Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column

Let me tell you a story about the absolute worst (that turned out to be the best) day ever running the reception at a hotel.

It was a busy autumn afternoon. The hotel was at at 100% capacity, full of visiting professors, guests of the university, prospective students, and parents of current students. I was a fairly new manager – within the first 3 months of serving as Manager on Duty – but I had been a shift supervisor for over a year. I arrived at about 2:30pm for my evening shift,  looked over the arrivals for the day and met with the morning shift manager to get the scoop on how the morning went. I greeted the receptionists and valet staff who were clocking in and preparing for their shift. We had about 65 arrivals still due to arrive; so a busy afternoon but nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year.

As I was speaking with one of the receptionists at the front desk, a lovely family approached to check-in. The typical tableau for a prospective student visiting the university with her family: two parents and two teenage girls. They had reserved two connecting rooms: one room with a king-sized bed and a connecting room with two double beds.

Do you have a fun guest service story or challenge that you’d like to share with me? Submit your story to the Ask Jonathon Hospitality Advice Column!

We greeted them warmly and welcomed them to the university. We confirmed the reservation details with them, took ID and form of payment, and swiftly checked them into the rooms. As we took out a map to highlight our location and anything else that would be helpful, the father was quick to inform us that he knew the university very well since he’d earned his doctorate here. In fact this trip was 30 years in the making; not only to show his oldest daughter the school but also reconnect with one of his former professors who had meant a great deal to him. He then told us that his friend would be coming to visit them in the hotel, so when we arrived we had authorization to give him a key to their room. We made note of his friend’s name and prepared the key to be ready when he arrived. We signaled our bellman to assist the family to their room, wished them a pleasant stay, and I got back to briefing my receptionist.

About 2 hours later, I heard a disgruntled man arguing with one of our bellman over a set of car keys clutched firmly in the man’s hands.

It’s our policy to hold possession of all car keys for cars parked at the entrance of our hotel. Not only do these cars block circulation for other guests but also block the fire lane which must always be kept clear. Occasionally guests of the hotel (or more often than not, guests of guests of the hotel) don’t want anyone touching their car and cause an issue. This was one of those times.

I came outside to ask the gentleman how I could help, and he explained that his car (a pretty beat up Toyota or something) was touchy and didn’t want any of the ‘kids’ (many of the valet drivers are current students) to break anything. I said I understood, and just asked what brought him to the hotel. It turned out he was the long lost professor coming to visit the lovely family from before. I explained that we have a private lot for guests a few hundred feet up the road and he was more than welcome to park himself. I asked a bellman to assist the gentleman into the parking lot, and returned to the front desk until he came back.

A few minutes later he came in rolling a suitcase behind him. I smiled and simply showed him the room number as I gave him the key to his friend’s room. “This room is just for me, right?” he asked, in an angrily suspicious tone. I explained that I didn’t know the sleeping situation, but that there was a room with a king bed and a room with two doubles. He quickly became annoyed and demanded that we give him a separate room. I tried calling his friends but got no answer. I wasn’t told he was staying the night; he didn’t have a reservation and the family before didn’t tell me explicitly that he was staying in their room. Evidently, they hadn’t told him either. I explained that unfortunately this evening we are completely sold out, so I’m unable to offer him a separate room. The best I can do for him now is place him on a waitlist if a room becomes available. He found this absurd, and promptly left mumbling to himself under his breath. It was a strange altercation that left me perplexed.

About an hour later, I saw the family come through the lobby and I approached them to explain what happened.

“You let him go!? How could you be so STUPID!?”, he yelled at me. In the center of the lobby and in front of everyone.

I apologized for any miscommunication, and asked what I could do to remedy the situation. “Nothing! He has no cell phone and we have no contact information for him. All you had to do was give him the key!” I was confused and frustrated for being thrown under the bus. I knew that I hadn’t handled the situation incorrectly but felt the need to do more.

I went back to my office and began to come up with a plan. The hotel was fully booked, and none of the arrivals were no-shows from the day before (a common way to predict no-shows for today). I decided I first needed to find where this man ran off to. He was from out of town and was here to visit his friend, so I figured he must have gone to a different hotel. I began to call each hotel in the area to see if he had checked in or at least to be alerted if he showed up. My persistence paid off. After calls to nearly two dozen area hotels, I found him at the Motel 6 outside of town.

I apologized for any miscommunication and requested that he return to our hotel. I offered him a complimentary room for the night, which he accepted. I called the lovely-turned-viperous-family to let them know he was on his way back. They were relieved, but still far from gracious.

This only solved half the problem. Once I created the new reservation, the general hotel inventory was at -1. That meant I now had to either walk a guest to a nearby property or pray for a no-show. The problem is, a no-show can only be confirmed after midnight and walking a guest at that time of night is far riskier than the afternoon. Furthermore, walking guests was especially difficult because our guests –  typically wealthy New Yorkers coming straight from their Manhattan high rise apartments – chose our hotel specifically for its convenient location; it’s the only hotel located on the University campus.

I first checked the notes in our system if we had guests staying with us but visiting the other college in town. I figured I could walk them to a hotel with a more convenient location to the other school. No dice. Fortunately, however, we did have a family of a prospective student with a California address. Being from California myself, I always feel a connection to these guests. I was able to identify them as they drove up to the hotel and caught them before checking in. I offered them a complimentary night at the nearby hotel as well as parking on campus in our private lot. They were easy-going about the situation (halleluja!), and I freed up the extra room I needed. I single-handedly created and resolved the problem, and it was going to be ok. After a great big sigh of relief, I recorded the whole episode in our guest’s profile, and the rest of the night ran smoothly.

Needless to say it wasn’t my best night. Actually it was one of my worst. We ended up with a no-show, which brought my night’s score to 1 comp’d room, 1 walked guest on the hotel’s dime, and 1 room left to sell in the hotel: pretty much the absolute worst scenario for optimizing hotel revenue. But I learned a lot that night about handling stressful situations and about making split-second decisions. I could have done nothing. After all it wasn’t my fault that our guest’s disgruntled friend decided to leave when he discovered he didn’t have his own room. He could have stayed at his downtown motel, and I could have just put him in contact with our guests. But I didn’t feel that was the right thing to do.

I also didn’t want to participate in our guest’s disappointment for a ruined 30-year reunion with someone who was very special to him and his family.

A few days later as I was coming back in for my shift, I ran into the family in the lobby. This time all smiles. The father graciously thanked me for the extraordinary service in finding his friend and ensuring that their reunion was a memorable one. He apologized for his reaction and blamed it on all the excitement leading up to the reunion. I felt totally vindicated. In that moment, it made me realize that while I may have not made the decision that most benefited the bottom line of the hotel – it made all the difference in the world to these guests. And that’s what I’d come here to do.

I believe managing is trait that you either have or you don’t. Over years and through various experiences, you can hone your management skills but only if you have them to begin with. I first became a manager for a restaurant at the clubhouse on a golf course. I was just 16, but I was reliable and ambitious. In the beginning I wasn’t confident in myself as a manager – mostly because everyone I managed was older than me – but soon I grew into the role, was taken seriously and got the job done.

I’m proud of the success I’ve had as a manager and the achievements of the individuals in teams I’ve led. From managing a group of unmotivated Chinese teenagers to take out the trash 10 hours a day, 6 days a week for a 6,000-seat restaurant (where I discovered using smoking breaks as a bargaining currency worked wonders) to supervising a few rough-and-tumble maintenance guys around a 40-property portfolio of vacation rentals in Rome, and finally to the comfort of a 4-star, 153-room property in upstate New York. Management is in my blood, and I love all of it.

So I decided I’d like to share my seasoned perspective and management expertise with my readers, through a weekly advice column dedicated to the hospitality service industry. I’ll egotistically call it, Ask Jonathon, so you’ll never forget who’s writing it. I invite you, my readers, to send me your stories and challenges – from handling diva employees to difficult requests from your neediest guests – and I’ll respond with what I would do in your place. And just like everybody’s favorite “Dear Abby”, we’ll keep people and places anonymous so we can keep the advice real and raw.


Submit your stories or challenges to Ask Jonathon!

Send me your service challenges or questions and I’ll share my response in my hospitality advice column! Make sure to keep all names and places anonymous. Use the form here or drop me a line at askjonathon@sayhellocreative.com!


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I’m delighted to announce the start of a collaboration with Global Institutes for English Refinement Courses designed by SAYHELLO Creative specifically for employees and managers of hotels, restaurants and hospitality businesses.

The courses offer a series of lessons structured around classic and contemporary situations encountered in the hospitality workplace. We’ll confront communicating effectively in emergency situations, over the phone, via emails, how to never say “no”, and more. These courses are meant to perfect the nuances of the English language to speak more professionally, emotionally, and correctly.

Who should take this course and why?

This course is designed specifically for both line-level employees and management in the hospitality industry: hotels, restaurants, tour operators, vacation rental managers, etc. Courses will be adapted for the actual students in each group to ensure the material presented is most relevant and useful. Students should be passionate about the hospitality industry with several years of experience seeking to improve their English to succeed more in the industry.

The goal of this course is to refine your communication in English with guests in person, on the phone, and via email by understanding your guests’ requests and expectations and how best to fulfill and exceed them.

Note: These are not introductory courses but rather conversation-based, refinement courses to help bring your 3 or 4-star level english to 5-star quality. The English language is full of nuances that are important to know and apply for quality service delivery.

When and where does this course take place?

Courses are offered either in the morning (10am – 12pm) or afternoon (4pm – 6pm), everyday (Monday through Friday) for either 2 weeks or 4 weeks, depending on the program. Lessons are held at the language school in Acilia (Piazza San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio 36/A, 00125 Roma – Acilia), or for private groups may be held directly at the hotel, restaurant, or office.

What is covered in this course?

Each 2 hour lesson will concentrate on a theme or common situation, include a grammar lesson, introduce vocabulary, and practice pronunciation. While the course is generally a language course the course will encourage free conversation and debate between the students and teacher on operations, best practices, and standards, so the take away is more than just English language refinement.

The 2-week course curriculum includes such lesson themes as:

Telephone etiquette in hotels and restaurants

Service recovery

English for emails

How to say “no” (without ever saying “no”)

English in an emergency

The 4-week course curriculum includes such lesson themes as:

All of the topics included in the 2-week course, plus

Lessons dedicated to advanced grammar topics

Lessons dedicated to niche departments/amenities (spa, personal shopper, brunch, etc.)

How to conquer “small talk”

Guest security and privacy

Who is teaching the course?

This course is taught and overseen by Jonathon Dominic Spada, hospitality expert and founder of SAYHELLO Creative, a hospitality consulting and creative agency based in Rome.

Jonathon is an English mother-tongue, Cambridge-certified teacher with 10+ years experience in the hospitality industry, consulting with hotels and restaurants on 3 continents. He holds a degree in Hotel Administration from Cornell University, a Master degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, and a CELTA certification from Cambridge University.

Learn more about Jonathon and his approach to hospitality.

How much does the course cost?

For the 2-week intensive course, the cost is €300 €250

For the 4-week intensive course, the cost is €600 €450

Are you a hotel or restaurant manager?

Would you like to offer this course to your employees? Contact Tanya at Global Institutes directly for negotiated rates and further details.

Interested? Register today!

To register or for more information, visit the English for Tourism page on the Global Institutes Website.

 

 

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of it: GDPR, which stands for General Data Protection Regulation and was passed by the EU in April of 2016 but comes into effect May 25, 2018. If you own a website, are you ready?

GDPR is the latest, most robust form of online data protection regulation since the invention of the internet. Massive data breaches from some of the largest online organizations have prompted this drastic response to protect people’s data – and make the average user aware of how his/her data is being collected, what it’s for, and what his/her rights are.

There is already a lot (and I mean, a lot) of information online about the GDPR and what you need to know. I find a lot of it confusing and not necessarily straight forward. And there’s a good reason for this: the very large majority of those writing about the regulation are not lawyers and there is no single simple “fix” to make a website compliant. That means if you are own a website, then you need to take responsibility, learn about what your website is doing, and comply with the new standards.

For hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses, the regulation is more or less the same as any website. But the higher analytical level many hotel websites take to stay competitive means more cookies and, in turn, more precise consent by users. Additionally booking software for rooms, tables, and tours must be analyzed and provide for the appropriate consent. Even if you are using a third-party service for your booking system, you are still required to collect consent. You are not protected if you are collecting distinguishable personal data on your site and sharing it with a third party.

Disclosure: I, like most others, am not a lawyer and cannot offer legally-binding guidance in this post. Instead you’ll need to consult your own legal counsel to ensure that your website complies with the new regulation.

Biggest Misconceptions for GDPR Compliance

We’ve had over 2 years to prepare for GDPR, but just like in school – with the deadline for compliance quickly approaching, the majority of website owners waited until the last minute to do anything. I get it – we didn’t jump on the band wagon all that early either. But if you haven’t looked into compliance yet, the time to do so is now.

Below are a few misconceptions about the regulation that some small businesses might be thinking:

I’m based in the US and that’s an EU regulation, so I don’t have to do anything.

That’s partially right, but unfortunately even more wrong. The regulation is an EU legislation, but it effects any website that could potentially target European citizens. So unless your website is not available ing the EU, you are required to comply with the regulation.

So, what happens if I don’t do anything?

This is what concerns most people. If you don’t comply with the regulation’s requirements you can face penalties of 4% of worldwide revenue or €20 million, whichever is higher. These astronomical figures prove how dedicated the EU is to protecting the data of its citizens. Whether your small Bed and Breakfast or café will really be slapped with a €20 million fine remains to be seen, but the risk certainly surely isn’t worth it.

Yea, but I’m just a small business. Do I really have to comply?

Yep! Any website that could target EU citizens must comply. And even if you’re small business generally targets a domestic market outside the EU, the worldwide web is still available to anyone. So the treatment and storage of personal data, policy transparency, and consent all need to be regulated.

Still confused? Not sure what you or your website is doing that requires compliance? Keep reading – I’ll go over that next.

GDPR for WordPress Summary

In short, do you use or have any of the following functionalities installed on your website?

  • WordPress comments
  • Newsletter subscription
  • Share buttons
  • Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feed/like button
  • Google Analytics
  • E-Commerce (booking system or shopping cart)

If so, keep reading. You must make sure that your website offers explicit, active consent to either use cookies or accept the storage and treatment of their personal data.

The Gist of the GDPR

If we boil down the regulation to a few key concepts, it’s really quite simple. The EU wants to educate its citizens on how their personal information is being collected and used, their online behaviors are being traced, and what their rights are. They plan to do this by regulating transparencies in privacy policies and requiring explicit, active consent anywhere identifiable, personal data is collected.

Below I’ll go over the 4 main points that affect the average website owner: Privacy Policy, Consent, Right to Access, and Data Breach.

Privacy Policy: Who you are, what you do, and what data you collect

The regulation is anti-legalese. That means your website should have a dedicated privacy policy where it is explained in simple language who you are, what you do, and what data you collect, how you collect it, and what it’s used for. The key here is transparency. If you’re tracking your users’ navigation with Google Analytics, tell them. Will their name and email be stored on your server if they send you a message through a contact form or if they leave a comment on your blog? Let them know! Are you using Google remarketing? Facebook pixels? This needs to all be outlined in your privacy policy and you must collect consent for this since you’re sharing their information with third-parties. As an example, you can read how I outlined my Privacy Policy.

Consent

With transparency comes consent; explicit, active consent – not the implied or passive consent that we got away with by installing those silly cookie banners that everybody just clicked away. This consent is required at any point that some distinguishable personal identifier is saved or tracked. The most common elements that do this  include: cookies, blog comments, newsletter signup, E-Commerce (booking system or shopping cart)

Cookies

This is probably the most difficult point of the regulation because it will have the biggest effect on the functionality of our websites (especially for analytics). While some cookies are essential (those for your booking system, shopping cart or some security cookies), optional and third-party cookies must be disabled until the user has actively opted-in.

Other common cookies affected by the cookies consent measure include social share buttons (e.g. Facebook pixels) and AdWords/AdSense and cookies used for Remarketing. These non-essential cookies track a users navigation across websites to collect information about preferences to then select relevant ads to show  (they’re what cause the creepy I-looked-up-a-hotel-once-and-now-it’s-following-me-everywhere feeling). If users do not opt-in to these cookies, ads will still show up, but they won’t be as relevant.

For WordPress websites, there are a few good plugins installing cookie-consent technology. After researching several GDPR-compliant cookie plugins, I opted for Cookie Control by Civic which I found the best value for functionality. Now on my website users who visit for the first time are presented with an impossible-to-miss consent form to cookies. This form is also always available via a toggle in the bottom corner to allow real-time consent throughout navigation. Preferences are saved for 90 days, so the same user won’t be prompted again for 3 months.

Blog Comments

If you allow comments on your blog, the default information requested includes his/her name, email, website, while the IP address is tracked and stored. You must include an active consent option (checkbox) that the user understands how his/her personal information will be stored and used by your website. There are many ways to do this, via plugins and code injection, but it’s important that this field is mandatory, i.e. the comment cannot be posted until consent is given.

Newsletter Signup

While your newsletter is most likely managed by a third party (e.g. MailChimp or a similar service), you are still required to comply with consent standards. Mailchimp has already addressed what is needed for compliance on their end, so now it’s just up to you. In general there are 3 steps you should take (I use Mailchimp as an example, but any newsletter service will have some similar kind of compliance):

  • Enable double opt-in (requires a subscriber to actively confirm via his/her personal email to sign up to your list and receive your newsletter)
  • Add a note to your sign-up form with a link to Mailchimp’s Privacy Policy (Even though you’re not storing personal data on your servers, you’re requesting it through your interface and sharing it with a third-party.)
  • Send a Consent Campaign to collect consent from existing subscribers (Mailchimp has provided a new function to easily create a Consent Campaign to send out to all of your subscribers asking them to provide consent if they’d like to continue receiving your newsletter)

E-Commerce (Booking System or Shopping Cart)

If you have an e-commerce functionality to your website (such as an online booking engine or reservation system), then it’s important you comply with the same consent and transparency measures. If your booking engine or reservation system (or online shop) is built on Woocommerce, the most popular e-commerce plugin for WordPress, then be sure to follow their news about GDPR compliance for Woocommerce. If you are using a third-party service for your booking system, you’ll need to follow their guidelines.

But for E-Commerce websites or on websites where users can create accounts, it’s important that users have the possibility to not only access their data but also modify it or delete it if they prefer. This falls under the “Right to Access” point governed by the GDPR. I’ll talk about this next.

Right to Access

A user’s “Right to Access” means that any user who has visited your site has the right to request access to his/her data saved by your website (Known as a “SAR” or Subject Access Request). (S)he must have access to view, edit, and cancel his/her data. This doesn’t mean you need to have a front-end interface to do this. I created a simple request form on my website for anyone who wishes to request this information.

The “Right to Access” measures reflect the “Right to be Forgotten” or the ability for anyone to delete his/her information from a system. This is more importantly the case for employees but must be carried through all kinds of web applications.

Data breach

In the event of a data breach – whether through hacking of your servers or via a third party service that you use (Booking System, Credit Card Processor), you are required to communicate this to relevant parties. How you handle a data breach should also be included in your Privacy Policy, as well as your contact information should anyone wish to contact you regarding their information.

The EU put together a really great infographic that helps to explain what the GDPR is, what it’s for and how to comply.

Specific WordPress Plugin Resources

Many WordPress themes and plugins have already addressed GDPR either with a recent update or with information on their website to inform about GDPR compliance. Below I’ve compiled a few resources for some popular plugins (or type of plugin) and their own GDPR resources:

Do you need an audit?

I’m offering personalized audits of your website for GDPR compliance. To qualify for an audit, your website must meet the following requirements:

  • The website must represent a hospitality business (hotel, restaurant, tour operator/guide, etc.)
  • The website must be built on the WordPress platform*
  • You must have access to your hosting account and administration panel

*It’s not necessary that the website be built on WordPress, but the offer is subject to change for different platforms.

GDPR compliance audits start at $150 and do not include any additional services or products necessary to ensure your website is compliant. Included in your audit:

  • Check for all cookies (necessary, analytical, marketing, third-party)
  • Ensure all plugins conform to GDPR regulation
  • Audit of Privacy Policy (privacy policy may be created for an additional fee)
  • Suggested cookie-blocking before consent technology (if necessary)
  • Full report of necessary areas of consent + competitive fees for bringing site to compliance

Note: I am not a lawyer, so while I can install proper cookie blocking software, ensure you have a proper privacy policy, and any user forms collect active consent, I do not take responsibility if some caveat with your business requires something extra. This can only be provided by your legal counsel, with whom I can collaborate to ensure total compliance.

Years ago when I was still in college, I had the pleasure of dining at Eleven Madison Park in New York City.

Its owner, Will Guidara, had participated as an external F&B advisor for Hotel Ezra Cornell – a student-run hospitality conference – where I was Design Director and led a team of designers for all of the F&B events. Following a successful conference, he rewarded all of the directors of F&B teams with an exceptional meal and dining experience at the restaurant. From start the finish, everything was flawless. At the end of dinner, one of the guests in our party requested the label from one of the wines we’d enjoyed to take home. When our server returned he presented her with a beautiful EMP folder with a personalized printed menu with the dishes we enjoyed that evening and their wine pairings, as well as each of the wine labels – laminated – tucked in with the menu.

Years later I still recall the impression this gesture left on me. It’s more than merely exceeding expectations. It redefined them. This kind of service experience is about leaving impressions so lasting that years later they come up at your guest’s dinner party. I call this impression a Branded Service Experience (BSE), and it’s the cornerstone to my approach for hospitality consulting and Creative Hospitality.

Creative Hospitality (n.)

A creative approach to service delivery that uses visual cues, historical record, and background research to tailor Branded Service Experiences for guests.

I’d like to add to my own collection of Branded Service Experiences, and I’m turning to you – my readers – for help!

Do you have real-life examples of Branded Service Experiences from your hotel or restaurant that demonstrate the power of Creative Hospitality?*

Describe your experiences using the form below or drop me a line directly at ciao@sayhellocreative.com.

*All examples provided will be appropriately credited unless otherwise indicated.

 

Share your Branded Service Experiences with Us!

7 + 0 = ?

Toward the end of 2017 I decided I needed a Professional Sabbatical. It’s pretty much a term I made up or at least never heard anywhere else before. The scope of the sabbatical was to lessen my work load and focus on a new project: me.

When I moved to Rome in 2013 after graduating from grad school and becoming engaged to my boyfriend, it was already an unstable time in my life: my plan was to move to Rome and “see what happens”. I immediately enrolled in an English language certification program, so I could be eligible for legitimate teaching positions – but shortly after working in an English school I realized it wasn’t for me. I had already dreamed of “doing my own thing”: starting my own company and making money doing what I just spent 7 years studying. So I took my first big risk. Sure the idea of forgoing a steady income was unsettling, but the thrill of owning my successes was tantalizing.

We entrepreneurs tend to get so caught up in the “hustle” that we forget to spend time on ourselves and our mental health. I’m not ashamed to admit that I suffer from anxiety and a slew of stress-related ailments. In fact I’m proud that I’m constantly trying natural remedies and relaxation exercises as treatment. I pour so much passion into my work, the stress is an unfortunate but common side effect. However it’s one I plan to deal with responsibly. So in January 2018 I decided to take a beat, reflect, plan and organize all in an effort to Manifest 2018. So how did it go?

Well first of all, my time frame was ridiculous.

The fact that I thought I could “fix” anything in 30 days was pretty much nonsense. I know this now. I tend to work around the clock; the days blend into each other and the passing of time is relative with approaching deadlines. Evidently a month seemed a sufficient amount of time to reset, but I was very mistaken.

Instead I’ve decided to continue my efforts of balance, taking breaks, exploring the city, socializing, etc. further into the year. It seems silly I have to force myself to do these things. But it just goes to show how unhealthy my lifestyle was that I do need prioritize such necessary activities.

Second, I created a manifest.

I challenged myself to identify 3-5 things I wanted to achieve, remind myself, or MANIFEST  in 2018. I wrote these down first in my notebook and then in some design software.

I have a way of speaking to myself, I guess it’s similar to how I speak to others, but I like this voice. I like to use allegory and metaphor rather than be direct. To each his own.

Honestly, the exercise of creating a manifest isn’t totally new to me. For the last 10 years or so, I’ve celebrated the new year with a new Moleskine notebook and on the first page I’d jot down a handful of lofty goals for the year. Every now and again, I’ll come back to them to read them, maybe make a change or add one. The point was to at least be cognizant that each year should yield growth, and inevitably these goals showed that.

This time I approached my manifest more seriously, designing it to have a presence and something I could frame and hang on my wall in my workspace. I also shared the exercise with a few friends both in Rome and the states. The collective effort means we can support each other, remind each other, and congratulate each other when we are making progress. It’s one of the most invigorating things I’ve ever done.

Third, I reflected.

I know this sounds trite, but it was so incredibly helpful. For the first time, I objectively looked at my life and my career, where I’m at and more importantly where I want to go.

The previous 6 months or so I was intensely involved in the opening and launching of the Costaguti Experience, an incredible luxury accommodation in the heart of Rome. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done. The noble residence is decorated with museum-quality ceiling frescoes from the 16th and 17th centuries, looming 26 feet above your head, crowned in gilded ceilings. For nearly 400 years the same family has owned the building and established themselves as one of the most important historical families in Rome. The owner entrusted my client who turned to me to curate the guest experience – the welcome sequence, the quality standards, the touch and feel of the place and the top-notch hospitality delivered. As with every project I become passionately invested, pouring my ideas and expertise into every detail. It’s true what they say, when you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life.

But even a labor of love can be taxing. So it only made sense that as my hospitality consulting was coming to an end I would take the opportunity to examine how to do more of what I love without exhausting myself and my resources. This is what I reflected on. And so much has come from it:

More Services

My list of services has broadened to incorporate the new partnerships I’ve created as well as responsibilities afforded in this last experience. My portfolio of hospitality consulting services include:

  • Experience Curation Out of the box approach to building unique, personalized experiences for your guests. We work closely with your concierge and team to develop comprehensive experiences, taking into account selling attributes and content, profitability, seller incentives, and logistics
  • Operations Analysis + Consulting Formal report of your operation with detailed action points detailing areas of improvement and key competitive advantages
  • PR Services Liaise with international press (print and media) to arrange events and press visits
  • Creative Services (Photography, Videography, + Social Media Content) Content creation for social media and traditional press, including professional photography and videography as well as social media consulting for building and engaging your online community.
  • Web Design Turn-key web design solutions that translate the experience the guest can expect from your property or services to their first interaction with you on the web
  • Graphic Design Develop a graphic language for your brand including logos, packaging, and print paraphernalia
A collection of posts experiencing High Tea around the world

High Tea at the historic Babington’s Tea Rooms at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome

Tea Time

I started my SAYHELLO Creative Tea Time series. This ongoing series will explore hospitality through the world’s High Tea experiences. With three afternoon teas accounted for so far (St. Regis, Babington’s, and the Hotel Bristol in Warsaw) and several others slated in the next weeks, it’s a fun and exciting project that I plan to use ultimately as research for the Official Guide to Launching a Successful High Tea Experience in Your Hotel.

Online Shop

February will see the launch of SAYHELLO Creative-ly, my online marketplace where I’ll begin adding tips and tools, printed goods, and bespoke design objects that facilitate creative hospitality. It’s a dream of mine to find an outlet where I can merge my interests, talents, and passions for both hospitality and design, while providing creative solutions to hospitality companies. Subscribe to my newsletter for updates on the launch of my online shop, promotions, and more!

As a final note, I’ll leave you with my most favorite quotation of all time by Hugo Ball, one of the leaders of the Dadaist movement, that continues to inspire me on my journey to self-actualization. Enjoy.

All dreams of childhood are unselfish and deal with the well-being and liberation of mankind. Men are all born as saviors and kings. But only very few are able to hold their own or, once they have lost themselves, to find themselves again. Anyone who wants to liberate life must liberate dreams.

Hugo Ball, Flight Out of Time (1974)

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A new year, a new set of new year resolutions. But this one definitely feels different.

In just a few short months, I’ll turn 30. And while I’ve never really felt threatened by getting older, turning 30 means reaching an age where you have finally lived enough life to look back. I’ve been so fortunate in the last 30 years to do so many things and see so much of the world, but there’s always room for more and it seems that that always gets the focus. So I’m taking this fresh start of 2018 and taking what I’m calling my own “Sabbatical”. I’m no University professor and this is no paid leave of absence, but I’m spending this time as a much needed break to work on something of great personal interest: me. So I feel the term fits.

I’ve already started a list of ways I want to use this time:

  • visit Rome like a tourist and check out monuments and museums I’ve never been to
  • discover the city’s hospitality by visiting hotels (a very hotelie past time)
  • take pen to paper to draw and write, a method I’ve always found helpful to liberate ideas that tend to stay locked up and immaterial.

But at the core, I want to use this time to get to know myself better. It’s been years since I’ve practiced the kind of introspection I’m planning to do this month, and I think it’s an important part of any person’s professional career, entrepreneur or otherwise. So I’m indulging myself and finally taking time to exhale.

Manifest 2018

In my growing list of ways to exhale is getting into writing more here, to build this humble blog into not only an outlet for me but also a veritable source of hospitality and design-related musings. So expect a little bit about me and what’s going on, a bit about Rome and where I’m going, and a lot about my passion for hospitality, design, technology, and people. My goal is that through this Sabbatical I will redefine a new balance and alignment in my own life to then transcribe that into what I do with SAYHELLO Creative.

Stick around and stay tuned for more. There’s surely a lot to come.

If you’ve properly set up your Google Webmaster Console to monitor your website, you may have received a security notice this week. Starting October 2017, text and email input fields (e.g. contact forms) will display “NOT SECURE” labels if your website isn’t protected with an SSL certificate. This will definitely hurt your conversions and prevent visitors from trusting your website. But not to worry, purchasing and installing an SSL certificate is a relatively painless process.

What is an SSL certificate?

An SSL certificate (also known as HTTPS) is a layer of protection between your website and a user’s browser. Short for Secure Sockets Layer, an SSL is used to encrypt potentially sensitive information – like the input fields in a contact form – to ensure that a user’s privacy is protected while visiting your site. Not only this, if you have any form of payment exchange on your website (like WooCommerce) or use Stripe Gateway, then you already know that an SSL is required to accept credit cards.

It’s not new that Google and other search engines prefer secure websites. In 2014 Google stated that it would provide a slight ranking boost to secure websites, privileging them to non-secure, or HTTP, sites. So if you haven’t already secured your website with an SSL, then the time to do so is now.

How do I know if I have an SSL Certificate?

Secure websites are indicated by a lock icon and HTTPS in the navigation bar to the left of the url. Each browser displays the website’s security slightly different, but the icon and HTTPS are standard. Modern browsers generally show an error symbol or (!) to indicate a website that is NOT secure, which is another feature that could harm your conversions and prevent visitors from trusting your site.

Secure website display in Chrome browser

 

What do I need to do?

In order to avoid the “NOT SECURE” label appearing on your contact forms come October 2017, you’ll need to get yourself an SSL certificate. Fortunately purchasing and installing your SSL certificate is pretty simple to do.

1. Contact your host and purchase an SSL certificate

The simplest way to purchase and install an SSL certificate is through your current hosting company. SSL certificates are issued on an annual basis, and most hosts will offer lower rates for longer terms. For the sake of comparison: BlueHost offers free, basic SSL certificates with their pro hosting plans; HostGator charges about $32/year for its basic certificates; meanwhile GoDaddy starts at $70/year but the price decreases if you pay for 2 or 3 years immediately.

There are all different kinds of SSL certificates available, the more basic (i.e. the less strong the encryption) the more economical. For a simple (blog) website, a basic SSL certificate will do. A more sophisticated website with an e-commerce component, or multiple websites, will require a more powerful certificate. Check with your hosting provider to choose the best certificate for your website.

2. Activate the SSL certificate for your domain

Once you’ve purchased the SSL certificate, you’ll need to set it up for your domain. Follow the steps in your hosting or cpanel dashboard, and wait as the certificate is verified and issued. This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.

3. Redirect your website from HTTP to HTTPS

Once you’ve activated the SSL certificate for your domain, you can redirect your website through the secured url. If you’re running a WordPress website you can install and activate the Really Simple SSL plugin which will do all the work for you in seconds.

Alternatively you can add a few lines of code to your .htaccess file (or web.config file for Windows systems) to redirect. Your host can probably provide you with documentation for setting up the redirect based on your software. One of the biggest issues with redirecting from HTTP to HTTPS is broken image links if image urls are not properly updated. If you experience any issue with broken links, install and activate the Velvet Blues plugin to update all your website’s links to reflect the HTTPS.

Looking for some help with purchasing and activating your SSL certificate? Drop us a line for a free quote to make your website secure!

Cheers to 2,770 years and counting.

Rome’s still standing however stable. Propped up on the shoulders of a passionate population, an illustrious history, and a world-class cuisine that continues to lure the masses. April 21st seems to always spur my introspection. Whether it’s because today is my brother’s birthday (Happy Birthday David!), 4 days before my own, or because it represents the day Romulus founded Rome – today feels like a good day to wake up this critter (my blog) with a new post and a few professional-esque reflections.

Scrolling through my newsfeed today I came across an interesting article by Girl in Florence, another American transplant who’s made Florence her home for the last 10 years, writing on the topic of “foreign.” She recounts an experience in a Florentine shop that every expat can relate to: being called out on her “foreign-ness”. Whether it takes a turn for the better or the worse depends on the situation, but it’s no surprise that living in a foreign country makes us so sensitive to our environment. After the umpteenth time of being asked where you’re from (because you’re obviously not from here), anxiety shrouds your judgement and you react negatively. Fortunately (or not) usually Italians either don’t pick up on it or shrug it off with a resolving vabbé.

Alas her article in the spirit of birthdays inspired me to recollect on the topic of my own “foreign-ness” as a Californian living in Rome. Like all expats, I face the awkwardness of living abroad every day. For the first year or so, it was so exhilarating to be different. For a time that curiosity is mutual. But as time goes on, the novelty wears off and frustration sets in. For me it became crucial to learn Italian, not just well but perfectly. I needed to speak well enough to totally blend in. I was going to be American in America and Italian in Italy. Punto. Basta.

© 2016 SAYHELLO Creative

Needless to say that was a feeble idea, and I ultimately succumbed to the realization that one cannot wholly separate where he comes from and who he is. Only recently have I more openly reconciled that my “foreign-ness” is something I can’t change and have literally no control over. My “foreign-ness” isn’t the result of the language I speak, the food I’m accustomed to, or even the way I was raised. I am in-and-of-myself my “foreign-ness.” I am actually the expression of it.

A few years ago a good friend of mine who’s the GM of a restaurant in Cambridge, MA came to visit me in Rome. We had planned a trip to Siena for a few days to visit a few specific wine producers whose wine is served at her restaurant. After we picked up the car, we drove northeast toward Arezzo taking the the main highway to a small dirt road that would lead us to the picturesque boutique winery composed of an old convent and a few fields of grape vines and olive trees. The owner greeted us and took us on a tour of the property. She showed us the vineyards and distinguished those that she had planted a few years back from the vines her grandfather planted 60 years ago. Walking in her tracks, she exuded a passion for wine-making. She then carefully explained an eloquent philosophy for wine-making, distilling it down to the concept of wine not as a beverage but as an expression. And not an expression of her own intervention in producing the wine but an expression of the land itself: the microclimate; a precise period of time; a number of rainy days and a number of sunny days; birds that flew over head and worms that carved mazes in the soil; plants that grew naturally nearby. All of these microcosms played a role in producing a 4-dimensional glass of wine that she poured for us from a bottle. When you drink the wine, you’re experiencing the most natural expression of this place. A drinkable expression crafted directly from the source.

Ever since that moment, the way I see myself as foreigner in Rome (and wine!) changed completely. I was born and raised on the central coast of California and for the better part of my life my world was there. For college I uprooted that life to study and live on the east coast and then Europe for the last 5 years. When I travel back home, that awkwardness of feeling like a foreigner naturally disappears. The valleys, the Pacific, the sun all revive me and I’m reminded of myself. I now find it easier to appreciate my reality in Rome, proudly living in my expression.

A discussion on “foreign-ness” enters a grey area with immigration and the current international refugee situation. I definitely don’t intend this to be a negative commentary on any form of immigration (which I totally support) nor do I mean to cast a shadow on foreigners living abroad. The opposite, actually. I’ve come to believe in a celebration of our “foreign-ness” – especially in Rome. After all, this was the original melting pot for being the capital of an empire that spanned continents and cultures. And so it’s in that spirit of introspection on the 2,770th anniversary since the founding of Rome, to say cheers to our “foreign-ness” – something she’s been harboring for millennia.

 

Last weekend, we had the opportunity to host members of the Cornell Hotel Society AlpAdria & Eastern Europe Chapter during the welcome cocktail of their annual conference taking place in Rome. The Cornell Hotel Society is the elite alumni association for graduates and affiliates of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. Conference participants travelled near and far to reach Rome, including Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Hosted at the beautiful Fifteen Keys Boutique Hotel in the characteristic Monti neighborhood of Rome, we used the aperitivo as an opportunity to give 7 tips for posting to social media. These tips help marketers for hotels and restaurants ideas and guidelines to improve social engagement by optimizing the photos and content they post. Our 7 tips include: Knolling; Movies & Animations; Selfies; Leading Lines; Tags, Hashtags, & Mentions; Composition; and Contrast & Saturation.

Of course simply posting beautiful pictures won’t guarantee a successful social media marketing campaign; professional and well-composed images as part of a strong campaign strategy with a defined and targeted market will ultimately translate into more conversions.


Take pictures of knolled objects1. Images of knolled objects

Knolling, by definition, is “the process of arranging related objects in parallel or 90 degree angles as a method of organization.” A photo of knolled objects gives the sense of seriousness and professionalism. The technique is often used on Instagram and Pinterest by graphic designers and fashion bloggers, but creative hotels and restaurants can harness the power of obsessive-compulsive photo shoots and posting to social media too. Restaurant ingredients, a place setting, a hotel lobby flower arrangement or guest amenities are just a few quick ideas that come to mind. Check out the Instagram accounts of Bakery House Roma and the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn for some good examples of knolling.


7-Tips-Social-Media-movies-animation

2. Quick videos and animations

It’s no surprise that short video clips and animations yield higher engagement statistics than photos. Professional filmography and animation can be costly, so make sure that the message and strategy behind the video is well-thought out with a strong point. Also keep in mind that some platforms have length and file format limitations. Instagram, when this article was written, only supports videos up to 15 seconds long and crops to fit the standard 1:1 ratio. For sharing videos on Facebook and Twitter, upload the video first to Youtube or Vimeo before sharing and posting to social media. This way the content is optimized automatically for each profile and can be easily shared across various platforms. Head over to see some examples by the Four Seasons New York and Hyatt Regency Austin.


Embrace the power of the selfie

3. Embrace the Selfie

James Franco wrote a great little exposé on “The Meanings of the Selfie” for the New York Times back in 2013 which still poignantly illustrates why they are so powerful. Selfies are simply the personal snapshot taken of a person by the same person, and they’ve taken social media by storm in the last few years. Yes, they are part vanity – but they are mostly communication tools, as Franco explains. Being such an intimate peek into how a person sees him/herself, you can imagine just how powerful they can be if a brand could sneak its way into it.

We present: Selfie SpotsSelfie Spots are designated areas designed specifically for selfie-taking. In the hospitality context, it could be an incredible view from your rooftop restaurant or a fabricated backdrop with your logo at the entrance to an event. An optimized Selfie Spot includes relevant hashtags and accounts written nearby so while posting to social media, guests can reference the property. One example of this is the Marriott Stanton South Beach which setup 5 “Selfie Spots” around it’s beautiful beach property to encourage guests to take pictures of themselves tagging and mentioning the hotel at the same time.


7-Tips-Social-Media-Leading-Lines

4. Guide your followers’ eyes with leading lines

Leading lines are a constructive tool used by professional photographers (along with tip #6: composition) to drive the viewer’s eye to a particular point in an image. Leading lines are really just the perspective in the shot and often result in a really dramatic shot. The Instagram account for The Dean Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island encourages the community to get out and take pictures of the city of Providence and share shots using the hashtag #ExploreWithTheDean, a stunning archive of dramatic architectural shots, many of them with leading lines to present the city from a new or different perspective. Leading lines can also be used to help orient a property’s location with respect to a well-known monument or building, helping to reinforce the advantage of its location. Check out the shots of Florence’s most famous duomo from the Instagram account of the Grand Hotel Minerva.


7-Tips-Social-Media-Tags-Hashtags-Mentions

5. Know how to use tags, hashtags, and mentions

We’ve been asked many times “how do I make a hashtag?” It’s a logical question if you didn’t already know. You might think there is a huge directory somewhere with all the pre-created hashtags you can use. But there isn’t. Anyone can make a hashtag and it’s completely free. Simply put the # symbol before a word, and you’ve just made a hashtag! Now your post will appear with the post of anyone else in the world who uses the same hashtag. Pretty smart, right?

Mentions are different than hashtags because they allow you to mention or tag another profile in your post. Essentially, hashtags (denoted by #) represent ideas or concepts (e.g. #selfie, #travel, #currentmood) while mentions (denoted by @) link another profile (e.g. @sayhellocreative, @TaylorSwift, @Marriott). When you mention another profile, the other person is notified, whereas hashtags are searchable terms and don’t send notifications.

The best hashtags are short, clever, include your brand or an important phrase that supports your message. #ExploreWithTheDean is clever and catchy and offers the feeling that you’re entering into a community of explorers when you use the hashtag. Another fun, young and innovative brand, Moxy Hotels created #AtTheMoxy to let you join the party that is always inevitably taking place inside their hotels. Finally, the Fifteen Keys Hotel in Rome aims to take over the #FeelsHomey hashtag to describe their adorable 15-room boutique hotel.


7-Tips-Social-Media-Composition

6. Composition is everything

A well-composed photo can make all the difference between an amateur account and a professional account when posting to social media. Lighting, saturation, contrast, and cropping can all help take a photo from drab to fab, but if the composition of the subject and its background isn’t balanced, there’s nothing you can do. Fortunately most camera apps also have a grid functionality to help you align your subject with the background. Sometimes putting the subject smack dab in the middle can make an interesting shot – sometimes this can be boring though. In this case, try positioning the subject a bit to the right to play with the balance of the shot a bit. Consider the rule professional photographer’s use, the Rule of Thirds, which your camera’s grid is based on. Positioning the subject at one of the intersections will yield an aesthetically balanced shot every time.

There are so many great accounts out there that highlight the element of composition, but some of our favorites are Scooteroma Tours by the undisputed Scooter Maven of Rome and Valdirose Charming Rooms near Florence. Both accounts are great examples of the power of what simple objects captured with a trained eye can do in a photo.


7-Tips-Social-Media-Contrast-Saturation

7. High Contrast and Saturation

There are a lot of studies that aim to define what kind of images get the most likes, and there is probably a lot of truth in whatever formula they claim the elixir to be. Sprout Social, a leading social media management tool for example, claims that a single dominant color generates 17% more likes while higher amounts of texture in photos generate 79% more likes. To us, whether all of this is true or not, isn’t really important;  these statistics can help us define what a striking photo really is, and that is important.

To find the good, natural contrast and saturation, we always suggest looking at floors, ceilings, facades and even water since these areas make some pretty awesome photos. Bakery House Roma does a great job in their feed with super colorful backgrounds to play backdrop to new menu items (even though sometimes the backgrounds are more interesting than the food their shooting!). The Fifteen Keys Hotel fills its feed with brightly colored images celebrating even the littlest pleasures that await their guests each day. It’s a great attention to detail that ultimately makes its way into the satisfaction in your guests’ stay.


Any hospitality company – hotel, B&B, restaurant, caterer, bakery, cafè, tour company – seeking to create it’s own social media marketing strategy needs to understand the best practices for posting to social media – and of course this goes far beyond just posting beautiful pictures. To see real conversions happen, your strategy needs to include valuable, engaging content that draws potential guests in. Striking photos are just the beginning.

If you’re looking for any startup or general management services for your social media marketing campaign, contact us and let’s start a conversation. Happy posting!