Talking Point: How good staff communication brings best customer experience

Hosts at Soneva ready to welcome guests

Hosts at Soneva ready to welcome guests

Green Hotelier has been raising issues of good employment practice and labour rights issues, and one of the key elements of this is ensuring employees have representation or a clear line of dialogue with management in order to raise issues. Here Arnfinn Oines, Social & Environmental Conscience at Soneva, describes how they manage this issue and why when it comes to creating the ultimate guest experience, it’s all in the details.

At Soneva, we believe in an open line of communication. We have created an organic organisation structure that promotes inter-departmental communication and breaks down any rigid hierarchy. We view this as a way to empower our hosts, make them feel part of our Soneva family and to encourage new creative ideas that ultimately will improve us.

We have different ways to ensure that the open line of communication filters through. Our “open door” policy is important to us, which ensures that all hosts have been given a symbolic key to the general manager’s office. They can, at any given time, go to the general manager and express their opinion, whether it is a concern or a suggestion. They will be welcomed and listened to.

Of course in practice this does not always happen, whether because of cultural issues or other concerns among front-line hosts. However, the principle is there and is also funnelled through the organisation in other ways to encourage feedback from hosts. We have created suggestions boxes, and New Ideas Better Ideas, (which we call NIBIs), for which we give prizes to the best ideas which help improve our operations and service. We also arrange ‘host appreciation days’, where roles are reversed and senior management serve our hosts e.g. in the host restaurant. And we arrange meet-the-manager meetings, as well as conducting regular host questionnaires.

At Soneva, we recognise that everyone has a crucial contribution to make to ensure that the guest experience is exceptional. We use the word host rather than employee. As hosts to our guests we deliver our service with pride and a strong sense of ownership and accountability. We have created a feeling of family where each host knows and understands how they personally impact the business and the guest.

Great emphasis is placed on local employment. We have a strong belief that local hosts provide the best service as they feel they are welcoming guests to their home environment. We favour local people to positions that are customer facing, such as waiters and Mr. and Miss Friday (butlers), even though they may not always having the strongest educational background. What they may lack in education they more than make up for with passion and concern for taking care of our guest as if they were their own house guests. That sense of ownership is priceless and we see many guests return because of the personal connection they forge with our hosts. In fact, 78% of our hosts are local with an additional 16% from neighbouring developing countries.

We invest heavily in our hosts as we understand that they are the heart of our business. We strive to create a home from home and provide facilities that offer comfort and good standards.

As our resorts are located in remote areas where most hosts have to live on-site, we have developed a host village concept. The host accommodation is compared to a mid-range hotel in itself, and the host restaurant serves three nutritional meals per day. Additional services include a library, relaxation areas, TV lounges, shop, bar, laundry facilities, game rooms and sporting facilities. For instance, in 2014 we invested USD 250,000 in a top notch artificial football pitch for the hosts at Soneva Fushi (in the Maldives).

Around 26,000 training hours are conducted annually, of which about half is dedicated to sustainability training. Our Learning and Development team ensures all hosts receive an induction in the Soneva philosophy and both local and worldwide environmental challenges and solutions. Specific sustainability training is provided for individual teams and hosts.

As a company we will continue striving to create an environment of genuine care, trust, respect, fairness and teamwork through training, education and empowerment, participation, recognition, rewards and career opportunities. By providing training for our hosts we ensure that they follow “our way” with regards to core values, corporate culture and service to guests. And key to our success is to promote an atmosphere of open lines of communication.

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