The little conundrum
AS some of you will know, I have recently given birth to a baby girl, Mia Nandini Zahra Sen.
My world has turned upside down. I talk to children like they are individuals, I remember their names, I greet them in busy elevators and I’m writing about them now. But, most of all, being the editor of a travel magazine, I keenly observe how the travel industry treats them and where it could do better.
When I walk into a hotel with my baby, whether to dine at an outlet, to try their newest suite or simply to satisfy my service curiosity, (and I do that very often, as you can imagine), my eyes are on every human interface I interact with.
Does the valet help with the pushchair? Does the bellboy come to the rescue when the pram is stuck in revolving doors? Does the lady at the reception smile at my baby and check whether I need a baby cot? Does the butler know that a breast pump is not meant to be displayed in the living room? Does the waiter recommend a quiet corner if he sees my child is asleep? Do the housekeeping staff bring a separate set of clean sheets and a mini pillow without being prompted?
Like me, there are thousands of first-time parents out there, checking into hotels and forming their opinions about which brands were hospitable to their babies and which ones didn’t quite make the cut when it came to providing a stress-free holiday.
As a hotelier, when you look at irritated parents with little noisy children checking into your hotel, you should spot the opportunity to make loyal customers for life. Heard of multi-generational travel? These loyal little guests will return one day with children of their own, and that will be testament to your hospitality.
I recently checked into the highest suite category of a hotel (that must not be named), and found all the services and amenities to be quite up to the mark. But when the old, rickety baby cot came in, I wanted to make a run for it. How could I sleep peacefully on a plush and soft bed (with a pillow menu of eight options to choose from, no less!), when my baby would be sleeping in what looks like a box without a lid?
Most hotels these days have special in-room amenities designed specially for kids and if you are charging me the extra dirhams for a premium room category, ensure everything is top quality – especially everything to do with my baby.
Kids’ clubs these days cater to different age groups from toddlers to teenagers and have nanny services on request. Please correct me if I am wrong when I say that no hotels in the GCC have specialised child care for children below the age of one? I am yet to come across a hotel in the UAE at least, that has a nursery to take care of my five-month-old, while I enjoy a spa treatment. That means one less spa treatment for the hotel or lost revenue, and one frustrated guest.
Some hotels have a separate and supervised kids’ hotel within the hotel grounds, where children can play and stay with children of other hotel guests. Some hotels have a different check-in area to keep kids occupied, while the adults are enjoying their welcome drinks. Some hotels will offer little toys and bathrobes for your child with their names embossed on them (haven’t seen this in the UAE at least, again, correct me if I am wrong?), while others will make do with Cartoon Network on an LED TV.
And then there are hotels, whose main selling point is their services for children and families. Austrian operator Leading Family Hotels & Resorts, for instance, provides strollers, bouncers, baby bath, changing mats, baby phones, bottle warmers and baby cots free of cost. A selection of baby-care products and baby food is also on offer. I am keen for Mia to try their ‘beauty and wellness treatments’ for babies and toddlers.
If you’re just another hotel trying to cater to every segment – family, business, leisure and corporate – you still don’t have an excuse to ignore your youngest guests, I’m afraid. Remember that the bleisure travel trend has been seeing corporate – and often business clients – come to your hotels with their families these days, and this trend is here to stay.
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By Rashi Sen