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Thoughtful Touches Can Reach Far

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Thoughtful Touches Can Reach Far

If you’ve ever booked an Airbnb room, you know that after your stay you’re asked to complete an online survey and give feedback on a number of factors, one of which is ‘thoughtful touches’.

On the website, this point is illustrated by a vase of flowers. The first time when this idea was brought to my attention I didn’t think much of it; I thought that thoughtful touches in tourist accommodation were nice to have but not essential.

When you only spend a few days in a place, you can have a perfectly satisfactory stay in a clean and comfortable room even if it lacks the sweet little features of a true home. Shouldn’t accommodation providers prioritise more important things?

Well, a recent trip completely turned my opinion around.

I was visiting Portland, a city on the north-west coast of the USA. I’d heard a lot about Portland for many years, as the city has the reputation of being one of the world’s, if not the world’s, most environmentally sustainable and people-centric cities.

Having a lifelong passion for great places and environmentally conscious living, I couldn’t wait to finally arrive in this special place. I was looking forward to experiencing something exceptional. As things turned out, I had a wonderful time in Portland, but for different reasons than I expected.

My room was neat and cosy, although not particularly memorable. However, every evening when I returned to the house after a long day of sightseeing in the scorching heat and found complimentary ice-cold lime soda in the fridge I experienced real bliss.

When my host lent me a pass card for an art museum which turned out to be amazing, it became clear to me that she knew very well how to help her guests make the most out of their stay.

I also came across ‘thoughtful touches’ all around the city.

I found tree-lined streets and neat little parks wherever I walked. Some of these parks have exciting water features for children to play in on warm summer days. Walking around the city is very easy; drivers stop immediately for pedestrians wanting to cross the road.

During my walks, I came across one of the largest bookstores I’ve ever seen, Powell’s Books. The store attracts people not only with its incredible collection of new and second-hand books but also with its delightful, down-to-earth interiors and a friendly cafe. It’s a lovely place to hang out or to do some work.

Finding good quality, affordable food can sometimes be difficult when you travel but not in Portland, where supermarkets filled with healthy food are abundant. What I loved most is the fact that many supermarkets have their own well-equipped eating area where you can assemble your sandwich and eat your lunch quickly but comfortably, without looking like a tramp.

What made the city special to me was not only what I saw and experienced, but also what I didn’t.

I didn’t come across buildings or street objects that were calling out for attention. I couldn’t find a Ferris wheel or an upmarket waterfront lined with luxury shops and hotels, and I hardly saw any billboards or other advertisements on the streets.

At the airport, instead of mountains of Toblerone and liqueur bottles, what I found were nutritious snacks and a variety of local brews. And as a designer, I noticed with fascination that some of the seats in the waiting areas were positioned in circles, as opposed to straight rows, to create a nicer environment for friends and families.

So what do these all have to do with business?

Visiting Portland made me realise that you don’t need to throw a lot of money at things, or try to be too clever, in order to create great experiences and make your clients feel excited about what you offer.

In fact, in contrast to my expectations, I couldn’t find anything extraordinary about the city and its people. It is a place where policy makers, service providers, designers and residents clearly understand how important it is to look at things from the users’ perspective and to add thoughtful little details to whatever they work on. This attitude appears to be a part of their culture.

I personally would not illustrate thoughtful touches with a vase of flowers like Airbnb does. A pair of brightly lit eyes would perhaps be a more appropriate symbol; the eyes of clients when they realise that someone has finally understood their needs and wishes and truly thought about their experiences.

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