These days when you register at a five-star hotel, you’ll likely be asked a lot of personal questions. Will you be bringing a child? How old? What kind of car do you drive? Do you have a pet? Can you send us your pet’s picture?
It’s all part of an effort to impress customers, a technique known as “guest profiling,” according to Paul Bagdan, a professor in the hospitality department at Johnson & Wales University. When the guests arrive, the valet will recognize their car and greet them by name. In the room, the staff will have a crib ready for the baby, and most likely they’ll leave a small toy, too. And on the nightstand by the bed, guests might find a framed portrait of Fido.
“It began with casino hotels,” Bagdan explained during a June 18 lecture to hotel professionals from Eurasian countries who spent a day on JWU’s Providence campus. “They wanted the high rollers to keep coming back.”
The group of 20 hotel pros hailed from eight countries – Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – that became independent when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. All those nations are located near the Black Sea or the Caspian Sea.
They came to Rhode Island as guests of the U.S. Department of Commerce, through a program known as Special American Business Internship Training. The goal: to help those Central Asian nations build a thriving hospitality industry in their part of the world – this explains their stop at Johnson & Wales, one of the country’s top hospitality schools.
Several of those countries were known as tourist destinations during the Soviet era. Azerbaijan has mountains and ski resorts; Ukraine, beaches; and Georgia, vineyards and mineral spas. But in the first years after the Soviet breakup, some parts of the region were rocked by civil wars and ethnic conflicts, which caused travelers to steer clear.