While I know it might be a bit un-politically correct to say this, I am a strong believer in cultural stereotypes. Need a reliable appliance? Buy German. Good coffee? Go Italian. Fancy a pint? The British know how to run a good pub. And last week it was confirmed to me that Asians are definitely the winners when it comes to the world of hospitality. I know it is unfair to clump all of Asia into one title, but I am hoping people know what I mean when I use the term “Asian hospitality.”
I discovered this with my friend Iram a few years ago, when we were looking to sit down somewhere and have a nice cocktail and a long chat. We were in the Knightsbridge area of London, and after attempting a few swanky bars, which were all full of wannabee WAGs or terribly posh, ultra lame people, we ended up in the Mandarin Oriental. I wasn’t aware of who else was in the bar that night, because you are made to feel that you are the only one in there. And the service was flawless, invisible, and utterly perfect. If you are thinking that this is a normal occurrence in a five star hotel, think again. While I’ve rarely been exposed to bad service in a good hotel, I have certainly experienced mediocre service on several occasions.
And when it comes to airlines, WELL!!!! (Just in writing this post I’ve been reminded of a complaint I made to British Airways two months ago which has not yet been responded to!) Most airlines these days are absolutely rubbish. I’ve had a few mediocre experiences on American and Canadian airlines, but when it comes to British companies, service is not even part of the package. In fact, the staff behave like they are doing you a favour just turning up for work. But when I flew Thai Airways a few years ago, the service was impeccable. They went out of their way to fulfill my requests, the cabin crew were extremely helpful, and generally the flight was a pleasure. My hotel on that trip (I was going to Guangzhou) was the Garden Hotel and that too was amazing. I am sure the staff customer ratio there is pretty ridiculous, it is easier to achieve that in a country where wages are lower, as there were people there to assist all the time.
You never hear of people raving about their experience on a European or North American airline (the exception being Virgin Atlantic, who are very good, but compared to other British airlines, are phenomenal) however Cathay Pacific seems to be elevated to a whole new level of distinction. It is as if any seat on a Cathay Pacific airline will be the equivalent of a first class seat were you to fly a “normal” airline. In fact, Cathay Pacific describes their First Class service as “Just the right amount of personal attention, interaction, and privacy.” I guess that means they won’t be making loudspeaker announcements congratulating brides-to-be and their hen party guests onboard the flight, followed by loud screams from the druken party (Ryanair, I HATE you.)
I love the invisibility of good hospitality, I am a strong believer in the whole “invisible service” concept. An excellent waiter should be one you don’t remember, because they magically made everything you needed appear at exactly the right time, without disrupting your meal. Basically, the complete opposite of the waitress who says “Hi, my name’s Tammy and I’ll be your waitress tonight!” and then proceeds to use the term “folks” throughout the meal. (I hate the word “folks.”)
Anyway, my stay in the Shangri-La hotel last week in Vancouver was everything you’d expect from a first class Asian hotel chain. The room was spacious, well-equipped, and super comfortable. The service in the hotel was perfect (what I remember of it…again, that invisibility thing…) You know that feeling you get when you walk into a five star hotel? That feeling of calm…knowing you are in a safe, wonderful, beautiful place where everything you could possibly need and want is only a request away? Well, that feeling is most definitely magnified in the Asian hotels I’ve stayed in. Which is why I am not at all surprised that Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La have residences. I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be to have that hospitality available to you every single day. And of course there is no point in doing so, as I will be unlikely to afford one of those residences anytime soon.
I’d love to hear your experiences on this subject… Does anyone disagree with me?