Why authenticity is overrated

I’m in the business of helping craft guest experiences in the hospitality industry.

Without fail, I draw hoteliers’ and hospitality leaders’ attention when I tell them what I do. Why? For years now, guest experiences have been considered central to a hotel’s success. And within the realm of guest experiences, authenticity has been the lodestar. I’d bet that if our industry leaders are asked to define what drives unforgettable guest experiences, the word “authenticity” will be in the top five.

Nothing surprising or new, really.

The buzz

Marriott CEO, Arne M. Sorenson flagged authenticity as “the biggest watchword” for the group back in 2014. Hilton launched a new Luxury Experiences platform in July last year – designed to enable guests to book “exclusive, authentic, local experiences.” I’ve cited two examples here  – but really the idea seems universal. Large chains as much as boutique, independent hotels aim to craft “authentic guest experiences.”

I want to take a closer look at authenticity and how we understand it. I find three concepts intertwined with our understanding of authenticity within the hospitality industry:

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13627120
  • In both examples above (and in general within the hospitality industry), authenticity seems to be a strategic organizational decision that hotels undertake to create or aspire to. “We want to create authentic experiences for our guests” is a mantra we have heard repeatedly.
  • Second, machines or technology can’t deliver authentic experiences because they are by definition robotic, machine like, and not human.
  • And finally, people associate authenticity with money. If they are paying more, they expect to walk away with more authentic service.

Beyond the buzz

An acquaintance recently joked that in the pursuit of authenticity, hotels are likely to start charging premium rates for “human only” interactions. I find these concepts interesting, because I disagree with them. And I think it is time we, in the hospitality industry, moved beyond authenticity.

Guests and hotels approach authenticity differently. While hotels think of crafting authentic experiences as a strategic brand/organizational strategy (Micah Solomon captures some wonderful examples here), guests more often than not look at their interactions with hotel staff while defining authentic experiences.

Seth Godin called authenticity overrated. In his words:

Seth Godin: Authenticity is overrated

Authenticity is totally overrated, totally…I don’t want an authentic surgeon who says, “I don’t really feel like doing knee surgery today.” I want a professional who shows up whatever they feel like, right? So there are days that you will see me give a talk or see me write or something where it is not my authentic monkey brain saying whatever pops into its head. This is me playing the role of Seth Godin, being the professional who does what he said he was going to do. If that bothers people that I’m not always authentic, I’m sorry. But at least I’m consistent.

Seth Godin on The Tim Ferris show

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, Godin’s entire conversation with Tim Ferris on this is well worth a listen.

“Such a doll”

I’m in the business of crafting guest experiences in the hospitality industry – through Ivy, the world’s first smartconcierge. The first line you’ll see on Go Moment’s site is currently “Guest Engagement, Automated.” And yet, guests who interact with Ivy routinely praise the prompt service, even stating things like “Ivy… was such a doll” on TripAdvisor.

Statistics show that Ivy enhances not just guest experiences, but even staff engagement at all the hotels she is in. After all, how authentic can we expect the front desk associate to be on the 45th time they answer the same question in one day?

As for people paying more for authentic experiences… personalized, fast, and luxurious experiences are neither synonymous with authenticity, nor must they be expensive. Service on the guest’s terms is today’s ultimate luxury.

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