Tag Archives: hospitality

The case for hotels as places of learning – part 1

There’s something interesting that happens when you take Maslow’s hierarchy (flawed, I know) and use it as the background for mapping how hotels of different star ranking satisfy different customer needs. Click image below for enlarged version.


Three things become apparent as star rating increases. The first two are no surprise: (1) same needs are better satisfied (i.e. sleep: from a simple bed in a motel to Sheraton’s Sweet Sleeper to the elaborate turndown service at a Four Seasons etc), but also, (2) more of the higher-ranking needs are addressed, moving closer to the top of the pyramid (i.e. with a lot of focus on the need for esteem). The third finding is quite interesting: (3) two categories of needs remain largely neglected even in the highest-ranked hotels: needs related to belonging and self-actualization.

First, let’s talk about the need for belonging. What it is, what it’s not, and why should hotels address this need specifically? Several type of needs qualify for this category, but the one that interests me is the need to belong to a community of interest, practice, or purpose. That is, a community of individuals that share something they are passionate about, a profession, or a specific goal. Whatever is shared is strong enough to create a bond that makes people of very different backgrounds want to come together, frequently, and sometimes for extended periods of time. And a hotel that consciously caters to this need can effectively transform its guests into demand generators, attracting people who want to belong to that community.

For instance, a hotel in a theatre district that has designed its facilities and services to become a focal point for performing artists is a good example of what I mean. A hotel with a loyalty program and a club floor is a bad example – that is not a community, but merely group of people that share a propensity for frequent consumption of hotel services. Preferred guests will not go there because of other preferred guests – and they will leave as soon as another rewards programs make it worth the change. This state of affairs is the norm, and that is why I believe most hotels forgo a lucrative opportunity by neglecting the need for belonging.

What about the need for self-actualization? For me that’s just a fancy word to describe a desire shared by many of us: to become the best possible version of ourselves. Call it a thirst for knowledge, or the search for wisdom, or the pursuit of excellence – it’s pretty much the same thing, and it almost always involves the act of learning. So, the best way to find out if a hotel serves this need is to ask: what can I learn by lodging here? What skill can I practice? What habit of mind can I cultivate? Hotels where such questions have actual answers are few, and far in-between.

The opportunity to cater to this need is not just neglected in hotels, but largely ignored. Is that the case because it is not profitable to pursue? I am not entirely convinced. Knowledge is an essential ingredient to appreciation. Just think of wine appreciation or music appreciation – it is something acquired in time, and amplified by knowledge and understanding of what goes into the experience. If for no other reason, it makes economic sense for hotels to educate their guests about the experiences available on the premises, hoping that elevated understanding will lead to higher appreciation and ultimately to higher guest satisfaction. There is much about already existing hotel experiences that would benefit from an element of education, from fine dining moments to wellness treatments to artwork or elements of design.

The economic case for education is far wider than the case for amplifying existing experiences. We have already discussed how catering to communities allows hotels to transform guests into demand generators. One of the ways to do so is to recognize hotels sometimes host guests that are veritable treasures of knowledge and insight – and to create the context for such value to be extracted.

To push the idea further, why not recognize that hotels have an opportunity to become part of the revolution currently happening in higher education? Their facilities and access to traveling experts makes them uniquely qualified to create forums of conversations that would go a long way to complement the incomplete experience of learning online. But the idea that hospitality and education could have a natural convergence point if current trends enfold, well, that deserves a full blog post.



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