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How to be the perfect festive season host

From homes to hotels, partners should go the extra mile to create memorable festive experiences for guests – whether they celebrate or not

Spending Christmas away from home can be unique and exciting, but it can also be strange – a break from the norm to which guests are unaccustomed. As such, the first thing for hosts to concentrate on is a sense of familiarity, most easily achieved via classic adornments.

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Photo: Conservatorium Hotel - Christmas Penthouse Suite

Photo: Conservatorium Hotel

Setting the scene

“The Conservatorium will be filled with Christmas decorations such as wreaths and fairy lights, plus a big tree in our glass-enclosed lounge,” describes Roy Tomassen, General Manager of the upmarket Amsterdam residence.

Special seasonal packages including a bottle of champagne, Christmas menus and for those staying in Signature Suites, their very own tree, contribute to what Tomassen calls a “warm, cosy and very festive atmosphere”.

Atmosphere is key for the Sofitel chain, too – as is creating a sense of enchantment. Each Yuletide, an art theme inspired by brand pillars is adopted, which is then interpreted by each individual hotel. This year’s is ‘Enchanted Journey’ – hence the candles, florals and glass-dome snow globes on show in the lobby of Australia’s Sofitel Sydney Wentworth.

“For us, Christmas means escaping from the daily routine, and entering into a magical world,” details Philip Logan, the hotel’s General Manager. “So it becomes about bringing people together in a memorable experience to share and celebrate.’’ A traditional lunch is also served, in order to offer tradition to European guests spending Christmas in the sun, while junior visitors can meet Santa Claus himself.

Some hotels go further still. At the opulent Peninsula Hong Kong, festive offerings range from a grand tree-lighting ceremony in the lobby to children’s story books being temporarily provided in rooms. Christmas Eve even sees a lively night market held in the hotel forecourt.

“This year's festive season also has a theme, ‘Stories from the Tree’,” as Brian Edouard Faula, the hotel’s Chief Concierge, explains. “Six colourful character ornaments – including the Nutcracker, a jaunty robin and a bugle-playing Peninsula pageboy – adorn our tree, and guests can purchase these. Some proceeds go to local charities.”

Impressively, the Peninsula Hong Kong has carved out a global reputation for its festive efforts, to the point of becoming an annual destination for some. “We have lots of returning families who have passed on the tradition of Christmas in Hong Kong through the generations,” confirms Faula.

The extra mile

Christmas can also be a time of unusual, sometimes eclectic guest demands, keeping hoteliers on their toes. Again, it’s about going the extra mile.

“We get all manner of requests around Christmas,” chuckles Faula. “Present-related things such as emergency gift-wrapping assistance or helping to locate wish-list gifts in Hong Kong – for that, we’ll send out one of our Mini Coopers to fetch essential items.” Shops like Chanel and Graff in the hotel’s own arcade have been persuaded to stay open late for private, after-hours shopping sessions in the name of last-minute gifts.

We get all manner of requests around Christmas...emergency gift-wrapping assistance or helping to locate wish-list gifts

Soccer support can even play a part. “My concierge team has previously arranged for rooms to have private Christmas trees,” recalls Faula, “decorated in football-team colours, or other favourite or even lucky hues.”

Amid all this emphasis on maximising the Christmas experience, hoteliers must ensure not to neglect non-celebrating guests. While such customers rarely object to seasonal emphasis – it’s always interesting, after all, to sample other customs – the Peninsula Hong Kong deliberately downplays Christmas in some of its building, just in case.

“When guests arrive, we make a point of trying to understand what they want and need during their stay,” clarifies Faula. “If we learn or surmise that they’d rather not participate in festive celebrations, the guest relations team will suggest applicable restaurants or activities – a magical sunrise hike up Tai Mo Shan hill is a perfect way to escape Christmas and the city, for instance.”

His concierge team can also point out these quieter, less Christmas-crazy spaces around the hotel should more down-time be needed. “Usually, though,” says Faula, “the celebratory atmosphere filters through to everyone whatever their denomination.”


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Hero image: credit to Marina Khrapova, Unsplash

Takeaway
  • Spending Christmas away from home can be unsettling, so providing a sense of familiarity – chiefly via decoration and ornaments – is very important
  • Enchanting elements help achieve a Christmassy atmosphere, while special seasonal events can make guests’ stays memorable
  • Hotels should be prepared to accommodate atypical guest demands, from gift-wrapping services to emerging shopping outings
  • Don’t neglect non-celebrating guests: ascertain their needs early, and prepare non-festive local suggestions to ensure they also have an enjoyable stay

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