Posted: 1st August 2019 | Written by: Karen Hockney
When it comes to providing the ultimate in superyacht hospitality, technical knowledge and leadership skills are of course essential.
But Luxury Hospitality (LH) believes that motivation to deliver is just as crucial to creating and executing the perfect guest experience. To this end, they have developed a full circle LH 360 degree approach which will ensure that every member of a highly trained superyacht team is primed to perform to the max.
The company’s ethos is reflected by its Managing Director Peter Vogel and Erik Smit, his Operations Manager. Peter’s previous 25 years’ experience in interior yacht management combined with Erik’s background in hospitality running some of the world’s most prestigious Michelin-starred restaurants has morphed into the perfect meeting of minds to take guest experiences to the next level while also maintaining a happy and amiable crew culture on board.
LH was established three years ago and has gone from strength to strength, running twice-yearly training programmes every April and October at their base near Amsterdam as well as on board yachts worldwide – they employ six full-time and five part-time specialist trainers. They also take their expertise to commercial yacht management companies for in-house training as well as honing operation management skills at luxury residences in the US, Europe and palaces in the Middle East.
Once their operating system is in place, the idea is to create a bespoke organisational culture where everyone onboard is ‘on the same page’, working towards shared goals and speaking the same language, customized for each yacht.
‘Our first steps to building and developing LH were to deliver technical training in service, housekeeping and bartending,’ explains Erik, ‘but we got more and more involved because clients started asking us for much more. We’d begin with the interior team but were often being asked to take steps into other departments.
‘We started to offer leadership training. We believe the mentality of being service minded is something that should not be kept to the interior team but can be spread throughout the yacht. It’s a 360 view and goal for everyone on board, which is why we named it the 360 degree approach.
‘If you know what you’re doing and feel confident in your role, you can focus fully on the people you are serving. The same can be said of the crew on deck and the captain and this attitude can be copied across to the rest of the boat.’
Erik believes that his lack of yachting experience has been a distinct advantage in the 18 months since he joined LH.
‘After 20 years in restaurants, I thought it would be nice to try something else,’ says Erik. ‘I liked the idea of sharing my knowledge and experience in tropical locations and not having a yachting background means I have a different viewpoint.
‘I planted that thought in Peter’s head and we did a training course together and found we worked very well together as a team.
'The key to success in business partnership is the different skill sets we possess. Peter is a creator who comes up with new ideas and approaches every 15 minutes while I’m someone who takes an idea, thinks about how to implement it and then makes it happen. We complement each other.
‘Hospitality is all about the perfect guest experience and customer care is all about the perfect guest journey’, says Peter. ‘Setting this up requires a full circle approach that includes both technical knowledge and leadership skills. The LH 360 approach includes three pillars; Insight & Awareness, Training & Development and Professional Coaching & Mentoring.
‘A highly trained team, even experts in their field, will not deliver if they are unmotivated or simply do not get along. LH focuses on proactive behaviour during all their interactions and kick starts the process through discovery assessments, working out what makes a person unique.’
The LH 360 Insight assessment tool is just one example of how they can draw out the qualities which define an individual and their role and is ultimately a direct path towards building a pitch-perfect team performance. Each participant is provided with an online questionnaire following an interesting individual or engaging group debrief.
Students are taken through the important elements underpinning great team cohesion, communication and collaboration and the questionnaire gives each participant a report outlining their core strengths and challenges in the workplace, allowing them to understand exactly where they bring the most value to their team.
‘The report shows where your energy is,’ explains Erik. ‘It might sound holistic but it’s like a mirror, showing the areas of your job that you are best at and most enjoy.
‘Our courses are immersive experiences – we don’t deal with training formally, we like to be close and intimate, like a friend who can help you improve and reach the next stage instead of telling you what to do.
‘Within the 360 training and development program we run a practical lunch in service training where one half of the team will serve the other half and then we swap it around so they can feel what the guests feel’, Erik says.
‘This is the essence of LH; what is luxury hospitality and how do you assist the team onboard in creating the ultimate guest experience? If you’re walking around on a yacht on a priceless carpet holding a very expensive bottle of wine, you might be more concerned about not dropping it rather than thinking: ‘How can I serve this best?’
‘Old style management says that when you lead a team and want them to progress, you focus on the things they are not good at. However, we say let people focus on what they’re good at and find someone else in the team to focus on what they are challenged by. We ask people to make notes on what needs to be done and let everyone pick from it, so that everyone enjoys what they are doing.
‘If there is a weakness or challenge or perhaps something is wrong, we don’t call it wrong but make it something you can improve on, thereby turning a negative into a positive. It’s all about changing the mentality.’
The success stories resulting from this pioneering approach are plain to see. As well as the yachting sector, LH is in demand on private estates and in palaces across the globe and a recent training course at Wilson Halligan, a well-known recruiting specialist in Southampton, received a great reception.
‘It went very well,’ adds Erik. ‘Through LH 360 Insight, we’ve been able to provide them with a realistic method of placing the right people by analysing the individual reports. At private estates, we have to deliver similar but on a larger scale with different demands, always building on top of our self-managing leadership philosophy.
‘LH has been involved since spring 2018 in a new build which is now in its second season. The crew had a lot of good effects from approaching things in this way. In times of stress, like a first boss trip, senior crew will go back to their old routine at times, but everything we do has a learning curve.’
Both Peter and Erik believe that the key to success is a professional approach to coaching and a true willingness for mentoring within the crew, making the insight and learning that takes place along the way truly effective.
With seven-star service as the company mantra, Erik asserts that it is the human dynamic on board which transforms a yacht from a floating machine into an experience like no other.
‘You need the right people on board who can service you and bring the dream to life,’ he says. ‘Technical and leadership training is important but more than that is the attitude you do that with.’
‘The principle behind our leadership platform is that individuals, teams and organizations are at their best when they are in flow. Put simply, flow is your path of least resistance. When you are in a team in flow, productivity increases, results improve dramatically, people have more fun and feel more connected to the yacht.’
Through the implementation of a healthy and effective leadership culture with their clients, LH quantifies the quality of individual crew and the teams they operate in. Their discovery approach also assists them in unleashing a person's raw talent, providing the key to a united workforce which delivers above and beyond.
As Peter says: ‘Too many people are unaware of their own potential’.