Dr Jeffrey O of St Justine On How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More
An Interview with Savio P. Clemente
Be creative and over-the-top! Get creative! Script the traveler’s experience from start to finish. Be systematic. Plan the sequence of experiences that the traveler will receive. Be over-the-top in delivering service. Think of a bouquet of roses rather than a single rose. Your goal is to ensure that the visit exceeds the traveler’s expectations. If the traveler is not overwhelmed by your hospitality, you have missed the mark.
As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jeffrey O, CEO of St. Justine.
Dr. Jeffrey O is the CEO of St. Justine, the ultra-luxury travel company. He is also the president of the International Hospitality Institute (IHI), the leading global training and standards organization for the hospitality industry. Recognized as one of the most famous people in the world of hospitality, he has received several awards for his work in promoting hospitality.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I am currently CEO at St Justine, the ultra-luxury travel company. My journey to luxury travel and hospitality started years ago when I took a job as a front desk agent at a hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. That property was an upscale hotel in downtown Baltimore. In that position, I interacted with guests from various backgrounds and met many amazing people. I discovered that I had the ability to help create magical experiences for the hotel’s guests. I learned that personalization and attention to detail were supremely important in creating a memorable experience that would keep people coming back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I have had so many interesting stories happen to me that it is difficult to pinpoint a particular story. I remember meeting a kid at a hotel that I used to run as general manager. The kid who was probably 5 or 6 years old walked up to me while I was standing in the lobby and said “when I grow up, I would like to be a hotel manager, like you, someday.” I never figured out whether the kid was serious or joking, but I was quite touched by his words. When I was growing up, I never thought that I would one day become the general manager of a hotel or the CEO of a travel company. My father expected me to become a lawyer, and I thought that I would end up as a writer. Although I have published several books, writing is still my avocation; my career is solidly in the world of travel and hospitality.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is an easy question for me. The professional mistake that I made happened on New Year’s Day, 1999. On that New Year’s Eve, the world was waiting anxiously for the clock to strike midnight, and for computers all over the world to crash due to the Y2K bug. At that time, I was the Director of Operations at a big hotel. I and some of my managers were staying in the hotel that night to prepare for any exigences. After the clock struck midnight, and we realized that none of our computers had crashed from the Y2K bug, we all broke out in celebration. Someone suggested that we do a champagne toast, and I asked a team member to pour everyone a small flute of champagne. That turned out to be a mistake, because the company’s policy forbade staff from consuming alcohol while at work! I could have lost my job over the mistake, but I was fortunate. I learned a valuable lesson. The lesson was, always be aware of your environment before you take an action, and never get carried away in the moment. Always ask yourself, is what I am about to do the right action to take, and is this the right time to take the action?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have had a lot of mentors along the way. The one that I am most grateful to is a gentleman named Sonny Sra. I learned many valuable lessons from him. He is truly a fount of wisdom. He taught me about how people spend too much time pursuing material success and not enough time on cherishing and enjoying what they have already achieved. Peace of mind comes from contentment.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
St. Justine is developing a cutting-edge software-as-a-service platform that will host some of the world’s finest ultra-luxe hospitality assets. SJ Lux™ will provide one-stop access to the full spectrum of ultra-luxe travel, including hotels, villas, private jets, luxury yachts, private islands, private cruises, and excursions/safaris. Travelers will be able to book some of the world’s most spectacular assets in some of the world’s top destinations. St. Justine will curate the trip, and provide end-to-end support for the full cycle of the trip including booking, arrival, stay, departure, and post-stay.
Unlike other platforms, St. Justine will not dump the customer after they have booked the stay. We will provide concierge and white glove services and follow-up to ensure that the customer’s stay is amazing.
St. Justine is also developing the InfinityLux™ Travel Club, which is conceptualized as the world’s most exclusive travel club; initial membership fee will be $50,000 plus a monthly $10,000 fee. The InfinityLux™ Club will be for discerning travelers who want unique, regenerative, and transformative, travel experiences.
Finally, St. Justine plans to operate ultra-luxe residences and boutique hotels branded as St. Justine Hotels and Residences. St. Justine Hotels and Residences will cater to affluent travelers seeking unparalleled luxury experiences
St. Justine Hotels and Residences will feature extraordinary spaces and operate at the intersection of luxury, obsessive customer service, and technology. Our properties will offer bespoke travel adventures, top-of-the-line amenities, and differentiated luxury, creating unique experiences for singles, couples, and families.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
The specific pain point that we are trying to address is the lack of a unified platform where luxury travelers can book curated, serviced, luxury vacations. Many existing platforms are not focused on luxury travel, and they do not offer cleaning services, culinary services, or Butler, and Concierge services. Let’s face it, who wants to do dishes and laundry while on their luxury vacation?
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
Yes, COVID-19 has altered the travel landscape. The good news is that the travel market, especially the luxury travel market, has been quite resilient. While some may describe the recovery post-COVID-19 as a V-shaped recovery or even a Z-shaped recovery, I have cautioned people to remember that the rate of recovery still varies by region. Some regions have bounced back much faster than other regions. Some regions have been more price-sensitive while others have shown inelastic demand.
Companies will adjust to the new normal by doing a few things. They will rely more on technology to make their operational processes more efficient. They will use robots, digital check-in, self-serve kiosks, and Smart rooms. Sustainability will gain more traction. Wellness will be a key focus. Travelers will be looking for seclusion, privacy, personalization, and customization. Many vacation rentals offer privacy but not personalization or customization. Some luxury hotels offer personalization and customization but not privacy. Is it possible to eat your cake, and have it? I say yes. Our mission at St. Justine is to deliver privacy, personalization, and customization.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
My perfect vacation would be one in which all the details of the trip are taken care of by a company that truly understands what it means to have a luxury escape. That means that they would help book the trip, coordinate with the villa where I plan to stay to ensure that everything is set up for my arrival. The company will provide or arrange for a concierge, a butler, housekeeping, and a Chef. The company will check in with me periodically to ensure that my stay is flawless and that all my needs are being met. At the end of the trip, they will arrange for airport transportation, if I am flying commercial, or private jet service, if I do not want to fly commercial.
My perfect vacation experience would start with my wife and I being picked up from our home in a car dispatched by the company curating my vacation. I arrive at a private airfield where a private jet is waiting to whisk us off to a private island in the Caribbean. On the jet, there is champagne, fruit, and cheese, headphones to listen to my favorite songs, and a copy of a book that I would like to read. We arrive at the island and are welcomed warmly by an enthusiastic staff and ushered into a luxury suite overlooking pristine blue waters, and mountains. Later in the day, my wife and I enjoy a candle-lit dinner on the beach while watching the waves. And this is just day one!
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
One of the hallmarks of the St. Justine brand is our focus on wellness. We are incorporating wellness into the brand’s ethos. Specifically, each St. Justine Hotel will offer a world-class 9,000 sq. ft. spa with multiple treatment rooms, sauna/steam rooms, a Wellness floor featuring an infinity edge saltwater pool, yoga retreat with yoga sessions conducted by world-class vinyasa masters, a state-of-the-art Fitness Center with fitness classes, personal trainers, immersive music and changeable color LED lighting, and a zero-edge pool with luxury cabanas, upscale furniture/amenities and food and beverage offerings.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Conduct in-depth pre-arrival research. Find out the traveler’s preferences; what do they like to eat or drink? What is their favorite bottle of wine? How do they like their sushi, if they like sushi? What type of activities do they enjoy? What is their favorite scent, their favorite color? Favorite musician, favorite sports team, favorite TV show, favorite author? What is their preferred HVAC temperature setting? What type of pillows do they like?
- Personalize the experience. Embroider their initials on an elegant robe. Arrange a welcome team to greet them with they arrive, using their name. Have their favorite bottle of wine waiting for them. Have their favorite song playing when they arrive.
- Customize the offering. Create an experience that is truly unique. No two travelers should have the same experience. Spend time to figure out what will make each traveler’s experiences unique.
- Be creative and over-the-top! Get creative! Script the traveler’s experience from start to finish. Be systematic. Plan the sequence of experiences that the traveler will receive. Be over-the-top in delivering service. Think of a bouquet of roses rather than a single rose. Your goal is to ensure that the visit exceeds the traveler’s expectations. If the traveler is not overwhelmed by your hospitality, you have missed the mark.
- Follow-up! Follow up with the traveler quietly and unobtrusively. Check on them to see how the trip is going. Follow up quickly on any areas of concern or need. Resolve any issues. Do not send them emails or texts on their vacation! Leave discreet notes in the room. Your guests do not need to see you, but they need to know that you are always around, like a kind genie.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have been a mentor to many people in my professional circle. I have supported charities and served on the board of several charities. As an executive coach, I worked with corporate leaders to help improve their leadership skills. I am guided by two of my favorite quotes. The first is by Martin Luther King, Jr., who stated: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” The second quote is by Horace Mann, the American educator, who wrote: “Be ashamed to die, unless you have won some victory for humanity.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My movement will focus on providing free college education. I find your question particularly interesting because I am currently working on an online platform that will provide free college education to people all over the world. My hope is to have it launched in 2024.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
You are welcome. Thank you for your time.