Archive for category Travel Tips

Don’t be a Scrooge This Holiday Season

No one wants a Scrooge staying at their Hotel

I’ve talked a lot about tipping before. Specifically about tipping the hospitality professionals that service you when you’re at a hotel. That’s an important word “professionals” we don’t do it for fun. OK…not just for fun. We do it to get paid as much as because we find some enjoyment from it (those of us that aren’t twisted bitter Gollum like creatures). I’m of the firm belief that tipping is one of the smaller expenses you encounter while traveling, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Far from it, and the nicer of a place you’re staying at, the less of a cheap bastard you should be.

A fellow blogger and hotel worker, The Hook, had a recent post on this exact matter. Here is his post: The Hook’s Definitive Guide to Tipping and Service I recommend you read it if you travel even a little. Even if you’re staying at a Motel6 you should tip your housekeeper at least.

I left a comment on his post that I felt like highlighting here.

Don’t forget that tipping your Housekeeper, Concierge and the Valet is just as important as the Bellman. And the 55 cents you had at the bottom of your pocket and you dumped on the dresser and didn’t feel like picking back up before leaving doesn’t count as a tip for housekeeping, it should just count as littering you cheap douchebag. How much did your car cost? Or how much will it cost if the valet dings up your rental? Throw the guy a tip or park your own car. And you know how the Concierge knows about that really awesome restaurant they sent you to? They went and eat there, and only occasionally did they get some sort of “industry deal” to do it, and the hotel likely didn’t pick up the tab. They likely paid for it out of their own pocket, so that they could experience it, recommend it to you, and improve your vacation, throw a few bucks into the cause. If you don’t have cash hit the ATM. If you’re not willing to tip, then stay at a Motel 6 or stay home.
And I can’t agree more that you need to actually express to the Front Desk what your expectations and needs are. And it’s so much easier to accommodate those requests if you ask while you’re at the desk, before you get into the room. We’re not mind readers. But we are very good listeners.

It’s nothing I haven’t said before. But I think it bared repeating.

Lastly, I wanted to share these two pictures I snapped from my phone while checking rooms a couple of weeks ago. These rooms were right next door to one another, are identical in size and layout, and yet one was noticeably messier than the other, there was also one other noticeable difference.

You're a bad person if you do this.

All the piles put together added to a little under $4, which for the size of the room is descent. If everyone left $4 I wouldn’t have anything to complain about. This was just insulting because they don’t know that I’m going to come along, find this crap, scoop it up, and turn it into dollar bills for my housekeepers. I can’t even tell if they were trying to send a literal message or not. It doesn’t seem to spell anything to me. Seems more like coins stacked into a giant middle finger, or at least that was the message I received. It’s not like they were too lazy to go out, get dollar bills, and leave a real tip, this probably too more energy than that. And this wasn’t just the bottom change in their pocket that they dumped out the night before and decided they didn’t want to bother picking up. This was someone’s idea of a joke. One of my female staff said “That would be like a guy offering to buy me a drink at a bar and ordering a water!”

You're a rock star

This is far and above what they needed to leave. This person probably has worked in some sort of service industry in the past. Either that or has money and doesn’t mind sharing it around. Either way they’re awesome in my book. That’s a tip that says “I know there are some cheap bastards out there. I’m going to make up for it.”

Now does anyone want to guess which room was a bigger mess? The stacks of change or the $20 bill?

I won’t even dignify that with an answer. I think we all know what the truth is.

Good day to you.

I SAID GOOD DAY!

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Guest Loyalty Programs. Do They Work?

One of the owners of my property is a very creative and passionate man. He wouldn’t have been able to build the property I work at, with its unique flair and style without such a grand big picture already in his mind. He also has a tendency to make sweeping statements on goals and projects that he wants to tackle without much understanding of the nuts and bolts that goes into execution. When he does get involved in execution, things tend to get frustrating when the realities of business operations conflict with his personal vision. The other day in a meeting he tasked the GM and I with developing some system for tacking, recognizing, and rewarding repeat guests. We have a system in place now for tracking and recognizing, but I’m the first to admit that it’s not really accurate, and the “reward” portion is fairly lacking. The bigger boxes in the industry have developed intricate Guest Loyalty Programs, and I have mixed feelings about the big box solutions out there.

Guest Loyalty Programs swept through the “chain” side of the industry some time ago. Most every major brand (Marriott, Fairmont, Hilton, Four Seasons, etc) has some sort of Guest Loyalty Program. You know that club that you sign up for at the Front Desk or two days before you get there because it gives you some little perk like free Wi-Fi or whatever. Ostensibly the program makes it easier for the hotel to recognize repeat customers, track their preferences, track issues or problems the guest has had/caused, and offer them rewards for repeat business. The programs represent two important factors to the Hospitality industry. The first is that guest loyalty is truly essential, a guest who enjoys your product and comes back over and over again is worth their weight in gold, not only for the actual dollars they spend, but for all the other people they refer our way. The second is that information is power. These programs allow us to build massive databases of information about our guests and when used appropriately they let you keep repeat guests happier, but also allow you to better market directly to them. In order to profit from this large database of information and cover the administrative costs, less scrupulous companies will also sell this information to “partners” like Frequent Flyer programs, sister brands, and other affiliates. I’m not saying everyone does this, but some of them do. If I signed up for a program I always use my Junk Mail email address (Yes, I have like 3 personal email addresses each one with its own purpose).

The programs do all of that, however, there’s also much doubt in the industry that these programs actually foster guest loyalty. Most of these programs are tiered in some way and the basic membership is free to join. Many frequent travelers belong to every “loyalty program” out there just to have the basic membership benefits. At a certain point, they don’t care if you’re a Fairmont or a Hilton so long as your rooms are within their price range and they get a bed to rest their head on. They carry cards for every loyalty program and offer zero loyalty in return. I won’t say this is the case for every member of a loyalty program and for those that reach the upper levels of membership, many of them have demonstrated that they have at least a strong preference for your brand. The majority of Loyalty Program members are in that bottom category of occasional visitors that generally just signed up to get the initial perks.

For smaller properties a formal sort of program can be a double-edged sword. The software for Customer Relations Management (CRM), to correctly manage these programs is expensive. Sometimes it’s just easier to try to do it through your existing Property Management Software (PMS), but most PMS’s aren’t designed to track the same level of detail that dedicated CRM software can. For instance I can see in my PMS that a guest has stayed with us 12 times before, but my PMS doesn’t really track whether you told us you prefer feather or foam pillows on your last visit. Unless I remember the guest’s name, it also isn’t great at letting me know if this guest had a major issue and screamed in the lobby about something on their last visit. Being a smaller stand alone property, we have to be a lot more careful about what “free perks” we give away. If we’re going to give stuff away or offer discounts to repeat guests does that mean we have to nickel and dime or raise prices for new guests to make up for it? Or do we just hope that the guest “loyalty” this expensive software has helped us earn will make up for itself in repeat business. And isn’t the best thing about repeat guests supposed to be that they’re basically free? You’ve already attracted them once, if you did your job right the first time they should just come back all on their own regardless of marketing efforts. I know that’s not entirely accurate, but we all would like it to be.

I’ve worked at a smaller independent property before where we offered a 15% discount on the room rate to any return guest, that was easy to implement if the guest’s name was in our system. We were a trusting property, so if a guest asked about the discount and said they had stayed before, but we couldn’t find a computer record for them we just took them at their word and gave it to them. As a promotion we would offer the 15% discount to anyone that said they were referred by a repeat guest. Once again we were very trusting about this. This was a lean and relatively efficient method of promoting guest loyalty and occasionally encouraging them to refer friends and family. And I have no idea what that does to your ADR or RevPAR in the long run. It also doesn’t allow for distinguishing between the guest that’s been back twice and the guest that’s been coming back for 20 years and spends several thousand dollars each time. Should both of them be equally rewarded? Or should there be an extra perk for the guest that spends lots more money? At the smaller property most of those truly long-term guests ended having a relationship with the Front Desk manager and she made sure they got their extra attention. My current property is already too big for that level of relationship with our guests and we’re about to more than triple in size.

I have a feeling our Loyalty Program at my current property will end up falling somewhere in between the “big box” solution and the smaller independent property solution. Mostly because I doubt I’ll be able to sell the owners and the GM on the likely fairly expensive CRM software I was looking at online today, but pretty soon we’re going to be considerably larger than my small property solution can handle. I smell entirely too complex spreadsheets in my future trying to do something they were never intended for.

I am curious, if any of you have similar mixed feeling about Hotel Loyalty Programs? Do you sign up for the free perks wherever you’re staying? Or do you only sign up at properties that you really like and want to stay at all the time? Will a club membership help you decide between staying at one property over the other? Especially if both offer similar programs? Will a repeat business perk, like a 15% discount on your room, heavily affect your decision to return? OK, I know that was a lot of questions. You can answer none, one, all or just some of them. This is an issue we discussed at great length during my academic program for Hotel Management, but I haven’t discussed with most people outside of the industry or outside of an academic setting really.

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Hotel Blog – OPUS Hotel

So I think I might be in love. I went Googling for other hotel related blogs this evening and came across the blog of OPUS Hotel in Montreal. Most of the posts I’ve read are by their General Manager. It’s an absolutely great read. Sure it has some PR and Buzz pieces about stuff going on at the hotel. A business blog like this is first and foremost a PR tool. But it also has a lot of personality and soul to it, and it’s not just a PR tool. Although I’m sure it helps their SEO quite a bit. Their GM is very well spoken/written, has good stories to share, and like me, tries to offer some educational type tidbits to people outside the industry (namely travelers). It’s a great blog, and I highly recommend it after only about an hour of cruising posts.

It was funny, in one post he even talks about how a Professor at my University, in my program (Hotel Management), assigns this blog as required reading. That must have been after my time there, but judging by the post date, maybe just barely. I don’t remember that assignment…of course I tended to skim text books for what it’s worth.

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Travelling tips and stuff…

So I’ve already talked in the past about some important travel tips, like not using your debit card whenever possible while traveling. But my recent trip to Vegas reminded me of some additional tips that I’ve been meaning to pass on and some observations as well.

buzzzzzz beep beep CLICK!

Your Room Key and Room Number

First of all, I feel compelled to dispel a particular myth. If you’re at a property with electronic locks and key cards, you don’t have to destroy your key or take it with your when you leave. Somehow a nasty rumor got started that hotel key cards store all your personal information, including credit card number, on your magnetic key card. It was probably Michelle Bachman that started it. The magnetic strip on your key card doesn’t store any information, all it stores is a randomly generated code (usually) which will match up to the lock on your door and allow you access. Please don’t destroy them, the hotel can reuse those. It’s just wasteful. And stupid.

The security of your room key and room number are especially important areas of concern though, the more so the larger the property is. A security minded hotel will train its staff not to say your room number allowed or ask you to say it when other people are in ear shot. When I was at the desk, I usually wrote the room number down on the key envelope and would point to it and say “You’re room number is written here for you.” That being said, not every hotel is as security conscious at others, at least not until something bad happens and they get sued. Once you receive your keys, try to memorize the room number and then separate your key cards from the envelope, preferably just leave it in your room. If you can’t memorize the number, then keep the key card and the key envelope in separate pockets. Otherwise if you lose you key and the envelope together you’ve just given whoever finds it full access to your room. If you lose your key go to the Front Desk and have them cut you new ones. Let them know that the old keys were lost and that you need a fresh set to overwrite the old keys. If you’re traveling with someone else, this will overwrite their key as well so keep that in mind if you aren’t together when you get the fresh set.

List the Names of Everyone Staying in the Room on your Reservation

This step serves two purposes. The first is any hotel that is half way conscious of their key control, won’t issue keys to a person unless their name is listed on the reservation as an occupant. Most people don’t think of this, but it can turn into a major headache. If you’re traveling partner isn’t listed on the reservation and gets locked out without you, they can’t just go to the Front Desk and get a new key. Even if you’re husband and wife and have the same last name. Even if that same last name is really weird and uncommon. So list all occupants on the room. At a property that has incidentals that can be charged to the room (like restaurant and spa charges) only people listed on the reservation should be able to charge things to your room. You might even have to think about this before you arrive to check-in. I’ve had to deal with more than one pissed off spouse or partner that arrived before their partner and couldn’t check in to the room because their name wasn’t on the reservation. Sometimes that lead to hours of having to wait for contact from the primary guest to give us authorization.

And if you run into this wall, getting pissed off at the Front Desk won’t really help. Besides, think about it this way, they’re trying to keep you and the people in your room safe, and all your stuff.

This also includes if you’re having someone come to visit you at the hotel and you want the Front Desk to tell them your room number. A good Front Desk won’t just give it out to whoever walks up without prior permission. I hate it when TV Shows and Movies show characters just walking up to a hotel front desk and asking “Can I get Mr. Johnson’s room number?” the correct answer is “No you can’t!” but most of the time that’s not relevant to their story so they skip over that detail.

Also, most security minded places are going to want you to have ID of some sort if you get locked out and need a new key. So it’s a good idea to keep some form of ID on you at all times. Although, if you leave it in the room and get locked out, likely they can have a manager or security let you into the room, but they’re going to insist on you showing them your ID once the door is open. Once again, I know this seems tedious and can be frustrating, but it’s in the interest of protecting you and your belongings.

If you’re traveling with kids or teens that are old enough to be apart from you but young enough to not have some form of ID (or don’t carry it with them) then ask the Front Desk if you can designate a “password” with them that can be used to have a new key issued. I don’t know if that’s a standard practice out there, but I’ve used it before to great effect for the guest and hotel.

Colored Bedspreads UCK!

Fail

I hate it when hotels have a cheap colored bed spread on their beds. This is a hold over from another age, and I don’t understand why any property above the Motel 6 category still does it. Sure it’s cost-effective on laundry, but it’s just gross. Because here’s the big clue in, in case you didn’t know already, those bed spreads get washed every 6 months MAYBE. In the mean time, think about all the other people who have likely used it while sleeping…and other bed related activities far more messy. When I get into a room that has some colored bed spread, the first thing I do is strip it off, toss it in a corner and wash my hands. I won’t use it during my stay. The only time this doesn’t apply is when the hotel has a nice duvet cover with a changeable (preferably white) sheet cover. This is a relatively new introduction in the hotel industry, but almost every luxury brand has already adopted it. Sure the duvet gets used from one guest to another, but the cover is changed regularly, and that’s the most important part.

Winning

That all being said, I’m not one of those travelers that won’t walk barefoot in my room and wipes down every surface with Clorox wipes that I brought from home. Or that asks for 10 extra bath towels so that they can make a path on the carpet for everywhere they plan to walk. I know the carpets aren’t more than vacuumed on a regular basis. Sure there’s probably some germ stuff or dirt left behind from the previous guests. Think about everything else you touched in your travels, especially the airport. If I was going to worry that much about germs, I’d just live in a bubble and never leave my home. Whatever doesn’t kill me just makes me stronger. I just don’t want to be sleeping draped in a bed spread covered in someone elses cum.

Yes Please!

Shower Curtains

This isn’t wide-spread yet, but I believe glass shower doors are the wave of the future for hotels. Or at least they should be. That shower curtain hanging in your hotel bathroom shower is worst than your bedspreads, sure, it “probably” got sprayed with some form of disinfectant by housekeeping, but how sure can you be? Glass shower doors are more green because they don’t need replacing as often, more hygienic and easier to clean between guests, and it’s a lot harder for a stupid guest to cause water damage to your hotel by not applying the shower curtain properly (seriously you’d be surprised how often this comes up). As far as I can see, that’s all win for the guest and the hotel. Sure they cost more to install then a cheap curtain rod and flimsy curtain. That call saying “There’s water dripping from my bathroom ceiling” because the guest upstairs didn’t know that the curtain belongs on the INSIDE of the tub rim is a lot worst than that initial set up cost though. So to the hoteliers out there, Glass Shower Doors are the way to go people! Seriously.

Using Your Privacy Sign

This is a real easy one, you’re “Privacy Sign” or your “Do Not Disturb Sign” means just that to most hotel staff. So if you order room service or ask for the bellman to come shine your shoes or if you want housekeeping to give you turn down service or fresh towels during your stay, remember to take it down. And if you forget to take it down, don’t be surprised if everything takes a little longer or that housekeeping didn’t tidy up. However, leaving your privacy sign up does not entitle you to an automatic late check out either. Ask for one if you need a late check out, if it’s not available then try to check out on time. Don’t try to just take one.

In Conclusion

Well that about wraps things up. Hope this post was more insightful than a rant. Safe travels out there. May the Force be with you, always.

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