the same person doing this strengthens the hotels specialist position towards hotel management.
Finally, some unprofessional behaviors can be adopted thinking of saving time and, apparently, money:

  • Choosing hotels using online reputation engines as Booking or Tripadvisor, also because they are not targeted for groups (even small ones). You need to build a relationship with the hotel’s management to both concur to a success for your mutual Clients’ stay. Only a personal approach can allow you to obtain this.
  • Very few, luckily, take the risk of choosing the hotel remotely and trying it via their Clients first stay – using them as Guinea Pigs.

 

Home Suite Home as a guarantee in hotels choice and negotiation

As consultants for different niche tour operators we know various product targets and we learnt to match hotels with Clients Personas.
It’s all about defining together your ideal Guest and to identify hotels that he can expect and the ones that can surprise him.

How to select hotels for your itinerary

It’s a pleasure to host a post from our Client Tourissimo https://www.tourissimo.travel about how to select the appropriate set of hotels for a Tour.
We love the way Beppe Salerno https://www.tourissimo.travel/about-the-founder-beppe-salerno has clearly explained the study needed to identify a suitable set of hotels.

HOW DOES A TOUR OPERATOR SELECT HOTELS?

I am often asked how we select hotels. There is no short answer to that question, thus I decided to write about what goes into hotel selection with some practical examples from one of our cycling itineraries: Western Sicily.

First, we don’t design itineraries around hotels. Some very high-end travel companies take that approach, selecting 5-star stays and then routing the rides to, from, or around there. As you can imagine that can be a limiting factor, but in their case is consistent with what they are offering: the best hotels. The itinerary will follow.
But when I look at those itineraries – and having designed or improved many tours myself – I see that the trade-off is just too much to justify going down that path. The rides seem amorphous.
On the other end of the spectrum, low budget travel companies are doomed to select only the cheapest stays. Here, the rides still seem amorphous and the hotels are – you guessed it – cheap.

PROJECTING THE TOUR IN ALL ITS ASPECTS

Tourissimo’s approach and best practice is to design the itinerary for the best scenery and riding experience. And then seek the best available hotels close to our desired path.
Now, let me define what I mean by “best available”. If you follow our blog you realize that we strive for authenticity. We know – and most industry studies confirm it – that luxury in travel is now identified with authenticity, transformative experiences, and insider access. A four of five star hotel might or might not fulfill our prerequisites. When they do AND they are near the itinerary we drafted, Bingo!
Sometimes a charming B&B or a boutique, family run agriturismo can be our first choice. We are ok trading stars for authenticity, and charm.
In some regions – more rural and less developed tourism-wise – there’s not much offer. A few times, we’ve had to go back to the drawing board because nothing was available.
In Sicily, we knew that we wanted to incorporate a wine experience (western Sicily is a land blessed by the wine gods), and the salt farming ponds between Trapani and Marsala (yes, marsala).

AUTHENTICITY AND UNDERSTANDING THE STORY OF THE PLACE

Foresteria Planeta is owned by the Planeta family, one of the most prominent wine producers in Sicily. Their hotel is nestled among vineyards and overlooks the Mediterranean. It is a place where all details are about charm, home feeling, and authenticity.  And it all translates to the concept of luxury just described.

A copy of The Leopard is available in each room. Almost a soft spoken suggestion: “if you want to – try to – understand Sicily, take this book to the terrace and enjoy”.

And then, one of my favorite hotels thanks to its setting. To fully appreciate Relais Antiche Saline, one would have to get to know what salt has been over millennia. I’ll give you a hint: salary comes from salt. Salt – the White Gold – meant wealth and power. In ancient Rome, salt on the table was a mark of a rich patron; those who sat nearer the host were “above the salt” and those less favored were “below the salt”.

Luckily, just a salt farming pond across from our hotel a well preserved wind mill houses the salt mining museum. The hotel itself used to be the facility in support of the salt business of the Culcasi family (4 generations in the salt business).

These are just two examples of our accommodation portfolio. If you have a memorable hotel that you still dream about, we would like to hear about it!

You can find the original version of this article at the following:  https://www.tourissimo.travel/blog/highlighting-the-authentic-hotels-of-western-sicily

Carnivals in Italy

“A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale”

Every italian has this phrase in his/her memory and has used this “excuse” to make jokes to friends during masks parades. Every joke is valid during Carnival, and this has been useful for people to concentrate in one moment of the year the insanity that often is necessary to live!
Carnival in Italy is an important moment of the year, when winter time reaches is final expression and after which we all prepare to springtime.

An antique tradition

The origins of Carnival date back to the Roman Saturnalia festival that rang in the new year (Julian calendar) – similarly to the Lupercalia and Dionysian feasts.
From North to South, Italy marks Carnival with long standing traditions that are internationally-known, and that attract thousands of visitors from around the world this time every year.
The multiplicity of Italian cities, town and hamlets that renders our Peninsula a rich opportunity for Tourists, at Carnival as well is represented.

An embarrassment of riches.

Many are famous Carnivals, as Venezia or Viareggio, both represented by masks, elegant and sophisticated the Venetian ones

more ironic and goliardic the Tuscan.

But there is plenty of minor Carnivals as Acireale in Sicily, Cento in Romagna or Putignano in Puglia.

My favourite one…honestly!

I am lucky to live in Ivrea, where an important historical Carnival http://www.storicocarnevaleivrea.it/english/ takes place every year and in which, among many other moments, the Orange Battles take place in different areas of the city astonishing and amusing inhabitants and visitors.

Wherever you’d decide to go, this event is attracting tourists to our cities every year and are an inestimable richness of our Country.
Buon Carnevale a tutti!

Digital Detox Hotels in Italy: monasteries and countrysides

Hotels amenities and services often reflect the needs of modern society (and sometimes are indicators of contemporary paranoia).
An ultimate trend in hospitality is to offer digital detox experiences in hotels were there aren’t WI-Fi connections (at least for guests, staff and administration of course use it but…secretly), and in which also interior design is studied to promote relax: special floors and furniture can even allow heart to save 3500 beats per day. (It appears that a specific Italian pine has properties in that sense and many mountain resorts in Dolomites have this specific furniture).

Recent statistics say that 25% of English travelers have made digital detox holidays in 2016 and this is happening all over the world.

What you can simply do in a digital detox hotel

In a digital detox hotel you can relax reading a book and resting from modernity, avoiding to update the world on what you are doing.
In some hotels you can leave your smartphone and digital devices at the reception and they will lock them until you will check out.
That sounds strange because we inner know how to live without a Wi-Fi connection or a smartphone, especially those among us who were born before 2000, but it seems that this was an old habit of humans.

The Italian version: monasteries and countryside

Major Italian tourism expert are debating in main fairs and conferences about digital detox tourism and how to develop it in Italy

Alessio Carciofi: “Il digital detox, bisogno primario dei nuovi turisti”

Italy is aligning on this big trend taking advantage of its heritage of monasteries and peaceful countrysides (not only Tuscany but also Umbria, Piedmont, Trentino and Puglia).

In one of main central Italian regions, Umbria, an old hermitage dated 1300 in green countryside is one of the first Resort that offered such an experience.


No phones, no internet nor TV. Guests sleep in monks cells and pass their days practicing yoga or horse rides.
In this hotel also lighting is less modern: after the dawn the only light you can find is from candles and torches.

Future destinations will be focused on health and wellness of Guests, and not only in terms of spa or beauty treatments but also on soul and deep wellness.

However at today digital detox experiences in Italy are exclusive of high starred hotels and rates are still high.

Historic Hotels: Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai

Christmas Season inspire us of fairy tales and stories.
That’s why we want to introduce the Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai, a historic 5 star luxury hotel in India. Mumbai is a city of millionaires and since ever here, despite other Indian cities, what is important is money, not castes.

An hotel against racial discrimination

What I like most is one of the stories about its construction: Jamsetji Tata decided to open the hotel after an incident of racial discrimination at the Watson’s Hotel in Mumbai, where he was refused because entrance at the hotel was permitted only to Europeans. Hotels which accepted only European guests were very common across British India.
The Taj Palace was built in 1904 and when it opened, the hotel was the first in India to have electricity, elevators, Turkish baths and English butlers. Later it also had the city’s first licensed bar, India’s first all-day restaurant, and Indian first discotheque. It passed the centuries and witnessed of many events.
During World War I the hotel was converted into a hospital with 600 beds.
On 26 November 2008, in a series of attacks in Mumbai, the hotel was attacked by a terrorist group and many people died in this tragic event.
In 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama became the first foreign head of state to stay at the Taj Mahal Palace after the attacks. In a speech from the terrace of the hotel, Obama said that “the Taj has been the symbol of the strength and the resilience of the Indian people.”

A perfect service and a dedicated Staff

Apart from its history, Taj is an efficient and organized machine, staff is totally dedicated and for many employees it’s like a second house. As it happens often people working behind the scenes are the secret of a perfect service.

Chief Concierge Satish said a wonderful sentence during an interview:

“we are delighted in delighting Guests”.

Simple and pure.

An impressive room inspection!

Satish and the executive housekeeper Indrani are involved in a daily check of rooms that impressed us: every day a team of 6 or 7 people including them chooses 1 room casually and they check every detail: air conditioning, bed linen, glasses, carpets.
They try to have the same point of view on the room of a Guest that rest sit on a chair or on a bed. It’s important to use the room as a Guests because sometimes you can notice a dirty patch only from particular positions and angles.

It’s a great job of detail attention and perfection and that contributes to making Taj a place that lives in people memory. https://taj.tajhotels.com/en-in/taj-mahal-palace-mumbai/