This is hopefully part of a longer piece generally, but I thought it would be a positive way to embark on this Friday blog challenge. Since I've been heavily reliant on short term accommodation during my time abroad, excellence in hospitality has been on my mind for a while.
My journey began in February. So I could start my year in Croatia in style, my friend and I took a road trip through France and Italy for a week. As we headed south to Ancona, we purposefully stayed in a wide variety of places; from a family owned medieval Italian palazzo, a 1920s spa town grand hotel of faded grandeur, as well as a hysterically 1980s orange hotel room somewhere near Montpellier. Most of these were memorable because of the freedom and fun of travelling, and excitement of not knowing what to expect from our temporary residences.
To be fair, we were so enamoured of the palazzo and our hosts we lost a day of our road trip and stayed an extra night there.
As a flavour of some of the places I've stayed since arriving in Croatia, there was a little stone cottage in Split, beautiful modern apartments in Sarajevo and Ubli on Lastovo. Then more recently, there was a simple room above a restaurant in Pomena, and finally the riad style island paradise from where I am currently writing. A brief visit last week from my erstwhile travelling companion and her experiences in a place across the way got me thinking what makes a roof over one's head, a home.
It is simple. The answer is people. The assistance with shopping logistics on Lastovo, the plate of homemade goodies in Split, or the immediate friendly beers in the Old Mill on Sipan - everyone in my varied Croatian homes has greeted me with smiling warmth. Even the harassed waiter on Mljet with his hasty welcome, later made up for it with a free evening meal when my ferry was cancelled due to a massive storm. Unbelievably kind. As a result I've rarely felt like a paying guest, but a long lost friend.
When I see the lengths that my friends who work in the hospitality industry go to in their efforts, it makes me realise how much time and emotional energy they invest in ensuring their guests have a good time. Many of these people are providing admittedly 'boutique' service, but even the couple of cheaper corporate places on the road trip were memorable because of the friendly efficiency of staff. Given I'm not really one for posh soap and Egyptian cotton sheets, I tend to judge a place by its people.
In contrast, last week my friend experienced a slightly off-hand response from her host and his staff, and it coloured her stay. There was nothing wrong with the place and it was good value, but nonetheless, she won't stay there again and neither will she recommend it because of the surly waitress. Never mind the importance of online reputation and five star reviews, when your livelihood depends on guests, especially in a place where the norm is open friendliness, her experience saddened me.
I'm sure that books have been written about on the subject of making guests happy, and what differentiates the good from the excellent. Cleanliness, location, amenities are all important, but ultimately you cannot underestimate the value of genuine friendship between host and guest. It takes effort. And if you're on the other side as the guest, you have an obligation to respond in kind. Your hosts are people too!