Monday, May 31, 2010

G8 Summit - Costs Too High

When I started this Blog, one of the things that I thought about, was whether or not I would find myself commenting on “industry issues” and I assumed that I would, from time to time.

What I had not planned on, was making any commentary necessarily specific about Government policy and the like, but with the newspapers reporting every day this week on the security costs of the upcoming G8 Summit meeting in Deerhurst, I could not stay silent.

I have some experience in this matter, as those of you who know me well, will know. I was the General Manager of the Host Property for the first G8 Summit meeting that followed the horrific events of 9/11. The Summit was held in the pristine Kananaskis Valley, in Alberta.

As I was knee deep in everything “Summit” for approximately 1 year preceding the Summit, I was privy to a great deal of sensitive information, which even now I will not reference directly, instead focusing on the articles of late that peg the security costs at approximately $900 Million.

Assume for a moment that figure only represents the security costs. Needless to say, the G8 delegates still need to be transported, fed and housed, at a minimum, and you can see how the estimated cost of the G8 Summit meeting exceeds $1 Billion.

What most people won’t know, which adds to the absurdity of this figure, is that the Summit meetings, or at least when we hosted them, started out being scheduled as a 3 day and night event. As the days grew closer, the agenda shrank to the point where the actual Summit was reduced down to 1 ½ days.

Let me repeat that. $1 Billion for a 1 ½ day meeting of the G8 leaders.

Now, that said, here is what got me writing about this today in the first place.

As I write this, sitting in my lovely home in North Vancouver, the news is everywhere that we in British Columbia are close to having enough signatures on a petition to form a proper opposition to the implementation of the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in our Province.

That is a worthy cause, none of us want to be taxed any more, and this tax could very well hamper business at various levels. Fair enough.

But why, why are people not screaming at the top of their lungs about the absurd costs of being a hosting country for the G8 Summit meetings?

It doesn’t matter what your political views are, but consider for a moment what we could do, in our own Country, for our own citizens, with $1 Billion. It’s staggering.

Could we eliminate homelessness in our Country? Could we make sure that the children of our Country have enough to eat, a roof over their heads, and access to a proper education?

The list is endless, but it is also pointless speculation unless this issue is somehow given a stage from which something can be done to put a stop to this senseless spending of our money.

I made the suggestion, almost 10 years ago, after our G8 Summit meeting, that if the G8 leaders feel the need for this annual meeting, they should simply fly everyone out to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean at an undisclosed location, have their meetings, and everyone flies home. You could probably do the whole deal for under $1 Million. Then we would have an additional $999 Million to spend on the things, in our Country, that could make the difference for millions of people.

Wouldn’t that be a better use of our money?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Warm Bodies Need Not Apply

I recently read a great article about positive hiring practices and some of the do’s and don’t’s of hiring.

What it reiterated for me, is the value of multiple interviews, and, reference checks, and I suppose, above all, establishing a procedure for hiring and accepting nothing less, ever, no matter what the circumstances are.

I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself in the scenario where a Manager needs a new employee and rather than do what’s right, and, arguably harder, they want to do what’s easier, which is all too often to hire the guy whose resume happen to come across their desk a couple of days ago.

Now, he’s been called in for a hastily organized interview, and based on that 10 minute meeting, the Manager wants to hire him.

When I ask; “who else has met him?” And the answer I get is; “no one else, but..” I know, here it comes…. I’m too busy, we need someone now, no one else was available, and lots and lots of other justification for why there simply isn’t time to do it right.

It’s ironic to me that even now, there are so many Managers out there who do not see this trap for what it is, and more so, they don’t see how much MORE time it takes to go through all these steps to hire a substandard employee, and then spend hours and days managing their poor performance, which in the meantime may have cost you other employees, and, guests.

It also baffles me how these same Managers don’t see what impact these kind of decisions have on their good employees, the ones who really want to do well, and along the way, support their Manager, but now they see him in a different light, and, they see that mediocre performance is acceptable. NOT a good message to send.

A good hiring platform should always include;

- A full and complete job description for the position you want to fill, which includes your

- Minimum qualifications.

- An established screening process to prioritize resumes submitted for the vacant position.

- A set interview process, involving the hiring Manager, HRD, and in my opinion, the GM.

- A list of questions that are asked of each candidate who you interview.

- At least two reference checks from previous employers.

Lastly, I would emphasize the need for proper follow up with EVERY applicant. There’s nothing that says that the follow up can’t vary depending on your level of interest in the candidate, or not, but respond in some way nonetheless.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a proper courtesy, and, and extension of your business, and your business ethics. Candidates are always so appreciative when I follow up with them, regardless of the news. They appreciate that someone took the time to get in touch with them and let them know where they stand.

At the end of the day, isn’t it the way you would want to be treated if the shoe were on the other foot?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

AAA - Still as Relevant as it Once Was?

Do people, planning their "vacation" sit down and scan the AAA book to decide where to go, and, once having decided, do they then look through the listings to further evaluate their choices, or, is this simply a discount vehicle for a shrinking segment of the market, who do not use computers and are probably "seniors" by standard definition.
My point is more perhaps in the area of what it does or does not mean anymore to be a 3 diamond or a 4 diamond property, and the ever greying line between the two as properties have significantly raised the bar to such an extent in some of the new builds, that what would have traditionally been a 4 diamond property upon opening, is instead labelled as a 3 diamond property, by virtue of how far the bar has been raised over the last 5 years or so.
Does that arbitrary decision, by one man I might add, have a significant impact on your ADR?
Does it potentially impact who will or won't book with you, or, as I speculated above, is it all but irrelevant as the savvy consumer is relying on their own determination as it relates to their destinations, and, their Hotel within that destination.
Hasn't the internet, in providing the level of access and transparency, provided consumers with their own way to evaluate a property, and in doing so, allowed them, as we have seen in so many other ways, to have taken the drivers seat and changed the playing field.
I think so, and I don't think the value or ROI is there anymore to have to pay thousands of dollars for an "ad" in the AAA book. It just isn't what it used to be, and I think, in some ways, it will go the way of the dinosaurs, or, it will need to adapt, in order to become more relevant again, to a smarter consumer, with I would argue, much higher expectations than in the past.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It's Not Easy Being Green

Kermit the Frog had no idea when he first uttered those famous words, just how right he was.

It has become clear that the focus on responsible environmental practices is here to stay. As a result, the growing trend toward eco-conscious travel has brought with it a seemingly ever-increasing number of green hotel certification programs in the hospitality industry.

However, that, in and of itself has not helped to bring clarity to the situation due to the sheer number of different programs and options available, which has in turn led to confusion among travellers, AND hotel operators.

Clearly, each of the more well known programs, (Green Key, Green Globe, Green Leaf, Green Seal, LEED, and perhaps most notably – STEP: Sustainable Tourism Eco-Certification Program), has its benefits, and some offer more legitimate measures of eco-consciousness than others, but how does a hotel operator decide which program to participate in, or, whether or not you need to participate in all of them, especially in light of the cost, in some instances, for older properties to incorporate green technology into their older properties?

According to the World Tourism Organization, ecotourism is the fastest growing market in the tourism industry, growing at a rate of 5% worldwide and representing over 11% of all consumer spending. The non-profit International Ecotourism Society recently stated that more than two-thirds of U.S. and Australian travelers, and 90% of British tourists, consider active protection of the environment and support of local communities to be part of a hotel's responsibility.

Further evidence of the strong eco-tourism focus can be found in the J.D. Power and Associates' 2009 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, which surveyed over 66,000 guests who stayed in North American hotels between May of 2008 and June of 2009, and found that guests' awareness of their hotel's green programs increased significantly in 2009.

Sixty-six percent of guests said they were aware of their hotel's conservation efforts, up from 57 percent the previous year, and, in response to significant pressure from its membership base, AAA has added an "eco" icon to its 2010 Tour Books for hotels, motels, and other lodging facilities. The AAA Eco Program identifies and promotes AAA-approved lodgings that are certified by designated government and private programs.

Clearly, eco-conscious meeting and leisure travellers are putting their dollars toward travel-related businesses with a focus on sustainability, and their preferences can no longer be ignored. Not only are those travellers coming down on the side of green, but so are local, Provincial and Federal governments, as evidenced in their focus on, and bookings of, hotels that have a green designation of one kind or another, reflecting their environmental commitment.

As an example, we are seeing an increase in government mandates stating that government employees can only stay in or host meetings in green hotels. In response to the increasing demand, especially for government based business, and depending on your geographical location, many hotels have developed “green meeting packages” as a means to differentiate themselves from their competitors, and in the hope of securing business from companies who have made a conscious commitment to be environmentally responsible, and who, in turn, want to do business with other green businesses, as a means to demonstrate their commitment amongst their own audiences.

For those properties that are older, which is the majority of hotels and other accommodation providers, the costs associated with doing what it takes to implement and follow LEED standards are cost prohibitive. LEED has a much greater applicability to new-builds, which are the properties that are in fact adopting the LEED criteria as their mandate during construction, where the greatest opportunity exists to implement the necessary standards.

Older buildings, on the other hand, are what they are, and their operators desperately need a straightforward, meaningful certification program that fairly and comprehensively rates their operations so that guests and event planners can easily evaluate the steps the hotel has taken to be green, and in doing so, consumers can also come to understand and recognize the symbol or logo associated with an established green program, and know, with confidence, that when they book a designated green property, their expectations for an environmentally focused hotel will be met.

Clearly, the public's demand for these types of facilities is certainly growing, and people want to spend their money with businesses that share their same personal beliefs and values. The hotels that achieve certification identify themselves as leaders in green practices, energy conservation and a sustainable future.

There's no question that earning some type of green certification is imperative, not only for the health of the environment, but also for a hotel's continued success. Being “green” equates to “doing the right thing” in the eyes of both the consumer and your employees and this will in turn translate to a more sustainable business plan in the long term.

Environmental issues are here to stay and will only continue to grow as a fundamental priority and those properties that can get out in front of this issue and develop a comprehensive long term “green” strategy will win the hearts, minds and wallets of the consumers of today and tomorrow.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Opening Day (It's a Boy !!)

No, I didn’t just welcome in a new member of my family.

I’ve been asked many times. “What’s it like to open a new Hotel?”

My answer? It’s like having a baby. (Not that I’ve personally had one, but there was a time when I was married, and we did have two great kids, so I am speaking from experience).

Think about it. One day, you are sitting in your office, doing what you do, and in walks someone, (it doesn’t really matter who), and they tell you that you’re going to open a new Hotel, and you have approximately nine months to do so. (Sound familiar?)

Then, you spend every waking moment, from that day until the day that your Hotel opens, focused on one thing, opening on time, with every facet of the operation functioning properly.

You prepare diligently for that special day, you solicit experts along the way to help you, to ensure that you get everything right.

Along the way, you suffer set backs and you celebrate small successes. You ask yourself if you’re doing everything right. Have you prepared everything you need for the big day? Have you got all the right people in place to help with the delivery?

And then, seemingly before you know it, the big day arrives, and even though you know that you have done everything that can be done, you question your thoroughness, you review every decision in your mind, and on that giant list of things to do, just one more time. Is it enough?

What you’re not prepared for though, what none of us are prepared for, is how it will feel after you have finished the project and you turn it over to someone else. You’ve gone through the pregnancy, you’ve sweated all the little stuff, over and over again, now you’re turning over your little one to someone else to raise and you hope that they will turn out the way you envisioned.

You hope, that someone sees in this child all of the possibilities that you do. And you know, that there can’t be two sets of parents. You have to trust that your baby will be as important to them as it is to you, but at the end of the day, it’s out of your hands. It’s not easy.

I remember speaking with a developer that I worked with, and I told him that I thought that it must be so hard for him to walk away from his projects once they’re done, given that he has spent years from the point of simply having an idea, to purchasing the land, going through zoning, development approvals, design, and on and on. He spent years on a project before a shovel ever hit the ground.

He looked at me like I was crazy, and simply said; “no, I don’t get attached to my projects.”

I struggled with his answer, I couldn’t get my head around it. Then, I thought to myself, maybe it’s because he builds “things” and a Hotel is a living, breathing entity with a distinct personality, and they are filled with people.

And while I admit, I get attached to every single thing in a Hotel that I open, whether it’s the decision around the choice of the shower heads, the linen, whatever it may be, it’s all important and special.

But above all, it’s the people. You’ve gone through a shared experience with these people, you’ve asked for their help time and again over the months and days leading up to opening, and when you thought you couldn’t ask any more of them, you did, and they rose to the challenge, because they saw what you saw. They saw what was possible, a new realm of possibilities, and they weren’t prepared to let anything get in the way, and THAT is why I get so attached to a project.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Auto Grat - I Think Not

I recently went out for dinner with friends and was disturbed to find an automatic gratuity had been processed on my bill before it was presented to me.

Let me preface any further comments by clarifying two things:

- I have no problem with restaurants that charge an auto-grat on larger tables, especially when they tell you so at the time you make your reservations. Then at least, if you have a problem with that, you can make a conscious decision to book elsewhere. Fair enough.

- I would quite objectively describe myself as a generous tipper. I believe in rewarding good service, and that’s really the basis of my whole argument against automatic gratuities.

I understand that restaurant and bar servers often make minimum wage or close to it. Granted, in a Hotel restaurant or bar you can generally assume that the wage rate (in Canada anyway) is considerably higher, as Hotels tend to pay higher wages than free-standing restaurants or bars.

And, I understand, and support the fact, that for servers, their real opportunity is in gratuities, which has at least something to do with why I am a “generous” tipper.

However, and here comes the catch, while I am more than happy to reward good service, I also want the choice NOT to reward bad service.

I feel so strongly about this that there have been times when I have tipped the bus person and specifically advised the Manager that was where my money was going, or, I have asked a server about their tip out policy, because I have wanted to reward the server, but NOT the kitchen, as I was aware that the server was doing everything in their power to overcome bad food coming out of the kitchen.

And yes, I know, not everyone gets as involved as I do in the gratuity situation, and yes, I know there are people out there who stiff servers all the time, but I still believe that those are the exceptions to the rule.

Furthermore, if we introduce automatic gratuities into all restaurants and bars, where is the incentive to give good service? It’s gone.

And I would argue, and have argued, with servers, that they have the opportunity to make MORE money without the automatic gratuity policy, where people like me willingly pay higher than the customary 15% for good service. But, on the flip side, I don’t look at a bill that has an automatic gratuity posted and ask myself whether an additional gratuity is warranted. Someone has made that decision for me.

So, for me at least, auto-grat, I think not.

Instead, promote an environment of exceptional service and encourage your staff to earn their gratuities by being exceptional, each and every time they serve a table.