Business versus Leisure: Blurring the Lines

Business versus Leisure Traveler

Traditionally, hotel managers divided guests into two buckets: business and leisure. Each had its own broad characteristics. While business travelers tended to be in house on the busiest midweek nights, Tuesday and Wednesday, they had shorter lengths of stay. Longer lengths of stay, including weekends, were more typical of leisure travelers.

While many business guests had discounted rates negotiated as part of a corporate managed travel program, they still tended to pay a higher ADR than the even-more heavily discounted rates paid by their leisure counterparts.

Operationally, these two types of travelers tended to have different profiles. Self-sufficient business travelers were likely to leave early in the morning and be gone all day, vacating their rooms and enabling the housekeeping staff to clean early in the day. Leisure travelers, on the other hand, were more likely to come and go and, often be in the room when housekeeping came knocking, making cleaning more complicated. On another level, leisure guests are less likely to be as knowledgeable about the location, thereby requiring more support from the front desk, guest services manager and/or concierge.

But the lines have blurred significantly in recent years. The latest evidence: this year’s Gensler Experience Index, compiled by the Gensler design firm, reported that 69 percent of business travelers polled said they pursued leisure-related activities during their business stay, while 20 percent of leisure travelers reported conducting business during their stays.

The Gensler survey isn’t too surprising, considering that so many business travelers, chronically stressed by work deadlines and commitments, would try to find time for some R&R on business trips. It’s also no surprise that many leisure travelers, unable to leave their offices fully behind, would take time every day to at least check their office email to keep on top of what’s going on.

For hotel managers, the message has become clear: avoid easy labels and stereotypes. View each guest as his or her own person and be prepared to provide whatever services and support needed (likely a mix) to ensure a successful stay.

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Celebrating a Hotel’s Birthday

M&R’s friends and family recently gathered to celebrate the first “birthday” of the Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South on West 37th Street in New York. The celebration recalled the exciting and harried first days of opening the hotel one year ago. That event was an unforgettable achievement for the company’s associates and management team.

Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South exterior

Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South, 326 W 37th St, New York

The bonding and sense of camaraderie that emerged from those first days and weeks among members of the opening team—from the front desk to housekeeping to the engineering staff—will hold the hotel in good stead going forward. A feeling of pride comes with being part of the original team. Even guests pick up on the vibe when interacting with these associates.

Front Desk, Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

Front Desk, Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

The good cheer notwithstanding, I was reminded what an important marker a first anniversary is for any hotel from a planning and forecasting perspective. Because it’s only with a full year under your belt that members of the business team can really begin to get a handle on how successful they’ve been and the challenges that lie ahead.

It’s all about what we call the “year-over-year comps” – an analysis of performance that compares the previous to current years. Now that the team has crossed that first-year line, managers can project next year’s holiday season, for example, against this year’s and make assumptions accordingly. The same applies to the hotel’s performance in January and February, typically two quietest months of the year.

Much has to do with seasonal variations, notably high season and shoulder season. Group nights are another element to factor in. So is the practice of allotting excess inventory to online travel agencies. How much is too much?

Lastly, at a time when dynamic pricing is the order of the day as it is today and rates can vary by the day if not the hour, the year-over-year comps give the revenue management team more data to ponder. All with the goal of generating additional revenue, which can translate into increased profitability.

Why ADA-Compliant Rooms Matter

Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South Accessible Hotel Guest Room

Double Large Window City View Accessible Guest Room, Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

On nights when occupancy is high and regular guest rooms are not available, a hotel front desk associate will assign a guest to an ADA-compliant room, a special room type designed to meet requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some of these guests will comment on TripAdvisor or other review sites, expressing discomfort at having to spend the night in such a room. Certainly, such awkwardness is understandable, if only to a degree. Given that the open, extra-large shower, designed for wheelchair access, and the higher-than-usual toilet, again designed to accommodate a person in a wheelchair, are unfamiliar.

Accessible Bathroom at the Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

Accessible Bathroom, Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square South

But our responsibility as hotel managers is to provide comfortable, clean and safe accommodations to all our guests, including those with mobility issues. Indeed, inclusivity is—and should always be—one of our top priorities as hoteliers. Disabled guests and their families also have needs and expectations. They will turn to TripAdvisor and related sites if their ADA accommodations fall short.

Wheelchair-bound guests, meanwhile, are hardly the only ADA population. Some ADA rooms provide features to accommodate both hearing- and vision-impaired travelers.

That said, when checking a guest into an ADA-compliant room, our front desk staff is trained to explain why that room type is being assigned and describe the ADA room’s distinctive features. Our staff is trained to reassure guests they’ll be perfectly comfortable and able to enjoy the hotel’s roster of amenities. The strategy is simple enough: a little foreknowledge goes a long way.

Another Side to the ‘Do Not Disturb’ Issue

a hand opening a hotel guest room door

Early this year, the American Hotel & Lodging Association clarified its position on a suddenly controversial subject: the right of hotels to enter an occupied guest room when a “Do Not Disturb” sign remains on the door for an extended period, usually 24 hours or more.

AH&LA believes hotels not only have a right to enter such rooms, but they have an obligation. While all guests make the valid assumptions that they will be afforded privacy during their stays, AH&LA argues hotels need to address building security and the safety of all guests.

Hotels that changed “Do Not Disturb” policies say there’s no connection, but the moves come largely in the aftermath of last October’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. The gunman in that case was able to hoard a large cache of weapons in his room at the Mandalay Bay Resort undetected by housekeepers, who respected the “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on his door.

While the argument for entering an occupied room is compelling, guests still should expect that their privacy will be respected and they’ll be left undisturbed. M&R Hotel Management has five airport hotels in its portfolio, for example, and airline crews and travelers whose flights have been delayed or canceled are often among the guests. It’s not unusual for these guests, especially those coming off an arduous long-haul flight, to sleep during the day. So they’ll often hang out the “Do Not Disturb” sign and go to bed.

It’s just one instance of how a sign might be hung on a door for a long period and be totally innocent. Furthermore, it’s an example of how a guest might be understandably annoyed at being disturbed for no credible reason.

These decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis. No one policy covers all situations. To the degree possible, hoteliers should consider all circumstances. The “do not disturb” sign notwithstanding, these questions should be answered before entering: Did the guest seem physically well at check-in, and when was the room last cleaned?

Occupied rooms should be entered only as a last resort. Before that decision is made, the manager should try calling the room to check on the guest. After that, it comes down to intuition and instinct. Managers must make their decision – however difficult – then proceed.

Recruiting in a Tight Market

businessman with laptop talking to a female business woman

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.