How the best hotels stay at the top of their game: little things make a big difference

It’s the little things that make a world of difference. This is doubly true in hospitality where all those small, subtle, innocuous touches may add up to something far greater and ultimately help your brand stand out from the pack. I strive to bring these into the limelight because they are often easier and cheaper to execute than the grander, large-scale renovations so often sought after to revitalize a brand.

These little differentiators should not only be fun and interactive, but should evoke a strong sense of place unique to your hotel’s specific region. Today, we look to Hawaii as that region, and to the Halekulani as the hotel. A second stay at this marvelous property revealed many elements that were not immediately apparent from my stay there two years ago.

Halekulani Hotel
Halekulani Hotel

This property is known as one of the finest in in the state, so I was interested in how the ‘best’ is staying on top of its game. For those who have not experienced the Halekulani, it is an indulgence to say the least. From a size perspective, the 453-room count is at the smaller end on Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach.

In speaking with Ulrich Krauer, General Manager, he reaffirmed by belief that it is the little things that help differentiate the property, endearing the guest and reinforcing loyalty without the need for a loyalty program. I’ve noted some of these touches here, as many of them can be replicated to a degree in your hotel without the need for significant CAPEX or staff additions.

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  1. Complementary welcome drinks. You’ve arrived, and unless you were coming via business class, the flight was probably not a positive experience. With many guests trying to squeeze every minute out of their stay, quite often, the rooms are not ready either. As such, reception immediately offers free drinks by the pool. A welcome card simplifies the operational issues. I single this out as an easy one for any property to execute, and helping kick off the guest experience on a positive note.
  1. Easy and fast WiFi service. Simply log on and click accept. There is no need to ask for your name, room number or password. There are no time-out limits nor bandwidth issues. Internet services are Netflix-ready in terms of the speed provided. While slow or paid WiFi is rapidly becoming an issue of the near past, with the increasing usage of streaming services, it is one that merits another look.
  1. A room safe that makes sense. At the Halekulani, they add a leather holder inside the safe that is designed to easily hold and transfer jewellery. This is a nice extra as the expectations for safe interiors are quite low – typically just a sheet of cheap gray carpet. As such, this container really stands out.
  1. Extensive bathroom amenity kit. If you can think it, chances are the Halekulani has the product. Sizes are generous and are all refilled daily. They even provided scent sachets to include in your luggage. Key to note here is that because many of these items are tactile, you are enhancing the level of interactivity with your guestrooms.
  1. Free water bottles everywhere. I often cringe every time I see a water bottle with an exorbitant price tag on it. Any hotelier who condones this (and any hotel chain that mandates it) are in the middle ages insofar as building a positive guest relationship. You aren’t kidding guests when you are charge $5 a bottle. In fact, this degree of price gouging can set a guest off, making them more conscious of any other egregious markups.
  1. Oversized towels. I know that the green movement would like us to reduce the use of towels through reuse, recycling, size reductions and water-efficient machinery. These towels are the largest I have experienced in a hotel, so large that they are more accurately defined as ‘bath sheets’. Not only was the contrast to regular towels noteworthy, but they were far more versatile for the variety of cloth-centric activities at a beach hotel.
  1. Turndown amenities. Every night, a different trinket was placed on my bed along with a poem on a small card. All turndown amenities are branded and unique to the property, easily beating any small chocolate or treat at other properties.
  1. Little boxes everywhere. There are notepads and pens beside the bed, in the living room and at desk side. Each pad and pen set is neatly tucked into a presentation box, which is also used to store remote controls and other utility items. Decorative in their design, these boxes also help hide the more ‘standardized’ hotel objects that would otherwise be front and center when first entering the room to bolster the first impression.
  1. Live plants in the guestroom. This not only puts you in a tropical state of mind but makes you feel more at home. The Halekulani utilizes traditional house plants as well as orchids, which are resilient and are universally appreciated. Additionally, live cut flowers were provided in the bathroom – a nice touch to contrast against the glass and marble.
  1. Additional little touches. Look around the room and you’ll find a glass ringholder beside each sink, switchable nightlights at the base of each bedside table, multiple hanger types in the closet and easy adapters for any computer at the desk. Lastly, after the room was serviced by housekeeping, I noticed that the power cords for my computer were wrapped with branded plastic clips to reduce clutter.

Your property might not have the rate base to afford all of these touchpoints. Some of these require CAPEX and are harder to substantiate insofar as ROI. But think about what you can do to create unique points of difference for your property and ask your team what ideas they have as well. As Mr. Ulrich says, “We are not like the prize fighter looking for a knockout blow. Rather, we express our service commitment through numerous, little extras that, when combined, provide a message of our continual care.”

About the author

Larry MogelonskyOne of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the owner of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited and founder of LMA Communications Inc., an award-winning marketing agency based in Toronto. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also a principal of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants and is on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes three books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013) and “Hotel Llama” (2015). You can reach Larry at to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.

This article may not be reproduced without the expressed permission of the author.


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