opinionBy David Desta
Hotels, restaurants, and lounges are key components of the Addis Abeba hospitality scene. Distinguishing the differences between establishments is becoming harder though. Walk into any hotel that is nearing completion and one is bound to see many similarities.
It brings up the question of whether creativity and uniqueness are dead.
Maybe my statement on the similarities might be harsh, but I have observed this in various trades, such as cafes, bars, and restaurants. Similar colour schemes, marble flooring, furniture finishes, and layouts are hard to ignore. It is as if all of them are contracting the same interior designer.
I understand it might be difficult to source various materials due to strict import rules and lack of foreign currency, but creating an own sense of style and charisma is crucial. After all, a key component in the hospitality industry is expression and story telling.
There are a plethora of ways to make practice and delivery distinctive. The most specific is art and food and beverage differentiation.
Ethiopian art dates back centuries, primarily to religious artworks and crafts, such as textiles and jewellery. We are currently witnessing photographers and painters creating their own distinct image. Visiting any of the city’s art exhibitions or gallery openings, one is bound to observe great works by exciting new artists.
Now imagine seeing these creations in a hotel lobby, or guestroom. Picture entering a hotel lobby or café and coming across a unique piece of art that speaks to people. It will surely create a sense of aura and excitement. It might even generate an emotional reaction. This is the type of experience guests ought to encounter.
A prime example is the local boutique hotel, The Louvre. Entering the courtyard and venturing to the terrace, one will find wall murals from artist Teferi Teshome. Delving deeper into the hotel and its Parisienne charm and theme, it is as if we have entered another city. The meticulous attention to detail is apparent in the custom metal work, signage, and furniture. For many who have not had the ability to experience a Parisienne bistro, this is the closest thing to it.
Purchasing art from local artists or working with a gallery can help bring new pieces and keep a hotel hip, but this will come at a cost. If buying does not align with the budget, consider a local curator to host exhibitions. This will attract a constant stream of guests. If not, the possibility of renting or exchanging art can keep the atmosphere fresh.
For instance, Sheraton Addis’ annual Art of Ethiopia exhibition is known for supporting and displaying Ethiopian art for over a decade. What once was a small-scale exhibition has now become a must-attend spectacle. The hotel has even tied in corporate social responsibility into the mix and created a Sheraton Addis Art Endowment Fund that promotes local artistic talent throughout the country.
This not only generates great public opinion, but also shows the hotel’s desire to help and rejuvenate the local art scene.
Art can spark a conversation with guests and improve connectivity between staff and customers. Furthermore, it can contribute to cultural heritage, but also the identity of a city. A hotel will be able to showcase its own taste and ambiance.
Developing a creative food and beverage program is another avenue that can provide impressive results for businesses. At some point everybody needs to eat. But eating is a necessity, whereas dining is an experiential event that should be enjoyed.
During the Easter fasting period, many hotels and restaurants promoted lunch buffets to attract business to their restaurants. This was a great idea to help offset lost revenue from popular meat- and-dairy based dishes. However, all the offerings were similar and indistinguishable.
When zoning in on a specific culinary theme, it is critical to understand who the customers are – are they locals or visitors? Make sure the concept matches the hotel’s character and then determine if the team can execute the plan effectively.
When it comes to customer service, the restaurant is the ideal location to increase customer engagement. Typical hotel engagements between staff and guests are limited to the front desk during check-in and last for several minutes.
On the other hand, dining guests will spend up to more than half an hour at a restaurant. This is the best time for staff to “go the extra mile.” Genuine interactions can help gain loyalty and allow an opportunity to know the guests.
A properly crafted food and beverage program will make guests and locals remember their dining experience. A unique approach to style, décor, delivery, and service will set the establishment apart – make sure each customer’s visit is memorable and special.
An excellent restaurant will bring a property an elevated reputation and demand by word of mouth, which increases hotel occupancy and sales, which will give it the ability to demand higher rates.
Trends have shown that food and beverage revenue can overtake rooms revenue. It might be less profitable than guestroom revenue and this is a reason why hotel owners and managers shy away from it. But it can cater to more locals and repeat customers as well.
Full-service hotels add value by having a successful food and beverage component. If deprived of the right restaurant, properties will essentially be a mid-tier select-service hotel with just guestrooms like everyone else.
Showcasing a unique approach will promote the charisma and individuality of establishments. The free marketing that can be gained from customers will also be a bonus. In the end, social media is a significant medium of marketing for the clientele. When a guest takes a picture and tags the property or food, a larger market would be reached and new customers will be attracted.
Remember that guest satisfaction will result in more guests because satisfied customers generate more revenue and potentially more occupied rooms. And above all, this will lead to happy guests and happy owners and staff.
David Desta Is a Cornell University Graduate From the School of Hotel Administration Who Has Been Working in Ethiopia for the Past Several Years. He Can Be Reached At Destadavid@gmail.com.