How Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts associates create moments of delight that build lifelong loyalty
Want guests to remember their stay at your hotel for its consistent and luxury-level service? It starts well before anyone arrives—with your associates and culture, according to Dara Pinke, Vice President of Learning and Engagement at Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts.
She joined ITK host JD Dillon as a recent guest to share advice from her 20 years in the hospitality industry, including how Jumeirah has built an empathetic and empowered workforce across 25+ luxury properties in the Middle East, Europe and Asia that’s ready to create personalized, memorable moments for guests.
“The soul of hospitality is personalization”
Operational consistency shouldn’t come at the expense of personalization. At Jumeirah, Pinke says the goal is to make every guest feel warmly welcomed and confident that their stay will be luxurious and tailored to their needs. This level of personalization requires a lot of pre-arrival work, which starts during training.
“We spend a lot of time getting to know our guests, and there’s that fine balance between being present but not intrusive, being interested but not inquisitive and looking for ways to continue to personalize the stay for a guest,” explains Pinke.
What a guest is looking for in a high-quality stay will depend on their preferences—which may be revealed in available guest data—but there are many ways for your entire team to contribute to a positive guest journey. This makes it especially important to keep them in the loop about what they can do to best deliver your standard of service.
“Anybody in[volved] in the guest’s stay can [personalize it], whether they’re doing it specifically for the guests themselves or supporting others delivering that service to our guests.”
Avoid solely transactional interactions with guests—and associates
Transactional experiences are no longer enough to leave an impression in hospitality, and that sentiment also extends to your associate experience.
“Nobody wants to feel like they’re just a number. Regardless of what role we’re playing, we take personalization seriously and that applies to our colleagues as well,” says Pinke.
At Jumeirah, they take things beyond the traditional recruitment process, so a sense of community starts even before day one.
“In some companies, you may sign a contract or agree to a role, and there’s a gap between that process and your arrival day. You don’t hear much. You might hear something more tactical around paperwork, or in Dubai, you’d hear more about visas. But for us, it’s an opportunity to build that relationship and get to know our people. We employ a pre-arrival pathway in Axonify where we provide insight, information and snippets about our culture. It gets people excited, keeps them engaged and gives us a chance to hear what’s interesting to them and gain a little insight into who they are.”
“Then, when they join, we have a standard operating practice where the first day of work is orientation. So you don’t go on the floor; you have orientation for the first two days you’re with us. That’s where you get even more of a connection with our brand, hotels and leaders. Once you’re finished with orientation, your leader or a leader from your department comes to pick you up, often accompanied by a departmental trainer. That introduction’s made, and that’s the person who’s going to concierge you through your learning into your role. That’s the start we’re looking for in terms of making sure people feel seen and understood, that they have connections and contacts already, and giving them that opportunity to open up and be receptive to learning. That sets a good foundation, too. We hire experienced people across a spectrum [and they’re] encouraged to give us their ideas and input right away. If we can open that door sooner, we find [they’re] more confident in contributing ideas and telling us what’s working and what’s not.”
Hire for soft skills and the right attitudes
When it’s time to expand their teams, the leaders at Jumeirah believe in hiring for more than foundational skills that can be taught and focusing instead on a person’s empathy, supportiveness and investment in serving others. These core behaviors are more challenging to develop but play a critical role in how associates engage with guests.
“When it comes down to [the skills that] make the biggest difference, I would say enabling people to find and employ their empathy,” says Pinke. “As soon as you want or need something as a guest, you look around, and if someone makes eye contact right away, you feel like you’re being taken care of.”
Staff who are confident and empowered enough to make quick decisions and turn around negative situations can also make a meaningful difference in the guest experience.
“The [skill] I find tougher to develop is risk-taking. I know that’s kind of an unusual response for hospitality; what I mean is in the field of empowerment and decision-making. Hotel companies love to talk about empowerment. We love to say we empower our people, but sometimes, we start at the wrong end of that process. We cheerlead and coach our frontline employees and say, ‘You’re empowered. You can make decisions.’ But we miss the boat on teaching our leaders how to empower their teams and have the correct responses when people take a risk and make a decision.”
Make learning part of the workflow, not another disruption
On one property, you’ll find many different functions, activities and lines of business. Between front desk, housekeeping, retail and food and beverage responsibilities, hospitality teams already have so much to accomplish in a workday—so how do they make time for learning and development?
Pinke says after measuring associates’ interest in learning, the team considers ways to take things out of the traditional classroom setting to suit the reality of an associate’s day.
“At Jumeirah, we conduct two employee sentiment surveys a year to check in and see how people are feeling in terms of engagement. Those surveys give us insight into the appetite for learning. The good news is people are deeply interested in growing, learning and developing. There’s the interest to do it; it’s not really viewed as a disruption.”
“If you are in the classroom, make it crisp and straightforward. But we also use things like e-learning, on-the-go learning and daily shift briefings with tools like Axonify, where we can make use of that AI function that tailors learning towards the individual in these quick soundbites that they can get every day.”
Crafting a learning experience built around the day-to-day realities of hospitality workers gives them what they need to succeed without adding to the overwhelm.
“It really comes down to creating space and time to learn and helping people find ways to tailor the learning towards their interests and career aspirations.”
As the industry continues to be pushed to reimagine the guest and the employee experience, the Jumeirah team provides that space and time by leaning on microlearning.
“Ninety seconds or less, where you just have a stack of content where you can, depending on how much time you have and your level of interest, watch whatever works for you at that moment. You can go back to a single piece to look at if you can’t remember a step. Make it very clear, crisp and truly micro. I’d like to see more of that short, sharp element of learning and to continue to drive that so people can say, ‘What do I need to do for a guest profile? I’m going to take a look. And how do I do cross-training? There’s a policy. I’m going to look that up and just get a 90-second soundbite, and then if I want more, I can go for more.’”
Pinke says AI also already serves several purposes in the guest and employee experience, and her team is watching the tech’s potential to add even more personalization to the journey.
“We know it’ll have an impact on learning, everything from helping us write content and design programs, but I’m keen to hear about how AI can be employed to personalize learning pathways for people. People are going to be able to say, ‘This is the job I do. Here’s my skillset, my level of experience, where I think I want to go, how do I get there?’ AI is already hard at work in several different ways to recommend not only pathways to people but also learning along those pathways to help them get there. When we go back to that theme of personalization, to be able to have a personal career coach to show you the way to get from point A to B, I think, will be a game changer.”
3 suggestions for building a successful and people-focused hospitality L&D program
When it comes to building an impactful L&D strategy in hospitality, Pinke offers these 3 pieces of advice from firsthand experience:
- Think globally. Many hospitality companies have a global reach, so it’s vital that when you’re designing and deploying programs and initiatives within your organization, you consider how they’ll be received and the relevance for every location.
- Connect with stakeholders. Time and budget are precious. Figure out what your stakeholders across locations are looking for, and don’t overcomplicate things. Internally, Pinke says stakeholders are looking for “clear, crisp information that matters to them that they can absorb, think about and contribute to.”
- Prioritize accessibility. Don’t assume everyone on the hospitality frontline has access to a computer or phone to train mid-shift. Pinke says this won’t be a possibility in some roles, so get creative and find ways to make learning accessible for all.
To learn more about hospitality associates’ critical role in creating moments of delight for guests and what hoteliers can do to enable them better, watch the full ITK episode with Dara Pinke from Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts.