Guest Service

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.


Extended Stay’s Special Challenge


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.

From Commercial to Compassionate


We don’t often think of commercial enterprises as centers of compassion. Hotels can be the exception.

In one recent instance, the American Red Cross placed a family whose home had been destroyed in a fire for an open-ended stay at our Holiday Inn L.I. City – Manhattan View in Long Island City, New York (Queens borough). Unlike traditional guests who arrive at the front desk with carefully packed suitcases, this family showed up with not much more than the clothes on their backs. Needless to say, they were in a state of shock, still processing their loss, particularly their children.

Much to their credit, the front desk team and other hotel associates showed tremendous sensitivity in helping the family get settled. We train our team members to be welcoming and friendly and to feel empowered to respond to guests’ special needs or requests. But that training doesn’t always address the depth of the need in crisis situations like this.

The American Red Cross and other relief organizations are the front line of support in terms of providing clothing, toiletries, medical care, counseling and temporary housing. But the hotel team − from the front desk to guest services to housekeeping − stands ready as a second line of support, if just providing friendly guidance, a warm greeting or genuine expression of concern ─ in other words, compassion.

The Challenge of Serving Medical Guest s and Their Loved Ones

Gen 4 Lobby Woman Yellow

Since the opening five months ago of the Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan Central Park − our newest hotel − our sales team has been struck by the number of bookings generated by Mount Sinai West, a full-service medical center at 10th Avenue and West 58th Street, less than a block east.

Rooms have been booked by patients receiving care at the hospital, who typically check in either before or following their procedures. Many stay to recuperate past the point when they require frequent medical care. Some are the family members who accompany their loved ones.

For the front desk, housekeeping, bell desk and breakfast teams, serving these guests often requires a special level of sensitivity. Unlike typical leisure or business travelers, who almost always are upbeat and happy to be staying at a lovely new hotel, medical guests understandably are more focused on their personal situations.

Certainly, the needs of these different guests may differ, whether that means special requests at breakfast, additional towels or bath amenities, assistance hailing a taxi or simply providing a sympathetic ear.

I’m proud that our associates respond with kindness and understanding. Indeed, serving these special guests has given new resonance to our goal of providing “hands-on hospitality,” whatever that may entail.

A Good Night’s Sleep is a Core Proposition of Hospitality


Quality sleep is at the core of every hotel’s pledge to consumers. Whether the hotel is full-service, midscale or economy, the idea of a good night’s sleep focuses on the quality of the mattress and other bedding, including − of course − clean, freshly laundered linen.

In recent years, however, hotel brands − always on the lookout for ways to gain a competitive advantage − have expanded on the idea of a “good night’s sleep” to include a host of other elements.

Noise, for example, can be a major disturbance. Double-glazed windows can block out street noise. So can reminding the housekeeping team to avoid disturbing guests who sleep in late and leave a “Do Not Disturb” sign on their door.

Similarly, when a hotel is undergoing renovations, operators are careful to require that work crews mask their drilling and hammering until late enough in the morning midweek (and not at all on weekends) to ensure guests’ sleep isn’t disturbed.

Drapes or blinds sufficiently opaque to keep out harsh morning light are helpful. So, too, is a quiet-as-a-mouse, in-room air conditioner, meaning one whose filters are cleaned regularly.

M&R Hotel Management is a proponent of all these measures. We consider providing them to be part of our philosophy of “hands-on hospitality.” Many of our hotels are Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express brands, which recently introduced a “Winning with Sleep” initiative.

A well-rested guest, after all, is likely to be a satisfied guest, and a satisfied guest is most likely to be a return guest.