Go to Homepage


Hello, any humans here?

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaDo guests expect to meet the hotel general manager and is this considered a simple civility any more? We ran a snap poll to find out.


Visit our Facebook pagePrintE-mail Page

by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

JUMP TO Current column| Instagram photos

The vanishing general manager - and velociraptors at reception

A velociraptor serves as the receptionist at a Japanese mini Netherlands theme hotel. Other robots do the rest / photo: hotel

MUCH of what is written about great hotel general managers focuses on their role in shaping the product and scaring up some honest sweat. They are expected to provide a soaring vision, to set high standards, to motivate rank and file grunts, and to mollify tightwad owners with Biblical expectations. They are often themselves the brand, for better, or worse. The immaculate, fast-stepping Ralph Peter Jentes who launched the iconic Grand Hyatt Hong Kong in 1989 was much feared – and revered – by staff and an elegantly visible presence for guests who saw his strict discipline and attention to customers permeate the hotel’s benchmark-setting style.

As the efficiency obsessed Henn-na properties in Nagasaki and Tokyo do away with humans, replacing them with humanoid robots – and even borderline psychotic velociraptors for receptionists, as at Huis Ten Bosch, Sasebo – we asked our readers to touch upon a most basic interaction, that between the general manager and the guest. After all, humans are what drive the hospitality experience. And surely, the lead must come from the top?

Do hotel guests expect to see and interact with the general manager? Travellers forty-plus or wealthy would tend to enjoy personal attention you’d think, even if the younger set swoon over their iPhones. We ran a poll through part of October and most of November 2017 to find out.

Send us your Feedback / Letter to the Editor

The choices we offered were 1) Yes, it is a simple courtesy, 2) Yes, human engagement is important, 3) No, I am happy to get on with my stay, 4) Only if I have a problem, and 5) I prefer to keep a low profile. As is apparent there were essentially two kinds of broad responses – engagement, and disengagement. So how did it stack up?

{Respondents from countries like USA, Canada, Britain, Germany, Australia, UAE, India and Singapore, weighed in strongly for more human engagement

Our October-November poll attracted a high proportion of millennial voters and was well distributed globally. Perhaps unsurprisingly, just 25.7 percent said they expected human contact while a preponderate number were content to get on with their stay or keep a low profile (and not just on account of the inflatable dolls).

Yet the general manager was not written off entirely. As the man at the helm of the ship he was very much in travellers’ thoughts as a Mr Fix-It, with 40.9 percent of respondents saying they would expect to meet a GM “only if I have a problem.” As many as 28.1 percent were happy to get on with their stay while 5.3 percent said they would “prefer to keep a low profile.”

A small but substantial 15.8 percent were clear that meeting a general manager on the floor “is a simple courtesy” and 9.9 percent felt “human engagement is important.” Respondents from countries like USA, Canada, Britain, Germany, Australia, UAE, India and Singapore, weighed in strongly for more human engagement.

Family oriented readers too (taking the pop-up survey on the ‘Child friendly resorts” page for example) were more inclined to expect human interaction and personal care than readers on say the ‘Business class seats’ page who preferred to get on with their trips without social speed bumps.

Respondents from countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Africa, Denmark, Malaysia, and Philippines appeared to display greater independence in their travels and readers on the ‘Shopping’ pages tended to be in a hurry, caring little for the human touch at their hotels.

We continue to observe the crucial area of humans in hospitality and, this month, start our new PROFILE section, talking with travel industry influencers to see what’s in store for travellers.

This publication has long bemoaned the invisible general manager in an Internet age of faceless anonymity, arguing frequently that quality human contact is what separates cold 500-thread-count designer linen from warm hospitality that is the bedrock allure for returning guests. People want free WiFi and convenient chargers but they also warm to the chef who does eggs just the way they like, and the beaming receptionist who goes the extra mile.

General managers today are conspicuous by their absence though some old school adherents religiously pound the shop floors pressing the flesh and getting to know their guests and their special needs. There’s nothing like feedback in person. And if the GM sets that trend, senior executives will do the same, creating the brand personality. Clearly there’s more to the job than responding to online complaints with boilerplate text.

Meanwhile in Nagasaki at the make-believe Netherlands town, robots continue to rule. Robot butlers deal with rubbish and robot fish sit in their tanks flicking electronic fins. The sad part is the indefatigable Mr Hideo Sawada (the Huis Ten Bosch president who wishes to do away with 90 percent of staff) may himself be replaced one day by some grinning Jurassic fossil. And who will notice, and mourn his absence? Certainly not the velociraptor.

Send us your Feedback / Letter to the Editor

▲ top

Previous Columns
















NOTE: Telephone and fax numbers, e-mails, website addresses, rates and other details may change or get dated. Please check with your dealer/agent/service-provider or directly with the parties concerned. SmartTravel Asia accepts no responsibility for any inadvertent inaccuracies in this article. Links to websites are provided for the viewer's convenience. SmartTravel Asia accepts no responsibility for content on linked websites or any viruses or malicious programs that may reside therein. Linked website content is neither vetted nor endorsed by SmartTravelAsia. Please read our Terms & Conditions.