Hotel Operations

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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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.

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.

A Bright Future for Emerging Submarkets

Midtown New York

In a traditionally robust market like New York City, minor setbacks in average daily rate during the last few years are most likely only temporary. The number of guest rooms sold since 2007, for example, has jumped by a very healthy 37 percent to more than 7.6 million rooms. In fact, a year-end report issued two months ago by the highly respected lodging consulting firm HVS described the New York market as remaining “phenomenally strong.”

Much of that strength comes from the growth of submarkets like the Lower East Side, the Far West Side and Times Square South, where a generation ago there was little, if any, hotel development. As the HVS report notes, in recent years the city’s more established hotel destinations (Midtown East and West and the Upper East Side) “filled up,” forcing developers to look to new neighborhoods in search of opportunity.

M&R Hotel Management has been the beneficiary of this trend, successfully operating new hotels in each of these three submarkets as well as Long Island City, a Queens neighborhood just across the East River from Manhattan. It’s a trend likely to continue. (Our latest project, the 252-room Hilton Garden Inn Times Square South at 326 W. 37th St., is scheduled to open this May.)

These submarket hotels tend to be in a category known in the hospitality industry as the midmarket, with rates priced at a discount compared with higher-end hotels in core markets. They appeal to rate-sensitive travel buyers including U.S. and international tour groups, notably student groups.

The future bodes well. As these submarkets become more established, the need for discounts (and the degree of discounts) should diminish, according to HVS.

In Praise of Preventative Maintenance

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Holiday Inn NYC – Lower East Side

At the end of last year, we ordered a supply of new PTAC units for a number of our hotels. PTACs ─ short for Packaged Terminal Air Conditioners, which are self-contained heating and air conditioning systems typically found under windows in hotel rooms ─ allow guests to adjust the temperature to their liking. Quiet, well-running PTACs, therefore, help to provide a comfortable stay, a critical aspect of guest service.

Keeping PTACs up and running is also a good example of the ways experienced hotel managers use preventative maintenance to their advantage. Working in tandem with the engineering team, housekeepers at each property regularly slip the unit out from under the window to clean the coils, which get dusty, impeding the units’ effectiveness.

Periodically, the units are given a deeper cleaning. Such steps help ensure the units have a longer life, which saves operating costs. Spares units, meanwhile, must are kept on site in case an individual unit goes down. The malfunctioning unit quickly can be swapped out, sparing the guest the inconvenience of having to move to another room and ensuring the room continues to generate revenue.

Preventative maintenance is one of the ways managers think ahead with the needs of the guest always upper most in their minds.