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World famous hospitality guru has advice for Queenstown

World famous hospitality guru has advice for Queenstown

Last week, international visitor experience consultant, hotelier extraordinaire, and host of the travel Channel’s ‘Hotel Rescue’ series, Shane Green addressed some of Queenstown’s leading hospitality and tourism businesses at an event hosted by ServiceIQ.

After a career spanning 20 years managing some of the world’s top hotels and resorts including Hayman Island is Australia, and work for the Cipriani Group, he is now based in Las Vegas, where his consulting company SGEi provides strategic direction in the essential elements for outstanding visitor experience, including staff training, culture development and brand building. His clients include many upscale hospitality companies as well as BMW and the NFL.

As a Kiwi whose work has enabled him to run top resorts and live in some of the most beautiful places in the world, Shane could really relate to the challenges faced by the local Queenstown industry.

“It’s not enough to have a hotel or tourist attraction in a gorgeous part of the world. You need a visitor experience strategy to be able to compete with a whole lot of other gorgeous parts of the world,” he said.

His ideas are very relevant for the stunning location that is Queenstown.

“If you’re not doing anything about developing an appealing culture, creating a memorable visitor experience and just relying on your product, you’re not going to be able to compete with companies that are. Culture is the attitude and behaviour of your company and its people. It forms your reputation and your brand.”

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Not surprisingly, Shane pointed out that skilled people are one of several key ingredients in an industry that is in the business of “creating great memories”, memories that will be shared in glowing online reviews that translate into more sales.

Having a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude doesn’t work, says Shane. “If you don’t upskill your staff, you put your business at risk. Your brand is your reputation and that is based on the quality of your visitor experience which is driven by your people.”

“Training is the right choice. Particularly with young people, the millennials want to be developed and challenged, so you have got to give them the skills. Training is the catalyst, so if you’re not willing to invest in them, they’ll look elsewhere for companies that do. Even if you don’t keep them long-term, you’ll keep them a lot longer than if you don’t invest in them at all.”

The message hit home with the local audience: many hospitality businesses rely on seasonal workers and Shane says it’s important to make sure they have the right attitude, skills, plus knowledge of customer service and the region.

Another provoking thought from Shane is for overseas workers to complete a basic training programme before they arrive in New Zealand or get hired, in order to reduce the business risk of taking on the wrong people.

“It’s critical to take the time to select, train and set your employees up with the right skills and knowledge. One place to start is to choose people with a natural tendency to take care of others and to make sure they have good local knowledge that is expected by visitors,” says Shane.

In the US, he says a positive change in the way HR departments function is driving the all-important development of culture and people in the hospitality and tourism industries.

“The legal and financial side of HR needs a very specific set of skills which is often in conflict with the skills you need to build a great culture. You’re seeing a split where the people with the administrative skills are aligning with accounting and legal, while the team involved with culture is really focused on the elements of recognition, training, development, leadership development and all of the great things that are based around culture,” says Shane.

Success can also be driven by partnering with others to get the benefit of specialist knowledge that your business may not have, says Shane.

“We visited a lot of smaller hotels on the show (‘Hotel Rescue’) and the thing I saw with most of them was a lack of expertise,” says Shane. “You find great passion and effort but they don’t have the expertise and are not brave enough or smart enough to reach out and get help. You don’t need to be an expert at everything, so I think being very insulated and focused internally is one of the biggest challenges and mistakes that a hospitality or tourism business can make.”

When it comes to the future, Shane gave the audience an insight into a fascinating and growing overseas trend for wellness that was created in the spas of Europe.

“It’s a very different experience. You see it a lot in Europe where whole towns like Baden Baden are immersed in these places that have a real medical focus. Unlike your conventional idea of a spa, they are not a place you go to to relax. Instead, there’s a strong accent on nutrition, on sleep, and on stress management. It’s about reprogramming habits. Massages aren’t done to relax, they are used to invigorate. This reshaping of wellness is now a big focus in the US. I think it’s really going to take off and from what I’ve seen, New Zealand hasn’t really taken advantage of that yet. If I was to build a new hotel now, I’d think about including spaces that offer that kind of experience.”

Best hotel? On his travels he sees lots of fantastic places to stay and dine. Asked to name just one, he names the soulful, upscale and highly individual Ace Hotel chain, found in hip neighbourhoods in New York and London.

“Ace Hotels in the US is doing a fantastic job of capturing the local neighbourhood and reflecting the interesting and unique aspects of the community, and I think that’s what customers look for,” he says.

Shane’s visit to Queenstown was sponsored by ServiceIQ, the Industry Training Organisation for the tourism and hospitality industry and others. Like Shane, ServiceIQ focuses on the importance of skilled and knowledgeable people to help grow New Zealand’s vital tourism industry.

Just like millions of travellers, he writes online reviews about the places he’s visited but “only positive ones, because I know they make a difference”.

His parting words: The customer is always right? “False, but we try to make them feel that way.”


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