Getting to the Heart of the Art of Welcoming
I recently sat down and spoke with Carine Mouradian, who was finishing up her professional dissertation on new practices that could improve welcoming procedures. A vast and oh-so-important subject in luxury hotels. The hotel industry at large spends very little money in research compared to other industries. As a result, you can often find a large number of students who are regularly at work on research topics that can produce some rich information. From time to time, I guide students in their theses, and I am regularly invited as a jury member to attend thesis defenses. It is a very enlightening task.
I leave you now to discover a small sampling of the subject that Carine has prepared for us.
What are the origins of the welcome?
The concept is a very ancient one that predates the word ‘hospitality.’ In antiquity, welcoming a stranger under one’s roof was considered a sacred task. It was, say, Zeus himself who was sending the traveler to you, and this stranger had the right to everything. A connection would then be established between the one who received and the one was being received, and the stranger (“hostis” in Latin) would become the guest (“hospes”). In French, the same word ‘hôte’ ended up designating both the host and the guest. For centuries, then, ‘hostelries’ designated places of warm and unattached welcoming where one would welcome a traveler as one would welcome one’s neighbor. The essence of this continues to endure even today, even if these days we’ve entered a commercial context. The act of welcoming always rests on the same values of humankind and civilization.
Is there a difference between welcoming and reception?
Yes, there is, because there is a lot of confusion on the concept of welcoming. If we look at the etymology of the word ‘welcome, we find that it calls for “coming toward.” When normally we tend to conceive of it in the opposite way. We always think of the one who is welcoming as immobile on the doorstep, behind a desk or reception counter, and the one who is going to be received coming toward the one who will be welcoming. Welcoming is coming toward the one who you’ll be welcoming so that, after you have accepted him as worthy of being received, you can give him refuge. And in this refuge, you can reunite him to those who are already there, consider him as one of yours.
What are the fundamentals of an authentic welcome?
First off, there’s humility. When one is simply welcoming, one remains immobile and waits for the one who is arrive to come all the way to us. We remain in our territory, where we know ourselves to be the master and strongest. But welcoming means that there will be an encounter between two dynamics, and the meeting has to take place on neutral terrain, where each person shows himself as vulnerable. It’s only by lowering one’s guards that we can achieve an authentic encounter.
Welcoming is also the establishment of a relation that is not spontaneous and that thus presumes a certain desire: the desire to welcome, to enter into a certain mood, a gesture of generosity toward the other. What more, this spirit must never run itself down into a habit because the guest is always a new being.
Welcoming is also based on mutual trust because a successful welcome transforms the host just as much the guest. There is a reciprocity of need: knowing each other mutually, considering the points of view of the person you are about the welcome, and welcoming him as he would welcome us. Welcoming thus presumes opening oneself up to be disposed to receiving, listening, and accepting the other. Concretely, the welcome is founded on empathy in action, in other words, on compassion.
It’s not always clear…how can we become truly welcoming hosts?
According to a psycho-sociological theory of welcoming, we already are because man is biologically and cognitively a structure of welcoming. We are also social beings. To provide a good welcome, then, all we need to do is return to our deep-rooted nature. The relation with ourselves: the welcoming of one’s body, the welcoming of the world, and the welcoming of others will take place naturally. Dr. Paul Chauchard (author) describes it thus: “Loving one’s neighbor like oneself is the rule of achieving balance. Selfishness upsets the balance because it is inhuman and contrary to our nature. But total altruism is just as much. To love another like oneself, you must both love oneself and know how to love while rejecting selfishness.”
More concretely, what does the essence of welcoming specifically imply today?
When welcoming is fixed into a service, a chain of actions and attentions, or even in an art form, there is always a risk. One arrives at a form of welcoming that is efficient, but static, neither authentic nor vibrant. And yet it is this latter quality alone that creates lasting emotions and leaves a vivid and memorable impression. One phrase that I’ve kept is: “Welcoming, like a good wine, is a kind of alchemy.” It’s thus all about at once the process and the final product: the original variety, the terroir, an expertise of doing, and an expertise of being. But above all, it’s about transcending these conditions so that all that remains is the experience. There are even several experts who talk about the exchange of energies that comes from a heart that is open and welcoming to others.
At once French and multicultural, Carine Mouradian was impregnated by notions of welcoming and conviviality in her native country Lebanon, as well as through her Armenian origins. At the age of 17, she arrived in Paris to pursue studies in Marketing (ENSAE and Dauphine). Her passion for clients and traveling pushed her straight away on pioneering projects in France and in Europe: S’Miles, Thalys the Card, groups at SNCF, and the site TGV.com. During her vacations, Carine travels the world to bring herself closer to nature. She regularly goes underwater diving and speaks 7 different languages. In 2010, everything fell into place with the success of her tourist visits at Gare de Lyon. Creating authenticity and joie de vivre in an international context finally rung out as her true vocation. Taking a break from work, she set to task brilliantly at an International Master’s program in Hospitality at SKEMA, where she majored in a professional dissertation on new practices allowing for the improvement of welcoming procedures.
Today Carine is leaning toward consulting for large tourist establishment in order construct the client experience and welcoming philosophies by returning to essential values: compassion, the meaning of service, and open-mindedness toward the environment and the destination.
Laurent Delporte, an editor and conference speaker, is a strategic expert in the sector of hotels. A visionary, he brings his unique look on hotels in service to the decision-makers in the industry, whether to enhance the development of new projects or strategic visions.
Laurent has visited and audited over 350 hotels across the world and also participates in mystery visits to provide quality control for the world’s finest hotels.