In Focus: James Hewitson, GM at Al Baleed Resort Salalah
3 years ago by Zaynub Malik
James Hewitson, the General Manager at Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, Oman says going above and beyond guests’ expectations is at the center of their strategy to deliver a world class experience.
In an interview with CustomerService.ae, Hewitson says their Omani culture inspired ambiance attracts a large number of people and how listening to one-on-one feedback from guests inspires them to perform better consistently. He also highlights the methodology for staff training and deploying the latest tools that help in sentiment analysis and social media monitoring.
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“IT’S ABOUT MAKING EVERY GUEST FEEL SPECIAL AND ENSURING THEY HAVE
EVERYTHING THEY COULD WANT”
Q: Can you describe the customer journey as soon as a guest enters Al Baleed Resort Salalah?
J.H: Anantara does a brilliant job of distinguishing itself as a luxury brand by offering customers not only the highest standards of excellence in accommodation, amenities and service but also an indigenous connection to the destinations in which we operate. At Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, the local influence is recognizable from the moment a guest enters the property. From the Omani-inspired architecture and décor to the traditionally dressed Omani doorman greeting each guest with hand on heart and the common Arabic welcome “Marhaba.”
In addition, Anantara’s ‘Gurus’ are an integral part of every guest’s journey as they impart their specialised knowledge with genuine passion and expert flair. At Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, guests looking to uncover the secrets of the region can arrange a private excursion with our Salalah Guru. Having grown up in Salalah, he has unsurpassed knowledge of the area, giving guests an authentic taste of local life and putting travellers in touch with the surrounding culture, history and landscape.
Q: In terms of service, what sets you apart from your competitors in the region?
J.H: Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara is the first true luxury property in Salalah. There is no other hotel in the area that offers the same high level of service and amenities. For example, we are the only resort in Southern Oman to offer private pool villas and with that our guests enjoy dedicated service from their villa host as well as in-villa check-in, a welcoming foot ritual bath and an abundance of high-end amenities you won’t find anywhere else. Guests continually rave about our exceptional service and Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara consistently is ranked No. 1 in guest reviews against its competitors.
Q: In your opinion, what are some Customer Service essentials for creating happy and loyal customers in the hospitality sector?
J.H: Anticipating guests’ needs, plenty of personal touches and heartfelt hospitality are ways in which we ensure guests are happy and remain loyal. We understand more and more what our guests want through simply listening to them via guest satisfaction surveys, online comments, personal interaction, etc. And then we adjust our service appropriately. In addition, we choose colleagues who are fulfilled by providing impeccable service and those who are creative enough to find ways to go above and beyond for guests. The best colleagues are those who truly have a passion for the industry.
Q: What steps do you take for creating a memorable experience for your guests so that they visit the resort again?
J.H: Again, it’s about making each and every guest feel special and ensuring they have everything they could want before having to ask for it. We make the effort to get to know the guests before they even arrive – how many children do they have and what ages; are they celebrating anything; do they have any special requirements, etc. By the time they arrive at the resort, we welcome them as if they are family.
Q: What are your processes for gathering and assessing guest satisfaction at the resort?
J.H: As an extremely guest-centric hotel, gathering and assessing guest satisfaction is one of the most important things we do. We use a powerful online industry tool that brings together all our guest surveys and online comments into one place. It also provides us with valuable insights such as sentiment analysis, competitive intelligence and social media monitoring.
But for me, the one-to-one guest interaction at the resort is key in gathering valuable feedback and solving any issues. Just as I spend much of my time in the resort interacting with guests, I encourage my colleagues to do the same. In fact, we have weekly guest cocktail parties during which my colleagues and I will take the time to get to know the guests and make sure their stay is going well.
Q: How often do you conduct training programs for your staff and what key skills do you focus on?
J.H: We have a dedicated training department at Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara that provides continuous training in all aspects of the hospitality industry, as well as in upholding the standards of the brand and representing Anantara properly. Each colleague starts off with a three-day orientation about our brand and the expectations we have of our colleagues. The orientation is highly visual and interactive so colleagues walk away with a real feel and understanding of the brand. Of course, we also offer training on the various skills needed to perform the different jobs at the hotel, but we also like to focus on the development and interests of the colleague. We provide many opportunities via cross-training for our colleagues to learn new skills and find a true passion within the industry.
Q: What are some important customer service ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts that you emphasize on while training your customer service staff?
J.H: As a Minor hotel, we follow the “Golden Rules” set by our Chief Operating Officer, Robert Kunkler:
- Never say no to a guest request.
- Every guest is special and has to leave happy from our resort.
- Guests are always in the forefront of whatever we do.
Q: How are you using Social Media platforms to build brand presence and engage with online customers?
J.H: In order to connect with today’s modern traveler, we are very active on social media. We post a mix of content to keep our followers engaged. From interesting destination information and resort specials to contests and stories from inside the hotel, we try to deliver the most interesting content to the most appropriate audiences through geotargeting and insight analysis. Being so visually based, social media is the perfect place for us to show our guests’ journey through vibrant photography and amusing video.
Q: What sort of online customer support do you offer to answer guest queries and help them make bookings?
J.H: We offer email support to help our guests make bookings and we will be launching a chat feature in the near future. In addition, we do get all sorts of communication via social media channels and while our response time standard is within 24 hours, we realize that today’s online consumer moves fast, thus we almost always respond well under the 24 hours.
Q: How do you deal with complaints and what are some key protocols for handling unhappy guests?
J.H: Addressing any complaints is a key part of customer service. We start with trying to understand the issue which involves asking questions and listening. We then apologise, rectify the situation and compensate the guest where necessary. In the end, we find that most guests just want to be heard and to be shown we care.
Q: What developments are taking place at the resort for an enhanced hospitality experience in the future?
J.H: While we are the newest and most luxurious property in Salalah, we are always looking for innovative ways to meet and exceed our guests’ expectations. We truly do take our guests’ feedback to heart and use it to guide us in any changes we make at the resort.
Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara attracts families from all over the world, including the GCC market, because we are the only resort with private pool villas. We offer one-, two- and three-bedroom villas that are particularly spacious and comfortable for families of all sizes. Because of high demand for two-bedroom villas, we are now undergoing a project to connect several pairs of our one-bedroom villas.
About James Hewitson
James Hewitson is the General Manager of Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, part of the luxury hospitality brand for modern travellers established 15 years ago by Minor Hotels. Having worked with Anantara for five years, James brings with him a solid understanding of the brand as well as 25 years’ experience garnered from key roles at prominent hotels throughout the world. James leads the team to ensure guests receive an unparalleled five star experience at the resort, which opened in November 2016.