Vivienne Gunning
07 Mar

After an extensive five-week exploration of Sicily and Sardinia, I am prompted to share my thoughts on the state of hospitality in the tourism industry. 

Drawing from my 16 years of experience as a cabin attendant, proprietor of a top-ranked four-star establishment in Pretoria, and a travel chef across Africa, along with conducting hospitality training in Kerala, and currently serving as an expedition leader for high-end groups with Bushtracks and National Geographic Expeditions, I believe I bring a well-rounded perspective to this discussion. 

Despite my rich background, tonight finds me grappling with lingering dissatisfaction, particularly with Italian (Sicilian and Sardinian) hospitality. While I have found the Sicilians warmer and of a higher standard, even there's a discernible lack of essential warmth, especially when compared to the unwavering commitment I've witnessed in India. Even humble homestays there, with their simplicity, exude a certain golden warmth. Could this apparent lack of genuine interest be attributed to the low season? If so, it seems to be a weak excuse, especially considering that the room rates do not necessarily decrease during the cold and wet winter months. Out of about 20 encounters with hosts in Italy, only three to four have gone beyond mere transactional interactions, demonstrating genuine effort beyond collecting my night's fee. 

Many of the accommodations, although clean, surprisingly lack thoughtful extras that contribute to a comfortable stay, such as tea and coffee-making facilities, bottled water, snacks, or local treats. 

Traveling in the winter months, I anticipated being treated as a special guest due to lower tourist numbers, but unfortunately, my experiences have fallen short. It appears that exceptional hospitality in these Italian regions necessitates top-tier, four-star, or above accommodations. 

The amenities in these rooms often barely meet the basics, leaving me somewhat disappointed. While basic toiletries like shampoo and soap are provided, there's a noticeable lack of plentiful high-quality towels and sometimes even a hairdryer. Extras such as extra blankets, pillows, and warm, cosy gowns are considered luxuries. Even the cultural cornerstone of wine seems overlooked, with the absence of beautiful wine glasses. Tea and coffee availability are inconsistent, and the luxury of finding a small jug of milk in the fridge or a bottle of water in the room is a rare occurrence. Clear instructions on using amenities are lacking, except for the Wi-Fi password. 

My recent experience at a medieval "castle" in a small town exemplifies this trend. The owner swiftly provided the Wi-Fi password, mentioned the seldom functional air conditioning, and casually stated the 10:30 AM checkout time. There was no warm welcome, no offer of coffee or wine, and no inquiry about my journey. The room, though clean, lacked the touch of luxury, and even the bed linens failed to evoke comfort. 

Reflecting on the training sessions I conducted for my staff, I emphasized the importance of closing the door after cleaning, re-entering as a guest, and critically assessing the room. The space must be a comfort zone for paying guests, and the key is recognizing that guests are not receiving a favour; they are paying for a service. 

Basic information about local amenities and clear instructions, especially for self-check-ins, contribute to a positive experience. My recent positive experiences in places like Petralia Soprano, Messina, Cagliari, Bosa and Olbia underscore the impact of genuine hospitality. The warmth of hosts and the quality of accommodations significantly contribute to a positive guest experience. In contrast, the inconsistencies I've encountered highlight the need for improvement in the broader hospitality landscape. 

In conclusion, while diverse expectations exist in the hospitality industry, poor hospitality cannot be justified. Hospitality is common sense, and the basic rules are not defined by cultural differences but by what makes a person feel good in a space. The key lies in recognising and prioritizing those elements that contribute to a positive and welcoming guest experience.

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