After a difficult year in which many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to stay afloat, Luxury Hospitality Management has taken the new normal and run with it.
For alongside the inevitable fear and uncertainty, 2020 also created the space and time to brainstorm the business model, look at ways to improve it and move forward in a different way.
With reflection and reinvention their new keywords, LH is in a strong position, with in person and online training forming a blended approach that has now become the core of the business.
“For a company like ours, which is a human, interactive business where we usually travel around the world, helping organisations increase their bottom line or improve their guests’ satisfaction, last year was challenging,” says LH’s MD Peter Vogel.
“We had a great 2019 and were expecting to double in size in 2020. We never thought we’d be in a situation where we had to rethink and figure out a way to come back bigger and better. Our clients never wanted to think about doing anything on Zoom or online before Covid-19 but now they are embracing it, which is a wonderful thing.
“That helped us to completely rebound with a blended approach of online and 1-2-1 training which, instead of being a one-off intervention, has become an ongoing year-round journey supporting and connecting to individuals. We are now at a point where turnover is almost back to pre-Covid times.”
Indeed, Erik Smit, LH’s operations manager, is convinced that the pandemic helped the company regroup and put it in a stronger position for future growth. “Working from home gave us the time to reflect on what needed to change and build relationships with other businesses,” he says. “We are now seeing the fruits of that, which makes us conclude that coronavirus could be the best thing to happen to us business-wise.
“It took some time to get our clients to embrace the blended approach. It’s something we offer to organisations that we have worked with for a long time. The rapport has already been built with team members and everyone is really happy to see familiar faces again on Zoom and catch up.”
Social interaction and team debriefs are an inherent ingredient in a people-oriented business, and Peter was gratified to see the LH team adapt quickly and enthusiastically to the new way of working.
“Everyone understood the reality of the situation and people were rather grateful to still have something to do at a time when you could have been locked up at home doing nothing. We already did weekly online meetings so we expanded that and it allowed for people to be home in a safe environment but still earn money and increase the way they did business.
“Our team has grown due to demand and we will be expanding again in the next six months because this blended approach isn’t going anywhere, it’s a new business model. It’s become the norm, with the in-person side being the bolt on.”
With online learning far more intensive than in person, LH has cut long training days into shorter, more manageable blocks but there are certain aspects that will always translate better in the flesh when, as Peter says: “you are in the same room and can look people in the eye.”
“You can’t do eight hours online, it’s exhausting and concentration lapses,” admits Erik. “Service delivery is also about a transfer of energy and the way you present yourself; you let the students feel how you do it for them to understand what it’s like. We still travel and deliver in person and we have a lot booked for next spring.”
As well as their La Belle Classe collaboration with the Yacht Club de Monaco and an updated LH Dynamics assessment, they have also reignited a new training academy with a renowned shipyard.
A new addition, The Elite Academy, is currently being developed for Hill Robinson, which will see them roll out LH style service training and housekeeping as well as 12-month programmes for crew across the hospitality, leadership, teambuilding and culture sectors.
As a result, both Peter and Erik feel that the business has benefitted dramatically from a less frenetic ‘reflect and reinvent’ state of mind, with patience, a slower pace and more time spent making decisions becoming the new way forward.
“We didn’t grow as much as we hoped in the last 12 months but we have looked at how we could change our model, while still providing services and value, and grow outside our industry too. We are invited to bring what we do to other industries outside maritime.”
Among the new plans and incentives for the year ahead is a focus on individuals as well as crews. “There are lots of boats offering training and development to their crew but it’s always in the interests of the boat,” adds Erik, “so we are now developing pathways for individuals to book with us and enrol in an online, all-encompassing personal development course.
“We believe everyone in the world is in service but you need to take care of yourself first before you can focus on others. We’d love to assist crew at the start of their careers in what steps they should be looking to take, in thinking about the future and also how they might end their career in yachting.
“Currently, there is very little planning and many career paths are accidental. We’d like to support crew firstly in how to become comfortable and know their talents, then to become the best at what they do and thirdly, how they can transfer their skills and become an entrepreneur, starting their own business with the savings they have built up in yachting.”
If there is one piece of advice Peter can offer to other business owners operating in these strange times, it would be a period of reflection. “Reflect on where you are. Don’t look at your time, your business, your clients, just reflect on where you are. Can you deliver? Do you bring the best?
“Look at what do you need to do to become better as an individual. If you’re stuck, change the lens and you will find the motivation to move forwards. Every business should be agile enough to reinvent itself if necessary.”
Adds Erik: “We are very optimistic about 2022. It’s good to practise what you preach. Look at what goes well, embrace and celebrate that and with that positive energy, look at where you can improve. Always be happy, but take that and make things even better.”