JUST before the summer hit Dubai, I had the pleasure of serving as a member of the judging panel for one of the regional hotel awards, which meant that I got to stay in a number of hotels of all types and classes.
The stays took place mostly during weekends, so I brought the family and we had a series of mini-stay-cations in the region. The awards featured a large number of different categories for hotels to enter, ranging from environmental policies to meeting facilities, yet strangely enough, there wasn’t a category for child friendly initiatives.
Although not part of my official observations for the awards, it was nevertheless interesting to notice how the different hotels treated our four-year old son and how he judged the hotels we stayed in. Today’s kids are tomorrow’s customers – not just for hotels, but all other businesses, and I think it makes good business sense to treat younger guests and parents with this in mind.
In my experience, the Middle East region is, overall, extremely child-friendly, but it soon became clear that some businesses are better than others when dealing with kids and families.
We discovered that child-friendliness isn’t really about the facilities you provide, but about how you treat your future guests and customers. We had one of the best experiences in a relatively new and very luxurious business hotel in Dubai’s Business Bay neighborhood. The hotel certainly wouldn’t be the first choice for travellers with younger children, because it doesn’t have beach access, a kids club, or even a playground, but what it does have is extremely switched-on and child-friendly team-members. We arrived and reconfirmed the dinner booking in one of the hotel’s restaurant’s for later in the day and also informed the hotel that we’d have a babysitter coming in to look after our son. The receptionist immediately turned to our son and asked him whether he would like to have some food delivered for his dinner and then listened patiently to our four-year-old our son was treated like a valued guest, which in turn put us at ease. Happy kids = happy parents = happy customers – it’s an easy equation.
On the other extreme of the spectrum was a hotel along Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road that didn’t have our room ready when we arrived with a tired four-year old at 6.30 p.m. in the evening. Have you ever been stuck in a queue at a hotel reception with a tired four-year-old? I do not recommend it. It’s at best tiresome and at worst stressful – both qualities that probably do not make for very happy parents who, let’s face it, are the ones who pay the bills, leave feedback, and decide whether to return or not.
Restaurants can be just as stressful as hotels and I often wonder why some restaurants spend a lot of money on “electronic” and interactive iPad menus. wouldn’t it be even better if the childrens’ menu would be on an ipad together with some games and cartoons to keep the younger diners occupied? Do that, and you wouldn’t need to spend the money on e-menus for the kids’ parents, because we’d actually have time to enjoy perusing traditional menus. What did our four-year old like best in the hotels we stayed at? It wasn’t even the nice kids club complete with water slides – it was a door, or rather a set of sliding doors in one of our rooms that fascinating him most. Do you understand four year olds? Neither do I sometimes, but trying to understand them can pay handsomely in the long run.
By Martin Kubler
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.