Have you ever stayed at a luxury hotel, walked through the property and a member of staff greeting you by name and you wondering how this person actually knew your name?

Are you intrigued how a personal butler can remember that you like purple orchids and a platter of homemade chocolate pastries when you arrive in your hotel room, even though you only stayed once at this hotel 5 years ago and the butler is not even working there anymore?

How do those guys know I like my cocktail shaken and not stirred?

Isn’t it surprising that hotel staff often remembers things about you, that even those people close to you forget or think are not important, even though for you they are?

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Wonder what’s the difference between a 5-star hotel that costs USD $500 and a 3-star hotel that costs $80 a night? This article will tell you why

I came across this quote of wisdom from Rai Bahadur M.S. Oberoi, the founder of the Oberoi Hotel Group, which eventually led me, together with a personal experience as one of their guests in the past, to write this “hospitality case study” about what it takes to deliver you the service we often take for granted in hotels.

“You can make a hotel out of gold but no one will stay there unless you can provide efficient and gracious service”.

Rai Bahadur M.S. Oberoi (Founder Chairman, The Oberoi Group)

I could have taken any other luxury hotel group for this post, but I found this quote very touching and its wisdom is truly timeless, because fundamentally everybody wants to be recognized and to experience soul enriching moments.

I also think individual hotels and smaller luxury hotel group’s only chance of survival faced with the global giant chains taking over the world, is to offer a truly personalized service and catering to a clientele that has all the money to buy material things, but not the power to pay for inner wealth.

Don’t you feel it when you stay at a hotel, where you are truly at the core and cared for, or where you merely find “business traps” in every corridor to get your money?

The Oberoi Bali – Tranquility by the ocean, yet right in the centre of chic and hip Seminyak

So is outstanding service achieved by waving a magic wand? Unfortunately not, it is achieved through:

1. By recruiting the right talent

I am sure most of you have stayed at least once in your life at a hotel where you felt like some staff gave a heck about, if you felt welcomed and only acted disinterested, unmotivated, unknowledgeable and in the worst case scenario rude. How did it make you feel? Pretty lousy and like you are only an ATM machine on two legs, but not a guest they are happy to see, right?

customer service animated GIF

So, have you made up your mind Sir, or do you need another 2 hours to decide what to order?

Many of those issues are caused by wrong recruitment. To make guests happy, hotels need to hire the right person with the right attitude for the right job. Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But why do hotels often face such a struggle to find the right staff?

Here’s some of the main reasons in random order often mentioned by young graduates (and not so young) for not entering or staying in this industry.

  • Relatively low pay

  • Irregular and long working hours

  • Missing work-life balance

  •  Lack of recognition

  •  Not  family friendly

  •  Not considered a prestigious career (unless you call a corporate title your own, straight after university without passing through the lower ranks to understand the industry)

  • Service still has an image of being beneath others

The hotel industry’s mindset, in my opinion, definitely needs to change too. It needs to adapt to the demands and needs of a new hospitality generation and to find creative and flexible solutions to tackle those issues.

Pay peanuts get monkeys. Employees are no monkeys and deserve a decent pay for all they do for their guests

Although there is no quick fix and magic formula to all the challenges, because a hotel is after all a 24/7 operation and salaries will certainly also in the near future not reach those of many other industries, the Oberoi family is one of the hoteliers who views those issues seriously and takes steps in the right direction to mitigate these problems:

  • They work closely with the local tourism schools to ensure they are not missing out on amazing hotel staff in line with their philosophy of putting “You” first.

  • They pay also trainees the Bali minimum salary, because they work just as hard like any other staff.  Them being able to support their families makes them proud and happy staff mean happy guests.

  • They promote from within the company which is a great way to service their guests, because those staff understand the company culture, the notion of luxury and are committed to the company and the company again is committed to your “satisfaction”.

  • They show the local staff the desire to preserve their culture rather than invading it.  The Balinese love people who respect their culture (well, all countries do I guess) and will go to great lengths to be loyal to a company that cherishes their heritage. A happy staff member makes again a happy guest.

The Oberoi Bali, like a tranquil village

  • They encourage staff to grow professionally make them proud and committed to work for the company and happy clients mean for them a path towards a personal career development.

Growing professionally

  • They hire people with the right passion.

The Oberoi group did not want to tell me, for reasons which are understandable, what all the “secrets” to hiring their talents are, but I have a gut feeling that people with a thirst for learning, growing and having a dream they follow, are part of that secret and I guess people wanting to get stuck in a dead end job is not what a dynamic company is aiming for either.   And do we agree, that this is also not what you have in mind, a “I cannot wait to get home” kind of hotel staff member.

As I was told by Bali’s Oberoi General Manager, John Halpin, most of the young men and women working in Housekeeping and the Food & Beverage departments for example aspire to move beyond being a housekeeper or a waiter, but those jobs give them a base to build on and understand the ropes of the business from the start.   Because god forbid, you come across a Hotel Manager who comes straight from school into this position.

John Halpin, General Manager at The Oberoi Bali

2. Equip their staff with the right skills

So now the hotel has found, let’s call him Ketut, a young man with potential and ambition to really make it to become one of the next generation Restaurant Managers with the Oberoi group, but he has no idea which wine goes with your USD 50 Wagyu steak and he does not yet have the confidence either to face you with your detailed questions waiting for the answers of a person in the know.

What now? Sending our Ketut on “stage” and telling him “Good luck, you can do it”? Sure not, even the greatest talents went through years of training to excel in their fields and the hospitality industry is no exception.

So the Oberoi group takes the next step, which is equipping the staff with the right skills and it involves:

  • Academic studies about all aspects of hospitality to become a specialist in their fields. Would you not want to know which red wine goes best with your gourmet dish in one the finest restaurants ?

  • Sales & Marketing and Finance studies. No, it does not only serve to ensure that the hotel is full and financially healthy, it also means that the future employees understand how to listen to your needs and help you to find the right product and leaving you with choices. Hard selling is outdated!

Mohit Nirula, Dean of the OLCD

  • Working as a team, because only a team can make your dream holiday come true.

  • Being committed to a goal and company, because committed staff will go out of their way to make you happy and internalize the philosophy of outstanding service levels.

  • They get all round training in all departments of a hotel, so that when you ask a question they have the answers ready, or at least know where to get them from for you.

Students at The Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development in New Delhi. What looks later in the “real hotel world” so effortless to you, takes years of hard work and commitment

Training on the “real life” stage is part of the training

Intimate, discreet, beautiful

3.  The Oberoi’s commitment

Our Ketut the Restaurant Manager is after years in his job excelling in his tasks, happy with his achievements, liked and respected by his guests, superiors and team members. But life does not stand still, especially not in the fast paced hospitality industry and a new hotel opens up by a different, equally good hotel group and he has the chance to move companies, although being happy where he is (I guess it is the grass is greener on the other side effect).

Is The Oberoi, Bali tying him to a palm tree, preventing him from running to the competition, considering how much they have financially and training wise invested in him? No, they ask their trainees before they join their training programmes for a 5 years work commitment with the company (The Oberoi Bali and Oberoi Lombok that is).

Isn’t it a great feeling when you come as a guest to a place after you have been away for several years and you still encounter some people you have met before and they are still there and looking forward to catching up with you?

It feels a bit like coming to a “cocoon” and some familiarity and warmth. And when we come to the same hotel and Ketut, the Restaurant Manager is still there, what a relief not to have to explain again, that we like vegan meals and our room service breakfast always at 08.00 am.

5 years that could change your life

A commitment to work for 5 years in such a scenic environment. Life is tough, isn’t it? Ok, working in a hotel and holidaying in one are two different pairs of shoes, but still give me this office view any time.

Is Ketut our Restaurant Manager grieving a once in a lifetime lost opportunity elsewhere by having signed this 5-years commitment agreement in return for having had access to all the training and schooling for 3 years?

It’s a matter of give and take. I was told by John Halpin, The Oberoi, Bali’s General Manager, this is not constraint, because many former students stay well beyond the 5 years after graduation and continue to grow with the company and why would they not? In an economy where top Management positions are more and more difficult to come by and more companies hiring from inside their ranks, it makes sense to stay in a group, that is already a leader in its field.

Would guests not plead for staff to stay far more than 5 years at their favorite hotel and looking forward to seeing a familiar face upon their return?

The Oberoi was the first resort in Seminyak and since then a lot of resorts opened up, but 35% of their guests are repeat customers who attach sentimental value to the hotel.

 4. Making you happy is alway the Oberoi’s staff top priority

We have seen now that the Oberoi group heavily invests into its students and Managers of tomorrow and their training, but the number one rule for all of them is, regardless if it is the gardener or the General Manager, “make the guest happy”.

Can only the General Manager, as the “captain” of the ship manage to make all guests happy?

Do you want to wait for him/her only to get answers to your questions, or are you just as happy if your private butler is giving you all the attention and information you need? But how does the Oberoi Group do it, so you can ask anything and anybody you want and you get service you are delighted with?

I personally cannot recall the number of times I heard this sentence in my travel when I needed a decision to be taken as a guest and heard  “I am sorry, I need to speak to my Manager first”. Ok, I admit it, my level of patience is probably below the average, but don’t you also want to get a solution to your immediate problems, especially when you are paying a lot of money for your stay?

As a client we want everybody at the hotel we encounter to be empowered to take basic and common sense decisions.

Many company structures fear empowering their employees too much, but how many of you guests dread the “I need to speak to my Manager first” answer to their urgent requests?

You need an example for common sense? If the hotel forgot to arrange the pre-booked airport pick up in the middle of the night, do you really need to speak to your Manager in order to authorize that this guest gets a free bottle of wine in his room as a gesture of goodwill?

The Oberoi group encourages their staff to grow professionally and growing professionally also means empowering people to take decision which should all lead to making a guest leave satisfied. The more people can think for themselves and are trained to deal with the unexpected, the more satisfied you as a guest will be.

What are the kind of services the Oberoi Bali “seduces” its guests with?

So you have booked your lovely ocean front room at USD 500 ++ per night, not exactly a steal.

Nobody wants to be considered a cheapskate, but who does not want value for money? Hotels nowadays understand that travellers are looking for more than just a welcome cocktail and a cold towel upon arrival, so what do they offer? All hotels have their perks, but since I have here the Oberoi group as the case study, let’s talk about what they offer to you

Open air fine dining surrounded by lotus

  • The guest is “King” and at the core of everything is the most outstanding philosophy of this hotel.

  • Your wake-up call accompanied by complimentary tea and coffee at your doorstep.

  • Little heartwarming gestures: The Oberoi Bali empowers the entire team to take action to delight guests when they do not expect it. So don’t be surprised if for example you casually mention in a conversation that Frangipani flowers are so beautiful and a waiter overheard that conversation, and in the evening you find a lovingly wrapped box of frangipani incense sticks on your bedside table. Now that I call unexpected attention to detail!

Some guests’ love affair with the Oberoi Bali started with their wedding and they came back ever since and now even their children are staying there. Talking about sentimental attachment!

  • Afternoon delicious sorbet and fresh fruit.

Stay around the pool for sorbet and fresh fruit in the afternoon

  • Complimentary afternoon tea time, how wonderful is that?

  • A local dance group performing exclusively at the Oberoi Bali. I love anything exclusive!

Exclusive local dance performance at The Oberoi Bali

And while you enjoy your tasty sorbet around the pool, you might get lucky spotting some A-list celebrity lying on the sun lounge next to you at the Oberoi Bali, although I cannot give you any guarantee for that. What I can share with you is that in the past some pretty well known faces have been spotted there in the past.

If you are hoping now for some juicy “People” gossip tales of the rich and famous in this post, I have to disappoint you. The Oberoi shared some names with me, but whatever happens once you enter the gates of the Oberoi Bali stays within the walls of this discreet hotel. Did I mention that service is their foremost quality and philosophy?

Writer’s note

Hope I was able to give you a brief glimpse into the hospitality world of what it takes to make your stay comfortable and memorable.  It looks effortless, but it’s hard work and takes great hospitality leaders and their team members for you to go back home with a suitcase full of beautiful memories.

The commitment of a family empire to continue putting the guest at the core of everything

Oberoi hotels and resorts is by no means the only hotel group that has great service standards in place, but I still believe that this group, also due to its smaller size and seeing more and more international groups coming into their country where everything began, India and competition going for the dreaded price battle is getting tougher, can only make them more determined to carry on their philosophy of service excellency and the family being fully involved in the business gives this group a human and authentic touch.

I have not met Vikram Oberoi personally, but his graciousness can be felt through every of the email exchanges I had with him, so I guess one can say he lives his family’s vision and passes it on to the rest of the Oberoi family.

Vikram Oberoi, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer

PLEASE NOTE: All the above information is correct at the date of publication. If you come across any changes or updates, please let us know and we will update the information accordingly. Thank you!
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