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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

The Hospitality Model v the Transactional Model

@Supergreybread and I had a fascinating conversation with a legacy hotelier recently who shared this interesting story with us. Consultants were brought in to analyse and categorise the service ethos across a range of hotels in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. They found two broad models in practice – the hospitality model and the transactional model. In both cases there were good business efficiencies and effective systems in place but  underneath a  thin veneer of similarity the two models were really as different as cava is from champagne.


What the consultants discovered and described is what many of us have been experiencing for a decade now or more. Ever since venture capitalists started to whisper sweet nothings in the ears of hoteliers, selling them the big “public company” vision, the industry has been struggling with the big philosophical questions around identity and purpose – who am I and what am I here for? Am I first a hotel and then a business? Is my raison d’être to welcome guests or make money?

The fact that the consultants identified the precious germ of hospitality across a range of the hotels analysed is great news indeed. The fact that some of them were even part of a plc is even better news, proving that old school General Managers are not gone the way of the Dodo even if they have become as rare as hen’s teeth. The plc ethos may try to snuff out the spark of hospitality but when that spark is there, it’s really there and it doesn’t extinguish too easily.

The Chains v The Independents again

In last week’s post I wondered whether the global super-chains like Marriott and Accor could ever respond adequately to the rise and rise of the independents who have a natural affinity with a zeitgeist that can’t get enough  small batch, artisan, local, authentic, diverse, different, quirky … add your own word!  I wasn’t convinced then that they could. Thinking about it later, Marriott with its undeniable legacy in hospitality and guest-care has a fair chance of becoming a true global hospitality company provided it can stay connected to its culture.  I’d be less hopeful for Accor but time will tell.


The independent hotels are doing well at the moment because they fit the trend. But that’s not all. They’re doing well these days because they’re more focused on creating memorable guest  experiences, they’re closer to the guest and their nimble size enables them to respond quickly to evolving guest needs – without earning slaps on the wrist because their actions are not brand compliant! They see the guest as a human person seeking shelter, protection and warmth not as a mere revenue source. They’re also driven by a personal vision or ambition to do something worthwhile, to make a mark, to leave a legacy. They know why they do what they do – they’re imbued with what Simon Sinek calls “higher purpose”.

Hospitality will rediscover its roots

Over the past couple of years, Rafat Ali and the great team at Skift have added a new depth of investigation and interrogation around  travel and hospitality. In October Skift published the Supertraveler Manifesto,  a sort of Cluetrain Manifesto for those of us who travel for a living. In his introduction Rafat concludes with the following words:

We, the travel brands, should strive to understand how the experiences that we provide make travelers feel. It’s the human element. Travel is a huge investment in time and money; travelers will forget what we say in our ads, they will forget what we do with our promotions, but they will never forget how we make them feel.


The hospitality model, thankfully not yet been eliminated  from the hotel industry today, is all about the “human element”. It’s all about how hotel experiences make us feel – and that feeling can be generated from the warm smile of a housekeeper you meet in the corridor or from the personalised shampoo that genuinely surprised and delighted me at the Fairmont Copley Place (now an Accor property I might add).

But the human element  is increasingly missing in hotels these days, replaced by the transactional model that maybe asks all the right questions (“Did you have a nice trip?”, “Is there anything more I can help you with?” “Would you like me to make dinner reservations for you?”) but ultimately leaves me feeling like just another lonely business type wishing he was at home with his loved ones.


In their look forward to 2017 the folks at Skift are hopeful that “hospitality will discover its roots”. They quote Niki Leondakis, CEO of the Two Roads Hospitality the new global master brand for such boutique and lifestyle brands such as Destinations, Thompsons and Joie de Vivre (the brand created by Chip Conley before his move to airbnb):

“… the real disruption and innovation in hospitality doesn’t lie in technology or constructing great spaces. It’s about the service, and the people delivering it.”

It’s a welcome statement and a powerful one that brings us back to first principles in hospitality: why we do it is in response to a basic human impulse to welcome strangers, offer them protection, give solace, sustenance, help them restore and revitalise for the road ahead. So when a guest turns up in the lobby looking for coffee ten minutes before the restaurant opens the team member on duty knows intuitively, instinctively, immediately what to do.

Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the Meetings and Events marketplace. 


5 thoughts on “Are hotels in the business of hospitality or just in the business?

  1. Kip Lambert says:

    Great post! Couldn’t agree more with everything here.

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Kip! I guess you’ve experienced the difference between real and fake hospitality and service all over the world?

  2. Kip Lambert says:

    Absolutely. Somewhere along the way the the Hilton’s, Marriott’s and the like decided to run their hotels like Henry Ford ran his assembly line. In doing this, they’ve lost that personal touch. Ultimately, what people really disdain is being treated as unnamed face in the “mass market”. What people are really hoping for, at least in my humble opinion, is a WOW experience. Independents have an opportunity to capitalize on this. People will always be willing to pay more for an amazing experience than just another stay at a big box hotel.

  3. When a (5*) recently asked me at check-in if I would like to reserve a table for dinner, I felt ensnared. I didn’t co-operate!

  4. padraicino says:

    At 5 star level service – or indeed any level – service should never be based on upselling, ticking boxes or rote learnings. It should only focus on understanding the customer, her wants and needs. No customer should EVER feel ensnared.

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