As a wise man once said, “Don’t worry about what you don’t know. Be worried about what you think you know, but don’t.”  Regarding different ways “hospitality” is understood, the root of the problem lies in part in the different interpretations that hospitality has in different cultures and languages. In American English, for example, when we speak about “hospitality” we first think of it as an industry and only secondarily as an attribute of an individual or community. In other cultures, the primary meaning of hospitality is more a characteristic of people, or of a country or city, etc., and encompasses such ideas as welcome, reception, amiability, generosity, etc. – not an industry! Even in American English, other words are sometimes used to describe the same economic activity: lodging, accommodation, etc.

The first evidence of hotels and the hospitality industry was recorded as far back as biblical times. Since the earliest days, people have traveled for reasons of commerce, religion, family, health, immigration, education and recreation. The first “hotels” were nothing more than private homes opened to the public. Under the influence of the Roman Empire, inns and hotels began catering to the pleasure traveler in an effort to encourage visitors. Definitions of hospitality range from codes of etiquette to the ethical treatment of strangers to the provision of food and drink.

Traditionally considered a duty and an act of ritual worship in different religions, or the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers in general (Oxford English Dictionary, 2014), hospitality referred, at the beginning, to a relationship between the guest and the host, or to the act or practice of being hospitable.

It is a big paradox that today, when we speaking about hospitality as an industry, we can no longer assume that the critical relationship in the hospitality business is the one between host and guest. Hotels, restaurants, bars and the other hospitality venues are businesses, where the critical relationship is between seller and buyer. The buyers are not guests, they are customers. The relationship is not philanthropic, it is economic. Applying the host-guest relationship from the social and private domains misses the point of the difference between a business and a home. This way of thinking was the engine of the hospitality industry for many years. The more we tried to increase the profitability of this sector, the more we favored the economic aspect over the social one. “Provision of hospitality activities is chiefly driven by the need to extract surplus value from the exchange. That commercial ‘capitalistic’ imperative creates a number of tensions and contradictions that become apparent when we develop a better understanding of the ‘social’ and ‘private’ domains of hospitality activities”. (Lashley and Morrison 2000).

Enhancing the package and improving the logistics of its delivery are thus important commercial aspects of the hospitality product, but they do not answer the fundamental question, “What is the product?” Does the “guest-host” relationship stand in opposition to the “seller-buyer” commercial interaction in some way?

For any enterprise, a key success factor is the quality of the product it delivers. In the service sector, this “product” is the delivery process itself, while in the hospitality business, the customer – i.e. the guest – actually takes part in the process as a “co-producer”. This interactive aspect of the service delivery has a significant consequence for us as hospitality providers, namely that any time guests fail to engage with the hospitality process, they suffer a kind of “loss”, i.e. they experience a diminished product, while at the same time the business suffers a “loss” of its own: it fails to score the success that it could have potentially achieved.

 

What is it that we propose to our customers, when they are already part of this mostly intangible process? Is our product simple, or is it in fact complex, nuanced… best delivered only by trained professionals? How often, as hospitality executives, do we find ourselves in a conversation with someone who honestly believes he has a solid understanding of the hospitality business because he travels a lot and frequently stays in hotels? Is it possible he is right? Or is this analogous to a patient claiming an insider’s understanding of dentistry because he has spent a lot of time in the dentist’s chair having cavities filled and teeth cleaned?

About the Author

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Ray F. Iunius Director Business Development at Lausanne Hospitality Consulting SA

Prof. Dr Ray F. Iunius is the author of various academic and professional articles published by journals in the management of services, technology, and innovation. He is also the author of a number of books such as « Industrie de l’accueil », « Hôtellerie de Luxe », « La gestion des spas », “Un Hôtel, un modèle ?” in de Boeck editions and co-author of the “Lausanne Report on the future of Hospitality Industry.”

He is the founder of the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne Institute of Technology and Entrepreneurship (EHLITE), the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (INTEHL), the Students Business Projects (SBP), the EHLITE magazine, and the Chair of Innovation Paul Dubrule.

Ray earns a BSc, MS and PhD in Technical Sciences from the University of Transylvania Brasov and an MBA and PhD from the Faculty of Business and Economics (HEC) of the Lausanne University. He is currently Director of Business Development at Lausanne Hospitality Consulting, an Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne and Swiss Hotel Association company.