Selfie sticks and photo walls be damned
Selfie sticks and photo walls be damned
12 MARCH 2020 7:18 AM

Don’t let trends like focusing on Instagrammable walls take attention away from delivering on the basics of hospitality.

The hotel business isn’t the only industry where buzzwords can make it all too easy to focus on the latest and greatest trends at the expense of what really matters.

Nowadays it feels like everything has to be a moment. If it’s not shareable or “Instagrammable,” does it even count? Are we substituting the need for a contrived photo wall with a genuine interaction? What happened to people talking to people? I believe its Ritz-Carlton’s motto that says, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Maybe now it’s ladies and gentlemen serving photo ops for ladies and gentlemen. Are good selfies more valuable than good service these days?

And then you add in the need for every stay to be “experiential.” We no longer trust that our guests can create their own memorable experience; we now need to create these experiential moments for them. Don’t worry, Prism isn’t bucking the trend. We recently required every property in our portfolio to create a personalized experience that is completely unique to their hotel and locale. So yes, full disclosure: I’ve used and mandated the word “experiential” myself. Clearly none of us can turn a blind eye!

But so much of this stuff is just shiny packaging; it’s borderline counterfeit. You can’t have any great experience without an authentic experience. There has to be meat on the bone, a heartbeat and heartfulness in the experience delivery. The tastiest gravy can’t make week-old ground chuck taste like prime rib. And yes, new packaging is important. But even the most excessive backdrop can’t make up for subpar service.

Back to basics
They say you only have seven seconds to make a first impression, though I recently heard an excellent speaker say you actually have 1/24th of a second. And a lot of that first impression comes from your body language and your facial expression. Imagine that, an opinion being formed of you and your business in a fraction of a second.

When a guest approaches a member of your team, what is the expression they see immediately? Not after they approach them, but as they are approaching them? They’ve formed an opinion of that associate (and subsequently your hotel) in that 1/24th of a second (or seven seconds depending on who you ask). Were they scowling? Were they lost in thought? Were they resting their eyes or rubbing their aching back? Or was their face “open for business”? Don’t get me wrong, everyone doesn’t need to be standing around with fake smiles, but lifting the sides of their mouths ever so slightly to remove the “standing witch face” and replace it with an “I’m feeling good” face could prove to be pivotal.

Making that fraction of a second count and consistently making a warm and welcoming first impression is probably more important than any of a million different hotel management innovations we’ve devoted time and money to.

I heard about well over a dozen new hotel brands and concepts at a recent industry conference—but not one of the speakers said anything about friendliness, empathy or connections. This might sound old-fashioned, but I think focusing on those things is actually more important than ever. As we do more with less staff and leverage technology to operate more efficiently, those moments of human engagement are only going to become proportionately more impactful. Better engagement leads to more authentic experiences, which leads to extraordinary loyalty, great service scores and happy owners.

Smiling. Being friendly. Being attentive. Being guest-ready at all times.

Forget hotel fundamentals, those are human fundamentals.

The best hotel management companies don’t forget that. They live in it. They train for it. They cultivate it. They understand that if you want to stand out in an increasingly crowded and complex business, you have to get back to basics. Selfie sticks and photo walls be damned.

Steve Van, president and CEO of Prism Hotels & Resorts, founded the Dallas-based company in 1983. Under his leadership, Prism has become an award-winning full-service hotel management, investment and advisory services company. For more information, visit

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

No Comments

Comments that include blatant advertisements or links to products or company websites will be removed to avoid instances of spam. Also, comments that include profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, solicitations or advertising, or other similarly inappropriate or offensive comments or material will be removed from the site. You are fully responsible for the content you post. The opinions expressed in comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Please report any violations to our editorial staff.