Going the Extra Mile

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Every hotel brand has clear and detailed service standards that operators of its hotels are obliged to implement and maintain. Whether these standards pertain to the food served in the breakfast area or on-site restaurant, the way housekeepers make up the guest room and replenish bath amenities or how the front desk make sure the shuttle buses run on time to and from the airport, guests expect that these services will be in place and consistently available each time they check into that hotel. But what about those special requests that require an employee to go above and beyond?

Hotel managers train employees to meet guest expectations when it comes to the basics, and we’re pleased when they perform at that level. Yet guest service goes beyond hotels meeting these prescribed basic standards. Guests are people and, as such, they often have special needs and requirements that can’t be anticipated or even predicted.

Consequently, we’re even prouder when we see associates going out of their way—typically on their own initiative—to honor special requests. There’s nothing in the training manual that requires them to go “above and beyond.” We see such dedication every day and learn more about such exemplary behavior when guests post appreciative comments on TripAdvisor and Google, even remembering to mention the employees by name.

There’s the breakfast room attendant who happily will honor a frazzled parent’s request to heat up a crying baby’s bottle of formula. Or the employee who will hunt up the only kind of muffin a toddler with allergies can eat. There’s the bellman, when asked how to get to a local hospital by non-English-speaking guests visiting a dying relative, not only writes out the directions, but flags down a taxi and makes sure the driver knows the shortest way to go. The timing may not be opportune, but the associate takes the time to do it anyway.

Then there’s the guest relations manager or front desk agent who takes a panicked call from a guest who checked out earlier that day and has realized from the airport that they’ve inadvertently left a difficult-to-replace item behind. It can be a pair of eyeglasses, a prescription, an earring or a child’s beloved stuffed animal.

Sure enough, the associate returns to the guest room and locates the left-behind item. But then the employee goes the extra mile, has the item wrapped and shipped overnight to the guest’s home.

Extra towels? Wake-up calls? Those requests are easy. It’s the special ones that illustrate the true spirit of hospitality our industry is all about.

Guest Feedback Takes Many Forms

We all know the old adage, “the consumer is always right.” In today’s digital world, it can be said with certainty that the consumer is always heard. Whether their feedback is positive or negative, there is always an outlet for their voice.

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Days Inn Jamaica JFK Airport

TripAdvisor has become top of mind for travelers looking to provide input on the quality of their hotel stay, whatever the nature of their critique. Consequently, hotel owners and managers take TripAdvisor guest comments seriously and are quick to respond ─ with appreciation when the feedback is positive and, when the guest has found fault, to outline the steps they’re taking to correct the situation.

The same applies to comments left on Google, online travel agent sites like Expedia and on some hotel brands’ own websites. Critiques left on the brand website, in fact, have replaced the printed guest comment cards that were left prominently in guest rooms in a previous era.

While all feedback is welcome ─ and praise is particularly heartening ─ the truth is that owners, operators and line associates benefit the most when comments are negative. Providing first-class guest service on an ongoing basis is an essential pursuit for hoteliers, but it’s also an inexact science. So input from customers on what worked and what didn’t, what part of the guest stay went smoothly and what part fell short, is invaluable. The more, the better, if we’re going to try to continually improve.

Nor are TripAdvisor reviews or feedback on Google, Expedia or a brand website the only meaningful source of guest feedback. Front desk associates are trained to ask guests at checkout if they were satisfied with their stay. Likewise, general managers will make it a habit to be in the lobby or breakfast area in the morning to introduce themselves to guests and, in the process, pick up on any service or facilities issues that may have arisen. Unlike a review a guest composes and submits online, this kind of input is direct and spontaneous.

Guest feedback may take many forms, but they’re all valuable, and that feedback is always heard.

In the Hotel Business, Renovations are a PIP

An unavoidable fact of life in the hotel business is the property improvement plan, popularly known by the acronym, PIP. While PIPs require a significant investment on the part of the hotel owner and careful planning and implementation by the management company, they’re well worth the effort.

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Holiday Inn New York City – Times Square, Summer 2015

Brands require that a PIP be undertaken for one of two reasons: when a hotel changes ownership or after a number of years of operation. M&R Hotel Management’s Best Western JFK Airport Hotel, for example, is currently in the midst of a PIP, following a number of years of service.

A PIP is the brand’s way of ensuring that a hotel’s appearance is appealing and that its back-of-house systems are up-to-date. Further, it’s a brand’s way of ensuring a hotel’s design and amenities are current with all the latest brand standards and, by extension, more or less consistent with other hotels carrying that brand flag. Brands need to meet guest expectations across the entire chain.

Typically, hotels remain open while PIPs are completed. With the hotel doors open, there’s a greater obligation on the hotel staff, starting with the general manager, to ensure guest disruption is kept to a minimum.

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Holiday Inn New York City – Times Square, Summer 2015

Work usually is kept to a single floor at a time and conducted during hours when guests most likely are out of the building. On check-in, front desk agents alert guests to the situation, describe the nature of the work and thank them in advance for their cooperation.

Frequent travelers know that at the end of the day, hotel improvements mean their future stays will be more comfortable.

 

Monitoring the Supply-Demand Equation

Many in the lodging industry are worried that the industry’s ongoing expansion may overwhelm the growth in consumer demand for rooms. This concern certainly is warranted, since supply greater than demand inevitably depresses the average daily rate that hotels can charge and, ultimately, results in a drop in profitability.

March’s annual Hunter Hotel Investment Conference, however, brought reassuring news. In the presentation of its industry outlook for 2016, Smith Travel Research forecast that U.S. supply would increase a manageable 1.7 percent, while demand gains 2.3 percent. Occupancy is expected to remain basically flat. Average daily rate, on the other hand, is forecast to jump 4.4 percent, while revenue per available room – a key industry performance metric – is expected to go up an even healthier 5 percent.

Gen 4 Lobby Couple

As it happens, tracking supply growth can be deceptive. Markets vary. Primary markets may be seeing significant supply growth, but secondary and tertiary markets less so. A gateway market like New York City, meanwhile, may be seeing considerable new inventory. But most of that growth is occurring in the emerging sub-markets of Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Long Island City and downtown Brooklyn, which historically have been underserved. Most of those new hotels are midscale, limited-service as opposed to upscale, full-service.

So while it is important to keep tabs on supply growth numbers nationally, the true story on the ground can be more complicated market by market.

The Manager as Mentor

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Holiday Inn L.I. City – Manhattan View

Hand in hand with promoting from within, M&R Hotel Management has always viewed mentoring as a valuable human resources strategy. Accordingly, we encourage our general managers to mentor associates reporting to them whenever it makes sense and feels right. I say “encourage” as opposed to “require” because, like many such interactions, people approach things differently and it can be hard to mandate these kinds of relationships.

When it’s a good fit between manager and associate, however, informal mentoring can be highly beneficial. It works as both a training and career development tool. Typically on property, for example, department managers aspire to one day be general manager. The GM, after all, is captain of the ship, responsible for daily operations, reporting to the management company or the hotel owner.

Given their greater experience, GMs lead by example. They can easily instruct a staff member in the fine points of the business, recommending options and offering advice on improving guest service and other aspects of operations. They’re well versed in best practices.

Glenda Gomez, GM of one of our Holiday Inn Express hotels, notes there’s another dimension to mentoring. As they plan their careers, ambitious associates may want to apply for more responsible positions, but they likely lack the necessary experience to qualify. Indeed, they may not even know what the job fully entails. Glenda will point them in the right direction and give them the opportunity to add skills to their resume so that when the time comes, they have a better chance at succeeding.

At the end of the day, mentoring is a win-win for all involved. Associates learn and advance, GMs have the satisfaction of knowing they’ve helped those coming up in the business and M&R has a more motivated and engaged workforce welcoming guests.