Celebrating a Hotel’s Birthday

M&R’s friends and family recently gathered to celebrate the first “birthday” of the Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South on West 37th Street in New York. The celebration recalled the exciting and harried first days of opening the hotel one year ago. That event was an unforgettable achievement for the company’s associates and management team.

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Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South, 326 W 37th St, New York

The bonding and sense of camaraderie that emerged from those first days and weeks among members of the opening team—from the front desk to housekeeping to the engineering staff—will hold the hotel in good stead going forward. A feeling of pride comes with being part of the original team. Even guests pick up on the vibe when interacting with these associates.

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Front Desk, Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

The good cheer notwithstanding, I was reminded what an important marker a first anniversary is for any hotel from a planning and forecasting perspective. Because it’s only with a full year under your belt that members of the business team can really begin to get a handle on how successful they’ve been and the challenges that lie ahead.

It’s all about what we call the “year-over-year comps” – an analysis of performance that compares the previous to current years. Now that the team has crossed that first-year line, managers can project next year’s holiday season, for example, against this year’s and make assumptions accordingly. The same applies to the hotel’s performance in January and February, typically two quietest months of the year.

Much has to do with seasonal variations, notably high season and shoulder season. Group nights are another element to factor in. So is the practice of allotting excess inventory to online travel agencies. How much is too much?

Lastly, at a time when dynamic pricing is the order of the day as it is today and rates can vary by the day if not the hour, the year-over-year comps give the revenue management team more data to ponder. All with the goal of generating additional revenue, which can translate into increased profitability.

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Why ADA-Compliant Rooms Matter

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Double Large Window City View Accessible Guest Room, Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

On nights when occupancy is high and regular guest rooms are not available, a hotel front desk associate will assign a guest to an ADA-compliant room, a special room type designed to meet requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some of these guests will comment on TripAdvisor or other review sites, expressing discomfort at having to spend the night in such a room. Certainly, such awkwardness is understandable, if only to a degree. Given that the open, extra-large shower, designed for wheelchair access, and the higher-than-usual toilet, again designed to accommodate a person in a wheelchair, are unfamiliar.

Accessible Bathroom ADA Compliant Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

Accessible Bathroom, Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

But our responsibility as hotel managers is to provide comfortable, clean and safe accommodations to all our guests, including those with mobility issues. Indeed, inclusivity is—and should always be—one of our top priorities as hoteliers. Disabled guests and their families also have needs and expectations. They will turn to TripAdvisor and related sites if their ADA accommodations fall short.

Wheelchair-bound guests, meanwhile, are hardly the only ADA population. Some ADA rooms provide features to accommodate both hearing- and vision-impaired travelers.

That said, when checking a guest into an ADA-compliant room, our front desk staff is trained to explain why that room type is being assigned and describe the ADA room’s distinctive features. Our staff is trained to reassure guests they’ll be perfectly comfortable and able to enjoy the hotel’s roster of amenities. The strategy is simple enough: a little foreknowledge goes a long way.

Another Side to the ‘Do Not Disturb’ Issue

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Early this year, the American Hotel & Lodging Association clarified its position on a suddenly controversial subject: the right of hotels to enter an occupied guest room when a “Do Not Disturb” sign remains on the door for an extended period, usually 24 hours or more.

AH&LA believes hotels not only have a right to enter such rooms, but they have an obligation. While all guests make the valid assumptions that they will be afforded privacy during their stays, AH&LA argues hotels need to address building security and the safety of all guests.

Hotels that changed “Do Not Disturb” policies say there’s no connection, but the moves come largely in the aftermath of last October’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. The gunman in that case was able to hoard a large cache of weapons in his room at the Mandalay Bay Resort undetected by housekeepers, who respected the “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on his door.

While the argument for entering an occupied room is compelling, guests still should expect that their privacy will be respected and they’ll be left undisturbed. M&R Hotel Management has five airport hotels in its portfolio, for example, and airline crews and travelers whose flights have been delayed or canceled are often among the guests. It’s not unusual for these guests, especially those coming off an arduous long-haul flight, to sleep during the day. So they’ll often hang out the “Do Not Disturb” sign and go to bed.

It’s just one instance of how a sign might be hung on a door for a long period and be totally innocent. Furthermore, it’s an example of how a guest might be understandably annoyed at being disturbed for no credible reason.

These decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis. No one policy covers all situations. To the degree possible, hoteliers should consider all circumstances. The “do not disturb” sign notwithstanding, these questions should be answered before entering: Did the guest seem physically well at check-in, and when was the room last cleaned?

Occupied rooms should be entered only as a last resort. Before that decision is made, the manager should try calling the room to check on the guest. After that, it comes down to intuition and instinct. Managers must make their decision – however difficult – then proceed.

Recruiting in a Tight Market

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When he accepted the coveted Stephen W. Brener Silver Plate Award at June’s NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in June, Marriott International president & CEO Arne Sorenson cited the important role played by motivated rank-and-file employees in the industry’s continued success.

Recruiting and retaining the best entry-level associates is actually more critical than ever, Sorenson pointed out, considering the current shortage of qualified workers, not only in the hospitality field, but across most segments of the economy. The country’s jobless rate, in fact, ebbed down to 3.8 percent in May, the lowest rate since April 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The last time the rate was lower was in 1969.

Given the competition for the best entry-level employees across various industries, restaurants and retail among them, it’s not surprising that pressure should be mounting on hotel owners and managers to pay a competitive wage. A living wage is certainly important, but so are other indicators of job satisfaction.

Among the top five: supportive management, congenial work environment, a career path, flexible work hours and cross-training opportunities. Then too, considering our multicultural world, it’s important to acknowledge that English isn’t necessarily everyone’s first language. And, lastly, in a nod to the growing #MeToo movement, employees expect a harassment-free workplace.

Managers at our company support these ideals along with most of the rest of the industry.

In closing, Sorenson repeated words of wisdom spoken years ago by the company’s founder that have come as close as any to an industry mantra: “If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers and your customers will keep coming back again and again.”

There’s no better truism.

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.