By Jim Sullivan | On Mar. 9, 2016
At the Waldorf-Astoria last year, an elegant woman of Eastern European extraction was crossing the hotel lobby in Chicago. It was near midnight. She wore a tight-fitting grey cotton dress. Red heels. Her eyes swerved for a look at a man coming her way in a dark sport jacket with a sheaf of papers under arm.
This scene played out in a print magazine advertisement by Waldorf-Astoria last year. The headline on this picture: The Stories Begin Here.
The hospitality industry’s embrace of story and storytelling is a given. When Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian appointed a new marketing officer last year, he noted her passion for bringing a brand to life through “storytelling.”
The word has currency. People love it. They acknowledge its significance, if not its primacy as a strategy for bringing a brand to life. But the fact of the matter is there is not a lot of storytelling going on out there, not that I can see, not in the travel writing I am seeing.
Stories require a number of things. They’re not mere exercises in exposition, but a deliberately shaped piece of writing – something with a beginning, a middle and an end. Change happens in story. And a character is absolutely necessary. If you do not have a character, you do not have a story.
Guests want to be characters in stories. This is the essential point to be made here, and the successful hotel is the hotel that prompts or stimulates a story. It is a setting, by default, but it can be an agent of change, as well. In the experiences it develops, in the events it holds, in the people it employs, there are the necessary building blocks of stories.
Travelers don’t want to come back from a trip with souvenirs; they want to come back with experiences. But don’t take my word for it:
“Over the past decade, an abundance of psychology research has shown that experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions,” wrote James Hamblin in a recent article in The Atlantic.
One of the leading authorities on this subject is a Cornell University psychology professor, Dr. Thomas Gilovich, who suggests that more happiness comes from spending money on experiences: art exhibits, outdoor activities, learning new skills, or traveling.
Traveling is definitely an experience, and a story is a kind of experience. Not every experience is a story, but that experience, if vested with meaning, can be.
So, what to do with this if I am a hotelier, and I want people to associate a stay at my property with a story. You do two things:
1) You make sure you are an active, not passive, purveyor of the best your destination has to offer.
2) And then you work to generate publicity about guests who have experienced your property, and who have discovered something. Learned something. Changed. Stories are not stories unless they’re told.
Let people tell stories about what it’s like to be in your hotel, and to experience the destination from your hotel. Let the story begin with you.