Lessons from Hotel Impossible

HotelImpossibleI am a huge fan of Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible – a show in which hotel “fixer” Anthony Melchiorri visits ailing hotels and works with the owners and staff to turn the business into profitability and success. When I watch the show, I am often reminded of the privilege we have to work in a school in which the aesthetics, maintenance and care of building and grounds is given priority.

Our campuses undergo an annual audit during which the overall appearance and feel is checked. A critical eye is cast over every nook and cranny of the campus to ensure that nothing is overlooked. This reminder to our staff is important as it is easy to slide away from the high standards we set ourselves. Creating an environment in which learning remains a priority but is also a beautiful place to work and play remains a top priority for our school.

Here are three takeaways from the show which I believe are applicable to us as we strive to create our special “home from home”:

1) The little things matter:

No matter how big or small the hotel, Melchiorri always makes a point of looking for the small things which can make a difference to a guest. This principle needs to apply to schools as well. Way too many schools ignore simple things which can make a huge difference – the way the school receptionist/secretary greets visitors, the neatness of school bags outside/inside the classroom, clear signage, clean bathrooms with fresh flowers and so on. Most of these can be fixed with little or no expenditure. We continue to work at paying attention to the small things and welcome fresh eyes to point out to us when we may be missing something!

2) Be willing to see your school through the eyes of others:

In each episode, Melchiorri makes a point of showing the hoteliers what the guest experience is like. Delays at check-in, poor service in the restaurant, confusing arrangements for key collection and so on all create a negative experience which translates into poor reviews for the hotel. Attention to the experience of our school by others is an important part of building a quality school – we need to make sure we do it! We continue to take an intentional look at our learning spaces to consider whether they are exciting and engaging places for our children. We consider how we communicate to parents and whether our communication actually meets the expectations of our parents. What does our admission process feel like to a family desperate to enrol their child in our school? Do we have good relationships with those contractors we bring in to service our school? Once again, we welcome feedback on these issues so that the experience of our parents, pupils and staff remains truly excellent.

3) Be open to correction:

Some of the most entertaining episodes of Hotel Impossible are those in which the owners are adamant that they know more than Melchiorri despite the fact that they are responsible for running an inefficient, failing business. On many occasions it turns out that the owners have never run a hotel before nor do they have any experience in working in a hotel! Yet, they seem determined not to take the advice of someone with over 20 years of hotel experience and a proven track record of turning hotel fortunes around. This type of arrogant attitude has no place in business and it certainly should not be welcomed in schools. When we have been shown areas which need improvement, I’d like to believe that we have responded well and addressed these. Our parent surveys and the quality assurance evaluations which we undergo as part of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa ensure that we are held accountable.

Yes, its reality television and yes, I’m quite sure there is plenty of behind-the-scenes manipulation. However, the show is entertaining and certainly gives those of us in school leadership much to consider as we lead an increasingly complex organisation in an increasingly complex world. I welcome any constructive suggestions and comments as to how we can improve our offering.


Arthur Preston: Head of Primary

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