The Mille Club: the often-forgotten sense of departure

Sense of DepartureFor those who haven’t read the first few editions of this Mille Club series, membership qualification is simple: offer rates of more than a thousand (hence ‘mille’) dollars, pounds, Euros or equivalent. If you’re already there (or very close), or aspire to this lofty room rate level, please read on.

Whereas American Express (since 1987) espoused the selling line, “Membership has its Privileges™,” the opposite applies to your property if you want to uphold four-figure-plus nightly rates. Aptly expressed, as a member of the Mille Club, “Membership has its Responsibilities.” The key concept here is that crossing the chasm of four digits in the price tag comes with some serious psychological baggage. In other words, guest expectations jump.

Mille Club comp sets lack geographic specificity

To start, recognize that once you charge over $1,000 per night your comp set has widened to include not only local competitors but also multiple properties farther afield that the luxury guest has on their radar.

Consider the luxury and HNWI travelers living in Los Angeles looking for a quick getaway. They can travel north to Santa Barbara/Montecito or south to Newport/Laguna Beach. From Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, depending upon traffic, either destination is roughly 90-120 minutes away. So, a Newport-based property should consider properties in Montecito as rightful competitors, even though they are three hours away as the crow flies. Why? Because they are chasing the same target audience.

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And that is just the local situation. Luxury guests have the capital and the wherewithal to go anywhere. To build on the previous situation, said traveler may be bored by the drive north to Santa Barbara or south to Laguna Beach, and instead opt for a private charter out of Van Nuys Airport to literally anywhere within flight range – for example, Cabo San Lucas.

The implication is that you aren’t just competing against local outfits as most traditional comp sets define them, but pretty much every property worldwide that the luxury guest has previously experienced to thereby establish a baseline expectation for what your experience should be. For all intents and purposes, for the luxury traveler, geography is no longer of primary consideration. Your guests measure you against their standards which are exceptionally high. If you want to play with the ‘big boys’, you’ve got to step up to the plate!

Pre-departure planning

In a previous article, we discussed the critical sense of arrival and how your guest passes judgment immediately upon entry. By now, we expect that you’ve already attended to all the important elements of the guest’s initial journey into your property. But have you considered and applied the same attention to detail as to their departure?

If you have read or glanced at Nobel laureate behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman’s 2011 book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” then you may be inclined to believe the endpoint of the guest interaction is even more important than the first impression. The evidence for this was codified as the ‘peak-end rule’ wherein people ultimately remember – and are thus emotionally influenced by – primarily the high point and the end point of an experience.

Thus, a property’s sense of departure needs some re-examination. For this, Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Guest departure planning starts with gathering data on every check-out planned for that day, learning as much as you can about particular departure needs.

Specific departure communications with the guest should start no later than the afternoon before the end of stay. Ideally, you have garnered some information about flights, transportation modes, payment methods and special needs at check-in. Even if you have this information, a lot can change, so it’s always good to reconfirm.

If you are arranging a private car service to the airport, you can develop an appropriate work back schedule to ensure a smooth transition from their guestroom to checkout and then to car service. Here you can manage the process to ensure minimal wait time by having the folio prepared in advance. In most cases, there will be no late items to post, and if there are adjustments can easily be made.

LIFO front desk interaction

Accountants use the inventory term of LIFO, meaning last-in-first-out. Let’s apply this terminology to reframe the peak-end rule as it relates to your guest’s impressions of your property – that is, their last experience is the first one they will talk about.

Picture this scenario. We’re staying at a five-star, boutique hotel in London (name redacted) with a rate well above a £1,000 per night – a Mille Club member for sure. Here were the exact final words from the front desk agent, “Shall I staple your credit card receipt to the folio?” How does this help us as guests? And does anyone really care about a printed receipt in an era where everything is digitally dispatched? While this lesson applies to all transactional conversations, the bigger goal here is to leave guests on an emotional high.

Now, compare the impression of this to a five-star, beachfront resort in Laguna Beach, California, with a comparable rate to the London property. The front desk agent’s final words, “I’ve completed your folio and as well, looked at possible routes for you to take to the airport. Our valet recommends a slightly longer route outlined on this map, which given the traffic right now should save 15 to 20 minutes. I’ve also put two water bottles in your car. Have a safe journey back to Toronto and we look forward to your return soon.” It is immediately obvious that the final impression was enhanced in just a few sentences and extra effort befitting the four-digit nightly rate. And the fact that we remember this conversation some ten years later reinforces the value.

Importantly, our belief is that every luxury guest should be escorted to their transportation, with a simple ‘thank you for staying’ being sufficient. Under no circumstances should a Mille Club guest be asked to recommend or review a property on social media. Their stay with you should be considered confidential. It is strictly their option, not yours to suggest.

Departure gifts

The goal of your departure program is to enhance the memorability of your property. Emphasizing and teaching about the peak-end rule across all departments will help to instill the overall significance of embellishing your sense of departure.

While every revenue manager would like to have the departing guest book their repeat visit right on the spot, it is probably not the best time to make this request, as it often seems too aggressive. Therefore, what you want to accomplish is to lay the foundation for their next visit. The best way to create a tangible memory of their visit is through a departure gift.

When planning this gift, logistics are important. Understand the guest’s departure transportation. For example, if they are traveling by air, a bottle of house wine will probably be given to the taxi or Uber driver, as they will not be able to manage it through carry-on. Funnily enough, we recall a colleague who received a small Swiss-style army knife as a souvenir, only to find it raising red flags at airport security – clearly not the impression that was intended.

Some of the better departure gifts that we received over the years are still on our desks providing continual reminders and ‘social proofing’ of the properties. With names stated because these properties are all admiral examples to learn from, these departure gifts include:

  • A shell coaster from the Halekulani on Waikiki Beach, Honolulu
  • An antique key and keychain (which also acted as a door fob) from Crockfords at Resorts World Las Vegas
  • A USB memory stick hiding within a real wine bottle cork from the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, California

Above all, use your imagination while sticking within the framework of your hotel’s theme, and you will find the appropriate approach. It will take time, energy and some extra costs, but the consequences of not amplifying your sense of departure in this way are far greater.

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


Tags: communication, departures, gifts

Managing Partners at Hotel Mogel Consulting, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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