Hotel Operations

On the Delicate Subject of Hotel Security

Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South chair next to bed in guest room

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.

Holiday Inn New York City – Times Square guest bedroom

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

plane flying over the front entrance of the Holiday Inn New York JFK Airport

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

view of NYC skyline from 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

Holiday Inn NYC – Lower East Side guest room with city view

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.


Managing an Expanding Workforce

front desk attendant writing on card

As job creation remains a serious priority for the national economy, the hospitality and leisure sector continues to add jobs at a healthy clip. One month during the summer, for example, 45,000 of the 255,000 new jobs created were in this sector, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

This was especially good news for the labor-intense lodging industry and the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the industry’s trade association, was quick to take note, describing the industry’s rate of growth over the last six years as “extraordinary.” According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel and tourism directly employs 8.1 million people and supports another 7 million people in other industries.

The robust employment numbers are equally good news at the property level. Given the service nature of the business, hotels and resorts hire large numbers of entry-level workers and devote significant resources to recruitment, training and retention. For many of today’s entry-level candidates, English may not be their first language, nor may our culture of teamwork and empowerment be concepts they’re used to.

But these are reasonable challenges to deal with. The latest Labor Department numbers indicate the economy’s accelerating job growth is helping a broader range of workers, including those entry-level candidates who likely have less education. But if they’re willing to learn and are motivated to succeed, there’s a place for them under our industry’s welcoming umbrella. In fact, entry-level jobs often lead to satisfying long-term careers.

Ultimately, their enthusiasm makes our industry stronger, which is good news not only for owners and operators, but guests as well.

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