Authenticity Training: A Team Building Opportunity

By now, the phrase ‘local authentic experience’ has been tattooed on every hotelier’s back ever since it started to trend some five to ten years ago. And yet, even to this day many properties have some serious shortcomings in this area, either through a lack of attention to detail when it comes to soft goods and decor items with local flair, or associates’ lack of knowledge regarding the immediate neighborhood.

True, we have brand standards to abide by, but that shouldn’t stop you from engaging in small acts of regional expressionism, especially when you already know that it is such a strong determining factor for returning guests these days. Moreover, there’s no excuse for your staff to not be thoroughly versed in all local happenings and places of interest.

Given how slow it is been for many of us to fully embrace what this phrase implies, it is as if we need to develop approximate our SOPs insofar as developing a training program for authenticity. This would start with the most obvious in the form of protocol to routinely keep staff members up-to-date on events and attractions, but then work its way up the ladder to include methods for rethinking how to better infuse local craftsmanship into any object seen or sold on property.

It all starts with your team, because any investment you make with them will pay off tenfold in the forms of heightened guest satisfaction, worker autonomy and less turnover. The first step towards continually updating and educating your associates on the local area – and rest assured that this is something which needs constant attention – is to find a practicable frequency by which your staff can be reassessed on their knowledge.

Not to imply something on the level of a quarterly performance review, but more along the lines of a set time each month when groups of associates meet in a fun environment to discuss what they’ve found enjoyable in the near past, what they’re excited about in the near future and any other important community factoids they feel like sharing.

While I am advocating additional training so that your team can effusively converse with any guest about what to do while staying at your hotel, there’s a way to go about this where you kill two birds with a stone in that you combine it with a team building exercise. The key here is sharing. The constant development of local knowledge is not a top-down instructional program like that of SOPs which have already been honed for decades. Instead, getting your staff up to speed (and ahead of the internet!) is a matter of fostering a relaxed environment where associates can learn from each other.

One positive outcome of a motivated staff is that they will have more ideas to bring to the table when it comes to minor upgrades to your property’s physicality in terms of adding that local touch which will subtly distinguish your hotel from others, even if it is a part of a major chain. If you are a member of the senior management team so has embraced this bottom-up style of authenticity training, then finding those ideas that will help differentiate your hotel is simply a matter of further encouragement – making sure that every team member knows that their input is valuable and in fact critical to success. Good ideas can come from everywhere, so let them!

As it goes with most trends in the hospitality industry, what was two years ago a value-add is now a guest expectation. As the millennials continue to ascend in overall spending power, the need to deliver a local authentic experience becomes all the more crucial because that’s exactly what they want, and all other key demographics are swiftly following suit.

All guests want a unique experience, and with other hotel working tirelessly to offer them just that, they won’t come to you unless you can go above and beyond to truly ‘wow’ them. While there are many ways to go about tackling this ‘local authenticity’ challenge, if you fail to get your team behind you then your efforts will never merge into a cohesive experience, so I suggest you start by training them then watch as all the other pieces fall into place.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotels Magazine on Tuesday, January 17, 2017)