Hotel Operations

A Broader Take on Security

It goes without saying that security is always on the mind of hotel managers. Guests have every right to expect they will be safe and their possessions protected. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously.

But by its very nature, security is a subject that hoteliers don’t like to discuss, given that the very nature of security depends on not showing our hand to the bad guys.

Yet it occurred to me recently that, in a broader sense, hoteliers’ concern for the well-being of our guests goes beyond the time they actually spend on property. It was mid-December in Midtown Manhattan, and planning was in full swing, as it is every year at that time, for the New Year’s Eve extravaganza in Times Square.

The countdown to the new year draws tens of thousands of excited onlookers, who crowd the streets. The news media covers the event, and the police presence—both in uniform and plainclothes—is very strong. Considering the times we live in, there are always concerns that crowds of such a size could be subject to a terrorist attack.

Since M&R manages several hotels on the blocks in and around Times Square, our managers, along with managers of other local businesses, participate in the planning process, whether it involves crowd control, emergency access, alternate traffic routes or medical preparedness. Our people are happy to cooperate, eager to provide whatever assistance might be helpful.

When New Year’s Eve rolled around, the hotels in the Times Square area were sold out. Many guests had booked those rooms precisely because they were looking forward to being right in the middle of the action.

One thing they might not have realized: although they may have been blocks away from the hotel physically, caught up in the moment, having fun, the team at their hotel still had their safety and security top of mind.

 

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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.

Our Version of the PDB (President’s Daily Brief)

 

Front Desk

TownePlace Suites New York/Manhattan Times Square

In recent weeks, a new acronym surfaced in the national conversation: PDB. It’s short for the President’s Daily Brief, a summary of critical, highly classified information that White House aides compile to keep the president current on matters of national importance.

While nothing comparable to the PDB exists in the realm of hotel management, general managers hold daily morning staff meetings to bring their department heads up to speed on the day and week to come. Topping the list almost always will be the number of guests expected to check in and out.

Other topics for discussion include expected arrivals of groups and VIPs – including elite level members of the hotel’s frequency program. If a hotel is undergoing renovations, the discussion may include efforts to ameliorate construction noise and dust. Finally, managers will address guest comments from TripAdvisor, brand websites and other online sources.

Department heads are expected to communicate relevant information down the chain of command to rank-and-file associates. While the PDB at the White House often covers matters of national security, a hotel’s daily staff meeting is typically more about “business as usual.”

Yet both the PDB and hotel staff meetings are essential to the smooth running of their respective operations. Through the open flow of information comes meaningful communication. General managers can delegate effectively, deadlines and next steps can be agreed upon and, most importantly, associates – the hotel’s face to the guest – are empowered to do their very best.

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.

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.