Sometimes making the difference to a guest’s stay is very simple, very clever, or very effective – or, indeed, a combination of all three!

One of my favourite ‘making the difference’ stories features a hotel currently sitting at the top of a list of 774 properties in Los Angeles.

The Magic Castle offers fairly unremarkable self-catering suites with kitchenettes around a small pool. It’s never going to be mistaken for a 5* hotel and it doesn’t offer amazing views or boast of its hand-made luxury bed linen. But something, or things, keep it at the top of the review pile.

It’s a mix of fun-loving attitude, unique approach, and the willingness to change its offering constantly.

The management realised they couldn’t compete with neighbouring hotels’ stunning rooftop infinity pools or wide open leisure spaces. They weren’t on the beach. They didn’t offer Michelin Star dining. So they went for the next best thing.

And set up a ‘popsicle hotline’ next to their own little pool, where kids – and their parents – can order free ice lollies which are delivered by a uniformed waiter in white gloves. In fact, all the snacks on the menu are free at any time – delivered with style and panache.

And of course, this went viral.

So is that all it takes? Just a free ice pop?

Perhaps it’s the fact that they also offer free laundry in the hotel – with items coming back beautifully ironed and folded, wrapped in crisp brown paper with a hand-written note and a smiley face.

And the way they answer every single review with a personal message – no copy-and-paste here – and take advice from guests on what else they can do to make the stay even better. As a result, they’ve just added a coffee hotline – a dedicated phone where you can call for a free, freshly-brewed coffee that will arrive with the same attention to detail, right to your door. A new spin on room service?

In other words, they’re not reinventing the wheel. Just thinking clever, and maybe doing it better than some.

Their hotel is not for everyone. According to the reviews, Australians love it, and recommend it widely to their friends and neighbours. And it’s great for everyone with kids. The staff turnover is very low, and relationships are built up over several return visits. Staff take time to get to know guests and greet them by name – all things many an old-school 5* hotel may pride itself on offering – but without the price tag or the pomp.

I’ve experienced service from time-to-time in my career in hospitality that really rocked me on my heels. I’ve even been shown into rooms where the manager knew there was already a fault, so he could show how quickly and pleasantly he dealt with the issue and left a great impression. It’s equally simple to ruin a guest’s stay, with a bad attitude, a refusal to deal with problems, or disappearing rather than offering a personal touch.

Our ASAP Members have to achieve our Quality Accreditation Marque as part of membership, and guest experience plays a huge part in this, along with customer service, quality, and duty of care. We want those who seek out an ASAP Member’s apartment to stay in, to realise they are assured of a great stay and a great experience purely from the Accreditation.

In an age when automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and chatbots are simplifying the hospitality admin system, and even increasingly making an appearance front of house, I find it strangely comforting that there’s somewhere offering a hotline that brings more just than a free ice-pop; it brings a smile to the guest’s face.

James Foice, CEO, ASAP