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.

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Remembering a Giant of Hotel Design

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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.

Extended Stay’s Special Challenge

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While guests staying at business hotels typically spend no more three or four nights per stay, guests who choose extended-stay hotels may spend weeks or even months. In ways both large and small, hosting long-term guests calls for a different approach to service.

After years of experience operating business hotels, M&R Hotel Management this year will assume management of our first extended-stay hotel, the 113-room TownePlace Suites by Marriott at 324 W. 44th St. in New York. Getting this new relationship right is a top priority.

On the simplest level, extended-stay hotels strive to be more residential in feel. Design of the guest room as well as the public spaces tends to be more home-like. Guest rooms come with kitchens, allowing guests to prepare their own meals, although complimentary breakfast typically is provided. Consequently, many brands offer grocery shopping services. Similarly, they offer off-site dry-cleaning service and on-site laundry facilities.

But at a deeper and ultimately more critical level is the social aspect. Recognizing that being away from home for an extended period can be an isolating experience, extended-stay hotels may sponsor evening socials, movie nights or seasonal or holiday-related parties, where guests get the opportunity to mingle and “meet their neighbors.”

The staff of an extended-stay hotel typically become familiar with long-term guests, unlike those who arrive at night and leaves early the next day. Regardless of the type of hotel, hospitality is at the core of the business: Our job is the same, to put the guests first.

On the Delicate Subject of Hotel Security

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Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

It’s understandable why hotel security is such a sensitive matter. Addressing the issue in detail would risk giving insights to wrongdoers.

Nevertheless, hotels go to great lengths to reassure travelers that they and their possessions are safe while on the premises. Such assurances are part and parcel of the larger presumption that surrounds the hotel experience, that hotels provide a safe and comfortable home away from home.

The challenge of assuring safety can be formidable, considering that hotels generally conduct business in an open atmosphere that provides 24/7 unfettered access to guests who are total strangers to their hosts. It is a cornerstone of hospitality that all guests be made to feel welcome from the moment they arrive until the morning when they check out.

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Holiday Inn New York City – Times Square

While hotels are employing increasingly sophisticated technology to enhance security, the most important safeguard is employee training. And while training may involve specialized techniques and procedures, everyone knows to follow the Golden Rule of security: if you see something, say something.

Sometimes our commitment to guest safety simply means going an extra mile. Take a recent guest comment posted on TripAdvisor. After checking out from one of our hotels in New York’s Times Square neighborhood at 4 a.m., out-of-town guests called a taxicab for a ride to the airport. Given the early hour, a hotel staff member took the initiative to wait with them at the curb until they boarded the cab.

While we have detailed manuals that spell out the way we expect our employees to perform, this example illustrates the importance of common sense, courtesy and concern. The example discussion on TripAdvisor also puts a human face on the whole matter of hotel security. It’s all about ensuring that the guest presumption of safety is a reality.

When a Citywide Meeting Comes to Town

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Large industry and association meetings can bring thousands of attendees to a destination, booking big-box convention hotels and the city’s convention center. Such meetings can bring millions of dollars in revenue to transportation providers, hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues. Cities vie for the chance to host these often-elaborate events, nicknamed “citywides.”

Major hotel companies make sure their properties are included in the room block. Marriott International’s dedicated Convention and Resort Network unit helps coordinate its big box hotels’ request for proposals.

What’s less widely known is that citywides benefit smaller hotels, too. While attendees are typically book the headquarters hotel or hotels, event planners often need additional rooms to house a range of other participants: consultants, speakers, facilitators and trade show exhibitors, not to mention designers overseeing stage sets and lighting, audio-visual and IT teams and entertainers.

M&R Hotel Management welcomes this business. In New York City, a popular group destination, many of our hotels are centrally located, attractively priced and offer complimentary breakfast and Wi-Fi. They’re also a smart choice for attendees looking for a good value to extend their time in the city with some pre-or post-convention R&R.