Two Lodging CEOs Make Three Observations to Remember

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Photo: NYU School of Professional Studies via Facebook // @NYUSPS

Speaking at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in New York last month, two of the industry’s most recognized and respected CEOs – Hilton Worldwide’s Christopher Nassetta and Marriott International’s Arne Sorenson – offered three memorable observations regarding the lodging industry.

First, growth will remain strong in the midmarket hotel segment. Second, travel from China to the U.S. will continue to grow. And 3), the U.S. would have to relax its stringent visa requirements if it is to reap the benefit of surging international tourism, driven notably by Chinese travelers.

According to Nassetta, strong growth in midmarket hotels is being fueled by the global rise in the middle class. Once people have the means to travel outside their home country, their first trips are often with tour groups that book midmarket hotels. We have seen this at our midmarket hotels in New York.

The number of Chinese outbound travelers is expected to hit 400 million a year by 2030, a significant multiple of the number just a few years ago. U.S.-based hotel brands have already rolled out customized amenities to make Chinese guests feel comfortable. Similar efforts likely will be made to cater to visitors from India and other Asian markets.

Unfortunately, U.S. delays in issuing Visas could throttle international travel to this country. It’s a politically sensitive topic because it involves national security and immigration. But, as Sorenson pointed out, foreigners who become frustrated trying to obtain U.S. visas likely will opt to visit other countries. If they do, U.S. will lose out on this lucrative market.

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Anticipating a Driverless Airport Shuttle Van, But Without Enthusiasm

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Despite some recent setbacks, it appears the first driverless vehicles will hit the streets in California as early as next year. Once that milestone is achieved, how long do we think it will take until the first driverless airport shuttle van begins picking up and dropping off guests at a hotel’s front door?

I fear that it won’t be long, given driverless shuttles undoubtedly will be cost-effective. While the hotel industry isn’t immune to disruption by technology, it is a “people business.” Every interaction is important to creating a positive experience for guests, from front desk agents, to housekeepers to shuttle van drivers.

Each provide a “human touch.” While shuttle service exists to move guests to from airports, train stations and other destinations quickly and safely, we know that shuttle drivers frequently are both the first and last employee to interact with our guests. Their interaction creates the first and last impression.

That first impression depends on the shuttle driver’s personality and helpfulness. If the driver is friendly, warm and welcoming, the initial impression is positive. If the driver comes across as indifferent, that first impression will be negative. If you doubt the importance of shuttle drivers, just check the number of times guests single them out on TripAdvisor — often by name.

Certainly, a self-driving airport shuttle van could welcome guests with an audio recording. Makes you wonder how those recordings will be reviewed on TripAdvisor.

Our Version of the PDB (President’s Daily Brief)

 

Front Desk

TownePlace Suites New York/Manhattan Times Square

In recent weeks, a new acronym surfaced in the national conversation: PDB. It’s short for the President’s Daily Brief, a summary of critical, highly classified information that White House aides compile to keep the president current on matters of national importance.

While nothing comparable to the PDB exists in the realm of hotel management, general managers hold daily morning staff meetings to bring their department heads up to speed on the day and week to come. Topping the list almost always will be the number of guests expected to check in and out.

Other topics for discussion include expected arrivals of groups and VIPs – including elite level members of the hotel’s frequency program. If a hotel is undergoing renovations, the discussion may include efforts to ameliorate construction noise and dust. Finally, managers will address guest comments from TripAdvisor, brand websites and other online sources.

Department heads are expected to communicate relevant information down the chain of command to rank-and-file associates. While the PDB at the White House often covers matters of national security, a hotel’s daily staff meeting is typically more about “business as usual.”

Yet both the PDB and hotel staff meetings are essential to the smooth running of their respective operations. Through the open flow of information comes meaningful communication. General managers can delegate effectively, deadlines and next steps can be agreed upon and, most importantly, associates – the hotel’s face to the guest – are empowered to do their very best.

Inclement Weather’s Far-Reaching Ramifications

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A series of snowstorms barreled through the New York metropolitan area in March and April, causing power outages, school closings, fallen trees and other misfortunes. As airlines and Amtrak delayed and canceled flights and trains, distressed passengers flocked to the nearest hotels, hoping to find a room for the night.

When bad weather is on the way, the corporate clients who use our Manhattan hotels respond proactively, booking blocks of rooms to house essential employees who may not be able to get home on the evening of the storm or, more critically, show up the next day for work.

Having been caught off guard frequently in the past, airlines also react more proactively, committing to blocks of rooms throughout the metropolitan area to house their flight crews. Airlines then go to the added time and expense of shuttling their personnel back and forth to the airports as weather conditions improve and flights are rescheduled.

Such room blocks are called “hard blocks,” meaning that the company or airline guarantees to pay for the rooms even if they’re not needed.

Hotels also must decide whether to reserve rooms for their own associates. Given hotels are 24-hour-a-day operations, employees work on shifts, meaning some might be delayed if roads haven’t been plowed and mass transit isn’t fully operational. By providing overnight accommodations to selected staff, general managers make sure there are sufficient hands to do the work.

Meanwhile, some guests, faced with storm-related flight cancellations, may opt to extend their stays, creating a challenge for front desk staff, who must find enough open rooms to house these guests along with other stranded guests and hotel employees. Meanwhile, the housekeeping team also is pressured to turn over needed rooms quickly. The situation may be stressful, but front desk agents and housekeepers are trained accordingly.

On the plus side, guests who are faced with circumstances beyond their control generally tend to appreciate efforts made on their behalf. They often express their gratitude by making comments on TripAdvisor, often praising the team for going above and beyond.

Remembering a Giant of Hotel Design

The Atrium inside the Atlanta Marriott Marquis

Atlanta Marriott Marquis by John Portman // Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons

When John Portman, the architect and developer, died at the end of last year, it was in many ways the end of an era of flamboyance in urban hotel design. Starting in the 1960s and through the 1970s and into the 1980s, Portman’s “big box” properties in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and other cities were famous for their soaring atriums, cantilevered balconies, glass elevators, sweeping interiors and, last but hardly least, their revolving rooftop restaurants that offered stunning 360-degree views along with dinner.

In many cases, Portman hotels were located in areas of cities that had fallen into disrepair, were deserted at night and no longer safe. Hotels like the 1,949-room Marriott Marquis in New York’s rundown Times Square had a transformative effect, helping to gentrify an entire neighborhood. Today, more than 30 years later, smaller, more modest hotels thrive in such surrounding submarkets now known as Times Square South, West Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton thanks, in part, to the success of Portman’s Marriott Marquis.

Styles fall out of fashion over time, of course, and today no one is building hotels like Portman did, with their soaring atriums and revolving restaurants. At the end of the day, they’re just not practical, considering their extravagant use of space and exorbitant consumption of energy.

What hotel owners, developers and managers shouldn’t lose sight of, however, is that sense of anticipation and wonder that guests feel the first time they step into a Portman hotel. In some form or other, no matter how modest, hotels that can create such a sense of excitement are well on their way to succeeding.