Six surprising things you can rent by the hour.

October 13, 2022

The tourism industry changed dramatically when platforms like VRBO and Airbnb enabled travelers to forgo hotels for a vacation home rental. But not only did this change traditional tourism lodging models…it gave “regular people” a thirst for renting their stuff to tourists, thrill seekers, and folks looking to relax.  I mean…why stop at lodging?

And suddenly, the apps and online matching platforms were born.  Here are six surprising things you can rent by the hour, from regular people who have something you want and don’t/can’t own yourself.

A Garden

Love gardening or want to try growing some veggies, and don’t have your own patch of land for the pleasure?  The platform Shared Earth matches people who have plots of unused land with aspiring gardeners in their area.  Through the in-app messaging system, you can get information about the sunlight, soil quality, and other pertinent facts to help you determine if that particular land is suitable for the types of things you want to grow.  Tourism professionals…take note here.  Got some land you could share with the community this way?  Worth considering.

A Swimming Pool

Want an escape but can’t afford the time/money for a vacation?  Rent someone’s swimming pool and yard by the hour through Swimply (which might be the most perfect brand name on the planet). You plug in your desired location and time and voila…a list of pools for rent and their photos are shown.  Then you just book and go.  One gent raked in nearly $200,000 just renting out his pool over the course of two years.  The only downside to such a perfect brand name comes when you want to develop new revenue streams:  Swimply is beta testing Swimply Spaces, through which you can rent people’s tennis courts, private gyms, and more.  Cool idea but it dilutes the power of the name.

An aqua blue swimming pool with a stone waterfall feature is just one of the six surprising things you can rent by the hour.

A Boat

Why buy a ticket for a boating experience with lots of other tourists?  Rent your own for an hour or two – even with a private captain and/or crew – from someone who has a boat to rent out as a side hustle.  The Boatsetter app will match you with your perfect boating experience in your preferred location.  Yachts, fishing boats, party boats, pontoon boats, sailboats…even jet skis are available.  And the locations are pretty diverse, with both ocean and lake options across the US.

Outdoor Sporting Gear

In another example of a perfect brand name getting diluted through expansion, Spinlister began as a way for folks to rent bikes of all kinds, from touring to mountain and everything in between.  Over time, it grew to feature a wide range of outdoor gear like surfboards, stand-up paddle boards, skis, and more.  This makes total sense for folks who are casual outdoor enthusiasts that have neither the inclination nor the storage space to own their own gear.  Tourism professionals…take note here:  there’s a Spinlister Pro version available for businesses, so if you want to lure in all those folks staying in Airbnb’s around your community, this might be a gateway.

A Yard for Your Dog

The brilliantly named Sniffspot – and please for the love of branding, Sniffspot…don’t you too start renting out other things that make no sense for your name – will allow you to rent someone’s backyard for your dog to play in by the hour.  And not just a backyard…the listing options include private hiking trails, fenced in/roam free areas, yards with pools the dogs can use, yards for private use, yards for playing with other dogs, yards with doggie agility courses, and more.  At prices that range from $5 – $20 (ish) per hour, it’s an incredible value…even if you have your own yard for your dog, but occasionally want to rent one with a pool or agility course to give your pup its own mini-vacation.

A black dog and a brown dog running fast in a large yard, one of the six surprising things you can rent by the hour.

Your Driveway

If you’re fortunate enough to have a driveway, garage, or any kind of owned area that could be a parking spot in a densely populated area (where scoring a parking space is like winning the lottery), you can rent it out through SpotHero.  At first glance, the website looks like it’s only used by big companies and parking garages, but regular folks can rent out their home spot here too…by the hour, day, week, or month.  It’s a super helpful service for people who don’t have time to waste looking for a parking spot, but don’t want to pay the exorbitant fees often charged by garages, stadiums, and (sorry tourism industry) urban hotels.

And in addition to these six surprising things you can rent by the hour, here’s a bonus:  Fat Llama.  Want to rent a painting?  A photography lighting umbrella?  A scooter?  A sewing machine?  A ukulele?  A drone?  A power drill?  You can find it all (and more) at Fat Llama.

Now THERE’S a brand name that can handle expansion into any category.  Because…random.

For some memorable examples of when tourism businesses treated me with the same kind of personal relationship vibe you get from these “regular person” rentals, check out these 10 unexpected (and fabulous) tourism guest service stories.

How an understaffed tourism operation can avoid disappointing guests.

May 23, 2022
A picture that shows the legs of people waiting in a long line, which is something understaffed tourism operations need to avoid to prevent disappointing guests.

Is this going to be the line at your check-in desk this summer?

How can an understaffed tourism operation avoid disappointing its guests?  This is the challenge facing the tourism industry right now, especially with the busy summer season approaching.  Hotels, airlines, attractions, tour companies, destinations, restaurants and more… all are bracing for a hot mess of substandard guest service this summer.

This timing is unfortunate, though.  It’s a cruel joke by the travel gods to plague the industry with unprecedented staffing issues just when travelers are coming back in droves.  They’re eager to shed the restrictive chains that have bound them for the past two years.  They want MORE – freedom, choices, amenities, pampering – while you’re trying to figure out how to even deliver your bare minimum experience with LESS.

Sadly, this is a recipe for disappointment.  And negative reviews.  And social media complaints that need to be managed.

There’s no magic bullet to solve this.  Sure you can offer pay that’s double (or more) what everyone else is paying.  But that will obliterate your bottom line (and set a risky precedent), so it’s not a reasonable solution.

But you can’t just pull the covers over your head and let chaos take its course.  Be proactive with these three tips that will help an understaffed tourism operation avoid disappointing its guests:

Training & Communication

I was in line at the pharmacy recently and the line behind me was growing at an alarming rate while the sole staff person worked with a customer on a tangled issue.  She never looked at the line and never said a word to us.  I could feel the fuming and resentment building behind me and hear the muttered complaints and huffy breaths.  After 20 minutes, it felt like there was going to be a mutiny.

All she had to do was look up and smile every once in a while and say “Folks, I’m so sorry for the wait but I’m the only one here today and I need to give each one of you the attention you deserve when it’s your turn.  Thanks for your patience.”  That would have diffused 90% of the frustration.

The moral here is… train your people to diffuse frustration.  Don’t leave them unprepared to handle difficult guests or situations.  Your team should be fully aware of how challenging this summer is likely to be, and you can’t send them into this battle unarmed.  They need clear and practical training for handling complaints, lack of service/amenity availability, slow service, supply chain issues, and more.  Help them to not fear it and not ignore it.  Give them the communication tools they need to address these situations before they become irreversible nightmares for you.  And reward them when they deliver.

Sweeten Pain Points

Ski resorts plagued with unavoidably long lift times on peak days often provide entertainment, hot cocoa, and other fun distractions to make the wait more bearable for skiers.  This is precisely the concept you need to deploy this summer.

Based on your staffing shortages, you’re likely able to predict where the trouble spots will be and when they’ll occur.  Have a plan ready.  True, in some cases (like the ski resort example) you might need to devote a staffer (from the already depleted team) to implement the plan, but focusing that precious resource to the challenge is a smart strategy. Stunting frustration before it can build will enable guests to be forgiving in other areas where you have less control.  Otherwise frustrations just keep mounting until diffusing them is impossible.

So whether it’s surprising guests with a refreshment cart during long lines, giving a discount or complimentary item for slow room or table service, or providing entertainment where none was expected, be proactive. Have solutions and plans ready to go.  And empower your staff – with training and guidelines – to address such problems on the spot.

Choose Where to Make an Impression

I vividly remember the time (pre-COVID) when I was at the Wequassett Resort & Golf Club on Cape Cod two weeks after Labor Day.  Knowing that such resorts often employ high school and college kids during the summer – and now they were back at school – I was prepared for moderate service levels.  Imagine my surprise when a staffer made the rounds at the pool to polish guests’ sunglasses!  That was completely unexpected and impressed the hell out of me.

This season, hospitality operations need to apply a critical lens to the services and amenities they usually offer and say, “What guest touchpoints make the biggest impression and how can we protect them at all costs?  Or at the very least, modify them so they STILL make an impression without fumbling?”  If you can’t do everything, don’t bother trying or you’ll just do everything poorly.  Better to choose some things that get your full attention and do them flawlessly.

This means your entire staff needs to understand where the priorities are, so everyone knows where corners can’t be cut.  So once again, clear and direct communication with your staff is essential.

The bottom line is that there’s no simple way to solve this problem.  It’s not easy for understaffed tourism operations to avoid disappointing guests.  But proactively addressing the situation with a plan and training your staff to be prepared will help mitigate the damage.  It might even win you some loyal guest ambassadors.

And by the way, the solutions don’t always have to cost money or require a full staff.  These 10 Unexpected (and Fabulous) Tourism Guest Service Stories will give you some inspiration.

20 Tips for Tourism PR and Marketing Agency Clients

March 22, 2022

a red colored lightbulb with illumination marks signifying 20 tips to help tourism PR and marketing clients get the most out of their agency.

We’ve been serving PR and marketing clients in the tourism industry for 20 years.  Big global brands.  Tiny obscure companies.  Obscenely huge budgets.  Shoestring budgets.  Individuals with personalities that range from Type A to Zen.  Doers.  Procrastinators.  Screamers.  Huggers.  Savvy marketers.  Marketing agnostics.  Marketing skeptics.  No two clients are the same…and there have been thousands of them in our history.

So, we’ve learned a LOT about what it takes for a client to get the most out of both marketing and its agency.  Here, drawn from our extensive experience, are 20 tips to help tourism clients succeed in public relations and marketing:

  1. Changing marketing goals too frequently, or lacking them completely, can only achieve short term results for your efforts. Either be ok with that or make a solid plan and stick to it.
  2. If you water down a BIG BOLD idea, adjust your expectations down from BIG BOLD results. All too often, circumstances cause a client to dilute an idea’s execution…but then expect the same powerful results associated with the original concept.  That just ain’t how it works.
  3. If you feel you have to micromanage your agency, they’re not the right match for you. Let ‘em go, even if it’s us.
  4. Positivity works magic in PR. If you have faith it will produce…it will.  If you don’t…it won’t.
  5. It helps results tremendously if your entire organization is aware of your marketing plans. Devote resources to educating and engaging them, and you’ll see a greater ROI in marketing.
  6. Make the time to collaborate with your agency. If you skip meetings, miss deadlines, and sit indefinitely on things awaiting approval, you’re only tapping around 50% of their potential.
  7. If your boss doesn’t understand marketing, won’t leave, and remains skeptical about every campaign… dude, find a new job. We’ve seen it.  It never ends well.
  8. Tourists want visuals. Invest continually in photos and videos…every itinerary, every package, every story angle.  Without them, you’re losing marketing opportunities…which means you’re losing money.
  9. If you have “marketing envy” and always wish your organization could do things as cool as your competitors (or your agency’s other clients), learn what it takes operationally to execute such things. Then decide if your organization can make it happen.  You may not be nimble enough, your pockets may not be deep enough, or the concepts may be the complete wrong match for your brand.  If your organization is not equipped for it, stop being wistful.  Invest your energy in what will work best for YOU.
  10. It’s totally OK to put some marketing initiatives on a steady low flame temporarily (or even permanently) while you focus your resources elsewhere. Just make peace with it and don’t expect them to yield big results.
  11. It is totally NOT OK to turn PR on and off completely. It’s the one marketing medium that doesn’t respond well to fits and starts.  Either do it consistently (at any flame level) or just don’t do it.
  12. Use tailored landing pages for your digital campaigns. Without them, you’re losing a ton of business.  For some organizations, this is a no brainer. For others, it’s like pulling teeth.  Every. Single. Time.
  13. If your guest service and/or guest experience is inconsistent or subpar in any way, marketing will not help change that. In fact, the more guests we drive to your door, the more money you’re going to waste.  The damage those guests will do through social media, review sites, and lack of referrals/return quietly sabotages the positive benefits that marketing brings.  And a business can’t survive on new guests alone, who are more costly to acquire than referrals/repeats.  Fix the foundation, and you’ll see marketing pay off in spades.
  14. You can’t find love on a spreadsheet.
  15. A website should be both beautiful and functional, but if you had to choose where to put more resources…choose functionality every time.
  16. Forget what we said in #15 entirely.  Stop thinking of “beauty” and “functionality” as two different things.  Together they comprise “user experience,” and if your website doesn’t deliver equally in both areas, you’re losing money.  Period.
  17. Social media is more demanding than any other marketing medium. If you want to deeply succeed here, be prepared to staff it fully and keep up with the breakneck pace of ever-evolving rules, features, and channels.  Doing set-and-forget style marketing only taps around 20% of social media’s potential.  It’s fine if you choose to do it that way in the context of your overall marketing plan.  Just expect your notable results to come from other sources.
  18. If your risk tolerance is low, then PR is not for you. Often in PR, the greatest risks yield the highest rewards, but there are no guarantees.  That’s what makes it so exciting!
  19. There’s a reason creative, clever tourism packages and programs get a ton of press and social media love. Boring things just don’t command attention.
  20. Consistent indecision will tank your marketing ROI more than making a definitive poor choice ever will. That sounds dramatic, but history generally proves it to be true.

And here’s a bonus item, since we kinda negated #15.  Be candid with your agency at all times. Issues and concerns can be overcome easily with open communication. A good partner – as all agencies should be – will welcome the candor.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the client experiences we’ve had, and every relationship has helped us grow. And it’s enabled us to help brands of all sizes achieve their marketing and business objectives.  Big shout-out to all our clients for putting their trust in us, and here’s to the next 20 years!

10 Unexpected (and fabulous) tourism guest service stories.

September 20, 2021

Here’s the way to create indelible tourism memories:  deliver completely unexpected, fabulous, and highly personal guest service.  Also, spoiler alert…there’s a story in this piece about my trip to Spain that’s going to horrify my mother.  (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.  I’m older now and I won’t do it again.)

Tourism businesses – hotels, airlines, attractions, cruise lines, tour companies, etc. – often invest a ton of money and labor developing comprehensive guest service programs and amenities.  And those bring value to the tourism experience, no doubt.  But the simple truth is that PEOPLE create the unexpected, joyful moments that make the most lasting impressions on guests.  Moments like these ultimately transform guests into ambassadors.

I travel for a living because I do tourism marketing and consulting work around the world.  So that means I’ve stayed at hundreds of hotels in dozens of countries and have thousands of tourism experiences under my belt.  Many of these have been utterly outrageous – like the time I stayed at a five-star luxury resort in the Caribbean for a grand total of 12 hours (including sleep) as part of an island-wide site assessment.

At this resort, I had my own butler, who literally unpacked my entire suitcase and pressed all my clothes and hung them…despite the fact that he was just going to fold and pack them all up again 12 hours later.  When I came in from dinner that night, he had decorated the entire bathroom with flower petals and candles, drawn a bath, and had champagne chilling next to the tub for me.  I was tempted to stay awake all night just so I could see what he’d do next.

You’d think an experience like that would be near the top of my “best hospitality experiences” memory list, right?  But no…and not because it was too short-lived to enjoy it.  It’s because there’s nothing extraordinary about that level of service at that type of resort. Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely lovely and I enjoyed every second of it.  But it all followed a carefully planned script that was delivered uniformly to all guests.  Plus, for the price of that suite, it was completely expected.  Indeed, I’d have been disappointed if the service had been anything less.

So no…those types of experiences don’t top my “best hospitality experiences” list.  In fact, all of the experiences that have made a lasting impression on me and turned me into a loyal, enthusiastic ambassador for each organization have just two things in common:  1) they were completely unexpected, and 2) they happened because an employee I encountered went out of their way – and off script – to bring me joy.

And here’s the best part:  most of the experiences cost the business absolutely nothing to deliver.

So here, in no particular order, are 10 of my most unforgettable, unexpected, and completely fabulous tourism guest service experiences.

  1. I was offered a home-cooked meal.

When I called the Torrent River Inn in Hawke’s Bay, Newfoundland to make a one-night reservation that split up a 10-hour drive for me, I asked what dinner options would be available for my late evening arrival.  Turns out, the inn is in the middle of nowhere, AND their restaurant would be closed, AND it was Canadian Thanksgiving that day.  Guess what?  The employee on the phone – who was not the owner, btw – offered to bring me a plate of food from her family’s Thanksgiving dinner when I arrived.  She wasn’t even going to be working that night.

  1. I was sent the souvenirs I regretted not buying.

As I was checking out of the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart, Tasmania, the bellman asked me what I was going to regret most about leaving their beautiful island.  I didn’t even have to think about it:  I had seen a mug at a touristy store in town that cracked me up and was just sooooooo Tasmania.  But not being “that kind” of a souvenir buyer as a rule (I’m more likely to buy a local recipe book or items made by a local artisan), I didn’t buy it.  But as soon as he asked me what I would regret about leaving, not buying that mug was the first thing that came to mind.  When I got home to New York three weeks later, guess what was waiting for me?  A set of four of those mugs, compliments of the hotel.

Picture of souvenir mug that says Send Tassie More Tourists the Last Ones Were Delicious

 

  1. They brought me handpicked wildflowers.

My stay at the York Harbor Inn in Maine began horribly:  the night I arrived, I realized I had strep throat.  It took a bit of time to get the right meds, so for 72 hours I stayed feverishly holed up in my room. Ultimately I even had to extend my stay because I was too sick to leave.  On the day I emerged from the room for the first time, I let housekeeping know I was stepping out for a while so they could go in and fumigate (bless them).  When I got back, besides the room being sparkly clean, there was a jar filled with wildflowers and a note:  “We’re so glad you’re feeling better.  Love, the Housekeepers at the York Harbor Inn.”

  1. They made me a pillow.

In what might just be the greatest guest service experience of all time, this housekeeper made history for me.  At the hotel that has since been rebranded as Hotel Halifax  in Nova Scotia (but don’t worry, the staff is the same and the service is just as exceptional), Sandra the housekeeper recognized that I was using a towel in a pillowcase every night during my stay…and then she started making towel pillows for me on her own. Let me be clear:  I do this in hundreds of hotels and no housekeeper has EVER done anything other than remake the bed with fluffy pillows intact and towels hanging back in the bathroom where they belong. So to discover Sandra’s towel pillow with a special note to me was like the greatest surprise of my tourism life.  In fact, when I blogged about the story, it was shared over 100,000 times and even earned Sandra and the hotel an award from their corporate brand.  Read here How One Housekeeper Won My Brand Allegiance…and My Heart.

 

A note to Chris Miranda from the housekeeper at the Hotel Halifax as an example of unexpected, fabulous tourism guest service.

 

  1. I was given free coffee and treated like a celebrity.

To this day, I still don’t know how she did it.  When I walked into the sundries store at Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont to get a cup of coffee, the cashier told me she knew who I was and the coffee was on the house.  Yes, I was there to deliver the inspirational keynote speech at the resort’s season-opening employee rally.  And yes, it’s not like they had a ton of guests roaming around just before ski season started.  Maybe they had sent around my picture to all staff or posted it in the employee breakroom, or maybe she just figured the one stranger in the shop HAD to be the day’s guest speaker.  Or maybe – could it be? – she remembered me from when I spoke there a year prior, even though we hadn’t met.  But you know what?  I don’t want to know.  It’s way more magical not knowing.  I was just recovering from a grueling, white-knuckle nine-hour drive in a snowstorm to get there, and to be unexpectedly recognized by a random staffer and given free coffee was just the BEST THING EVER.

  1. There was a dog waiting in my room.

While presenting a tourism community workshop on developing hotel packages and experiences at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel in Miramichi, New Brunswick, I jokingly suggested that it would be awesome if hotels could offer a dog as part of a stay.  As there were many dog lovers in the audience, we bounced that fun topic around a bit and everyone learned how passionate I am about dogs.  Turns out, the general manager of the hotel happened to be in the audience for that workshop.  He secretly texted a hotel staff member to quickly go buy a toy dog (It barks!  It moves!).  By the time I finished that workshop two hours later and went up to my room, that dog was waiting there for me…complete with dog bed, treats, and a special note from the hotel.  Tourism guest service doesn’t get more unexpected and fabulous than that.

 

Christina Miranda showing a fabulous and unexpected tourism guest service example while she sits in a dog bed holding the toy dog delivered to her room at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel.

 

  1. I got extra dumplings just because I asked for them.

While at legendary restaurant Buddakan in NYC, my indecision between two appetizers prompted me to order one and then mischievously ask if I could just taste ONE dumpling from the other… just so I’d know for next time.  Imagine my surprise when – in addition to the appetizer I ordered – the server brought out an ENTIRE dish of Szechuan pork dumplings instead of just one…and then told me there was no charge for them. That simple act of kindness (and investment) earned them my loyalty, return visits, and about a zillion referrals.  In fact, I did the math at the time and their ROI for that one gesture was so strong that I wrote about the experience here:  You Can’t Find Love on a Spreadsheet.

  1. I got into a sold-out bullfight in Spain against all odds.

There was not a ticket to be had for the high-profile bullfight happening when I was staying in Madrid.  Watching a bullfight is not for the faint of heart, but I had no intention of leaving Spain without experiencing such a rich cultural tradition.  When I asked the concierge at my hotel, which has since been rebranded as the ME Madrid Reina Victoria, I learned that there was no way I could snag a ticket without giving up my retirement savings.  I went away sad.  Until the next day, when he took me aside at breakfast and told me a family he knows agreed to let me join them, no charge.  TBH, it was like being in witness protection:  I was taken to an appointed street corner on the back of a motorbike by one of the hotel’s dishwashers, met there by a niece in the family, handed off to a cousin in a café near Las Ventas Bullring, and then – no lie – smuggled into the arena by the family.  This incredible group of nearly 30 people shared their food & drinks with me, educated me on the whole spectacle of bullfighting as it unfolded, and introduced me to nearly every person in our section of the arena.  And they wouldn’t accept a dime.  It was truly one of the best days of my life, being embraced by these strangers and immersed into their culture.  It was only the next day that I realized I was lucky that all those witness-protection-style-logistics didn’t end up with me being sold on the black market to a world of unpleasant things.  Ah, to be young and blindly trusting again.

  1. They protected my cupcakes to the death.

When I arrived at the WestJet check-in desk at LaGuardia Airport enroute to Newfoundland by way of Toronto, I had 875 cupcakes in tow.  My goal:  get those cupcakes all the way to St. John’s, NL, in one piece – frosting intact – to deliver as a surprise at a tourism industry speech.  I was a nervous wreck because we all know baggage handlers aren’t always the most gentle caretakers, but there was simply no other way to get these cupcakes there fresh and on time.  Enter Jesse and Alex at WestJet.  They dove right into being co-conspirators on “Operation Cupcake Surprise,” and took personal responsibility for marking the boxes and shepherding them to the plane.  Then, at the gate, they introduced me to the baggage supervisor who personally stacked my boxes on board in a cool dry area, making sure they were all upright.  And they alerted the flight crew of the precious cargo to ensure my cupcakes and I got the same extraordinary treatment when we changed planes in Toronto.  The cupcakes were in perfect condition upon arrival.  PS – they even gave me an upgrade.  #fan4life

Chris Miranda stands between two WestJet employees at the gate in an example of unexpected and fabulous tourism guest service experiences.

 

  1. Someone bought me a hairdryer.

While staying at The Peninsula Chicago, I needed a hairdryer with a special attachment as mine broke during the arrival flight. They didn’t have it at the hotel, so on my way out to my dinner meeting, I asked the concierge for help locating a place to purchase one.  Requirements:  it had to be on my route to/from dinner, open in the evening, and definitely have it in stock.  I told him I was absurdly pressed for time that night, but needed it for 5am the next morning to groom for a big presentation.  The concierge instantly responded to my stress level and just said “go to your dinner, I’ll take care of it for you.”  When I got back to my room that night, the hairdryer was sitting on my bed with the money I gave him to buy it and a note on the box: “This one’s on me.  Knock ‘em dead tomorrow.”

 

You see?  It’s PEOPLE that make the most lasting impressions.  PEOPLE create the unexpected and fabulous guest service moments in tourism.  And those moments become marketable.  They create ambassadors for your brand.

So if you’re a tourism business, the moral of the story here is this:  1) hire kind people who like to make others happy, and 2) give them the freedom – within reason – to put that skill into practice with your guests.

Oh and here’s a tip:  do NOT let ridiculous and out-of-touch corporate policy override guest happiness.  The chocolate chip cookie policy at this resort is another experience I’ll never forget…but not in a good way.

We’re all just suckers for homemade cake.

February 3, 2021

I speak at tourism and leisure conferences around the world and I gotta be honest:  I can’t recall the food I’ve eaten at any of them.  It’s not that the food was bad… it just wasn’t memorable.

Except for one time.

At the Annual General Meeting of the Miramichi River Tourism Association in New Brunswick Canada, the desserts served after the meeting were all homemade by the committee members of the Miramichi Folksong Festival.   Naturally, my colleague Gina and I had to pose for a picture with the bakers:

Redpoint staff and the Miramichi Folksong Festival committee pose at the dessert table.

And please drool for a moment over one of the cakes:

Picture of chocolate cake with white icing and kisses on top    Close up of slice of chocolate cake with white icing

Now…why is this so fabulous and what can you learn from it?  Three things:

  • It was unexpected to find such a deeply personal touch at a large business conference, so it not only made a memorable impression, but it also warmed my heart.
  • Cakes and pies are all made by SOMEONE, so even when they are purchased and served en masse from a bakery or your catering kitchen, they can still be considered “homemade.”  But the fact that these were made in home kitchens by the very ladies (and gent) who served them spoke to a level of effort and care that made me feel extraordinarily welcome.
  • Seeing all the attendees flock around the dessert table chatting with the bakers about what they baked brought a special warmth and sociability to the event.  It made guests (and especially me, the out-of-towner) feel more connected to both the event and the organization hosting it.

So, hospitality businesses, I’m not saying you need to start baking all your cakes at home and having Ethel and Barb serve them.  But think about how you can bring that level of personal touch, effort, and care to your guests.  Can you tell the story behind a special dish made in your restaurant?  Hand deliver something unexpected to a room?  Give them a small treat at checkout made by your chef (or better yet…your housekeeper, because it’s unexpected?) to enjoy on the ride home?  Have one of your chefs, gardeners, or housekeepers hang out in the lobby one day to chat with guests and answer questions about their job?  You get the idea.

Do these things cost time and money?  Sure.  But if they make a lasting – and perhaps Instagram-worthy – impression, the investment will pay you back in spades.

Need more convincing?  Check out how these tiny design details make a big difference and how even accountants can have fun with marketing.

How to make directions idiot-proof.

October 19, 2020

Whoever thought that watching someone try to follow written directions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich could be so hilarious and entertaining?  Click the image to watch:

father daughter and son laughing over a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich

The dad’s deliberate insistence on following EXACTLY what was written feels absurd to watch… but only because we all know he knows how to make a PB&J.  His brain can certainly fill in the gaps in direction, and the direction writers just assume that he will.

But what about someone who’s never seen nor heard of a PB&J?  Or even a sandwich?

That’s how guests feel when your directions and instructions aren’t specific enough.  What kind?  Stuff like…

  • Directions from the nearest highway to your property
  • How to control the thermostat in the hotel room
  • How to connect to wifi
  • How to use any sort of mechanical or technological item in the room
  • How to set the *#$%@ alarm clock
  • How to get to various local attractions nearby

Basically, any time you’re telling a guest how to do anything, it’s just so much easier on them – and better customer service – if you’re specific to the point of absurdity.  You can’t assume they will use GPS (or that it will work well in rural areas), or that they’ll use their phone to be self sufficient for everything they need.  So spoon feed them every step of the way.

Because there are so many things you can’t control in their total experience… why risk causing frustration on something you can control?  Need more convincing on this?  See what happens when you don’t make enough chocolate chip cookies.

 

Tiny design details can make big memories in hospitality.

February 19, 2020

The bedside table at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh made me swoon with joy.

Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh bedside table outlet

It was such a pleasure to be spared the usual contortions of locating the closest power outlet to the bed: it was directly under the outlet icon.  The fact that it was done in such a clever way was just a bonus…and ensured that I’d remember it.

Design details like that might seem insignificant, but actually they wield tremendous power.  Guests on mental autopilot or simply focused on other things are instantly snapped into focus on YOU.  It cuts through their mental clutter and seduces them into being present in the moment, aware of their surroundings, and with a small zing of pleasant feeling toward you.  Without that design detail, they are perhaps allowed to be indifferent toward you…and in the competitive world of hospitality, that will never do.

I thought the groovy-looking fish on this cabinet in a guest cottage at Basin Harbor in Vermont was simply a decoration…

Closed fish design drawer at Basin Harbor

 

…until I noticed the tiny knob:

Open fish design drawer at Basin Harbor

 

And when I walked into a gas station restroom in upstate NY, this was the last thing I expected to see:

flowers in rest area bathroom

 

Did it make me smile after two hours of grueling traffic?  You bet it did.  Seems silly, but it really did.

You can unleash this design-detail power in literally any aspect of guest touch points.  You don’t have to do it EVERYWHERE at EVERY touch point… in fact, that would create sensory overload and then dilute the power of the surprise.  And indeed, it doesn’t have to be revolutionary or cost a ton of money…it just has to provide an unexpected “ah-ha” moment.

Look at these Do Not Disturb (DND) signs at The Quarterdeck Resort in Nova Scotia:

Do Not Disturb signs at Quarterdeck Resort

Magnetic DND signs solve soooooo many problems, especially for hotel rooms that open directly to the outdoors.  And anyone who has ever been annoyed by their DND sign falling off the doorknob or blowing away in the wind will instinctively – and involuntarily – think “wow that’s cool” the moment they see these.

But bear in mind that while clever design details are guaranteed to leave a positive impression on your guests, #DesignFails are guaranteed to do precisely the opposite.  Behold, this Montauk NY cottage resort, where our ONLY door to the outside was clearly at odds with the DND sign:

Design fail for Do Not Disturb sign

Luckily, I had a bandaid in my travel bag, so we were able to (literally) doctor the DND sign to the glass door.

And here’s a parting tip.  Design not your thing, or maybe you’re afraid of the cost?  You can achieve the same zing-of-joy with clever signs.

Why I love Weed.

October 23, 2019

Last week, as I was leaving Weed Orchards & Winery in NY’s Hudson Valley after a day of apple picking, I uttered the words that every attraction, hotel, restaurant, and destination longs to hear:

We just HAVE to come back here again.

And I wasn’t alone.  A bunch of Redpointers and their families were with me, and they all felt the same way.  Future outings were planned before we even walked to the parking lot.

How did Weed accomplish that?  How did they seduce a bunch of been-there-done-that marketers into a loyal romance with just one visit?  With three smart moves:  energy, experience investment, and onsite marketing.

Energy:  Except for the peacefulness found among the sprawling orchards, that joint was JUMPING.  An emcee/DJ playing music in the front courtyard area and acting like a cross between a circus barker and welcoming committee.  A live band in the back patio and picnic area (near the outdoor bar, how convenient), creating a distinctly different entertainment space from the front courtyard area.  Wagon rides over here.  Wine tastings over there.  At every point, people directing you…guiding you…suggesting something for you to do/try/see.  Impression left on guest:  vibrancy, life, texture… “I would never get bored here.”

Experience Investment: The typical apple-picking attraction playbook is… orchards + farm store/bakery.  You wouldn’t think of spending an entire day there, nor would you think “I could come hang out here every weekend.”  Not so with Weed.  In a well-organized guest experience area, they offer four dining outlets (each serving completely different menu items, one exclusively devoted to cider donuts), two music/entertainment areas, several bar areas, a bakery, face painting, a playground, wagon rides, corn maze, petting zoo, a winery, produce for purchase, and a shocking array of indoor and outdoor seating areas.  And that’s not even counting the pick-your-own orchards, gardens, and pumpkin patches.  Impression left on guest: “I could come here every weekend and have a completely different experience…with my grandma, my neighbors, my besties, or my toddler.”

weed orchard mapOnsite Marketing:  The moment you arrive, you’re handed a map of the whole place (see pic), and then this happens in your brain:  Whoa.  What’s this?  I can pick peaches?  Nectarines?  Vegetables?  When?  Not now?  So, when?  I’ll come back.  Wait… is that a corn maze on the other side?  Where’s the winery?  Oh, there…not too far from the donuts.  And so on.  Supplementing that are the helpful signs around the place, and ohhhhhh… that emcee/barker.  She delivered the perfect blend of fun commentary (“there’s  no donut line right now!”), promo teasers (“don’t miss our pumpkin festival next weekend”), and smooth marketing lines (“tag us on social media @weedorchards”… “bring home a bottle of our crisp Seyval Blanc”… “it’s hot out!…try a wine slushie at the winery…um, not you, kids… adults only”).  Impression left on guest:  I need to come back…there’s so much to do here.

What’s my point?  THEY DON’T SKIMP AND THEY DON’T FUMBLE AT THE GUEST EXPERIENCE GOAL LINE.

I can just hear the objections that would typically occur in the executive planning and finance meetings of such a business:  Why do we need a band when we have a DJ?  Why have different foods at each outlet?  We can’t just hand out a plain old photocopied black-and-white map… it would have to be designed and printed and we don’t have the money for that.  And on…and on…and on.

Kudos to the team at Weed for – in my opinion – making all the right choices.

And if you think they spent too much money unnecessarily?  Well, ask yourself this:  how much are the words “we just HAVE to come back here again” worth to YOUR business?

This “Blind Date” concept wins at marketing.

May 29, 2018

This idea – Blind Date with a Book – is so brilliant, I just stood there admiring it for several minutes while my marketing brain lit up with joy.

At Book Culture on Columbus, a reader’s paradise on the Upper West Side of NYC, there’s a center table piled with books wrapped completely so you can’t see their titles.  A label on each one gives you clues to the book’s content, like so:

Blind Date with a Book

Trying not to look like a creepy stalker, I hovered around the table for a long while…just to observe the reactions of people who stumbled upon the table for the first time.

Here’s the big headline:  every single person HAD a reaction.  Some thought it was the coolest idea in the universe, some said they’d never buy a book sight unseen, some wanted to rip off the wrapping and see if they guessed correctly, some thought it was a unique gift for bookworms.

But…  Everyone.  Had.  A.  Reaction.

Do you know how hard that is to achieve?  Breaking through the cluttered awareness of busy shoppers, amidst a sea of tables and shelves and displays and gifts and noise?  Nearly impossible.

But Blind Date with a Book achieves it, because it’s rich with multi-faceted marketing power:

  • It’s the bricks-n-mortar answer to the online suggestion algorithms (“If you like this, you’ll ALSO like…”) that the Amazons and Spotifys of the world have trained us to crave.
  • The power of secrets and surprises…people can’t resist the mischief.
  • It addresses a business need with grace, whimsy, and a consumer-facing benefit:  the titles are all picked by staff because they’re worth a read, but for whatever reason don’t get as much purchasing love as they should.
  • It connects with people…engages them, and definitely makes them smile.
  • No question it gives shape to the store’s personality…anything unexpected and fun like this ignites a positive feeling for the brand.  Even if you’re not the type to purchase a wrapped book, you still think they’re cool for doing it.

What’s the moral here?  Stop reaching for the same old sales and marketing tools.  If Book Culture had wanted to push slow-moving titles, they could have done a sale or marked them as “Staff Picks” or whatever.  All usual tricks for bookstores, and all standing a 50/50 chance of getting people to care.

But wrap up a book in brown paper and call it a Blind Date?  Winner.  Hands down.

The secret to extraordinary guest service.

September 28, 2016

Two years ago, Sandra the housekeeper at the Delta Halifax in Nova Scotia stole my heart and forever sealed my loyalty to that hotel.  I thought the happily-ever-after story ended there…but I was wrong.  It gets better.

Since that famous visit (the blog post about it was read/shared more than 100,000 times), I’ve returned to the Delta Halifax often.  And given the widespread recognition of the story, it’s not surprising that many of the staff there know me, or at least know who I am.  I treasure the bond that we’ve forged, and their extraordinary guest service has remained intact on each visit.

The guest in me revels in that consistency.  But the hospitality business counselor in me realizes that the stakes are getting higher and higher with each stay.  Can they keep hitting the mark EVERY SINGLE TIME?  Surely, they’re bound to be off their service game at some point.  What’s going to happen to this magical bond between us when they disappoint me for the first time?  What’s going to happen when they fail?

Happily, on my most recent visit, I learned that The Delta Halifax will NEVER fail at delivering extraordinary guest service.  I discovered their foolproof secret, and here it is:

After a grueling five-hour drive, I arrived at the hotel at 9:30pm…parked right in front of the door, flew out of the car, ran past the front desk agent, said nothing but “Hi, I need the ladies room before I can check in,” and then scooted out of sight.  When I returned to the front desk, the agent (who I didn’t know) had my room keys ready and said, “Welcome back, Ms. Miranda…we have you in Sandra’s section, and will you be needing assistance with your bags before we park your car?”

I didn’t ask how she knew who I was.  Perhaps I was the last check-in that evening.  Maybe they have a photo of me in my guest profile.  Who cares?  I was just grateful for the friendly expediency and headed back outside to deal with luggage and car.

The young bellman gent who shepherded me (and seven large bags and boxes) to my room was also unfamiliar to me, though he too also seemed to know me.  While chatting, I asked how long he’s been working there.  Answer:  three weeks.  After he got me settled into the room, I asked him if I needed a valet ticket for my car.  Answer:  “No worries, Ms. Miranda, we know who you are…just call down when you’re ready for the car and we’ll bring it around.”

I couldn’t hold back any longer.  I said, “You just started three weeks ago…how on earth do you know who I am?”

Answer:  “Are you kidding?  You’re a legend here.  I learned about your pillow story during my orientation, and everyone who works here gets excited when you’re coming back.”  Cue mouth agape and slight sting of happy tears on my part.

But wait.  There’s more.

I gave him a $25 tip when he left my room…that was a lot of heavy baggage AND he parked my car.  A minute later, he knocked on my door to give the 20 back because he thought I mistakenly gave him the wrong bill.  Seriously.  I almost gave him ANOTHER 20, just for being adorable.

Adorable gent gone, I surveyed the room.  Yes, my special towel-pillow was there, with a welcome note from Sandra.  And this time, she upped her game, surrounding my complimentary bottle of water with hearts that she hand cut out of paper water coasters.

fullsizerender-8Life was good.  I was home.

But now I was curious.  Was it JUST me?  It seems that my blog post had earned the hotel some measure of recognition among its peers and corporate office, and Sandra was certainly given praise for her role in the famous pillow story.  But was everyone in this hotel extra nice and helpful to me just because I got them positive attention?  I needed to know.

So the next day, I sat and observed…at the restaurant, in the lobby, outside on the benches.  I watched every single staff member interact with guests at various points throughout the day.  And guess what?  It’s not just me.  They may not know everyone’s name or face, but good heavens…they are THAT NICE AND HELPFUL to everyone.  I saw anticipatory, gracious, and extraordinary service at every touch point – servers, bell staff, maintenance dudes, front desk team, executives walking around…every interaction, with every person.

How was this possible?  The Delta Halifax is NOT a small hotel.  But surely they can’t have simply hired every amazing person in the city?  And surely they can’t just hand out a training manual and teach people good judgment on how to be gracious without being annoying?  If that were possible, then every hotel in the world would be a giant bundle of amazingness.

And then, upon reflection, it hit me.  It’s pride.  Staff at the Delta Halifax are instilled with a sense of pride in the hotel, and in each other.  They enjoy nurturing the hotel’s stellar reputation, and they conspire together to make guests happy.  They care deeply – collectively and as individuals – that guests are made to feel welcomed, special, and loved.  And…here’s the best part:  it’s genuine.  They don’t just act it.  They FEEL it.

Yes, there’s a Delta employee training manual.  And yes, there are workshops, brand standards, performance reviews and all that jazz.  But let me tell you something, folks:  you can’t teach pride. 

Full honors go to the executive team at the Delta Halifax for fostering that culture, because this type of environment can ONLY exist if the management team encourages it, shapes it, rewards it, and reclaims it when it goes astray.

Hospitality managers everywhere…here’s what you can learn from this story.  If your guest service isn’t extraordinary, find out why your employees aren’t taking pride in your organization and fix it.  Why should they love working for you?  Why should they care?  What are you trying to achieve together for your guests?  Fix that, and I guarantee you, all your guest service issues will go away.

Delta Halifax…I take my hat off to you.  You have my loyalty as a guest, and my respect as a hospitality business counselor.  I don’t know exactly how you instill that sense of pride in your staff, but you know what?  I don’t want to know.  Keep that part of your secret, and I’ll just keep coming back to enjoy the magic.

PS:  On the second morning of my stay, the server at breakfast automatically brought me cream with my coffee because she remembered I asked for it on the first day.  Just sayin’.