Algorithms that claim they know me better than my husband

Google keeps on asking me to sign in “to discover events and places picked just for “you” and to “get matched with experiences you’ll love”.

Well we all know why they want me to sign in really – which is just to collect my free data and mine more information about me. But the offer is interesting too – while these events and places might just be picked for me will they really be “experiences I’ll love”. My husband of 36 years struggles to be sure of what I’ll like or dislike – well he’s a bit better on what I won’t like – friends and family tell me I’m impossible to buy for – I do sent a lot of gifts to charity shops – but Google’s algorithms seem more sure.

I’m skeptical – Alexa never does what I ask her to – playing random Moscow and New York radio stations but mostly saying “ I don’t know that one”. She’s not able to learn.

So I think we are a long way off machine learning and google really knowing “what I’ll love” – it would be great and it is tempting to think one day a search engine could clear out all of the impossibility stupid suggestions that makes one long for a simpler world with less stuff and choices.

Brands used to have a role in this – but as they become more generic and homogeneous you know that a Four Seasons in one city or resort is unlikely to bear any connection to another and more so when you get to big names like Penisula, Marriott or even Mandarin. The Mandarin Oriental in Miami is as much like the iconic M.O in HK as margarine is to butter.

Some have tired with some success to keep consistency – The Aman group is great but still the Aman is Tokyo cannot be compared to the hotels in Bhutan. Belmond are all different but classic individual hotels. Six Senses are on a building spree and perhaps moving up market but will they loose their USP? Perhaps we’re left with the only consistent hotels being those unique and privately owned properties. The Siam in Bangkok or Hambleton Hall in the U.K.?


What’s in a welcome?

How does a hotel recognise you?

There are many brand and loyalty schemes but how does a high end hotel recognise you and your stays with them and their competitors?

As small groups get bigger – Belmond, Aman -and some big groups get even larger – Relais and Chateaux, SLH – how do they welcome you and thank you for visiting them (again)? Ownership of hotels is complex and not necessarily connected even with a common brand.

While everyone loves a freebie at this end of the market a complimentary bottle of wine in your room and fruit is standard. Leather luggage tags and tins of biscuits and the nightly gift at the end of your bed is not unusual.

But when you check-in is the general manager available to welcome you and chat about your trip and stays at other properties? Or do you meet a “guest relations“ manager instead? Who processes you and knows nothing about you?

On a recent trip to Bangkok I stayed for the first time at The Siam Hotel, an individual and bespoke hotel clearly loved by its curators and owners. We were welcomed by the general manager. The Aman group of hotels – at least in its smaller properties – is also good at ensuring the general manager is at hand to welcome you, or at least to meet you on your first evening.

Some hotels and their management seem to hide from guests. Recently staying at The Datai in Langkawi it took a couple of days with some complaints before we finally met the general manager. This was a hotel we had stayed at some years before, yet it had no recollection of our first visit.

They say there is nothing as golden as the sound of your own name, and that is equally true in hotels. There may be a whiteboard with passport photographs and the names of all the guests in a staff area to ensure you are recognised, but whatever the tricks of the trade are, being called by your name and being welcomed to the hotel by a senior member of staff far outweighs what most good hotels offer these days.