What Does An “Experience Specialist” At An Airport Hotel Do?

I really do appreciate that hotels are doing more than ever to invest in the guest experience.

As far as the major hotel chains go, Starwood is really make an effort to customize the stay experience for elite members, at least on a corporate level (the challenge is that it’s always up to the individual hotel to execute, and that can be challenging at times).

Sometimes corporate’s vision is well executed, and sometimes it’s not.

For example, if I arrive at a hotel and there’s a welcome amenity waiting for me, that delights me (of course that’s assuming I didn’t select it as my “welcome gift,” if applicable). Who doesn’t like some drinks and snacks waiting for them when they arrive at their room? That’s genuinely a “surprise and delight” move, and a great way to make a guest’s stay memorable.

I got that recently at the Sheraton Gateway LAX, and it definitely left a positive impression.

Sheraton-Gateway-Welcome-Amenity

Conversely, I’m not quite sure I get the way in which many non-destination hotels are investing in the guest experience. For example, I stayed at the Sheraton Skyline Heathrow a while back, and at check-in they have an “SPG Ambassador” that welcomes you. I had come off a longhaul flight and just wanted to get to my room, so personally small talk without a purpose doesn’t actually improve my stay… especially at an airport hotel, where I just want a good night of sleep.

Sheraton-Skyline-London-Heathrow-Hotel-03

I’m soon staying at a Westin that’s an airport hotel, and just received an email from the “experience specialist,” which reads as follows:

Dear Ben,

My name is ____ and I am the Westin Experience Specialist at The Westin ______. I wanted to introduce myself and offer my services for your upcoming visit.

As a Platinum Starwood Preferred Guest member, your stay with us is extremely important.  If there is anything I can do to best prepare for your stay or if you have any information that could help us serve you better (arrival time, purpose of your visit, special occasions, bedding preferences, fitness needs, etc.), we will do our best to personalize your stay to your needs.

If there is anything I can do for you, please reach out via telephone at ______ or by e-mail: ______.

Be well,
Westin Experience Specialist

Now maybe it’s just me, but my expectations of airport hotels are pretty simple:

  • Have an efficient/punctual shuttle
  • Have comfortable beds without bed bugs

Maybe I’m just jaded, but I don’t expect an airport hotel to execute stuff very well beyond that. Realistically, what could I request based on the above email? I could let them know the purpose of my visit and when I’ll be arriving, but that doesn’t really help me. Special occasions, fitness needs, and bedding preferences? If this were a destination resort I’d get that, but for an airport hotel?

I’m not trying to rag on this hotel specifically, because I do appreciate that they’re trying. Instead, I just kind of feel like hotels are a bit off in how they invest their resources in the guest experience:

  • I booked the Park Hyatt Maldives, and the hotel didn’t reach out to me to tell me about how transfers work, upgrade options, etc. (which is something you’d think they would do as soon as you book for a $1,000+ per night hotel, given that you can’t even get to the hotel without arranging transfers through them)
  • For an airport hotel, an unprompted welcome amenity or just an upgrade that I’m entitled to would make me really happy, as opposed to unnecessary contact

So it all just seems a bit backwards because I rarely receive such an email from a St. Regis or Park Hyatt destination resort, while I do receive it from an airport hotel.

Am I off base? Is an “experience specialist” a good use of money at all hotels, or does it depend on the type of hotel? Does the way you want to be interacted with differ based on where you’re going? And is there anything I should ask the “experience specialist” for to see if there’s really any value to such contact?

Comments

  1. I suspect “experience specialist” is simply a re-titling of an already existing employee.

  2. I think hotels need to dial down the layers of excessively fake service and get back to the basics of good service.

    I’ve been SPG Platinum for two years, and am now ramping down with them, and giving Hyatt a go.

    I get emails from SPG managers and specialists before my stay. I get SPG surveys after my stay. I even had some folks at Starwood corporate trying to help out, and nothing really happened. It shouldn’t be hard to get a quiet room, an upgrade once in a while, and a smile at check-in and out.

    There are loads of things the Experience Specialist could do for you – cars, reservations, a bottle of champagne on ice in the room if it’s a specie occasion and you want to surprise someone. But the thing I can’t figure out is why I need them to do this – I’d just as soon call or email the hotel if I needed something.

    My point? How about all these specialists and managers actually pay attention to my reservation requests, reservation history, and what I am sure is a robust customer service profile and just live up to the basics?

    SPG is so fast with an apology and some points to smooth stuff over. How about getting it right to begin with, and we can forgo the apology.

    I recently stayed at a W in New York City. Someone emailed me several days in advance to find out if I needed anything, and to welcome me to the hotel. I thanked him for his email, and repeated my request for a quiet room far from the elevator. He replies back and says that won’t be a problem. I check in, I go up to the room, and it’s directly in front of a buzzing ice machine, that was loud and clear through the closed room door. I go back downstairs and ask FOR THE FOURTH TIME (in the res, in two emails, and at check-in) for a quiet room. Which I finally get. I email the “specialist” and ask why of all the rooms in the hotel. he selected my “quiet” one right next to a loud noise. His reply? It was a suite, and most people love suites. Great – except I didn’t ask for a suite. I asked for quiet.

    So yeah, thanks for the emails SPG. They really seem to help.

  3. It’s all about competition. Park Hyatt Maldives has way less competition compare to an airport hotel. Each hotel in Maldives is unique, but airport hotels at LHR are pretty much very similar. If I were managers in Park Hyatt Maldives, I will do the same thing, since I don’t need to worry too much about sales. It’s never about the price of a hotel, but the competition. Again,Park Hyatt Maldives is one of the most popular hotels in Maldives, and most of luxury hotels in Maldives do not need to worry too much about competition, given the huge population of rich Asian tourists. In fact, most of these asian tourists booked their hotels though travel agents,and not only these agents helped them arranged the transfer, but these agents can also help you get upgrades / full meals at a cheaper price.

    In summary,Maldives, as the world’s most expensive travel destination, is also a market lacks of competition.

  4. You’re dead on. It seems a bit much. Now that you mention it, how have you avoided bedbugs while staying nightly in hotels?

  5. Lucky I think you are coming at this the wrong way. Even for an airport hotel, it is a positive for a personalised reach-out prior to your stay, to see if their is any customisation they can do for you (like ensuring they have some Diet Cokes in your mini-bar). However, as Neil S. says, if they then fail to do anything asked, it’s a right poke in the eye and a complete waste of time. So an “Experience Specialist” (despite it’s wanky name) is fine, provided that staff member actually delivers.

  6. Totally agree with you on this being unnecessary for an airport hotel. I will say though, I had a great time with this during my stay at the Sheraton in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They reached out ahead of time and when I replied simply seeing if I might confirm a suite upgrade in advance (but not expecting it) the Platinum representative proactively upgraded me. They also had complimentary prosecco with the included Platinum breakfast, cocktails and wine in the Sheraton Club, and great amenities all around. In this case the treatment was exceptional.

  7. I do appreciate the emails but even with Starwood they are not consistent – you get them sometimes, but not always. Quite surprised with the Maldives experience as you need to sort out the transfers way in advance – and I’m sorry to say, there are 100+ hotels in the maldives, so there is a little bit of competition. And many are now throwing in the sea plane transfers, which wouldn’t happen years ago.

  8. @NP has the hotel been upgraded? For me it offers something unique in Rio (the semi private beach) but last time I visited (4yrs?) it was a bit tired. Curious as keen to return!

  9. I think it’s nice when hotels reach out but that’s certainly not something I’d expect them to do. However, good point about hotels in areas that require further arrangements.

  10. @ Poas — Respectfully I think you’re WAY off if you think there isn’t competition among resorts in the Maldives.

  11. I’d agree with the previous poster about competition, but in a slightly different way. Airport hotels live or die by tripadvisor scores and repeat business travelers. There are many of these repeat travelers that are incredibly picky about how they like their stay (prefer x room or want some very specific amenity). If you’re competing for that market, it helps to ask if there is something specific that you could give that person to keep them coming back week after week. It also is a cheap way to pump your tripadvisor score.

    For the Maldives, you’re not going to get the kind of finicky traveler that likes their weekly routine just so. And a much higher percentage of your time will be spent actually at the hotel where on-property service will count for a lot more in the eventual word-of-mouth reviews that the hotel likely is aiming for. Finally, I believe the poster above is correct that many of the visitors to such a remote location are going through travel agents, as to plan a vacation to such a remote place is beyond the ability of most travelers (most can’t just rely upon their millions of miles stock of airline miles and know all kinds of possible crazy routings to get there). Those travel agents often have a relationship with the hotel and will also book all of the associated travel.

  12. @ Andrew M — I think that’s a really valid point, but I guess that’s also my question. Should I be emailing her and saying “I’d love if you could upgrade me to a suite and have a welcome amenity waiting for me?” I guess that’s what I’m confused about, because I’m not sure what I could possibly ask for. I could see myself leaving a positive review on TripAdvisor if they proactively reached out in a meaningful way, but this seems so superficial to me. So I’m tempted to give this a try and see what they’ll offer, but I’m not sure what it’s reasonable to ask for.

  13. Sure, if that’s what you want. I think most people just want something predictable on their weekly business travel. I know someone that does yoga and her weekly airport hotel will set up a yoga mat in her room when she stay each week. If you want diet coke and some fruit in the room, they’d probably accommodate.

    I don’t know about upgrade, but if you had in mind a particular room you wanted to be blocked into or floor I’m sure they’d accommodate that.

    Of course, executing on the request will be absolutely key, and can be the difference between big waste of money and unhappy customer to good investment.

  14. Personally I love things like this. I don’t spend as much time in hotels as you do, but last year it was around 3 months in total. During this time, we’ve had some great welcome gifts and people reach out to us, and I’d prefer it rather than silence. Quite possibly the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in a hotel pre-visit form was ” What level of service do you prefer? We try to customise to suit our guests’ preferences. For example, would you like butlers with you at all time or prefer a more discreet service with an emphasis on privacy?”. To me this is a great question. I’d rather we were left alone, but others may have wish otherwise and they’ve asked so now know how to respond.

  15. I can’t decide if it’s the ‘reach out’ or the ‘experience specialist’ terminology that annoys me more 😉

  16. My sister works in Pharma and they host many meetings at airport hotels over the weekend as it’s easy to fly the doctors in/out. Her last meeting was in Copenhagen at the airport hotel. So while you are using the airport hotel for sleep, many hotels have a good meeting (and wedding) business so folks may need special attention provided by the “specialist”.
    I agree that consistency is the issue – I’m not elite and have had many welcome amenities along the way (love the cookies!) that resulted from a tweet or email conversation with the concierge or other. Yet other times, nothing – I was greeted with “happy birthday” at the Andaz Liverpool Street upon check-in and yet nothing in room to recognize the stay. That surprised me! I think Kimpton does a good job at guest experience.

  17. @ Lucky – it’s from Iniala, Phuket. I’ll send you some great examples of other hotels that do this unbelievably well if you want to email me.

  18. Long long ago in college, I was an intern at the Ilikai in HNL — when it was a Westin. My mentor overheard me saying it was my first experience in the “hotel business” — he promptly took me aside and told me “we’re in the Hospitality business, NOT the hotel business”.

    Personally I welcome any sign that a hotel is in the Hospitality business and personally could care less if that hotel is at an airport or in Outer Mongolia. Hotels with true hospitality earn repeat stays; hotels paying lip service to “hospitality” already have received all of my money they deserve.

  19. I’m also staying at Park Hyatt Maldives in three weeks time and have been surprised that the hotel hasn’t contacted us before our stay. We even tweeted / emailed to book a private dinner and the response from the hotel was that they didn’t know what that is! I’ve since requested it via the e-concierge, but the level of communication from the hotel seems poor so far.

  20. I recently stayed at the Westin in Phoenix and I had a fantastic experience with my stay specialist. I, was confused as well at what this person did. I usually never reply to these emails nor respond to the surveys but this time I decided to be a little more talkative at starwood hotels per some forum posts on flyer talk. I had some trouble sleeping as they have those feather pillow without support so I asked if they had those ergonomic pillows. They offered to purchase ones for me and have them in my room on a weekly basis. I googled the brand and they purchased 100 dollars worth of stuff for my husband and I?!?!? We usually hotel hop just to be in different areas now I’m booked there through August and have completely switched from Marriott. Just fantastic 😀 Can’t wait to see what else will happen.

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