If you check out the meaning of the word hospitality, the internet will tell you it’s about “the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors or strangers.”


Sounds awesome, doesn’t it – kind of like that feeling you get when you visit someone’s home for the first time, and they greet you at the front door with a big smile. They’re warm and inviting, and you can tell they’ve used their Jamie Oliver cookbooks and taken out the good gin.


That’s the sort of welcome I expect from hotels, too. In my mind, the entire hospitality industry – whether a five-star tribute to architectural elegance, complete with million-count cotton sheets or a cosy Airbnb tucked away in the middle of nowhere – one should feel like they are visiting the home of a friend who cares for you very deeply and wants nothing more than to make you feel special. The clue is in the name, right? In the ‘hospitality’ industry, warmth should be standard.


That’s why I found my January holiday a little disappointing. My teenage son and I decided to treat ourselves to a trip up the Cape East Coast. After a tough year, we were looking forward to stunning sunsets, delicious seafood, and small-town getaway spots where we could truly relax.


I can’t fault the sunsets or the seafood, but when it came to the accommodation, we felt something was seriously lacking. After a lot of online investigation, we had booked ourselves into a Guesthouse that had all the right credentials: fantastic reviews, beautiful pictures, a great location, and so on and on.


This isn’t a horror story intending to warn you about the two-faced nature of the Internet, and how pictures aren’t to be trusted. Far from it: the establishment was just as lovely as its website (and past guests) promised. It was in immaculate condition and the décor was gorgeous – everything looked perfect.


Too perfect, actually. After just a few days, it became clear that our hostess had made a great effort to ensure that everything was just so and that she was determined that it should remain that way.


That’s all very well if you’ve curated a great look for a magazine spread, or a show house model – but when there are people moving about a home, there’s bound to be some disruption. Even the tidiest among us may accidentally bump a table, move a chair, or shift a cushion so that we’re more comfortable. And in a place where hospitality was truly valued, that wouldn’t be an issue, but in our case, our host seemed determined to keep us in line. She would passively-aggressively ask us to please not touch anything and wouldn’t even allow my “always hungry” teen to bring takeaway food into his room.


So, after feeling as though I was living inside a museum plastered everywhere with ‘look don’t touch’ posters, with that irritating little rhyme stuck in my head (“lovely to look at, delightful to hold, but if you should break it consider it sold), I got thinking: which is more important? Staying in a place that looks amazing? Or feeling like you’re in a home away from home? I was so caught up in the question that I created an online poll on Linkedin, and the responses backed up what I already thought: 85% of respondents said they value hospitality and comfort when they stay somewhere, compared to 10% who place a higher priority on features and amenities. Just 6% said they consider style and aesthetics to be the most important.


The message? As always, it’s about putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. Yes, I may have appreciated our hostess’s efforts to create a beautiful environment – but I will certainly never return to that Guest House,  nor will I recommend it to others. If she had taken the time to consider my needs, rather than placing emphasis on what she thought was important, I probably would been a “return guest”.


I wonder how many of us have fallen into a similar trap?