It’s the little things that can bite you

I recently returned from a family holiday in Tasmania. Nothing glamourous, just a self-catering week in the interior — tall trees, waterfalls, leeches.

We set off one afternoon from our cabin on an hour-long walk, ostensibly to spot wedge-tailed eagles. With two kids under the age of 10 I was bringing up the rear of our indian-file mini-hike to ensure our easily-distracted six-year-old didn’t fall down a wombat hole without anyone’s knowledge. In the middle of a particularly satisfying alfresco pitstop I heard what could have been a spotted quoll being waterboarded. The racket was actually my wife noisily encountering the local leech population. I arrived on the scene still doing up my flies, prepared to hose the situation down with a few carefully chosen words of reassurance. But as I saw these fearsome little critters slipping through the perforated fabric of our children’s jogging shoes like quicksilver I joined in the quoll chorus… I couldn’t help it, my brain instantly conjured up images of me, grim-faced, holding a match over my boy’s kero-doused foot teeming with plump blood-suckers… “I’m afraid there’s no other way son”. Snapping back into the moment, like a man possessed, I frantically grabbed at squirming, burrowing black tails. Fortunately the leeches were quite easily removed. But the sight of my nine-year-old, wide-eyed and cemented to the spot in terror with a hungry leach hanging off his cheek, will take some time to shift from my memory.

Will our leech experience be the lasting one from our holiday? Yes, probably. Admittedly we’re already joking about it (”gee that walk sucked didn’t it?” “Talk about getting close to nature” etc) and it’ll become part our family’s folklore, but it does illustrate a point we all know well. It takes millions of dollars in investment, marketing, training, and innovation to get a pass mark in hospitality and takes a missing 50-cent roll of dunny paper or a two-cent lipstick mark on a glass — or even a rogue leach colony you have no control over — to leave a lasting negative impression.

It’s hardly fair, but it’s the little things that matter.

The flipside is equally as important: the best hotel operators understand how it’s the little things that can unexpectedly delight and have a disproportionately big and favourable difference. I’ve experienced this with cool design, where the less than obvious rewards repeat visits. Then there are times I’ve been given a complimentary gourmet nosebag, which has always repaid the hotel in spades as I’ve dived into the bar fridge for something to accompany it. Then there’s that cool book on the side table, a signed note from the manager, a smile from housekeeping, a table upgrade in the house restaurant, a parking voucher… they can all add up to a word-of-mouth rave review from your guests.

This issue our cover story is an interview with Will Deague, CEO of APBC (the parent company of Art Series Hotels). The Art Series Hotels is an audacious start-up chain of boutique five-star hotels. One thing that became clear to me was that Will and his team instinctively understand the ‘little things’ principle. The baby canvas kits at reception are a fabulous idea — use the paints to colour in between the lines and have yourself a Cullen or Olsen ‘original’. Being able to hire a Smart car by the hour at a subsidised rate is another bonza brainwave. Better still, grab a Cullen bicycle!

As an operator it’s understandably easy to be utterly focussed on the 95% to achieve the pass mark of customer satisfaction and forget about the ‘one percenters’ that can cover you in glory. I mean, no one will send you a personal note about the quality of your air conditioner’s cooling tower but they may well rave for days about the homemade muffins at breakfast.

It’s the little things, after all.

Christopher Holder, Editorial Director

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