Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hotel Brochures - Still Relevant?

I recently opened a Hotel and during the course of preparing for the opening of the property I found myself in a lengthy debate with the Hotel Owner about the need for, or not, a typical brochure.

I’ll tell you right now that the Owner “won” that argument, because, as we all know, Owner trumps General Manager every time.

My concern was related to spending his money on an item that I do not feel is a necessary requirement of a Hotel anymore.

We did have a spectacular web site, where, among other things, you could access our on-line brochure, and if you felt so inclined, you could print the brochure from the web. And, given the fluid nature of web sites, we were able to update the content, as and when new items became available that added to the value of putting them to the web site.

We were also able to upload our extensive Catering, Special Events, and Weddings menus, floor plans, contract terms and such.

Lastly, the web site was also a great spot to highlight our accomplishments, as the Hotel opened and we began to receive praise for our handling of events, conferences, etc., as well as providing a more elaborate selection of photographs that truly spoke to the ability of the Hotel, and the team, to provide an exceptional venue, and exceptional experiences, for business or pleasure.

In short, we were in a much better position to provide up to date, current, relevant material on the web site, and, given that computers are now as common in the household as a refrigerator, if not more so, it allows anyone to access our material at any time.

Comparatively, a brochure provides a limited snapshot in time. If you want to keep it relatively simple, and cost-effective, you are limited to a handful of photographs, and corresponding narratives, that you must ultimately hope strikes the right nerve with the consumer who actually looks at your brochure.

Anyone who has either been in the Hotel business, or in the habit of hosting conferences, also knows that a brochure is a “creative” snapshot in time, which does not necessarily accurately reflect what the property actually looks like, or, does today, compared with when the brochure was actually created.

Given the chance to do so, I would much rather spend the money that would be allocated to produce a traditional brochure, on any number of other Sales or Marketing activities with a much higher probability of creating a successful return on investment.

Alternatively, pump it into the web site, or social media – money well spent.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Local Calls – Why are Leading Hotel Companies Still Charging?

Okay, is it just me, or do you get upset at still being charged for local calls, and 1-800 calls for that matter?

I recently did some travelling, within Canada, and I stayed at two different Hotels, both significant international brands, and both in major Canadian cities. Given the nature of my trip, let’s just say that I wasn’t on a negotiated rate plan of any kind.

Given that I do usually travel either on a corporate rate, or, some sort of negotiated rate, those rate plans have included complimentary local calls, and 1-800 calls etc., and as a result, I had forgotten that both of these highly recognized, significant international brands, still charge the unsuspecting guests for local calls.

I have to admit, I don’t get it. I do understand that it represents a significant amount of revenue to the major chains, when they add it up for the entire company, and therein lies the dilemma.

But please, consumers know that these days, with the overall access to voip, (voice over internet protocol), you can make calls to the other side of the world for mere pennies a minute, and yet hotels continue to charge to make a local call.

I have been making this argument for over a decade now. Look at the optics. You charge a guest $300.00 + a night (or more) plus all the respective area taxes and DMF’s, $15.00 for fresh squeezed orange juice in the morning, and then you charge them another $1.50 because they had to call a restaurant to make a reservation for dinner.

I just don’t see how these Hotels don’t see that on the one hand they speak of service and luxury, while on the other hand, they are seen to nickel and dime the guest after they have made the commitment to stay (and pay) at that luxury branded property.

I know when I was on the front lines, and that was a few years ago, we would have a constant stream of guests complaining at check out. They couldn’t believe that they had just paid $300.00 to $500.00 a night and then someone had stuck them for $1.50 to call a cab.

Will it ever end?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Great Leaders - Born or Bred?

The topic of leadership has long been of interest to me. I’ve read countless books and articles on the subject, and, I continue to do so.
At present, I am in the midst of “Total Leadership”, by Stewart D. Friedman, and I have come up against the question of whether or not great leaders are born, with inherent skills and attributes that destine them to lead, or, whether leadership can be learned over time.
An entire industry has been created to further the skills of leadership, which, at least on the surface, would suggest that leadership can be learned, or at least that is what the authors of these many great books and articles would have us believe.
What do you think? When you reflect on the great leaders that you have personally witnessed in your life, do you feel that they learned how to be great leaders over time, or, were they destined to lead?
What do I think? I believe great leaders were born to lead. They may have improved their skills and intuition over time, benefited from experiences, crises, etc., but they have a natural ability that others can only hope to acquire, to some degree, over time, and, from watching and emulating the great leaders who have provided us with great examples.
Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, John F. Kennedy. These were all great men, great leaders, born to lead, called to lead. I believe that they were driven by an overwhelming vision to do great things. They didn’t see it as that, but whatever they saw it as, however it manifested itself to them, they could not resist its power. They knew that they had to take up the cause.
These great men, and many other men and women, are driven by their own individual vision, their desire to help others, to show the way, to lead by example, to demonstrate that it can be done.
We owe a lot to many of the great leaders that have taken up the cause, chosen to lead when others would not have chosen the task or challenge that they faced. That which has served to inspire many of us to do what we can, even if it pales in comparison to those that have set such an exemplary example, if we can do but a fraction of the work that needs to be done, then it is our responsibility to do so.
What calls to you? 
Need an experienced hospitality professional to help your property reach its full potential?  Contact me.
New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.            

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lessons in Leadership

The Globe and Mail had a great article in their June 11, 2010 issue, on how BP’s CEO – Tony Hayward, was handling the oil leak disaster. It was a great reinforcement of the key components of a good crisis management plan, so I have condensed the article down for you, highlighting their key observations and recommendations.
Come Clean
Mr. Hayward was criticized for initially down playing the extent of the leak. While hoping for the best, a leader should come clean from the beginning. Stone-walling ultimately turns public opinion against you. Best to admit the situation is serious, but that you are doing everything possible to limit the damage. Trying to minimize a growing problem, hoping it will go away, just makes you sound naïve and out of touch with reality.
Keep Communicating
A leader in a crisis needs to keep the flow of information pouring out steadily, and be the person responsible for it. You have the opportunity to diffuse or eliminate possible criticism of your handling of a situation if you are the point person in front of the camera, at regular intervals, explaining the situation as it progresses.
Stay in Full View
A leader in a crisis needs to be physically on the scene and not ensconced in an office. During crises, people look to leaders for guidance and reassurance, they want to know that someone is in charge, and no matter how bad it looks, that things are in control. If you show up, regularly, people will believe you care about them. If you fail to show up, the inference will be that you don’t care and it will be nearly impossible to re-capture your credibility.
Off the Cuff Doesn’t Cut It
There is no substitute for carefully preparing communications in a crisis. A leader needs to focus on a set of key messages that need to be delivered, and prepare statements in advance for the types of questions that are likely to be asked.
Focus Future, Not Past
While leaders should certainly acknowledge what has happened, they should focus more on what they will do going forward. There is no question that what people want to hear from their leaders is that, no matter how bleak the situation looks now, it will be alright in the long run.
Don’t Pass the Buck
The person in charge needs to have the strength in a crisis to say “Not only am I in charge, but I am ultimately responsible for what happens.” The public isn’t interested in who might be legally or contractually responsible.
It’s Wise to Stand Firm
Turning tail and running, mid-crisis is not a wise tactic because it can just make a situation seem worse than it is and, in the process, permanently taint your record. It’s just too important that the executive team be aligned in a crisis. If the situation improves, the leader can still get the credit for staying the course and finding a solution. 
Need an experienced hospitality professional to help your property reach its full potential?  Contact me.
New to this Blog?  Click here to subscribe by email and never miss another post.            

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Training - A Long-Term Investment

I find it ironic that at a time when we are asking more and more of our Managers, that Hotel companies are, for the most part, investing in them less and less over time.

How can we expect to create “Leaders” out of Managers when our investment in them is so low over time?

If you think about it, the training metric goes down in concert with the increase in tenure, except perhaps as it relates to line staff, which is the exception to the rule.

When we hire staff, the emphasis is on ensuring that enough time is spent with them so that they can adequately represent the values and culture of our business to our customers, the guest. Time and money well spent – no argument from me.

Then, when we have a new service or amenity come out, Brand training is emphasized and sometimes to the point where Managers must in fact demonstrate that their employees attended the training, or the Manager risks some form of retribution for not having the right “attitude” about employee training.

However, as and when someone becomes a Manager, especially for the first time, they are often thrown into the position with little more than an orientation to the position, sometimes from the outgoing Manager. Regardless of how it is handled, it is nonetheless, woefully inadequate for what we then ask of these people.

I do not remember who once used the expression to describe middle Managers as “the meat in the sandwich.” It isn’t sexy, but it is accurate. They are stuck in the middle with their employees below them and their Director or GM above them and they are trying to keep both sides of the equation happy on a day-to-day basis.

These are also often the people that are first on the scene in an emergency, as they are usually right there already. It’s a lot to handle, and a lot to ask of them.

Is it too much to ask that we train them and continue to invest in training for them, preferably at a level that continues to match their escalation through the ranks of Management?

These are often the unsung heroes in our business, (without intending to be too dramatic). They slog it away day after day, working long hours, covering absences and no-shows at the last minute, and their staff either love them, and would walk through fire for them, or, they hate them, and the cancer of negativity is running rampant through their department.

Either way, a consistent focus on training will make the good Manager exceptional, and it will help you to weed out the bad Manager.

If we’re going to continue to ask our Manager to “do more with less” how about we make an exception and train them on how to do that effectively? Money well spent, and an investment in Leadership, theirs and yours.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Public Relations - Like Money in the Bank

I have to admit, there are times when I have missed working for an iconic Hotel, a place with history and overwhelming market presence, where all of the major social events take place.

Those Hotels have their benefits, and they are not without their challenges as well. But one of the benefits has often been having an in-house Public Relations Manager or Director.

When you have that kind of property, with that kind of profile, everyone can see the value in having an in-house person to handle Public Relations. It’s an easy sell, and, you can more clearly demonstrate the ROI that you are getting for your investment.

When you are not at a property like I have just described, it is often a great deal harder to justify having an in-house Public Relations person, and I get that. I would agree that there simply is not the ROI to justify that position.

That said, I do still believe that every property should invest in Public Relations, in one way or another, and specifically, should have a Public Relations strategy.

If you are opening a Hotel, in my opinion, there is no excuse for not employing someone, albeit on contract, for at least a 12 month period, starting about 6 months before you open, and potentially terminating, or trimming back, about 6 months after you’ve been open.

Under those circumstances, the ROI is definitely there, and if you find the right person, they have all the contacts that you could spend the next year trying to form relationships with, and you still wouldn’t have the relationship that your PR guru will have with them, and that is where the value starts to show up.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Deirdre Campbell and her team at Tartan Public Relations, more than once over the years, and they have certainly demonstrated that value connections for me, and, they are just a great bunch of people to work with who know and understand our industry. Just what you want from a business partner.

With the right person in place, they can make a few calls, or blast out a few emails, and if they have provided solid leads in the past, to qualified writers who are looking for their next story, then those media types will come, and, because they have been pre-qualified you could say, your chances of an article are strong, certainly, way stronger than you trying to pitch this on your own.

And even if you have an existing product in the market, I would still advocate for you to get a Public Relations person in, and get them to generate some ideas for you. Sit down with them, tell them what you want from your relationship, get a quote, establish some measurable outcomes, and get on with it.

It’s money well spent. Just one well placed article, or perhaps a new idea that gives you a point of differentiation in your market, has certainly got a great deal more value than the type of contracted, short-term job that I am speaking about.