Hotel Management

Introducing the Lobby Ambassador

woman and two men having a conversation in a waiting area

Hotels rely heavily on guest feedback to get an accurate sense on how successful a job they’re doing in providing all-important customer service. In today’s Internet-driven society, it’s easy for owners and managers to look to brands’ electronic guest satisfaction surveys, not to mention websites like TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google that solicit travelers’ comments, to get a sense of how well they’re performing.

But if the truth be known, these tools are only meaningful up to a point. Not all guests, after all, whether they had a positive stay or found fault with the hotel, will take the time to respond to a guest survey or post a comment on a site that solicits consumer content. By contrast, guest feedback that’s delivered face-to-face in the moment when guests are still on property is much more valuable.

Enter a new on-site staff position: the Lobby Ambassador. Managers have always understood the value of having an associate stationed in the lobby whose job is to circulate among guests—typically in the morning, while they’re having breakfast, in the process of checking out or simply leaving for the day. The task has now been formalized and given a name of its own.

General managers at a number of M&R Hotel Management properties have named a Lobby Ambassador in the past few months with positive results. At one hotel, the same associate fills the role; at other hotels, front desk agents take turns rotating in and out of the position.

The Lobby Ambassadors’ biggest contribution is that they get to resolve any service issues guests may have on the spot. They’re knowledgeable about the operation of the hotel and are empowered by management to turn a guest’s potentially negative experience into a positive.

Best of all, they introduce themselves to the guest and put a personal, friendly, helpful face on the hotel, which when you think about it is at the very heart of the hospitality experience.

Recognizing the Importance of Hotel General Managers

Before the Super Bowl fades into memory, allow me to use a football analogy and  compare a hotel’s general manager to a football team’s quarterback or head coach: An effective general manager today must embrace skill sets associated with winning head coaches.

First, they need the perspective to grasp the big-picture strategy, then throw in the stamina to direct the hands-on, moment-to-moment ground operation. Last but not least, really successful GMs need to be able to get down, motivate and ultimately inspire the troops to perform at their very highest level. That’s an ability that can’t be faked, and not everyone possesses it.

In recent years the stakes for high-achieving GMs have been raised even further. Today they’re expected to be knowledgeable about – and boosters of – the various forms of technology that are transforming hotel operations, everything from property management systems to revenue management tools, which enable hotels to maximize profits.

At M&R Hotel Management, we strive to recruit the best talent for our GMs. Once hired, we give them the leeway to build their teams and foster the culture of guest service that is an essential component of any successful hotel. All 10 hotels in our portfolio are branded, so in addition to carrying out M&R’s policies and procedures, GMs have the added responsibility of upholding their brand’s standards.

Within the scope of their careers, GMs can build a reputation for a certain type of expertise, including managing airport hotels or opening new hotels. For example, we recruited Louis Gonzalez to manage our Holiday Inn Jamaica Queens-JFK Airport, which opened in December, knowing he had experience in both these areas.

Reflecting on the role of the GM, I was reminded how much has changed over time. A generation or two ago, GMs could get by closeted behind the closed doors of their office. No longer. Back then, some GMs rarely were visible to the staff – no less guests – and managed by delegating. No longer.

The polar opposite is true today. GMs can be seen on property at all hours, welcoming guests, interacting with employees and providing a watchful presence. Sometimes it can seem like a 24-hour-a-day job, which can be both good and bad. But it’s precisely because they’re passionate about what they do and tend to view it as a career, rather than just a job.

The best GMs become so closely associated with their hotel that they become its “public face,” both on-site and in the local community. To paraphrase Harry S. Truman, they know the “buck stops with them.” This is why, in the age of social media, it’s the GM who signs the response to TripAdvisor guest comments.

The Special Challenges Involved in Managing Airport Hotels

The outlook for airport hotels is positive, with the International Air Transport Association forecasting a 5.3 percent increase in the number of airline passengers worldwide annually between now and 2016 and Smith Travel Research projecting healthy RevPAR growth for each of the next few years.

In light of such positive trends, what is it about airport hotels, whether they’re actually on the airport grounds or located nearby, that sets them aside from hotels generally and makes them a special challenge to operate?

While all types of hotels are 24-hour-a-day operations, hotels at international airports and regional hubs frequently look as busy at 3 a.m. as they do at 3 p.m. Flights arrive day and night, and so do guests, checking in after a long transatlantic journey or for a quick night’s sleep if the weather isn’t cooperating or they miss a connecting flight.

For hotel managers, the extra activity poses important operational issues ranging from maintaining adequate staffing levels to ensuring that the hotel’s shuttle service is frequent, reliable and welcoming. They must be hyper-conscientious about wake-up calls to make sure guests don’t miss their flights. It really helps if hotels are equipped to print airline boarding passes to save guests a few extra minutes.

Shuttle buses perform a critical function, both in picking up inbound guests and transporting outbound guests to catch their flights. Consequently airport hotels typically run 24-hour complimentary shuttle service on a strict schedule. At M&R Hotel Management, we believe that a guest stay begins with the airport pickup, so our shuttles provide bottled water and even snacks to make guests feel welcome (and to differentiate our hotels from the competition!)

Guests who stay at a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast as a standard can count on receiving a basic meal to fortify them for the flight ahead. At our hotels, even those who check out in the middle of the night can request a brown bag breakfast to take with them on the shuttle. The light grab-and-go offering (ready at that unusual hour) represents a level of thoughtful customer service that guests may not expect but surely will remember.

Since hotels that serve international airports can expect guests to show up at the front desk at virtually any hour, front desks must be staffed accordingly as well as housekeeping, which will be called upon to turn over rooms at all hours.

Noise is an unavoidable fact of life for airport hotels that overlook an active runway. Such hotels should be constructed with extra sound insulation and soundproofed windows. But it’s also important for the staff to take care not to disturb guests who may have checked in during the morning expecting to sleep through the day. That means hushed conversations in the hallways and no banging of housekeeping carts.

Given how fundamental the operating issues are at airport hotels, managing these properties provides a kind of Lodging 101 training for new hires. And when executed effectively, there’s no better way of ensuring that guests step onto that waiting shuttle refreshed and refueled.

Hotel Management 2.0

At first glance, third-party management companies and their counterparts that both own and operate hotels appear to be cut from the same cloth. Scratch the surface, and you’ll discover profoundly different cultures that can make a difference when it comes to maximizing revenues – and profits.

Both are responsible for day-to-day operations including budgeting, planning, renovations, recruiting, human resources, revenue, distribution, food-and-beverage, meetings, sales and marketing, including public relations, social media and managing property websites.

But owner/operators like M&R Hotel Management bring something more to the table: the perspective of an investor whose money is at risk. We may have everything to gain by their decisions and actions, but we also have everything to lose.

Owner/managers are less encumbered by procedural hurdles such as formal capital expenditure proposals and approvals that can inhibit progress. For example, we can allocate funds immediately to make improvements that promise to boost ADR.

We made such a decision recently at one of our hotels at JFK International Airport. During an inspection, we noticed that the marble bathroom floors didn’t look pristine because they weren’t polished. So we decided on the spot to hire a contractor to polish them.

Within weeks, we received higher guest satisfaction scores. The greater the sense of urgency, the faster the improvements will be completed and the more guests will benefit. Happier guests mean higher guest satisfaction scores.

Similarly, we can make aggressive rate changes in response to rapidly changing market conditions without going through a formal proposal and waiting for approval. By acting quickly, we capture revenue gains faster.

Owner/operators can approach management of a hotel holistically, giving architectural, design and construction issues simultaneous and equal consideration with operations and marketing.

The bottom line for other owners is this: When evaluating the strength of a prospective management company, ask whether it ever owned hotels. When a management company has walked in an owner’s shoes, the more effective it can be.