Roger Collis, acclaimed journalist and author of ‘The Survivor’s Guide to Business Travel’ has extensive expertise in luxury travel. He recently met Andrew Pike, the General Manager of the Milestone Hotel in Kensington to discuss the significant challenges of running a five star London hotel.
Part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, the Milestone is currently ranked number five out of over a thousand hotels on TripAdvisor and was rated ‘No. 1 in the world for service’ by Travel and Leisure Magazine in 2008.
As the hotel’s General Manager, Andrew Pike’s expertise in service delivery is clearly apparent. He was also interviewed last year on this blog to explain why the Milestone has been riding so high on TripAdvisor.
On what makes a hotel worthy of five stars, he says, “It’s down to the staff and the interaction they have with the guests.”
Despite their opulent image, luxury London hotels are suffering the squeeze of the ongoing financial crisis as much as any other business, while a fear of terrorist attacks remains a concern.
“I think we’re probably experiencing some of our most challenging times today. One factor is certainly the recent security alerts that have been in place for a while now. And the second thing is the continuing issue with the dollar exchange rate which is obviously eating into people’s pockets.”
Indeed, as many as 50% of the Milestone’s guests are thought to be American (though the hotel also has a lot of European guests).
But where guests come from according to Mr Pike is not as important as who they are individually. For this reason, the hotel does its best to meet the needs of the individual rather than following cultural stereotypes.
“We recognise that different nationalities may have specific requirements…but we like to personalise our service and see people as individuals.”
What are the characteristics of a five star hotel?
As Roger Collis points out, there is often confusion about what constitutes a five star hotel, in contrast to a four star hotel. Without a unified international rating system, star ratings can be used to gain a rough indication of quality and price but are far from a concrete classification.
Mr Pike sees a 5 star hotel as one in which, “quality, comfort, fixtures and fittings,” are all of an exceptional standard. But, he says, there’s more to providing a truly five star experience than simply ticking these boxes. He elaborates: “I think what really marks a five star property out is service.”
The key to good service
So if service is of paramount importance, how does the Milestone Hotel go about providing service that meets guests’ expectations so consistently?
Mr Pike puts an emphasis on hiring the right people – “people who genuinely love looking after other people” – and providing a fair and rewarding environment for those individuals to work in.
Exceptional training programmes are another essential element in maintaining good service levels, he says, while mystery shoppers are used periodically to make sure standards are always up to scratch.
When asked what the Milestone’s main competitive advantage is, he replies decisively: “it’s our staff – the great interaction and the personalised service that we offer our guests.”
Back to basics
As well as being dedicated to high service levels, Mr Pike says that fulfilling the basic essential needs of guests first and foremost is at the core of the Milestone’s business philosophy – “the quality mattress and bed, the air conditioning that works and isn’t noisy – that’s really number one for us.”
In line with this, the hotel has rigid requirements that linen is of a minimum 200 thread count per square inch thickness to ensure its softness.
Though he recognises that keeping up with technology is key (for example, the Milestone is a free WiFi hotel), Mr Pike stresses that it’s the basic and timeless comforts that guests really look for above all else: “The comfortable bed, a feeling of security, a decent bar where they can get a drink and relax in the evening, anything they need in terms of newspapers and information – I think those are the basics they expect.”
The personal touch
As well as having a head concierge acting as the main point of contact for guests, the Milestone goes all out to ensure that the service provided by staff is tailored to the individual and is conscientious and helpful.
This is particularly evident in the consideration taken towards lone female travellers at the hotel.
“If a single female traveller is dining in the restaurant, our team are trained not to sit them in the centre, where they may feel a bit surrounded, but to find a nice cosy corner. When we’re delivering a room service tray to our guests, we’ll always allocate a female member of staff to deliver that.”
Mr Pike had an interesting response when quizzed about the value of loyalty point schemes in hotels. He said that while they may have their place, they’re no substitute for real human interaction and warmth.
“When Mr or Mrs Smith check into the hotel, it’s about us knowing what their newspaper is and offering that newspaper up front and having a drink ready for them in the bar- it’s that feeling of being wanted and made special that’s more important than any points they may collect.”