The step from a good to great hotel experience doesn’t require a monumental overhaul of hotel operations and design. In fact, as the DoubleTree by Hilton shows, sometimes all that’s needed is a sweet treat to delight guests and create a lasting impact.
I recently returned from a tour through western Europe, a whirlwind of beautiful sights, interesting food, and plenty of language struggles packed into ten days. While tour groups bring many conveniences, one consequence of traveling with so many people is that the process of checking in to hotels at the end of the day can seem to last an eternity. In Luxembourg City, we burst out of our charter bus, infiltrating the quiet lobby of the DoubleTree by Hilton (DT from here on out) and laying claim to the comfy couches as we waited for our tour guide to check us in, organize all the keys, and hand them out to each party.
It was a simple surprise that saved me from the listless stupor of waiting—a warm chocolate cookie in a branded paper sleeve, handed out by the front desk. Now, I have a major sweet tooth, so I’ll typically welcome any free sweets thrown my way. Thus, I didn’t think much of the experience at the time. However, it wasn’t until after I had continued on with the rest of my journey that I realized the power of this cookie.
So why was this free cookie so powerful?
First, it was handed out by not any hotel, but a chain hotel. Chains, while offering consistency and ease of access, often fail to deliver on personality and distinctiveness. A warm cookie conjures images of home and comfort, vivid associations that certainly help the DT stray away from being another nameless, boring chain hotel.
Timing is also a major factor—by giving out the cookie in between the last logistical hurdle of the day and the glorious collapse into bed, the hotel helps bridge the gap to bring guests closer to where they really want to be.
Lastly, an interesting thing happened after receiving the cookie. I began characterizing the DoubleTree in my mind as The Cookie Hotel. Not only did it become The Cookie Hotel, all future hotels I stayed at were suddenly positioned as Not The Cookie Hotel.
“Excuse me sir, this hotel’s great – bed, bathroom, all wonderful – but where is the cookie I deserve and need?”
With this simple gesture, the DoubleTree instantly differentiated itself from its competitors.
In order to extend and further cement this experience, DT dedicates an entire separate page on its website to its cookies. Guests can even send these delicious cookies to other people. On social media, DT regularly reposts guests’ pictures of the cookies they received, and takes advantage of related special days such as National #ChocolateChipCookieDay to highlight the star of their hotel. On the streets, HDT minivans rove around touting the cookie on their exteriors, willing you to follow them to their source. These follow-up interactions, combined with the distinctiveness of the cookie’s paper packaging, ensure that the guest doesn’t mistake the cookie as any generic, store-bought throwaway.
Does this mean all hotels should just start throwing cookies at all their guests?
While I personally think the world would be a much happier place with unlimited free cookies, such a uniform strategy would undermine their purpose—to delight and differentiate. Hotels should examine their unique strengths, drawing on factors like location and guest habits to determine how best to go the extra mile. Whether it’s a fresh arrangement of local flora or the ability to sync Spotify so you can continue belting shower tunes wherever you are, the guest should walk away feeling like she had a one-of-a-kind stay.