Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan/Central Park guest room

When Is a Guest Room Too Small?

Many select-service brands that established consumer expectations in suburban or highway locations – with spacious guest rooms where guests could stretch out like they would in their own bedrooms – now are turning up in cities where space comes at a premium and guest rooms and public facilities are much smaller.

When these guests check into one of these brands in New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, they encounter a couple of unhappy surprises, including much higher room rates and significantly smaller rooms. They now must navigate cramped space around the beds and in the bathrooms and may discover their accommodations lack a closet or much space to stash their luggage.

On the one hand, hotel developers understand that the cost of land to build in center-city locations is so extreme that it’s unrealistic to provide spacious guest quarters at the brand’s price points. On the other hand, they are sympathetic to the frustration felt by the unsuspecting guests. It is a dilemma with no easy resolution.

It is encouraging, nevertheless, to read comments on TripAdvisor and similar sites that reveal how guests come to terms with these smaller, more expensive select-service hotels. Here are two examples:  “The room was small, but that was to be expected of any room in New York City.” Another guest echoed, “The room was a decent size by New York standards.”

A third comment took the matter a step further, touching on a truism that applies to guests visiting major, world-class cities as opposed to, say, a beach resort: “The room, although compact, had everything we needed. As we’re in a city that never sleeps, we weren’t in the room long enough to need extra space.”

Given the reality at hand, our job as hotel managers is to ensure that our rooms, although admittedly small, are functional, clean, comfortable and attractive. Also, we strive to reset expectations by providing a higher degree of service to help our guests take small rooms in stride and stay with us again.

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private security guard

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.

 

breakfast with croissant, eggs, sausage, coffee and orange juice

Dispatches from the Battle Over Breakfast

 

One of the core amenities of limited and select-service brands is complimentary breakfast. Guest satisfaction surveys consistently rank these breakfast buffets as highly popular, which is not surprising on at least three counts.

First, guests get to eat as much as they like, sampling as many menu options as they choose.

Second is the financial aspect. For value-conscious consumers—families especially—the fact that the cost is built into the room rate is tremendously appealing. Just consider the hefty cost of taking the family of four or five for a sit-down at the full-service restaurant around the corner—and that’s not including the tip.

Third is convenience. It’s in the building and, if you’re in a hurry, you can be in and out in a half-hour or less. Conversely, if time isn’t an issue, you’re welcome to linger over that second cup of coffee.

Consequently, it’s also not a surprise that brands compete aggressively on the quality and appeal of their breakfast offerings. In fact, in a crowded lodging sector, brands view a successful breakfast product as a form of competitive advantage. As hotel operators looking to attract and retain guests to the brands we manage, we heartily support these efforts.

One brand we manage is rolling out prepared-from-scratch omelets. Another is introducing a line of healthy, nutritious items, including shakes. With his brand’s blessing, one of our enterprising general managers has begun offering ramen noodles, a popular breakfast choice with his Asian guests. Finally, one brand is making grab-and-go bags available to guests checking out before the regular breakfast service begins each morning.

As with so many other aspects of managing hotels, guest satisfaction is paramount, at breakfast as well as the rest of the day.

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.

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.