They are increasingly demanding sensitive service, inspiring design, a spectacular location, fusion cuisine, a rejuvenation of the senses and engaging activity. Despite all the trying, the investing in infrastructure and branding, few hotel chains stand out among holidaymakers and business travelers for consistently exceptional travel experiences. “It is an art apart,” declared St. Francis of Assisi almost a thousand years ago. “All saints can do miracles but few of them can keep hotel.”
The lament of business and holiday travelers hasn’t changed in the millennium since the simple itinerant St Francis of Assisi’s challenge in finding acceptable accommodation.
However, the concept of a great hotel is lofty, fuzzy and sometimes untenable to one guest, while at the same time it may delight another. Expectations are difficult to meet not just because travelers are fickle but because of their varied cultural backgrounds, difference in age, education level and interests.
Value for money is also high on the list of most travelers, even rich ones, but even that is hard
to define. What is a bare necessity for some is an extravagant waste for someone else. At an
expensive hotel, excuses won’t be acceptable for burnt out light-bulbs or wilted flowers, but
it’s far tougher to define what constitutes an inspired experience or uplifting holiday experience.
Hotels up to around a century ago, just provided beds for travelers.
The industry has matured since. Once independent businesses, they are increasingly banding
together to ensure consistent standards everywhere they operate. Most significantly they are now an integral part of the holiday travel experience being identified with a destination or
becoming significant destinations by themselves.
At John Keells Holdings, the country’s largest listed firm and hotel operator, the senior hotel industry team of executives is undertaking a transformation aiming to take their properties
far beyond structures that cater to travelers’ needs like food and sleep, to something that will take on a life of their own.
“What we are doing is, moving away from looking at the business in a bricks and mortar point of view. It costs millions to build and the most beautiful hotels can be built, but to make it come to life, that’s what really matters to the customer,” explains John Keells Holdings Deputy Chairman
Ajit Gunewardene. The most obvious aspect of the change will be the Cinnamon brand emerging as a lifestyle brand, a change from the hotel brand it is. The Chaaya Hotel brand, under
which three Maldivian hotels and four Sri Lankan ones operate, will be changed to Cinnamon soon. A domestic airline Cinnamon Air and eco tourism unit Cinnamon Nature Trails will
also share the brand.
“You can’t be everything to everybody; you have to be very clear about who you are targeting. It’s easy when we sit in a group to say that we have to satisfy this customer base, and the
other person will say this also and so on, and suddenly you are talking about targeting everyone from the teenager to the retiree, from the family to the individual, from the Indian to the European,”
Ajit Gunewardene further explained the need to narrow Cinnamon’s focus. “Otherwise what you end up with is mediocrity, you end up with absolutely nothing.”
Sri Lanka’s tourism is still largely dependent on Western European visitors, whose travel here is seasonal. In most other top Asian tourism destinations, Europeans don’t figure as prominently
and arrivals are instead dominated by visitors from South East Asia.
The Chinese, Indians, and Indonesian visitors, who come from three of the most populace countries in the world, dominate arrivals.
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