The Importance of Making the Guest’s Last Impression a Positive One

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Industry observers often comment on the importance of a hotel’s curb appeal, meaning that guests’ first impression when approaching the property can help determine their overall satisfaction. In other words, it sets the tone for what is to come.

Less commented upon but equally important is the guests’ last impression, at check out and departure. This impression easily can become the basis of the memory travelers take with them, not only of the hotel’s physical plant, but of the service they experienced.

I was reminded of this recently when reviewing TripAdvisor guest comments about one of M&R Hotel Management’s hotels, the Holiday Inn New York City – Times Square.

“The hotel kindly kept our luggage in a locked room for us on our last day as our flight wasn’t until 10 p.m. The service was free of charge, where other hotels charge,” the guest said, adding that the front desk staff “offered to arrange airport transfers for us.”

The hotel staff’s courtesies enabled these guests to enjoy another day of sightseeing or shopping in New York, knowing their luggage was secure. The experience was memorable enough for them to mention in the TripAdvisor review.

We like to think that when those travelers next plan a trip to New York, their positive impression upon leaving the hotel will be part of their decision to book our hotel again. Not only will we see those guests again, but they likely will recommend us to their friends and family members.

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Summertime, or the Special Challenge of Leisure Travelers

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Our New York hotels see a mix of business and leisure travelers throughout the year. During the summer months, however, the ratio changes, spiking with leisure guests, including families with children.

Business travelers, as a rule, tend to leave the hotel promptly in the morning and be gone the whole day, attending meetings or calling on clients. Many are repeat guests at the hotel and are comfortable navigating the city. By contrast, many leisure travelers come and go from the hotel during the day, in some cases repeatedly. Whether they’re sightseeing, shopping or visiting friends, they view the hotel as home base.

Consequently, these leisure guests can present more of a challenge operationally. They may be hanging out in the lobby, while new guests are arriving to check in. They may ask directions or have other questions for the front desk team. Or they may be freshening up in their guest room, when housekeepers are looking to gain entry to make up the room.

We train our associates to be flexible, patient and accommodating to our summer leisure guests. A friendly, helpful attitude is at the core of our approach to hospitality. Whether a guest is with us for business or in the city to see the sights, whether it’s a one-night stay or a week-long visit, it’s our job to make that guest’s experience as rewarding as we can.

International Arrivals: One Bright Spot

 

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With analysts forecasting a considerable drop in arrivals this year from Europe and the Middle East due to visa restrictions as well as the strong dollar, which makes travel to the U.S. disadvantageous, hotel operators in many major U.S. markets are understandably concerned.

There’s one bright spot when it comes to international arrivals, however, that should go a long way to reassure not only hotel operators, but those in other aspects of the hospitality industry as well.

That bright spot is China, with its rapidly growing middle class. Each year, the number of Chinese visitors continues to increase significantly, a trend that shows no sign of abating. Major hotel companies were quick to see an opportunity to increase their share of this expanding market segment.

Marriott International and Hilton Worldwide were among the first to introduce programs designed to make Chinese guests feel comfortable when staying in their respective branded hotels. This year, they were joined by InterContinental Hotels Group, which introduced an initiative named Zhou Dao, which is Mandarin for “Welcome.”

As part of Zhou Dao, Chinese guests are greeted with a welcome letter in Mandarin. Their guest rooms are stocked with slippers, a tea kettle and green tea, all reminders of their home country. M&R Hotel Management supports all such efforts. Whatever their country of origin, we want all our international guests to feel at home while staying with us.

Given the potential of the outbound Chinese market, formalized programs like Zhou Dao make sense. Meanwhile, our front desk agents and other associates are trained ─ and work hard ─ to extend the warm hand of hospitality, each and every day, to those checking in from Buenos Aires, Beijing, Stockholm, London, Dubai and every other city under the sun.

Bring on Better (Internet) Bandwidth

Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan/Central Park

Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan Central Park

It used to be that a good night’s sleep and a hot shower topped the list of hotel guest priorities. For today’s travelers, we must add “fast and reliable internet connectivity.”

At the dawn of World Wide Web, hotels provided internet service primarily to meet the needs of business travelers, who increasingly brought laptops so that they could keep up with work while on the road.

Today, with the proliferation of smartphones, netbooks, tablet computers and other devices that depend on internet connectivity, leisure travelers now hunger for more and faster bandwidth, too. For many, fast internet is far more important than HD TVs and in-room movies because they want to watch their own content on their personal devices.

Hotels are well aware of this increasing expectation and are working to improve bandwidth so that their internet service is fast and reliable. Meanwhile, guests are showing less and less inclination to pay for internet service at an additional charge. They expect it to be complimentary, which to the hotel management means “built into the guest room rate.”

The major U.S. hotel brands have gotten this message loud and clear. InterContinental Hotels Group, for example, has launched an initiative called IHG Connect to provide a seamless internet experience. The company is targeting 1,500 of its hotels in the Americas for upgraded service, including Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express hotels.

Upgrades will take time, but guests should see steady improvement in bandwidth and reliability. As with other evolving guest preferences over the years, hotels that turn a deaf ear to their guests’ requests do so at their peril.

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The Special Challenge of Operating an Airport Hotel

Holiday Inn JFK

With five of M&R Hotel Management’s hotels near airports, we have considerable experience hosting air travelers. Inevitably, these guests include many whose flights have been delayed, typically because of inclement weather but also because of mechanical problems, airport curfews, airport construction and any number of other reasons.

Each of these guests understandably may require some special “tender-loving care” when they show up late at night, tired after an already long day of travel or frazzled by an unexpected change of plans. They may have missed a connecting flight and not know what the next day will bring.

As one of our experienced airport hotel general managers told me, guests arriving at one of our city or suburban hotels tend to be happy. Airport guests tend not to be happy. Granted, they’re relieved to have a bed for the night, but they’re feeling pretty frustrated. Some may only be with us a matter of hours until they have to return to the airport to check in for their rescheduled flight.

This GM and his team try to go that extra mile to give every guest a positive experience. We train everyone, including front-desk agents, the housekeeping staff, shuttle drivers, breakfast room attendants and restaurant servers to be sensitive to these guests’ often-difficult circumstances. We remind them not to take a guest’s frustration personally, but to do their jobs professionally, at all times.

Not only does such training make good business sense, but it’s the right thing to do.