30 September 2009

The End of An Era, or Two, or Three...

The Dorchester Collection, the global hotel group invested by The Sultan of Brunei, completed the purchase of the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles, California. It was yet another diamond in the crown of their collection.

The hotel will be closing today for a two-year renovation project of the property. With a long and illustrious history, updating the rooms, plumbing, restaurants and grounds are welcome. But it has also been confirmed that all of the staff will be fired without guarantee of rehiring upon completion.

What has made the Hotel Bel Air what it was and what it is today is the unparalleled professionalism and discretion of a staff that is equally a family unto themselves as they are to returning guests. Without them, the hotel will lack the enchantment it speaks of and the feeling of home away from home that guests refer to it as. Almost all of the staff have devoted decades of their careers there and not one advertises himself as an actor, which in Los Angeles is a rarity.

The Dorchester Collection website promotes: "It's not just our hotels, it's our staff that make Dorchester Collection legendary." This is most certainly accurate about this hotel, so why not keep them on?

The valet team, on the front lines of the brand as well as the hotel, don't just park cars. They vehemently protect the privacy of guests by strategically fending off paparazzi who park 24 hours a day across the street from the entrance. They have their own cues to prepare for reclusive celebrities without disrupting the beauty of an arrival and bittersweet departures. The Concierge treat each guest as one's own; the attentive front desk receptionists add to the special occasion of a stay; the porters know the ins and outs, and ups and downs, with insurmountable discretion; the restaurant team knows that distance and attention are simultaneously possible; and overall the grounds keepers, pool attendants, housekeeping, security, catering, special events and boutique managers live their professions with passion and dignity. Let us also not forget the executive office which has managed to keep the General Managers intact and on time for the ticking of the hotel.

All of these people honed years of experience and precision at the highest level. Their support of the uniqueness of the Hotel Bel Air cannot be learned overnight. The recently appointed General Manager stated in a press release:"Our guests absolutely love this hotel, it is a home away from home for many and our vision for the newly renovated Hotel Bel Air is to create somewhere that will enchant both local residents and international travelers alike."

Guests love this hotel because the staff perpetuates their vision of uniqueness.

It's not an easy task to renovate such a property while meeting the bottom line as well as negotiating with the California labor unions, probably one of the strongest in the country. I only hope that the Hotel Bel Air will not be returned an empty glass castle on Stone Canyon for that will certainly not be "honouring the individuality and heritage of this iconic hotel."


Puccini Chocolate Shop, Amsterdam

"Do you sell these chocolates in 100 gram bags? I think that these are 200 grams."
"No, we don't. We'd need another shop to hold so many of those bags."
(The chocolates were priced per 100 grams)

28 September 2009

Not a Flight of Fancy, but a Flight of Discontent

Is it worth it that the Italian government negotiated with private entrepreneurs to succumb to the entitled moaning of Alitalia staff to save the airline from inevitable bankruptcy?

The one plus hour flight into Milan Linate this July was as if I were walking down the spiral stairs in Purgatory, but my experience wasn’t as poetic.

The flight attendants, one a disheveled brunette who looked like she just awoke, barely greeted us as we came aboard, almost missed my hand when passing me my cup of water, and threw down packets of biscotti on my trade table as well as those of my row mates. The attendants simply didn’t want to be on this flight. In addition, the trade table was dirty, replete of biscotti crumbs from the last passenger, not to mention the head rest that smelled.

The most amusing part of the flight was when the pilot in his thick Italian accent thanked us for our cooperation as we were delayed at the gate. However, he instead said, “thank you for your creation.”

Alitalia Airlines’s corporate brand webpage declares: "Our commitment is to provide top quality ground services and onboard services so that every travel experience has that distinctive touch of Italian style."

I appreciate the complexities that airline businesses are faced with. But I also recognize that training and personnel come first, maybe even before mission statements are posted for the public...and investors.

24 September 2009


Harrod's Department Store, London
"Excuse me, where is the men's department?"
(wearing camoflage pants and a T-shirt)
"Casual or suiting, sir?"
"Suiting. Thank you."

12 September 2009

About SOS

I am a traveler, culinary sniffer and willing customer of all services imagined. I have come to realize that the people who perform these services make or break the deal, not only the product at hand. Thanks to the elitist flag-waving sales girl at Gucci, I didn't blow thousands of dollars there. Thanks to the specialty butcher, I devoured plenty of grass fed beef from Wyoming.

Subtleties of Service is about how people in the service industries can greatly affect our shopping, dining, traveling, and daily experiences as well as how they can affect the brands they represent and the products they sell. The relationship between the customer and the service provider is no longer simply transactional.

We come across these people everyday. They are on the front lines of capturing our attention and loyalty. They are responsible for selling the philosophy of a brand, perpetuating its public perception, and persuading us to buy into what they are hawking. They can also turn the tide from success to failure in the way they greet the customer, stand, and deliver.

We desire more than ever the packaged experience as well as the product. Some are well trained while others are naturals. And the more subtle they are at succeeding, they have mastered what I call the Subtleties of Service.

By representing the customer, I offer unbiased observations and a critical eye on the efficiency and discretion, aesthetic and function, and culture and tradition that affect service.

Marisa Ma