Hospitality and the hotel business are closely connected. But today hospitality, in the form of corporate hospitality, is being discovered as a mark of quality in other areas of the working world as well. In many cases, the focus is not so much on customers as on a company’s employees. Today employers are especially eager to transform offices into oases of well-being. They want their employees to enjoy spending time there. After all, the office as a place of work is competing with alternative locations such as the home office, especially since the coronavirus pandemic. This is actually a good situation, because the growing flexibility of the work environment benefits employees as well as employers. Nonetheless, many companies are afraid that their employees will (voluntarily) come to the office noticeably less often unless there are additional incentives. Over the long term, that could decrease employees’ commitment to the company as well as the cooperation among colleagues.
Ms von Kretschmann, the Europäischer Hof Heidelberg is a five-star grand hotel that has been run by the same family for four generations. Not only the guests but also the employees appreciate the special atmosphere of your hotel. What’s the key to your success in producing happy guests and satisfied employees?
People tell us again and again that you can feel that here at the Europäischer Hof Heidelberg our heartfelt desire is to provide moments of happiness for everyone who sets foot in our hotel. This begins with our employees, is conveyed to our guests, and extends even to the mailman and the taxi driver. We are not a grand hotel in which people are petrified with awe. On the contrary, this is a place where people can laugh out loud, weep, argue, be joyful, and be themselves. What defines us is the individual spirit of our hotel, our very special team, an outstanding and authentic warmth, an empathic and value-oriented corporate culture and a management culture that focuses on service. At our hotel, people can become part of a force field of emotional and social energy. They often experience a sense of security, support and well-being. We are motivated by a higher mission that goes far beyond economic concerns.
What can offices learn from the high-end hotel business, and how can the office become a place of hospitality?
The question is whether an office should become a place of hospitality—or, more likely, whether it should be true to its function and become a space where the employees feel comfortable, secure, inspired, energised and ideally supported in their respective work and their individuality. It’s undeniable that spaces have an effect on people’s sense of satisfaction and well-being. If offices could adopt something from the high-end hotel business, it might be the mission of finding out what individuals need in terms of space and filling these spaces with joy. And of course that includes everything: the structure of the room, the materials, the lighting, the scent and possibly even music. Incidentally, we’ve subjected the entire hotel to an energetic cleaning. In other words, we’ve located water veins and underground fault lines and neutralised them. The feedback we’ve received from our employees and our guests is very positive.
What skills are required for the role of a hostess, and what, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges for good hosts?
In my opinion, the basic requirement for good hosts and hostesses—as well as for good managers, incidentally—is a liking for people and a desire to prepare beautiful moments for them. That means having helpful skills such as empathy, creativity and good taste. For me, the biggest challenge, as well as the most intriguing one, is the fact that every guest is unique and has individual wishes that he or she wants to have fulfilled. As a result, it’s also a good thing if hosts and hostesses regard courteous service as a gift, if they can deal with the extreme variability and the complexity of the human psyche, and if they have a sense of humour. That’s because a hotel is a stage on which everything that life has to offer is played out, and it’s a well-known fact that if you want to deal with life successfully, a sense of humour is essential. We know that special service of this kind is not the result of a set of rules but the expression of an inner attitude. Finally, and especially if you’re a hostess or a host, you have to love what you’re doing. Incidentally, “We love what we do” is our management creed. Our goal is to assign each one of our employees to the place in our company where they love what they’re doing. In our experience, in most cases this automatically results in pleasure, enthusiasm, satisfaction and success.
For more than 150 years, you’ve provided your guests with a heartwarming temporary home. Has it been hard to maintain this level of quality over such a long period of time? And with regard to the office as a place of hospitality, which approach to furnishings would you recommend: following current trends or orienting yourself to the history of the company?
It’s certainly a huge challenge to maintain the high quality of a five-star hotel over a long period of time—not only in economic terms but also at the emotional level. We have to deliver a top performance 24 hours a day on 365 days a year. That requires a great deal of discipline, enthusiasm, dedication and innovation. Some aspects of the concept of quality change over time. Even though we are traditional hotel, we need to continuously develop—to preserve and expand the aspects that have stood the test of time, while at the same time always questioning and changing many things. And that applies to every area, ranging from the design of the hotel spaces and rooms to food presentation and particular standards of service. We never merely follow a trend or a spirit of the times. We closely observe what goes on around us, and if an aspect of our hotel receives a positive response we follow it up and try to carefully bring about the necessary change.
Ms von Kretschmann, thank you for the interview.