The Proper Care and Feeding of Tour Groups

With the start of the fall travel season, New York is a popular destination for international guests. The hotels managed by my company, M&R Hotel Management, host a large number of tour groups from around the world, including student groups. It’s a growing source of business and revenue.

Holiday Inn Express Manhattan Midtown West front desk

Holiday Inn Express Manhattan Midtown West

Our hotel teams enjoy the opportunity to serve as ambassadors to visitors from outside the United States. Language issues are bound to arise, so our general managers work with their front desk teams to identify tour groups coming into the hotel, their country of origin and languages spoken.

New York is multicultural, so there’s a good chance one of our hotel associates is fluent in the group’s language. It’s a simple enough step and, if it improves communication and subsequently opens the door to better guest service, it’s well worth the effort.

Holiday Inn Express LaGuardia Airport breakfast area

Holiday Inn Express LaGuardia Airport

The moment can occur at various guest touch points: during the check-in process, responding to a request for extra towels, explaining how the waffle machine works during the complimentary breakfast (or even what a waffle is), no less helping with directions.

A little bit of preparation, along with a dose of patience and a friendly smile, can resolve almost any problem and create a great experience for our overseas guests.

Despite Healthy Performance, Service Delivery Still Is Key

The message heard during the annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in New York in June couldn’t have been clearer: the industry is booming. Monthly occupancy rates and number of rooms sold are breaking records. Profits are increasing, demand is high and supply growth in most markets is under control.

soft and firm guest bedroom pillows

This is music to the ears of hotel owners and operators. Meanwhile, another set of messages emerged that are not headline-making but still deserve attention. Those messages were heard in the event’s keynote speeches, delivered by Las Vegas’ Steve Wynn and the legendary J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr.

(It would be hard to find two more iconic industry veterans. Together, they have close to 107 years of hospitality experience between them. Bill Marriott got his start in 1956.)

young men and women smiling

Wynn and Marriott paid tribute to the role employees play in delivering guest service. “Things don’t make guests happy. People make guests happy,” Wynn said. Marriott echoed those remarks, saying, “We’ve always believed if you take care of your associates, they’ll take care of your customers.”

Truth be told that for guests to return back to your hotel it takes more than a good rate and location since invariably, new hotels are being built around us at an unprecedented rate. The real driver for customer loyalty is for us to create a “memorable guest experience” focus for associates at all levels.  With this mindset, empowering staff to execute these initiatives becomes a strategic objective.

In the context of the industry’s current outsize performance, Wynn’s and Marriott’s words served as a kind of reality check. The business is notoriously cyclical. A downturn will inevitably occur. The human fundamentals of the business, on the other hand, are ongoing.

Internal Staff Promotions Provide Recognition, Motivation

Maintaining employee morale is one of the key challenges in managing a service business, particularly hotels. Team members who feel recognized are much more likely to pitch in and go the extra mile than are those who feel overlooked and unappreciated. Hence the adage: “Take good care of your associates and they’ll take good care of your guests.”

An effective way to recognize people is by promoting them. Last month, the truth of this was brought home when I signed off on two internal staff promotions. At our Days Inn Jamaica JFK Airport hotel in Queens, we were able to promote the assistant manager — a five-year employee who had moved up through a series of increasingly responsible positions — to general manager. At the Comfort Inn Midtown West in Manhattan, meanwhile, a guest services agent, a two-year veteran, was named rooms manager.

Days Inn Jamaica JFK Airport front desk

Days Inn Jamaica JFK Airport

First and foremost, the associate who is recognized by the promotion benefits in several ways. Invariably, the new position comes with more responsibility but also the chance to learn new skills and interact with more senior people in the organization. And that’s not to mention an increase in salary, which always is welcome.

But co-workers benefit as well. Associates at our New York hotels tend to know each other. When news of a promotion is shared internally, the message is clear: they could be next. Promotions emphasize the notion of career and future possibilities versus simply a job and a dead end. Employees who see themselves in a career instead of a job mean everyone wins, including our guests and our company.

2015 Looks Like Another Good Year for Hotels

confetti flying through the air on New Years Eve 2015 at Times Square

Image: @timessquarenyc via Instagram

Those of us who have worked in hospitality long enough know the business is cyclical due to market forces of supply and demand. Fortunately, we have enjoyed several strong years as the economy rebounded from recession, and we are looking forward to another year of healthy growth in occupancy and rates.

The midscale segment — where most of M&R Hotel Management’s hotels operate—performed well in 2014 and is expected to continue to perform strongly this year. PKF Hospitality Research says revenue per available room, or RevPAR ̶ an indicator of profitability ̶ jumped 7.8 percent in 2014 and will grow another 5.5 percent in 2015.

Holiday Inn Staten Island front desk and waiting area with couches

Holiday Inn Staten Island

M&R has benefited from the up cycle as owners seek expert management for their new and existing hotels. We recently opened the newly constructed Holiday Inn Staten Island in our home market of New York and expanded into the Boston and Caribbean markets as operator of the Holiday Inn Express Braintree and Alegria Resort in St. Maarten.

Alegria Resort, St. Maarten guest bedroom

Alegria Resort St. Maarten

During the last 10 years, M&R Hotel Management has built a reputation for managing hotels efficiently, delivering excellent guest service and driving sales and revenue. While I’ll take an up cycle over a down cycle any day, I am confident our commitment to performance and quality and service will prevail in any economy.

Putting Teamwork to the Test

Maintaining employee rapport is critical to any hotel’s success. Employees rely on each other in countless ways, everyday, to ensure their hotels function smoothly. We, consequently, place a high value on encouraging and rewarding effective teamwork.

As a company that manages multiple hotels, we occasionally take teamwork to an even higher level, asking staff members to step out of their routines and pitch in temporarily at our other properties.

Just such a situation arose in September when the general manager of our Holiday Inn Express JFK Airport left unexpectedly. General managers at two of our other hotels agreed to provide managerial oversight of the Holiday Inn Express JFK Airport while still fulfilling their regular duties.

Glenda Gomez of the Holiday Inn Express LaGuardia Airport and Juan Soto of the Comfort Inn Midtown West each worked two or three days a week at the Holiday Inn Express JFK Airport. The arrangement worked well by fulfilling our obligations to both hotel guests and staff.

This arrangement provided us needed breathing room and time to conduct a proper search for a replacement general manager. The Holiday Inn Express JFK Airport, left in capable hands, operated without interruption. As a bonus, Glenda and Juan each brought a fresh perspective to our operations there.

Equally important, Glenda and Juan both found the experience beneficial professionally. While Glenda was already experienced in managing an airport hotel, Juan saw first hand how dramatically demand can fluctuate, given changing weather conditions that affect airline scheduling.

Similarly, Juan had an opportunity to experience the Holiday Inn Express brand standards and weigh how they differ from the Comfort Inn standards.

We thank Glenda and Juan both for going the extra mile on the company’s behalf. They embody the spirit of teamwork at its best.