Peter Hancock, chief executive at Pride of Britain Hotels, on the recent General Managers Conference\u2019 and the importance of the \u2018human touch\u2019.\r\n\r\n[divider style="solid" top="20" bottom="20"]\r\n\r\nIf you were among the 450 delegates who attended this year\u2019s General Managers\u2019 Conference organised by the Master Innholders you may, like me, have at times felt at risk of being left behind in the wake of young entrepreneurs who absolutely love technology and can\u2019t get enough of it. This applies in particular to the myriad ways by which \u2018millennials\u2019 are supposed to be wooed via their smartphones, based on the assumption that everyone in that age group prefers to interact digitally whenever possible. The importance of social media cannot be denied, yet this often seems to occupy a disproportionate amount of time when looking at the whole marketing mix, at the expense of real two-way conversations that can have a more lasting impact.\r\n\r\nHow refreshing it was, therefore, to listen to Olga Polizzi, deputy chairman and director of design at Rocco Forte Hotels and owner of two fine properties in her own right in Devon and Cornwall. Her talk acknowledged the many benefits that digital technology has brought to our industry but concentrated on the vital part that people with hospitality skills play in creating a good experience for our customers. She gave several examples of this, one being the delivery of a guest\u2019s requested breakfast cereal by her husband on his bicycle soon after realising they didn\u2019t have it in stock - quite literally going the extra mile. Other examples included the kind of welcome only a good receptionist can give, and the need to keep things simple such as switches for the lights, TV controls and so on.\r\n\r\nPerhaps the greatest concern among the hoteliers I spoke with at the conference is the challenge of attracting and retaining the right staff and this was very much reinforced by Craig Bancroft of Northcote in Lancashire, our current Hotelier of the Year. He compared hospitality with the armed forces and called for a campaign to entice bright individuals to choose a career in hotels and catering, much in the same way that the army, navy and RAF advertise nationally. He pointed out that parents and teachers, in particular, should understand the great opportunities we can offer and that anyone who is any good can expect rapid progression to management roles and a rewarding life.\r\n\r\nThe conference ended with a powerful presentation from Geoff Ramm, a specialist in motivating teams. I confess to having dreaded this part of the event, having suffered too many talks over the years from adventurous sporty types whose self-inflicted injuries, and their bravery in dealing with them, are supposed to inspire the rest of us to push ourselves to the limit. Thankfully Geoff was not one of those but instead gave uplifting examples of service he had experienced as a customer that was better than it had to be; so good that he was able to recount these events with passion and humour. One of these was from the stewardess on a short flight in America who told him he\u2019d won a prize on entering the aircraft. When he later discovered that his \u2018prize\u2019 was the responsibility for opening a side cabin door in the event of an emergency he was delighted, because the news had been delivered with such charm by a person who appeared to be genuinely thrilled at the chance to look after him. He called this \u2018celebrity service\u2019, meaning the kind of extra effort one might go to if looking after a big name celebrity; wearing immaculate clothes, bothering to fix the hair nicely, anticipating needs before they are spoken and thinking of extra ways to make the person feel special. Of course the lesson here is that these things can be done at all times for every guest, usually at no additional cost, so it is really a habit that we can all learn to adopt. To an audience of successful general managers it may have amounted to stating the obvious, but the talk was very well received nonetheless.\r\n\r\nAs the \u2018rent-a-gob\u2019 charged with chairing the proceedings over the two days I had the luck to glimpse some of the work that happened behind the scenes and was impressed by the care the organisers took to ensure that all the content was relevant to people running a modern business while allowing plenty of networking time. This, after all, is the greatest reason to turn out for a conference with one\u2019s peers - to share problems and discover how others are tackling similar issues and hopefully to have a few laughs along the way.