The Hospitality Facade: Why Beauty Cannot Be Skin Deep

Are you one of those people who make instant judgments or do you prefer to take your time before making a decision? In terms of consumer behavior, the power of first impressions has come under epic scrutiny as many people make their decision based on what they see and hear first in the first five seconds of coming into contact with a product. We live in an age of unprecedented choice and so it is even more important that the image we present to our customers is a positive one

There are academic studies by the dozen that will explain to you that even small interactions (“thin slices”) are enough to make reasonably accurate assessmentsand if you’re breezing through an airport news stand, any number of best selling authors are happy to break the subject down in more entertaining terms.

Among the most popular of those books is Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, which discusses the tendency (and indeed the necessity) to “thin-slice” our experiences and make decisions based on limited information. Naturally, all kinds of businesses want to know about this. They want to understand—right down to the firing of neurons, if possible—how people choose one service or product over another.

Hospitality and Tourism are areas area in which the power of first impressions is all too obvious. Sleeping and eating are very personal choices, after all. Everyone knows what it’s like to look at a picture of a hotel or walk by a restaurant and think, “Wow, I would never go there.”

The specific term we’re looking for, of course, is curb appeal. Whether we see it in person or online, a shabby exterior creates a multitude of associations in our minds. We only need a few seconds to form a judgement and set our sights on greener pastures. And it’s not just decrepit properties. We do it with facades that seem cold or pretentious. We do it with those that don’t fit the neighbourhood. Beyond a certain point, the whole discussion becomes subjective and brand-related. Some people just don’t want to stay in a castle. Others are turned off by a jagged post-modern look. You might make The Daily Mail’s list of best hotel facades, but you still won’t please everyone. And that’s OK. You may be aiming for the cool and indifferent look but that is a smaller market.

What you can do is abide by some obvious rules. A quality exterior that’s warm, clean and well-maintained. Impeccable landscaping with vibrant plants and flowers. Spotless glass. Attractive lighting at night. In this respect, improving your curb appeal isn’t subjective or mysterious at all. You do it for the same reason you keep your front desk clutter-free: It lets people know that everything is in order.

Which brings us to the most important point.

A beautiful facade, whether it’s the original design or a planned renovation, increases the need for higher standards within. If you want proof of this, plug  or “misleading facade” into your search engine and behold the disgruntled TripAdvisor reports staring back at you. Paying close attention to your exterior may bring more guests in through the door, but they’re unlikely to come back—or indeed say anything nice—if the interior amenities and services are noticeably less appealing. If there’s one thing paying guests don’t like, it’s feeling like they’ve been deceived.

Do you remember the lessons from Moments of Truth, where every customer interaction is an opportunity to create either a positive or a negative impression? Even that positive first moment of truth can be let down by a subsequent negative one.

That’s the danger of investing too much thought and money on exteriors. Of course you want to look good from the outside, but facades are only the beginning of a continuum that penetrates into the smallest amenities and interactions. Pouring resources into external improvements without tightening the nuts and bolts of the hotel experience is likely to backfire, especially now that individual opinions are a powerful factor in the hospitality marketplace.

How true it is that renovating bathrooms and providing extra training for staff will bear more fruit if you also mow the grass and water the flowers out front—but if I had to choose, renovating the inner core of the hotel experience is more pressing business. Once you’ve got your ducks in a row there, exterior renovations become a natural and worthy undertaking. The point is not to have the most stunning facade possible, but rather to craft a total experience in which all of the elements—external, internal, material and immaterial—are complementary to one another. That way, when prospective guests make a snap judgement to walk through your door, they’ll actually have a good feeling when they leave. Nothing is more valuable than that.

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