The Feel of People

Continent Louis Starck

Just like a man-of-war, a hotel must abide by strict rules and regulations lest it should go down. A well-structured system follows its captain. Still, there comes a time for humane attitude and philanthropy to enter the scene. That’s the key to a successful business. Of this Louis Starck, our columnist and the Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo’s Manager General is absolutely sure.

Existential history is all about human relations in social cooperation. The first and foremost precondition for succeeding in the hotel business is loving people. Being proud of serving them without feeling just indentured servants is also very important. Our job is making our guests feel unique and happy. For this we must understand their interests and tastes. Our guests are also our masters. So we do our best to establish very special relations with them and create a friendly rather than formal atmosphere in our hotel.

All luxury hotels are very much the same: up-to-date technologies, plazma TV-sets, reliable Wi-Fi Internet access, etc. What makes a hotel different from others is not so much its rooms, bed sizes, wall-paper colours, carpets, mosaics, or other elements of the decor. In this respect all of them are wonderful. It’s the people working for the hotel, the team taking many years to build and fall into step that makes a difference. I am very proud of being part of the Hermitage team that makes our hotel truly unique and special. 

The manager’s job is giving orders and making sure the staff do their work well. As to the other team members, they must work out their own image and their own language for their own special way of communicating with our guests. When we welcome newcomers on board at our staff meetings I ask them to keep in mind the humane aspect of our work. Yes, some residents may be not easy to deal with. On the other hand, if a staff member has difficulty communicating with guests once a month, then twice a week and later several times a day, that means our colleague is on the wrong track. In this case the best solution is either quitting the job or changing the position. It’s perfectly all right to serve people and love doing it. Meanwhile, there’s nothing wrong about facing a crisis and not enjoying one’s job any more either. If so, all a staff member has to do is raise a hand and say he/she is too tired and would rather work, say, at the Back Office or the Financial Department. Our main function is welcoming people and making them feel happy thus getting our fair share of happiness too. 

Once I went to Oman to train some local em­ployees and found them just perfect for our mission of serving people. They are a hospitality professional’s dream come true as their smiles alone are enough to make your day! My receptionist was Paul Mohammed Yahya, probably the most emphatic person on Earth. He was all smiles at all times! One day, to my great surprise, I didn’t find him at his workplace and spent about an hour looking for him. I asked each manager of each division of our grand hotel, but none of them had seen him. We were worried and started organizing a rescue team to look for the man. Suddenly the huge entrance door opened, and Mohammed, safe and sound, entered. Naturally, I asked him what on earth had made him disappear for more than an hour. It turned out a guest, after checking out, couldn’t find a taxi to the airport and feared to miss his flight. Mohammed went outside to help him. Time was running out but, no vacant taxi was in sight. So Mohammed took the guest to the airport in his own car, accompanied him to the check-in point, wished him a safe flight, and returned to the hotel. In another country, situation, and hotel I might have reprimanded the employee for misconduct, but Mohammed was so touchingly sincere and humane in going out of his way to help our guest, that I couldn’t but applaud and praise him for his loving kindness. I said it was very clever of him to have found such a way out, and asked him in future, if need be, to notify his superior of his absence. This man had a gift of hospitality in his personal matrix, if you will. You don’t meet such caring people very often so he was a real blessing for our business.

When our guests ask to recommend them a good place to spend an evening at, we inform them about all the local popular venues easy to find. Sometimes, following the voice of intuition, I tell our guest about my favourite places in town, feeling he/she and I have something in common. In most cases my intuition does not let me down. 

Getting the feel of people and figuring out their characters by means of empathy is not always easy, especially abroad. We operate in different countries so, besides Oman, I have worked in France, Greece, and Monaco. The local cultures and mentalities are never the same. If you wish to work in the hospitality industry in Paris you must forget about your being French in terms of snobbery and the feeling of your grandeur. The best way to do it is to imagine you are Ambassador of your country whose mission is to show your nation’s best features to the world. To work abroad, not only must you preserve this image but also become fully aware of the local “cultural air,” so to speak. In some places people are primarily interested in everyday things concentrating on their work and households. In this case you must see to it that the right sort of wine is served at dinner, and your guests feel perfectly comfort­able. In other places spiritual or religious practices are part of the local daily routine, which, by all means, must be taken into account. In Greece, for instance, I came to know a lot more about the Greeks looking through the window of my flat than I could have learnt if I had lived in the hotel, as expats usually do. I saw several generations of Greek families living literally next door as the children’s, parents,’ and grandparents’ flats are located on the same floor. Their entrance doors were never locked so every family member was always welcome everywhere.

Empathy also helps me to get to know the foreign colleagues I train sharing everything I know and can do so they could do a great job after I leave. When in London, I needn’t speak about punctuality as a great strength of the hotel staff, but in Greece I have to pay attention to this aspect as most Greek team members belong to the first generation of “nine-to-fivers” whose parents were, say, fishers who didn’t have to come to the office on time. 

I’m very much in love with my work, and there are many reasons for that. Yes, it is so time-consuming that I rarely get to see my family, and have hardly any time for rest. On the other hand, I can travel the world, see different countries, and meet lots of in­teresting people. I work with a staff of 400 wonderful persons. Thanks to them I can truly say it’s really worth it. A team working together as one towards a common goal is precious. Such a team spirit is rare indeed! So making my guests and my team feel happy is the most enjoyable thing for me.

 Last, but, by no means, least, all that would be meaningless without my family, my wife, and my children. It goes without saying, I work for them, for a chance to see their happy eyes, and spend time with them. A great joy for me is getting away to watch a soccer game with my son. If my life’s mission is serving people, my top priority shall always be my family’s interests and happiness. Knowing they are proud of me, I’m sure all my efforts are really worthwhile. With my family supporting me, I’m destined to write a new page in the history of the Hôtel Hermitage. So, ad rem!