Posts Tagged Travel
So my new wife and I got back from our Honeymoon last Sunday, and I’ve been meaning to get some blog posts up, but honestly haven’t had the time yet. I think some of the trip is still decompressing from my brain. No matter how hard I tried, I could entirely turn off the Hotel Worker part of my brain as we were staying at this amazing resort. It gave me a lot of perspective on guest experience, my own staff, and my own management. Aside from that it was lots and lots of fun and so relaxing. However, returning home has been a lot of work. My desk and email box at work filled with issues that needed to be addressed. I responded to over 45 guest emails today, a new best record I believe. I have hiring to do. My department is short-staffed, and we’re about to split it in two as well. Lots of balls in the air. It’s amazing how much stress and work went into preparing to leave for 11 days, and how much stress and work is involved in picking up everything that still didn’t get covered while I was gone. It almost makes a long vacation not worth it. ALMOST! And then there’s all the stuff left over at home, not the least of which was coming home to leaky ceiling now that our area is finally getting rain. And the house is so messy! We really didn’t have time to clean up before leaving. I mean seriously, have you ever planned a wedding?!? We were both wishing we had just run off to Vegas. However, all of the hard work paid off in the end and it turned out to be a perfect event that we both managed to enjoy quite a bit.
I wouldn’t have traded those 11 days away with my wife for anything. It was an amazing experience for us both. It’s the most consecutive time we’ve ever spent with one another for one thing. But it was also a lesson for us both in how to treat ourselves and how we both want to travel in the future. And yes, I think flying First Class has ruined us both for life.
Anyways, this is nowhere near a long enough blog post. I read so many comics by the pool it’s not even funny. I also finished reading a book that’s been laying half-finished by my bed for like 4 or 6 months. And then there’s all the stuff that actually happened on our trip, and all the thoughts it’s left me with about the hotel industry and traveling. I’m not ready to post all of that yet. There’s just been too much left to do. I just wanted to let you all know that I’m still here. Still intending to blog. I’m just not ready yet. But…
My lovely (and newly minted) wife and I are off adventuring in Cancun. But when we return I will try to get into a regular posting schedule again. I’ve got lots to post about from my last week of work before the wedding. In the mean time I wanted to leave you all with this image. Betcha wish you were here!
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.
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!”
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.
There are unique benefits and disadvantages to working at an independently run hotel like I do now. I tend to think this story represents both sides of that coin.
One of the nicer units we have available at the hotel is a 2-bedroom full-sized house on the hillside overlooking the property. It’s a gorgeous unit with an even better view that overlooks the property, the pool and the rest of the town. It has a full-blown kitchen, fireplace, and is our most recently and fully remodeled unit. It used to be the owner’s house on property. The one downside of this spectacular unit is that you have to drive down from the hill to access the rest of the property. There is a path that leads down the hillside, but it’s rather precarious and isn’t exactly safe if you’re not familiar with it. That applies extra in the dark, especially if there’s booze involved. We told guest’s as they’re reserving that there’s no direct path from the unit and that you have to drive up and down the hill. When they check-in we told them about the path, but ask them to please not use it. I had been asking the GM and owners to build a locked gate across the head of the path since I got there. That has finally happened, but not before this little incident happened.
I was sitting at my desk answering emails when my phone rings with a call from one of the reservations extensions.
“The guests in the <hilltop> are on the phone. They want to talk to a manager about the path,” said my agent.
“What about it?” I said playing dumb.
Long pause. She’s not sure if I’m kidding or not. “Ummm…the pool told her she can’t use it. She’s been yelling at me for like fifteen minutes on the phone.”
“Yup.” Audible sigh. “Put her through to my desk.”
I have no doubt that she’s been screeching and saying all sorts of mean things to my agent on the phone, but when I answer her voice is all soft and sweet. I let her tell me about how much she enjoyed her massage and they love the room, but that she thinks it’s ridiculous that they can’t use the path down the hill.
I go through my usual lines about all the reasons that the path isn’t safe.
She says she should have been told when she booked the room.
I tell her that’s our standard practice when a guest books over the phone. Then I point out that she booked her room online and that the information about the path restriction is actually in the room description on our website and on her confirmation letter. That should really be check-mate right?
Well she didn’t read her confirmation letter. I apologize and tell her that I’m really sorry, but that I just can’t allow them to use the path.
“Well then I think we might just have to check-out because this is just stressing me out too much.”
Really? You can’t just let it go? Sometimes in life we’re just not allowed to do things. Does it really need to stress you out? Can’t you just let it go and enjoy all the other awesome things going on? Packing up your stuff and moving isn’t going to cause more stress? OK.
“I’m really sorry if that’s the case. Of course if you don’t think you can stay in the room as it is I’ll release you from the rest of your reservation and you can check-out early without penalty.” They had actually checked-in the day before and already spent a night in the room. This is a $500+ unit and I won’t be able to resell them at that rate, but it’s better than having them harp on me the rest of their stay. It’s a compromise where really no one wins.
“And you’ll refund last night too?” She asked.
I wanted to laugh. “I can’t do that. You already stayed last night. The best I can do is release you from the rest of the reservation even though we’re inside the cancellation policy.”
“I don’t think that’s fair.”
I knew I could be opening the door to disaster for myself, but I went ahead and asked “Was there something wrong with the room last night?”
“Well no.” Surprisingly she answered honestly.
“But…” of course “…this entire experience has just ruined my vacation.”
“I’m sorry, but the best I can do is release you from the rest of your reservation without charging you for the remaining nights.”
“Well if we stay will you give us a discount?”
Eye roll on my side of the phone. “I’m not willing to do that. If you decide to stay it would be at the original rate you reserved.”
OK, I probably could have bent a little bit here. Even if I took $100 off each night it’s still more than I would have been able to resell the unit for, and we wouldn’t have had to clean it an extra time. There were legitimate business reasons to do it. I was sticking to principles, probably a mistake, but I also had visions of giving her the discount and then them continuing to fight us on using the path.
“AHHH!” She screamed into the phone. “Fine let me talk to my husband. We’ll get back to you.”
She hung up before I could respond.
Five minutes later my phone is ringing again. This time it’s the Front Desk. “The gentleman from the <hilltop> is here. He wants to talk to you.”
Of course he is. I head up to the Front Desk, put on my best customer service smile and step up to meet the guy. He’s all worked up and goes off about how this experience has ruined their trip and that I need to do something to fix it. This guy is short and greasy looking to be honest. He and his friend both have a trailer park, red neck, white trash look to them. Their massive truck parked out front is new but also lifted with huge off-road tires.
The guy is loud as he talked to me, and overly casual, calling me “buddy” and “pal”. He also explains to me how they stay with us often (I’d seen their file, they don’t) and that he’s rolling in cash. And mentions several times about how he’s always getting horrible service from people because he’s young and has “new money” and tries to get me to say I have the same problem. I’m pretty sure you get horrible service because you’re a loud obnoxious jerk. This isn’t about money for him he keeps saying. Really? Cause it kind of seems like it’s a little bit about money.
I reiterate the things I’m willing to do for him that I had already told his wife.
“Well then I want to talk to your boss.”
Of course he does.
“Well he’s not here today, but let me see if I can reach him.”
“You do that.”
Great. I step into the back office and then out the back door and whip out my cell phone and call the big guns. I explain everything and he agrees with me 100%. However, he’s willing to give them $50 off their remaining night just so we don’t have to resell the room. That’s the smarter call, and the easier one to make since he hasn’t had to be arguing with the guest.
I step back up and present my offer.
“That just won’t do it. I want a full comp for tonight and a free massage for my wife.” He isn’t quite shouting, but his voice is very loud.
“I just don’t see that happening.”
“Well why don’t you see if your boss sees it happening.”
Great again. I excuse myself and go make the call. The resounding answer is “No way” as I knew it would be. My GM hates to negotiate in these situations, it just rubs him the wrong way.
When I step back up to the desk there’s another guest in the lobby now so I usher the man outside. I tell him that our original offer stands, and that if that doesn’t work for him then they’ll just need to check-out as we originally discussed.
This is when things turn really south.He goes back into the woes of being young with money and getting shit service, as he sits on the tail gate of his lifted F350. Not kidding. He tells me how his wife was upset with him last night and so he didn’t get laid, and that if I don’t give him something to make her happy now, he won’t get laid tonight. This is an entirely inappropriate conversation. Especially at the volume he continually speaks.
He keeps trying to get something out of me. His lowest “offer” being that he wants a free massage for his wife so that she can relax. I stick to my guns and he and his buddy head back up to theto decide whether they would stay or go. When I get to the back deck I find one the members of the owning family waiting for me. At that time he was also the maintenance manager, and he had overheard the guy talking to me out front about his trouble getting laid, and he wanted the rest of the story.
As I’m filling him in, the Front Desk Agent pops her head out to tell me about what happened when I stepped away the first time to call the GM. When I was out back on the phone she answered a call for a reservation and was trying to sell the <hilltop>. He was standing at the desk and heard her mention the unit’s name and started shouting to be heard over the phone, “Don’t do it! It’s not worth it.” repeatedly. She obviously didn’t sell the room.
That was the clincher for the owner. “That’s it. They’re not staying here. I’m kicking them out.”
“Really?” I say a wide smile spreading over my face.
“Yeah. Let’s drive up there.”
We’re just about to get into a work truck when the douche nozzle drives back into the lot in his massive truck. I point him out to the owner, let’s call him Delta for this, and Delta walks up to the guy as he rolls down his window.
“Hi. We were just coming to tell you that we’ll take the $50 discount and stay.” The guy said.
“Hi. I’m Delta one of the owners. We’d actually like you to check-out. We don’t need your business here. Please don’t return.”
“What? Really? Why?” The red neck sputters.
“I don’t appreciate your language in front of our other guests or trying to drive reservations away from us as we’re trying to resolve and issue for you. You have 30 minutes to check out.” Delta explains.
“Fine.” The guy said in what seemed like indignant astonishment.
“Thanks. We’ll bring you the bill for last night.” We turned to walk away.
The douche bag revs his truck and as he pulled out behind us he shouted, “I can’t believe they let fags work here!”
Delta looks at me and says, “If they’re still there in 30 minutes call the cops and have them evicted.”
Now technically I don’t know if we could have gotten away with that, but I didn’t mention that. I could tell Delta was really pissed now. And in that moment, Delta was my hero.
So I drove the bill up. The wife actually said as I handed her the bill, “Why does this always happen to us?”
Because you’re an idiot, and your husband is a huge ass hole. Probably mostly because of your husband though and all his “new money”. Too bad you can’t buy class.
Five months later I get a call from Reservations. It’s the douche bag and his wife once more trying to book a day at the spa. Their file indicates that they’ve been black listed by the owners. So I get to have the awkward conversation with them that they’re not welcome back on the property by the owners.
“So we can’t ever come back?” the wife asked.
“Not after your last visit. I’m sorry. Not as things are now. No.” I replied. I thought it best to make things as blunt as possible. Although I wasn’t really sorry. That’s just a reflex.
“Is there anything we can do?” her husband shouts over the speaker.
“Write the owners and see if they’ll change their minds. I can’t over ride the owners.”
I never found out if they wrote in or not, but last I checked they’re still black listed. Good for them.
I’m exposed to far too much nudity in my line of work, and it’s never been enjoyable. In fact it’s been entirely male nudity as far as I recall. This is especially true at my current property where I’m as much involved in Spa Operations as Hotel Operations. Usually it’s because someone has passed out from one of our heat intensive bath treatments. Extreme heat and booze just don’t mix people.
This particular incident happened this last summer or spring. I know the weather was particularly nice, but hell it’s California, so that doesn’t really narrow it down.
I was just sitting down for lunch at my desk, deli sandwich and emails yum! When my cell phone started ringing. Being a manager I never really “clock out” ever. I’ve also been a line employee and had manager that were horrible about answering their phones whether they were on a break or not, so I take pride in the fact that generally my staff can count on reaching me by phone. I checked the caller ID and saw that it was a fellow manager, our Spa Supervisor who I will call Jelly Bean for a reason that only really makes sense to me and her. She would be quite annoyed if she knew that was her pseudonym actually. Perfect.
I answer the call. “Hi Jelly Bean,” I say with a forced smile in my voice.
“<Hotelnerd> there is a naked man lounging by the pond,” she whispers into her phone. For the record we are no a clothing optional facility.
“Ooookay…” Chuckle. Jelly Bean was still a relatively newly minted manager, in fact this might have been 2 summers ago now that I think of it. “Would you like me to come talk to him?”
“No….I can do it….” there’s strong reluctance and uncomfortableness in her voice though.
I take pity on her. I start standing from my chair. “I’ll be right there.”
It’s about a 30 second walk from my desk to her location. I get out there to find a gentleman sprawled out on a chaise lounge chair, his robe draped across the chair next to him basking in the radiance of the sun. Four chairs down from him sits a lone woman reading a book with a hand up to the side of her face to shield her peripheral vision from the site. Jelly Bean is on the other end of the pond so I give her a little wave as I approach the gentleman. As I approach, I can’t help but get the Full Monty as it were. I really didn’t need to know that this guy believed in waxing….everywhere.
I come up beside him and bend down to speak softly but firmly to him. “Sir. I don’t mean to disturb you, but we’re not a clothing optional facility. I’m going to have to ask you to put your robe back on. Please.”
He opened his eyes and looked at me, “Really?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”
“Fine.” He sighed and rolled his eyes at me.
“Thank you. I appreciate it. Sorry to bother you.” I said and turned to walk away as he got up to put his robe back on.
Jelly Bean circled around her end of the pond and we met out of sight. “Thank you. I really didn’t want to get that close to him.”
I shrugged at her, “Not a problem.”
I walked back to my desk and had just taken a bite of my sandwich when my phone started ringing again. I glared at it accusingly where it sat on my desk. Jelly Bean showed up on my caller ID again. Great.
“Hotelnerd, he has the robe on now, but he has his legs spread straddling the chair and every time the wind blows a little the robe moves and exposes him again.”
Sigh. “I’ll be right there.” I was already out the door.
I repeat the trip over. Approach the gentleman again, but he’s readjusted himself before I could get there so that his legs are stretched out straight now, not spread and his robe is completely folded over him. I just keep walking past him, circle the pond and meet up with Jelly Bean.
“Did you go talk to him?” I ask.
“No he repositioned right after you hung up.”
“Alright well I’ll hang out for a minute to see if he acts up again.” I tell her and we step around the pond so that that it’s less obvious that we’re watching him. He must have felt our eyes on him, because he sat up, swung his legs to the ground and stood.
His robe sash WAS NOT tied shut. A gust of wind blew and his robe flew open, flashing the lady still 4 chairs down trying to read her book. I see her hand fly up again to shield her view. He could have quite easily gotten up the other direction, or tied his robe shut, or done any number of other things, but that obviously wasn’t his goal. He starts walking off down the boardwalk towards the rest of the spa, robe sash still untied and robe billowing out behind him like a cape.
“What’s he doing?” Jelly Bean says in outrage.
I’m wincing as I say, “I think he just gave us the Full Superman.”
I took off at a brisk walk after him. I have long legs and the distance disappeared fast. Yep, still not a single hair on this guy except on his head. Joy.
“Sir.” I’ve lost most of my pleasant courtesy at this point. “I need to ask you to tie you robe closed. You’re exposing yourself.”
“Fine. Fine.” He waves his hand at be before snatching up the ends of his robe sash and tying it closed.
“Thank you.” I say as he walks away.
You’d think his nakedness would end there. It didn’t.
I come up to the Spa Front Desk later and hear my staff there talking about a naked man.
“Oh you mean the one out at the pond that Jelly Bean and I dealt with?” I ask.
“He was naked in the lobby!” They tell me.
Apparently after interacting with me for the final time, he made his way all the way back to the locker room, disrobed, then came out into the lobby to ask the Front Desk where the bathroom was. You know….the one he walked right past to reach the locker room. Shocked they quickly directed him to the right door. After using the restroom, he returned to the locker room and put all of his clothes back on. I later found out that he came out into the lobby and was complaining to his friends about how he was trying to relax at the pond but we wouldn’t let him.
Really? Really!?! REALLY!??? I was more than happy to let you relax at the pond. You just had to keep your junk out of sight!
But from now until the end of time Jelly Bean and I will refer to a naked man at the pond as a “Code Superman”
Earlier in the week I posted about my encounter with an Internet Troll via email and how I handled him. This post needs a little follow-up.
To be clear, while I somewhat enjoyed engaging in a semantic argument with the superior asshole and not indulging him, I probably should have indulged him. It just wasn’t great customer service, and it has come back to bite me in the ass. The Troll forwarded our email conversation to a property owner and I have since been chastised by my boss, and the owner is making efforts to try to recover his business.
While it felt great at the time to respond to him the way I did, it was a mistake. Not just because I poked the bear and got in trouble for it, but because as a manager in this business I have to represent the interests and reputation of the property owners and not my own all the time. If I was the owner of this property my response still would have been horrible customer service, but at least then it would have been my place to make that decision. To be honest, I might have responded the same way if this was my hotel. But it’s not, and I knew as soon as I hit the send button on that email that it was probably a huge mistake, and I should have known that it wouldn’t end there. Of course it didn’t.
In customer service it just doesn’t pay to respond to superior assholes in kind. No matter how good it might feel in the moment.
People always say, don’t respond to emails or texts angry. I think I’ll listen to those people next time.
You win this round Internet Trolls.
I was listening to the Nerdist Podcast Episode 139 with Neil deGrasse Tyson and one of the questions that Chris Hardwick tossed at Neil deGrasse Tyson was “Tell me about a day in the life of a scientist” or something to that effect. Neil kind of chuckled, much how I do when considering that question, because he doesn’t have such a thing as a “typical day”. By and large I can say the same thing, every day I show up to work, and outside of some basic responsibilities that go along with whatever shift I’m working that day I don’t ever really know what the day is going to throw at me.
Typically I get here, and if nothing else is immediately more pressing I check my voice mail and do my initial scan of my email inbox. In a day I receive 15 to 40 emails in a day that require varying degrees of my attention. For the record I hate voice mail, I hate voice mail at work and I hate it at home. Email and text is such a better way to get a hold of me. As I’m scanning email or immediately afterwards I try to touch base with any other managers that are around, especially my fellow operational managers. Often times they have some critical piece of information that is going to shape the rest of my day from staff being out sick, issues from the night audit shift, upset guests I might encounter, maintenance issues, or one of the owners running amok around the property.
Next up is my first walk around the property for the day (assuming that nothing more pressing jumps in my path). I’ve talked about this before, but I think I would go crazy if I was stuck at my desk or in meetings all day. I love going out to walk around the property and see it with my own eyes, it certainly doesn’t hurt that I work on a particularly beautiful property. On this walk I try to hit as much of the property as I can, not just my department, but the pool, guest areas, the spa, laundry, everything I have the time for. There are times that I can’t help but think of myself as Admiral Kirk touring the Enterprise at the beginning of The Wrath of Kahn. I shared this particular image with on of my staff one time and now she calls me “Captain” whenever she feeling like humoring me, or is buttering me up for something. On this first walk I try to survey as much of the property as I can and in particular I’m looking for anything that might be amiss, maintenance issues, staff (specifically uniforms), and littering (I pick up garbage all day long). More than looking for things that might be wrong, I’m also mentally settling into my day.
It’s after this point that I usually can’t tell what the day will hold for me next. Here’s just a sampling of what I had to deal with today.
- People not staying in the hotel or visiting the spa that thought it would be nice to picnic on our front lawn with their massive dog (we don’t allow pets).
- Relocating some guests that tried to sneak their 7-year-old into a room in a part of our lodging that is 18 and older.
- Former guest upset about our $10 charge to ship some lost & found home to her. Apparently places she’s stayed always do it for free. Right. Sure they do.
- Broken heater in a guest room after maintenance has left.
- Guest that wanted to complain about the couple that brought their 7-year-old and we relocated. Wanted a discount even though we made them leave.
- Guests with both glass and alcohol at the pool. Our pool is hot.
- Two staff members missing their name tags.
- It’s a holiday weekend and we’re running low on change.
- Multiple people who want to talk to me about why their case is special and they should get an exception to one policy or another. Some got their exception and some didn’t.
- Motorized housekeeping cart with a dead battery that we have to push back to base. Those things are solid metal and loaded with shit.
And some of those bullet points become a little routine, but even the routine ones are somewhat unpredictable. Every guest interaction is different and a bit unpredictable even if you’ve dealt with the same issue a thousand times. You just can’t tell how it’s going to go until you’re in it. That’s about it for today, but I still have about an hour and a half left. Along with that I’m answering questions from my staff and the staff of other departments, pitching in on phones, pitching in at the desk, slogging through my emails, doing more property walk around, staying in touch with the other managers. I can also be composing memos, designing procedures, writing employee evaluations or written warnings. And the property owners weren’t even here today to heap random projects on me. I only take short breaks to blog at work so that I can vent some steam quietly and not explode on people.
And I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I love working in hotel operations, and even when I’m a GM someday or if I become an owner even, I hope to at least have a couple of toes in the daily operations. At least I feel that way now, if it ever stops being fun then it’ll be time to run as fast as I can away from operations.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.