The new club culture: What hoteliers should learn from private membership clubs?

30 Mar, 2018

History rewrites itself. Shoulder pads, customised denim jackets, pegged jeans – all these trends have returned since the 80s. Hospitality is the second fashion industry – what happens in fashion will happen in hospitality.

250 years ago, the private club Boodle used to be the place where Adam Smith could meet his friend and influencer David Hume. Today, networking is still an essential part of our life. However, in an era where we define our success by the number of likes on Facebook, hotel clients, as everyone else, are missing out on face-to-face interactions that used to happen 250 years ago.

Nevertheless, better land is in sight. Private clubs have started merging into the hospitality industry and opening their doors to non-members. Whoever books a room at Soho House, Home House or the Hospital Club also gets access to areas that are usually reserved for members only and they can explore the mysterious, stimulating and pleasant environment of those private clubs. It is an environment that Airbnb will never be able to compete with. At Airbnb, if you want fun, you have to provide it yourself.

Serious fun

We are not laughing enough – and that is no joke! Nevertheless, when it comes to fun, private clubs might be the answer. There is a reason why ACE and other lifestyle hotels promote events in their neighborhood. The mere expectation of fun is enough to make people happier. And happier guests will spend more. Even better, if events take place in your hotel….

Private membership clubs used to host product launches, fashion shows and the most exclusive parties. You don’t need to perform Josephine Baker’s Banana Dance in the hotel lobby – but in fact, you could. Organizing weekly events and inviting local artists or bands to exhibit or perform at your hotel will have a significant impact on your guests’ mood – and on your income statement.

Did you know that we are thirty times more likely to laugh if we are in company compared to if we are alone? This is where you and your staff can slip into a new role. Don’t worry, a few sentences in your guest’s language will do. By thanking or greeting them in their language, you show that you remember and care about them. Bet on a smile in return, either because they appreciate it, because they are taken by surprise and don’t know what to answer, or because you should reconsider your pronunciation…. You will be surprised by the significant impact a few words can have.

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Admire and desire

Some might argue that private membership clubs have lost their sparkle. Firstly, they have failed to retain so-called influencers. Secondly, while years ago, one had to fight for getting inside a club, the tendency today is the “you pay, you’re in” attitude.

Do you make your hotel clients earn the service they get? Not everything should be taken for granted. Paradoxically, the more time and effort your guests invest, the more they will appreciate what they have obtained. Consequently, hoteliers should reconsider the value of selection. Like college students who had to undergo a dangerous hazing to become part of a team, members who had to wait, plot and conspire to join your brand will be prouder and remain loyal.

London’s White’s Club on St. James Street is said to have a waiting list of seven years. Likewise, don’t let any- and everyone book a room at your hotel. Instead, think scarcity. Challenge people. For instance, invite them for an interview before allowing them to become part of your loyalty program. Put them first on a waiting list if they want to book a table at your restaurant and reward them afterwards with a unique table or a glass of champagne, or even something better.

What better reward can there be than entering the same premises as someone you look up to? Hotel guests want to know that someone famous is in the same room, has been in the same room or could be in the same room as them. Try to make them feel like a Château Marmont guest – and to talk scandals. After all, stars are all the gossip. Talking about them is the best icebreaker.

Private clubs go one step further and allow guests to feel a part of the bold and beautiful. Take the Players Club in New York for example, where pool cues that belonged to Mark Twain or Frank Morgan and the pictures on the walls make members feel exclusive. What’s more, private clubs have understood how to break out of the virtual reality world we’re living in and create public privacy. And most importantly, what happens in the club, stays in the club. Likewise, help your guests find out their own worth to promote themselves and the hotel they are staying in. Why not offer self-development talks in the morning to help your clients remember they are in charge of their luck? Time to start a conversation!

Chat check

Have you ever had a dialogue where your counterpart was engaged and went on and on about a topic, and you were just sitting there, not interested at all, sipping on your boring water and wishing you had ordered a Sex on the Beach cocktail instead? Situations like this will not happen in private clubs since members share similar interests and bartenders are sharp. On the contrary, private clubs stimulate discussion, opinion sharing, gossip.

Hoteliers can join the conversation to get a better idea of guests’ preferences, which in turns lays the path for more effective customer relationship management. But that is not all. Conversations can lead to enlightenment, peak experiences. Guests feel emotionally involved and remember their stay. They will return and they will tell their friends. So rethink your servicescape and invite your guests to interact. Get inspiration from the Silencio Club in Paris and organize guest speaker evenings to exchange formats and debates on various topics. Design a common table for single-travelers in your restaurant. Organize a welcome cocktail and get-together for arriving guests twice a week – so that your hotel, while becoming a place to talk, becomes a place that is talked about.

Solve the mystery

Hotels do not have to re-position themselves entirely nor actually become private membership clubs. Nevertheless, the potential of private clubs goes hand in hand with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: greeting guests in their language fulfills the need for belonging. Making your guest fight and win fulfills the need for esteem. Helping your guests find the star in themselves fulfills the need for self-actualization. These inexpensive tricks can give your hotel a significant competitive edge over short-term rentals. Back in time, 250 years ago, lies the inspiration for a brighter future for hoteliers.

Author: Lara Aebischer - EHL Bachelor Student

This article first appeared on ehotelier.com

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