I returned home yesterday, after three weeks between Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok and London. We left London on a relatively balmy day and landed in New York on a dazzlingly sunny day, with what seemed like almost spring weather.
A few hours later London was deluged in snow, more snow than any time in the last 14 years. Heathrow was closed, over 250 flights were canceled, and airport hotels suddenly found themselves enjoying a non-recessionary few days as everyone clamored for a room at the proverbial inn.
A week ago, in Dubai, we had days of rain, and in the nearby hills, snow! It’s a desert…talk about shifting times and definitions!
It’s a strange time in the world…climatically, economically, geopolitically. But then is it really that strange, or is it just that we are facing a real inflection point in many ways, as we move from one sense of ‘normal’ to another?
I do know this, that while we can’t control some of the world’s transitions and transformations, we can certainly influence our place in them. Stranded passengers at Heathrow seethed not because of snowfall but lack of information or apparent care for their plight. This could have been a moment for Heathrow to in one fell swoop renew their global service brand image by providing the type of attentiveness, concern and care that would have lingered long after the snow had melted and passengers were safely on their way. Instead it seems, they may have confirmed the perceptions (fair or otherwise) people have of the sterility of airports in general and the obtuseness of Heathrow in particular, in human terms.
If the airport hotels were sane, they went out of their way over this period to provide empathic service and additonal value wherever possible, rather than exacerbating people’s stress with their own obliviousness and disdain. I have to say other than the Regal in Hong Kong (which consistently wins awards for best airport hotel in the world), I have yet to find an airport hotel that doesn’t seem awash in pro forma and quite insipid service…on a par with say bank lobbies and doctor’s waiting rooms.
Much is afoot in the world, and as we travel, and as we serve our clients, when unprecedented storms strike, we have to provide unprecedented responsiveness, care, empathy…and value. We should in fact be trying to do that anyway. But it’s needed now more than ever. People will still purchase services, make trips, choose business partners. But I truly believe they won’t make their choices on the equivalent of a Superbowl commercial — full of sound and fury as the Bard wrote in another context, signifiying nothing. People will be more discerning, more substantive in what they’re looking for. For those of us willing to be the right choice, that’s great news.