Recently TOPOSOPHY brought an innovative event to the stage in Athens, ‘Tourism in Transition’. As a break from the big themes of digital transformation, place building and the pressure of tourism growth, we hosted an event for the hospitality sector called ‘The Little Things’. The session explored the many small, practical and affordable ways in which hoteliers can surprise and delight their guests, and remove the ‘pain points’ from travel. Here, our Head of Insights Peter Jordan explains what we learned…

I’ve attended so many tourism industry events which gather together hoteliers and other accommodation providers to hear about what the future has in store. The lesson invariably involves elements such as big data, wearable technology and very demanding consumers. 


Grappling with data, devices, the power of OTAs and social networks is difficult enough if you’re running an enormous multinational hotel chain with a big budget. But what if you’re not? What if you manage a small or medium sized independent hotel and want to cut through the noise, stand out and really mean something to your customers?

I believe that today, innovation in hospitality is just as much about the small details that don’t involve huge expensive tech projects, just as personalisation is not just about having their requests on a screen for the receptionist before arrival. It’s just as much about understanding your guests as human beings, meaning that they may arrive hungry, cold, tired and jetlagged, and who may end up feeling sunburned, bored, lonely, curious or even a bit sick during their stay. If we can show our human side, our sense of humour or our empathy, then we have the chance to stand out, touch our guest’s emotions and maybe even earn their recommendation to everyone they meet for the next week.  It’s worth trying, isn’t it?

Learning about the Little Things

At this year’s SETE Conference Tourism in Transition we invited two specialists to give their perspective in a special panel session called the Little Things that make a Difference in Hospitality. Valerie Pretscher, from home-workspace Zoku and Kashyap Bhattacharya, TOPOSOPHY associate, award-winning Budget Traveller and author of The Luxury Hostels of the World.

Valerie explained how Zoku sought to appeal to local people, just as much as the digital nomads who enjoy their studio apartments. In developing the Zoku concept they started from scratch, inviting 150 people in to try and test the rooms, and welcoming all their feedback.

Meanwhile Kash shared examples from luxury hostels that have become famous among travellers of all ages for unique aspects such as the grand designs of their rooms, their lazy help-yourself all-day breakfasts, their evening storytelling sessions or rooftop group dinners prepared by a talented chef.

Here are a few things we learned:

Scroll down to browse 40 Big Ideas on the Little Things in Hospitality

Public spaces are there to be used! How many times have you walked into a cold, sterile hotel lobby with a lonely receptionist behind a large counter, and some muzak playing in the background? It’s no wonder business travellers prefer to stay alone in their room. However the most innovative hotel chains see their public space as somewhere to be enjoyed by everyone, all day. Serving food, hosting concerts, small meetings and art and craft sessions provides a warm, friendly atmosphere while bringing in revenue all day, from guests as well as local people who also feel welcome there.

Remove barriers between people. Bring your reception staff out from behind a big counter and let them meet your guests. While they use an iPad or kiosk to check guests in, they have the chance to have a chat, get to know the guest and show their friendly side – and fix a free welcome drink at the same time. As Kash explained “at check-in you can lose your customer in the first five minutes. If you quickly help them to park their stress and make them feel at home, you’ve started winning”.

Sometimes it’s about doing less, not more. If you make breakfast available all day, do you need staff to run around changing tables and buffets? If you make the minibar simpler and free, you make your guests happy and your staff available to do other things. If you give guests separate recycling bins, you don’t have to sort trash behind the scenes. Unless you’re running a five-star silver-service type of hotel, there are many things you can do to save time and money, while making guests feel more relaxed too.

Guests are getting serious about the environment. Every hotel room I’ve ever stayed in has a small sign asking guests to hang their towels up if they want to re-use them and help save the planet in the process. So when I hang up my towel neatly for re-use, why do they still get replaced with fresh towels? A quick poll on Facebook revealed that this is one of the things that irritates guests the most.We’re all becoming more concerned about the impact of plastics on the environment, so it’s time to stop providing those tiny bottles of shower gel and replace them with a wall-mounted dispenser (with good quality gel, not cheap detergent!). Providing glass bottles for refill is also much better than plastic bottles.

Quality food and drink is a quick way to make a good impression. Whether it’s good coffee in the rooms (not burnt coffee powder), or a small sample of fresh local foods for breakfast, guests really do notice the difference when it comes to the food and drink they’re consuming on the property, and a way to a guest’s heart is through their stomach!

A quick guide to the Little Things…

Before the presentation I asked my Facebook friends for their suggestions of what they find useful or charming in their hotel stays. My request attracted 120 comments from friends who travel frequently and those who don’t, as well as a real mix of budget, luxury and business travellers. I selected 40 ‘Big Ideas for the Little Things’ and summarised them in the presentation below. What do you find useful, charming or surprising in a hotel stay? Feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll share it with our audiences.





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