Sunday, September 25, 2011

Score Update: Union 1, Airline 0

Don't you just hate it sometimes when you're right?

You know what I mean, you predict something that you actually hope won't happen, but every instinct that you have tells you this is going to go down just as you predict it, whether you like it or not.

That's the way I felt when I read a story in the Globe & Mail last week that said that Air Canada had narrowly averted a strike with their Flight Attendants by reaching a tentative agreement.

Here's the kicker. . .  The tentative agreement was reached as a result of Air Canada agreeing, among other things, to shelve their plans to launch a low cost carrier as a branch of their main operation.

I wrote, in May of this year, in my post entitled; "Air Canada Discount Subsidiary - Does Anyone Really Believe it Will Ever Take Flight," that "Air Canada announced that the launch of their discount carrier would be contingent on the Air Canada Pilots Union agreeing to certain concessions and a two-tier arrangement, as it relates to the pilots of Air Canada and the pilots of the discount carrier."

I had further gone on to say that; "As soon as I read that, I knew the deal was dead.  There is no way that the Air Canada pilots union will agree to anything out of the ordinary.  They have a long-standing history of drawing a line in the sand and then standing on “their” side of that line and daring you to cross it, at your peril."

Apparently, I was close, but I predicted that it would in fact be the airline pilots union that would kill the deal and apparently I underestimated the flight attendants union who have now brought this venture to a close.

I've made it no secret that I didn't think Air Canada should launch another discount carrier anyway.  They've already failed at the experiment on more than one occasion, but I was nonetheless disappointed to see that the deal was dead at the hand of the flight attendant's union.

It is, yet again, a clear indication of when unions have too much power over business, power that can bring a business to its knees, and in some cases, to bankruptcy and closure, but the union marches on, they have nothing to lose, nothing at risk.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; It’s a perfect example of everything that is wrong with unions.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Technology - Friend or Foe?

Sure, I know what you’re thinking; is he crazy?  Look at all the advancements in technology that we have experienced over the last decade, and look at all the great things that have come from those advancements.

Fair enough, but have you also noticed that the technology that is supposed to “make the world smaller” and make us all so much “more connected” is also responsible for creating more distance between people than ever before?

Take a ferry between two cities, jump on a bus, take a look around you the next time you are at the airport or on a plane, or, just look around when you’re walking downtown and notice how many people have their faces buried in their IPhone or Blackberry and how many of them are wearing headphones at the same time, and as a result, how many people are NOT speaking to each other.

The same can be said, to some degree, in the workplace.  That is, that the technology that was supposed to “make our lives easier” and contribute to “work/life balance” is instead increasing peoples’ workload, their stress levels, and their inability to have any work/life balance based on the fact that they are always reachable, and always expected to be reachable.  There is no longer an “off” switch for many people.

One of the additional symptoms of this to me is when you receive an email from someone whose office is next to yours or around the corner about something that does not require a documentation trail.  In short, they could have either picked up the phone or popped around the corner to your office to have had a conversation with you, but who has the time?

As simple as it may seem in the face of this situation, one of the simple solutions that I put in place to increase relationships and connectedness within the workplace in one of the hotels where I worked was to create “email free day” one day a week, every week.

The “rules” were simple and we got everyone on-board with participation.  On email free days you could not send any emails internally, except where there was a sense of urgency around some form of documentation that had to be circulated on that day, such as BEOs or changes to BEOs for banquet events scheduled within that week.

External emails to/from clients, corporate office or other hotels within the company could be responded to, to ensure we continued to comply with our commitment to respond to all correspondence within 24 hours of receipt.

But if you sent an email internally on email free day, you were fined $1.00 and the funds generated from those emails was donated to charity.

At first, there were some people who responded as if we had asked them to work with one hand tied behind their back, but quickly people saw that their job was not in fact made any more difficult, and, as you would expect, there was a whole lot more interaction between people, not to mention that people who habitually had been locking themselves in their offices all day were now seen meeting and talking to people all over the hotel, and they turned out to be some of the biggest fans of email free day.

Give it a try.  You may be pleasantly surprised to see how much more liveliness and fun get produced in your workplace.

We spend a good deal of our lives at work.  Is it too much to ask that we have a little fun while we’re there?   I don’t think so.

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Exceeding Conference and Event Clients Expectations – A Full Time Job

We all know that our guests are exposed to a great deal of information every day, through the media, the web., etc., and as a result they are increasingly expectant that everyone that they come into contact with within a Hotel is equally as knowledgeable as they are, perhaps more so.

There is no greater example of this, to me, than the expectations and the role of meeting, event and conference services managers (CSMs).

Conference Services Managers have a tough role, made so by the fact that they will regularly find themselves dealing with multiple levels of individuals charged with organizing a meeting, conference or event – Everyone from the seasoned veteran who has done this 100 times before, to the novice who has never done this before.

As the demands within businesses has changed over the last several years, companies have combined positions, or eliminated positions entirely, sometimes associated with organizing their events and conferences, and the task has fallen on to some unsuspecting individual who may never have organized anything this complex in their history, and as a result, they in turn have come to expect that the meeting planners, or CSMs that they deal with, are experts in their field and completely knowledgeable on all of the latest trends and technology that could be employed to make their meeting memorable.

Although you could argue that the circumstances have changed, the need to exceed customer expectations has not, and as a result, it is and always has been critical to ensure the ongoing education and training of meeting planners  and CSMs to ensure that they are adequately equipped to deal with the increased level of demand being placed upon them, and, the fact that a good or bad meeting or event at your facility could make the difference between securing a long-term relationship with a leading company, or, losing them to a competitor who is in a position to better provide what they need.

So, whether it’s participating in the necessary programs to have all of your key CSMs PCMA certified, or having your team members participating in other training or development that makes sense in your market, it is imperative that meeting planners and CSMs are continuously investing in their training and development.

Your clients expect it, sure, but more importantly, the increased level of confidence that emanates from your CSMs will be evident to them, and to your clients, and it will give both the platform for continued success, and that in turn will translate to bottom line results for your property that will far outweigh any costs associated with providing the necessary training and development to these vital team members.

The ROI on this one is a no-brainer.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Airline Flight Departure Times - It's Anybody's Guess

I recently returned from a quick trip to San Francisco, to attend yet another installment of the ongoing leadership course that I have been involved in for the past 5 months.

Periodically, our group of about 25 participants, which meets locally every week, merges with other smaller groups in a conference like setting for about 150 participants overall, and we meet in either Seattle or San Francisco.

This past weekend, we were in San Francisco.

Needless to say, this involved flying into and/or out of San Francisco for many of us who opted to travel in that way.

As I was sitting in the departure area, waiting for my flight to depart, now into my 4th hour of waiting for what I dared to hope was the eventual departure of my United flight from Vancouver to San Francisco, a couple of thoughts occurred to me.

First, this certainly wasn’t the first time this had happened to me, and,

Second, when did the airline business get to be like the cable company or other utility companies used to be?

We all remember it well, we wanted a utility or service hooked up, and we were told; “we can be there 2 weeks from Monday, either between 9am and Noon, or, between 1pm and 5pm, which would you prefer?”

The day of our installation came around and we spent the day waiting, hoping that if we were lucky, maybe, just maybe, they would come at the beginning of the time slot, not towards the end, and then maybe we wouldn’t have to waste half a day.

But even the utility companies figured out that many of us took our displeasure out on them by going to another provider (where there wasn’t a monopoly on the service provided).

Yet for all the technological advancements that we have made, we still can’t accurately predict the departure (and arrival) times for our airline flights.

I’m not naive, I know that there are thousands of things that could interfere with the planned departure time, and obviously, weather is a huge factor, but how about when weather isn’t a factor, what then?

In our businesses, we have contingency plans, we plan for various alternate scenarios, and, we COMMUNICATE with our customers, especially when things go wrong, something sorely lacking in this situation.

So it occurred to me that airlines should just come out and admit that they have almost no idea what time our flights are going to depart, and instead of selling us a flight with a specific departure time, they should just offer us a 3 or 4 hour window.  “That’s confirmed sir, we have you on flight #5357 Vancouver to San Francisco departing sometime between 9am and Noon on Friday, thanks for booking United.”

Then at least we would know what we’re in for, and, the airline would have an opportunity to exceed our expectations every now and then when the flight left in the earlier portion of our departure window.  They would have under-promised and over-delivered against our initial expectations, and we, the flying sheep, would be thrilled.  High fives all around.

I’m sure as soon as the major airlines get wind of my brilliant idea, they will be lining up to see who can implement it first.  I can already see the slogan; "United Airlines, we’ll get you there, eventually."

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Sense of Urgency

Do you have a sense of urgency about what you do, or, are you a procrastinator?

I love people who have a sense of urgency; these are my kind of people, people who get things done and produce results.

It’s a delicate balance though, ensuring that those of us who have that high sense of urgency are not misunderstood.  I know that for me, on occasion, my high sense of urgency has been misinterpreted by some and seen as either impatience on my part, or, an unreasonable level of accountability to which I have held my team members.

To avoid this, I have always made a habit of asking people who take on or are assigned specific tasks to set their own due dates.  Sure, I may have to ask them to conform to a certain time table in some instances, but wherever possible, I encourage my team members to establish their own time lines for completing projects, to heighten their sense of ownership and control of the situation and to demonstrate my commitment to empowering them as leaders.

The flip side, and I always make sure that my team members understand this going in, is an associated high level of accountability.  You take on a task and set your own time table, then I expect you to meet that deadline, and the majority of the time, if you have high performers in your midst, they will meet their deadlines and willingly take on more.

You know who these people are if they are in your operation and whether you recognize it or not, you have grown to count on them, and you hate it when they are not around.  (I used to hate it when my number 2, who had a tremendous sense of urgency and an equally amazing capacity for getting things done, would take extra days off or go on holidays.  It felt like nothing that I delegated to anyone else in her absence ever got done.  I was so used to, (and spoiled by), her high sense of urgency and her energy and the fact that whenever I followed up with her on anything, her response was almost always; “done.”)

More so, if you have had a person with that great sense of urgency working with you in a pivotal role, and they have left, usually because their talents and results have been recognized, and they have been promoted and transferred to another hotel, it has felt like the momentum has been sucked out of the operation in the days and weeks that followed.

I think the hotel business just naturally lends itself to attracting a high percentage of people with that sense of urgency about them, there is just too much to be done, too much multi-tasking required, and too many people counting on you for you to able to exist with a lackadaisical attitude.

I also find that, for the most part anyway, people who don’t possess that sense of urgency simply don’t survive in our business, they can’t.  As they try to exist by putting things off, and adding them to their ever-increasing list of things that they will get done, someday, their teams and their peers, grow intolerant of their lack of results, and sooner or later they are held accountable.

And you can’t teach it, you either have a high sense of urgency, or you don’t, it’s just that simple.

I wish you could teach it, then maybe I wouldn’t still be comparing every other leader I have ever worked with with that exceptional woman and expecting them to get as much done as she did.

We work with so many great, talented people that cross our paths, but every now and again, we work with someone truly exceptional who serves to set the bar higher for all those that follow in their footsteps.

"Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value." ~ Jim Rohn

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Housekeeping Staff – Unsung Heroes

It’s no surprise to me that another survey has just recently come out that confirms that a guests’ number one priority in a hotel is cleanliness.

Sure, free internet and complimentary coffee is nice, and everyone appreciates a great bed with lush linens, but none of it matters if your room is not clean, if you look over at your beautiful bed and it does not immediately say “clean” to you, and I admit, I like it when my room smells fresh and clean as well.

And who is responsible for delivering on this imperative unspoken promise of cleanliness?  A dedicated group, made up mostly of women, who are responsible for cleaning an industry average of 15 rooms a day, each expected to exemplify, without exception, your company’s commitment to cleanliness.

And yet, I find all too frequently that the housekeeping staff are largely taken for granted.  Maybe it’s because they are largely not seen in the operation, in the same way that front office, bell and concierge staff are.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the housekeeping staff, especially the room attendants.  Maybe it’s because I worked during a strike, many many years ago, when I was first starting out in the industry, and when the staff first walked off the job, we were expecting a full house and as a result, the managers on duty had hundreds of rooms to clean.   I remember distinctly because I myself cleaned about 40 rooms during the next 16 hours after the strike broke out, and I have never worked so hard.

I don’t know if that’s what it was, I never thought about it specifically, I just know that one of the habits that I seem to have adopted early in my career that has stayed with me to this day is regularly walking the floors, from top to bottom, stopping at every room where the room attendant is working to chat for a few moments, see how their day is going, if there was anything that they needed, and so on.

Periodically, I would walk the floors with the director of human resources, on particularly hot days, and the director of human resources and I would hand out ice cream bars, or bottles of cold water.  The team was always so appreciative whenever we would do this.

But really, think about it, could you clean 15 rooms a day, in an 8 hour shift, every day, and clean them impeccably and to the standards that are required?  Not me.  I have cleaned rooms on several other occasions since that strike in the early days of my career and I am always struck with the same thought – how do they do it, every day, consistently and impeccably, and, with a smile on their face and a warm and welcoming demeanor?

Everyone works hard in a hotel, there is no denying it, but if for whatever reason you don’t find yourself in the heart of the house with any frequency, recognizing your unsung heroes, make a point of doing so today.

After all, these are the people consistently delivering on your brand promise, even when no one is looking, and a little encouragement goes a long way.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Crisis Management at an Unprecedented Level

I read with horror recently of the terrorist attack that took place at the Hotel Inter-Continental Kabul, in Afghanistan, that ended with a NATO rocket attack on the last of the terrorists who were making their final stand on the roof of the hotel.

11 civilians were killed in the attack, excluding the terrorists, and needless to say, the hotel has sustained significant damage from the initial attack and the battle that followed.

While I was horrified for a number of obvious reasons, I could not help but wonder what it would be like to be the hotel general manager in this circumstance.  What must he or she have been through in the last 24 hours and what were they facing now, in the aftermath of this crisis?

Like many hotel general managers that have been in this business for any length of time, I have seen my share of crisis situations over the years; political protests, labour disputes, bomb scares, floods, fires, deaths, and terrorist threats, but it all pales in comparison to what this general manager is experiencing.

And having prepared crisis management plans, and as I said, having had to execute those plans at various times in my career, I wondered what the crisis management plan might look like at the Hotel Inter-Continental Kabul.  Did they in fact have a plan for an event of this scope and magnitude?  I hate to say it, but it is highly likely that they did, given their location and the state of unrest in Kabul and much of Afghanistan.

Still, I cannot really think that anything would adequately prepare you for this.  Who gets up in the morning and goes to work expecting that their hotel, and their guests, will be attacked by terrorists later that same day, and, that the fighting will only be stopped when a series of rockets are launched at your hotel rooftop?

Maybe, if nothing else, it reiterates the importance of always having an up to date, relevant crisis management plan, and ensuring that everyone knows their role in the event of a crisis – whatever that crisis may be. 

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Long is Too Long?

If you’ve been involved in the recruitment process at any time in your career, you have undoubtedly gotten in the habit of looking for gaps in employment in peoples’ resumes, and, given the opportunity to do so, you have asked the applicant to explain those gaps.

Not a bad thing to inquire about.  

Often there are good reasons for people to have had gaps in their employment, which are easily explained, and other times, those gaps in employment are not so easily explained, and can draw your attention to problems that deserve greater attention, if they are to be overcome, or, they may have led you to decide that this was not a risk that you wanted to take.

But how long is too long?

That’s the dilemma that I am currently facing.  It’s been over a year now since I finished up my last full time, long-term project, which has as a result created a sizable gap in my employment history.

I have no problems speaking to that gap, given the opportunity to do so.  I have in fact been very busy over the last year and taken on and completed a number of short-term projects and initiatives that I am very proud of, but, they have yet to produce the opportunity that I am ultimately looking for – the opportunity to once again lead a team, either as a Hotel General Manager, or in some other senior capacity within this industry, and so, I continue to look for that position that is the right fit for me, where my values and work ethic are appropriately aligned to that of my prospective employer, and where I can make a difference.

I mean, that’s it, isn’t it?  Isn’t that what we all want?

And to be frank, there have been opportunities along the way, but as I have delved further into them, I saw that they were not the right fit for me, for any one of a number of reasons. 

When I speak with my peers about this, they get it, they understand the importance of creating and being a part of a company culture that is inspiring, that lights you up, and in turn inspires you to go beyond that which you previously thought was possible, to produce exceptional results, for yourself, and, for the teams that you are leading.

But how long is too long?  How many people will potentially look at that resume, (or others like it), see the gap, and never go to the next step?  Never engage into the inquiry about why the gap?  Therein lies the dilemma.

I’d love to get your feedback on this.  Let me know what you think.  Have you been in this situation before?  Or, have you been or are you someone who is responsible for the recruitment process in your company and you have come across this situation before?  What did you do?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Graduation Day

I love to learn, and I welcome the opportunity to participate in engaging and interesting ways to expand my knowledge, in general, and, as it relates to the hospitality industry and leadership in particular.

It’s one of the reasons that I went back to school a couple of years ago with the intent of obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management.

I started out in this business over 25 years ago now, as a bellman, and at that time you could still advance in this business on the basis of hard work and commitment, and I was also fortunate enough to work for managers who saw my potential and embraced the concept of promoting from within, and so I was able to continue to advance over the years, to eventually reach the positions of general manager and asset manager, learning along the way and taking individual courses that complimented my experiences.

But, I did not have a degree, which is I confess something that I always wanted to obtain, for a number of reasons, and so when I was presented with an opportunity to obtain my degree, while continuing to work, I jumped at the chance and I enjoyed every minute of the experience.

I officially finished my degree program in November 2010, but the convocation ceremonies weren’t held until the middle of June 2011.

I had debated whether or not to attend, with mixed feelings of both pride for my accomplishment, and a little embarrassment at the fact that I anticipated being about twice the age of most of the other grads that would be in attendance, but I did attend, and I’m glad that I did.

As I suspected, the majority of those in attendance were probably about 22 or 23 years old, if that, and I found myself in my cap and gown in the midst of a sea of giggling young women who were obviously excited about this special day that they and their friends had worked so hard to reach.  Their friends and their family in the audience snapping off photos whenever the opportunity presented itself, all of us waiting anxiously in line to proceed to the stage, hear our name called out, and receive our degree.

Eventually, the waiting was over, my name was called, and I proceeded across the stage to receive my degree and congratulations from the faculty and president of the college.

Afterwards, someone asked me if I was glad that it was done, the work that is, the classes, the papers and other projects, and my immediate response was “no.”  I am glad to have completed the necessary work to have obtained my degree, but I am always looking for new opportunities to expand my knowledge and stay current in our industry, which is one of the reasons that I am involved in some of the initiatives that I am at present, and why I will continue to look for ways to learn and grow, to expand myself, and to share what I have learned with those that are just starting out in the hospitality industry.

"Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

A Few Bad Apples

We’ve all heard it before and most of us have seen it in action at one point or another, the inescapable impact of “a few bad apples” in the bunch.

That thought came to mind for me the other day when I awoke to news reports and newspaper articles that detailed the circumstances of what was reported as the overnight riots in downtown Vancouver just last week following the 7th game loss of our beloved Vancouver Canucks to the Boston Bruins for the coveted Stanley Cup.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I turned on the morning news, and they were showing the scene from the night before; store fronts being smashed, stores looted, police cars lit on fire, people fighting in the streets, with each other, and, with police.

I was saddened and disappointed to see these images and know that they would be broadcast all over the world - such is the impact of the media in the era that we now live in. 

It was particularly disappointing in light of all of the incredibly positive images and articles that had been generated just last year as a part of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.  Before, during and after the Olympics story after story had been generated about what an amazing city we lived in, for so many reasons, not the least of which was the hospitality and demeanor of the residents of our beautiful city.

And now, instead, we will be remembered for the hooliganism of a few bad apples.

The mob mentality is a fascinating thing, on some levels.  It fascinates me on the level of how easily influenced some people can be by those “bad apples” where they might otherwise use their good sense to either head in the other direction, or, better yet, help to put a stop to the unacceptable actions of a few people who were obviously intent on causing trouble no matter what the outcome of the game had been.

From a hotel perspective, it also served to remind me of the importance of consistent and effective communications and the value of relationships in our business.  Without that foundation in place, a few “bad apples” can get a foot-hold and influence others with their own agenda, which is almost certain to be a negative agenda, meant to cause or further inflame disharmony in the workplace.

Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch in your workplace.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Destination Marketing Funds – Who Doesn’t Have One?

The list is getting shorter every day.

I picked up a newspaper the other day and saw yet another City in Canada that has added a destination marketing fund (“DMF tax”) to their room rates.

I certainly don’t fault the hoteliers in this or any other City for implementing such a tax, in an attempt to offset declining commitments from Government, at all levels, for the marketing of their destination.

What choice do hoteliers have?

They certainly can’t afford to ignore the problem, and it is widely accepted that you could lobby the Government until the end of time and they would still not increase the funding to the necessary levels to properly market their special and unique destinations.

I have a couple of problems with this.

The first, and arguably the biggest problem that I have with this continuing situation, is the fact that the Government either does not know just how much tourism generates in the way of tax revenues and jobs, or, they just don’t care.

In short, this industry does not get the respect that it deserves - it never has.

Tourism, in its many forms, creates billions of dollars of revenue for the economy and more jobs than anyone can really accurately estimate, due to the number of secondary or support jobs that may be once removed from the obvious link to tourism, but are nonetheless in business as a direct result of primary tourism businesses, yet the Government seems blind to this.

One of the reasons may be that tourism always finds a way to survive, in spite of the circumstances thrown at us, we always find a way to keep moving forward, to overcome adverse situations, compared to some other industries that have failed entirely, or, been on the brink of failure, and the Government sweeps in and makes special concessions, or subsidizes their operations, to keep them in business.

Should we (tourism) be punished because we are resilient, problem solvers?

My other problem with this issue is that it always seems to fall to the hotels to find the solution, to come up with the money necessary to offset the latest shortfall in funds.

What about the other tourism businesses?  The businesses that obviously benefit from tourism, and, from the guests in our hotels, such as attractions.  Why aren’t they part of the solution?

One can easily make the argument that there are several other business sectors, besides hotels, that benefit directly from tourism, and yet, repeated attempts to convince these business sectors to add their own “tax” to their admission price, or the like, in aid of marketing the destination, have largely fallen on deaf ears.


Unfortunately, the reason is simple – they don’t need to do anything to be part of the solution.  Attraction owners, and other similar tourism business owners know, (much like the Government), that the hoteliers will not allow the situation to deteriorate to such a level as to negatively impact the flow of visitors to the destination.  They can’t.

It’s the ultimate irony.  The only way for hoteliers to prove their point would be for them to allow visitation to their destination, and to their businesses, to decline, to fail, and they will never do that, so we can expect more of the same – hoteliers coming to the rescue while others stand by and watch.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gossip - What You Permit You Promote

Hotels are notorious for gossip.  It’s inevitable when you have so many people working so closely together day after day.

Gossip is defined as; “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”

I’ll add one more component; when the person in question is diminished by the content of the conversation.

Gossip can be cancerous is an organization.

It’s often been amazing to me how many unfounded rumors can circulate around a hotel, based on absolutely no facts, but strictly on the basis of conversations pieced together by people who think they know what’s going on, and who then go about telling everyone as a point of fact.

And it’s never good news, what these people are spreading around amongst the team, and that is one of the ways in which I draw the comparison to cancer, which I also realize is a serious topic unto itself.  But think about it, it starts out as a whisper between one person and another, and then it starts to spread, conversations in the designated smoking area, in the staff cafeteria, and one by one individuals and groups are infected by this garbage.  And once it has taken root, it’s twice as hard to remove.

It’s one of the things that I have found frustrating, on occasion, as a General Manager, when a junior manager has approached me and told me of a conversation that they have heard, and I have asked them what they did about it, only to have them respond by telling me that they did not contribute to the conversation, as if that was enough.

What you permit, you promote.

Doing nothing, taking no action, is not the same as taking action.  Even in your silence you are speaking, loud and clear.

Don’t tolerate gossip.  Make it clear that it is not acceptable in your business, as a part of your culture.  If people are the foundation of your business, your culture, what can be more important than preserving their self-esteem and supporting them in whatever they may be facing?

“The time is always right to do what is right.”  - Martin Luther King Jr.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Air Canada Discount Subsidiary – Does Anyone Really Believe it Will Ever Take Flight?

Earlier this year Air Canada announced their intent to launch yet another discount carrier, under an as yet to be determined name.  Apparently, they have not learned their lesson from their past failed attempts to launch and run a discount carrier.

After I initially rolled my eyes in disbelief, and stopped laughing, at the fact that Air Canada seems bent on their own self-destruction, (I mean really, how many times can the Canadian Government bail them out), I read the rest of the announcement and noticed what I consider the clincher, as it relates to why this venture will never take flight.  

Air Canada announced that the launch of their discount carrier would be contingent on the Air Canada Pilots Union agreeing to certain concessions and a two-tier arrangement, as it relates to the pilots of Air Canada and the pilots of the discount carrier.

As soon as I read that, I knew the deal was dead.  There is no way that the Air Canada pilots union will agree to anything out of the ordinary.  They have a long-standing history of drawing a line in the sand and then standing on “their” side of that line and daring you to cross it, at your peril.

Arguably, the Air Canada pilots union has not been the only Air Canada union body that has come close to forcing the airline out of business, on more than one occasion.  Flight attendants and customer service representatives’ unions have contributed equally to the near failure of this airline, but it has always been the pilots union that has been the most steadfast and obstinate in past negotiations aimed at keeping the airline aloft.

And then, just the other day, there was a story in the Globe & Mail (Labour dispute threatens to delay Air Canada discount airline), in which they stated; “Air Canada’s plans to launch a discount leisure airline next winter is at risk of being delayed after pilots rejected a tentative labour pact.”  “The rejection of the tentative deal casts uncertainty over the carrier’s proposals for starting a low-cost carrier and introducing pension reforms.”

Gee, what a surprise.

It’s a shame, because as a consumer I would love to see another discount carrier, to increase competition and maybe, just maybe, give us some addition cost-effective options when we’re planning that next trip.  And as a business person, I would love to see an opportunity to potentially make Air Canada’s business model more successful, and competitive as a carrier, not to mention creating hundreds if not thousands of jobs in an economy that could dearly use them.

But don’t hold your breath.  I’m laying odds that this discount carrier will never take flight.  Air Canada’s pilots union will make sure that this subsidiary stays grounded for the foreseeable future. 

It’s a perfect example of everything that is wrong with unions.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Are You So Quick to Judge a Book by its Cover That You Are Missing Out on Some Great People?

I am a VERY judgmental person.  I know that I am.  I often wish it was not the case, but it’s a reflex that I simply have no control over.

If I walk into a meeting, or a function, my eyes move around the room with android-like precision, judging and assessing everyone in the room.   Who is wearing what kind of suit, how do their clothes fit them, what kind of shoes are they wearing, and what condition are they in, what kind of watch are they wearing?  Are they over-weight, thin, tall, short, appropriately dressed for the occasion?  Do they look “put together” or like they just rolled out of bed? 

Over the years I have come to recognize that I do this, but fortunately, what I have also learned over the years is to keep my opinions to myself, which I would have to admit, was not always the case.

There was a time where if I was attending that same function with a friend or colleague, I would have been sharing my assessments in great and vivid detail with that person throughout the evening.  “Can you believe that guys pants, they must be four inches off the ground.”  “Do you think he can feel the draft on his ankles when he goes outside?”  “Doesn’t he own a mirror?”

You get the picture.

Unfortunately, as much as I realize that I do this, I still do it, but as I said, it is not a conscious decision that I make, it really is like a reflex, and it is not a trait that I am proud of, in any way.  I wish I could actively turn it off.

Case in point . . .

I was attending one of the first meetings of the leadership group that I have mentioned before.  It has people from all walks of life, different age groups, etc., and at that time, I had not met all of the members.

When I first entered the room that evening, I happen to notice a woman, quite a bit older, over-weight, and with a distinct food stain on the upper portion of her blouse, and of course, I had an immediate opinion about that – enough said.

She ended up seated next to me and there came a point in the evening when we needed to share something specific with the person next to us, and solicit their feedback on that point, and when this was first announced, my immediate reaction was one of disappointment that my partner for this exercise was my food stained friend from earlier in the evening.  What was she going to be able to contribute to me?

I know, what an arrogant thing to think.

It gets worse.

She invited me to go first, and as instructed, I shared my situation with her.  She listened intently to me until I was finished, and then to my great surprise, she gave me some of the most insightful and beneficial feedback that I have ever received from another individual.

Needless to say, I felt like a colossal ass, and that could be the end of that, but what it really made me realize in that moment was the fact that by drawing the initial judgments that I do of people, from time to time, based solely on my first visual impression of them, I was missing out on the opportunity for others to contribute to me.

That may sound like a selfish conclusion, but I don’t mean it that way.  Obviously, there are greater things at stake here – missed friendships, relationships, etc..  Things that I could in turn contribute to that person.  All true, but my point is that I did not initially think that they had anything to contribute to me, and by drawing that conclusion, I was the person who was missing out.

It was an embarrassing reminder of the importance and value of people, all people.  And that one chance encounter changed my outlook forever.

It’s really quite amazing what can happen when you openly share yourself with others, and in so doing, allow them to contribute to you.  The possibilities are endless.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Are Spas the New Starbucks?

I live in an urban centre and I had arranged to meet someone a few blocks from where I live, at a nearby Starbucks, just the other day.

As you can probably imagine, almost no matter where you may live, it wasn’t hard for me to find a “nearby” Starbucks, because there is one every two or three blocks, everywhere, not that I’m complaining.

However, what I noticed for the first time that day, as I was walking to my appointment, was just how many spas I passed along the way.  And then, in the last few days as I have been in various parts of my city, I found myself noticing just how many spas I passed in what seems like every district of my city, and I know that this is not unique to where I live.

Spas are not new to me, nor did they pop up overnight, but I realized that I have become immune to what seems like the weekly occurrence of yet another spa opening and they have grown to the point of saturating the city to such a point that it occurred to me that there may now be as many spas in any given city as there are Starbucks.

I can remember when we first started to introduce spas into hotels and there were some people who questioned whether or not we were chasing a fad or temporary trend that would be over before it really got started.

I did the research in one of my hotels to demonstrate the significant impact that adding a spa would have on revenue for that property, and even though the argument was compelling on a number of levels, the project was turned down.  I left a couple of years later after having pitched the idea a couple more times over those years, only to have it turned down repeatedly.

About three years later, they used that same proposal of mine to justify the addition of a spa to the property, after several other hotels in that market had introduced spas and were puling market share as a result.

Now, just about every hotel of any significance has a spa within its walls, unless for some reason it just isn’t feasible, due to physical building limitations, or, something of that nature, and certainly any hotel spa that I have been in is leaps and bounds ahead of the multitude of day spas that have popped up on virtually every street corner, but there is no denying that the demand is there, not just for hotel guests and/or the travelling public, but for the residents in these various neighbourhoods.

Spas, as we all know, are here to stay.  As we find ourselves downsized, working harder, smarter, longer, we will continue to look for ways to escape, to pamper ourselves, if only for an hour or two at a time.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

But how often do you make a point, find a reason, to acknowledge your employees for their contribution to your success?

I can remember some years ago when I was a Front Office Manager at a major hotel, being asked by another manager why I was thanking my employees for having done such a great job that day with what had been a very heavy check out, further complicated by a lot of early check-ins due to an incoming convention.

When I told him that they had done a great job managing the demands of the shift, while at the same time delivering consistently exceptional guest service, and, had kept things on line for the afternoon shift as well, he said; “that’s their job.”

It’s ironic that I remember that conversation to this day, perhaps it’s because I simply couldn’t understand his response then, or now.

I have always made a point of thanking my team, as a group when appropriate, and, as individuals for their individual contribution when appropriate, in whatever way made sense at the time.

Granted, encouragement, or recognition, or whatever you call it, must be honest and genuine or it will simply be seen as creative manipulation with an underlying objection to achieve something – increased guest service numbers, increased revenue, whatever.  Regardless, if that is your objective, your employees will see through it, and you.  If you have an objective, any objective, in recognizing your team, then your recognition or encouragement is not genuine.

I think sometimes people lose sight of where they came from, the struggles that they endured to reach their positions, and, those special moments where someone inspired them from a little encouraging statement.

The other thing that you need to remember is that there is something that you can find to acknowledge every single person that you know.  Everyone is good at something, or has made a difference or a contribution, but in order to see it you have to be committed to seeing everyone as individuals and not try to fit them into your perspective of what they should be like, and then acknowledge them for their contribution.  A little encouragement goes a long way.

Kids are a great example.  If you ever want to see how big an impact you can have by providing a little encouragement, think about when you have told a child that they have done something well.  Their face lights up.  You can immediately see how proud they are, and then they immediately set out to do more of what you just recognized them for.

We may learn (unfortunately) how to suppress that outward appearance of delight and pride, but the impact is the same – I promise you.  People want to do a good job and they want to know that what they do matters, that someone cares, is noticing the effort that they are making.

Do that, without an alternative agenda or objective, and I promise you your revenues will increase and so will your guest service statistics and your levels of employee engagement.

A little encouragement really does go a long way, so be generous with your praise.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

It All Starts with Integrity, or, Happy Birthday Hospitality Re-Defined !!

Hospitality Re-Defined is celebrating its 1st birthday and in light of that, I have been doing a lot of thinking about how to best mark this milestone.

In the process, I have been reviewing some of the blog posts that I have published over the last year, and I found myself all the way back to post #1, which was simply entitled; Integrity - The Foundation of Strong Leaders.

It occurred to me as I was reviewing that first-ever post of mine that unless you had, for some inexplicable reason, reviewed every post that I have ever written, it was doubtful that you had ever read this post, as I had virtually no subscribers when I first wrote this post.  And although I have written a lot on the subject of "Integrity" over the last year, it all started with this post, so in the spirit of celebrating the 1st birthday of Hospitality Re-Defined, and, recognizing that much like this blog did, everything starts with Integrity, I present you with the re-print of post #1, unedited, as it originally appeared.

I hope you enjoy it. . . .

Integrity - The Foundation of Strong Leaders (May 2010)

When I sat down and thought about what I wanted my first blog entry to be about, I didn’t have to think long, in fact, it became obvious to me at the same time as I decided that I would create and write a blog. A blog about what I am truly passionate about, the Hospitality Industry.

And while there are many, many things that I could have written about, I wanted to lead off with a simple entry about integrity. I wanted to write about integrity because at the heart of my beliefs, as it relates to the components that contribute to a successful business, I have always held the belief that your business must be built on a sound foundation, and what better word to describe the strength and importance of a sound foundation, than integrity.

In preparing for this entry, I looked up the word integrity in the dictionary, and I found a couple of interesting entries:

1) the quality or state of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity, and,

2) The definition of integrity according to Webster's Dictionary is, "a rigid adherence to a code of behaviour."

There are though many ways to look at a persons’ integrity. A person with integrity possesses many qualities. Three of these qualities are honesty, the ability to follow a moral code, and loyalty to yourself and your beliefs.

Integrity shows up in many places and has many faces. The faces of truth, moral code, and loyalty are all parts of integrity and show up everyday in many ways. To have a true sense of integrity one must posses all three. You have to be honest to yourself and to others, follow your personal beliefs and stick to what you think is right, and you have to be loyal to yourself. Integrity is to be truly honest, and fair, and to uphold the beliefs important to you.

I recently came upon a definition, through my participation in a life changing course, that I have adopted as my personal definition of integrity, the statements that define my integrity, and they are:

- Being true to your ideals and standards.
- Keeping your promises.
- Being your word.
- Being true to yourself. (Shakespeare said it best when he said; “to thine own self be true”).

Now ask yourself, do you live by these standards? Do those around you? And especially, do those around you that you would define as “leaders” within your organization live by these standards? Are they truly leading by example?

I hope so, because a true leader of people recognizes that he is defined by his or her actions, not by words and that the example that he sets needs to consistently be of the highest standard if he is to be worthy of being called a leader.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Is the fear of "no" stopping you in your tracks?

Really, is it?

Think about it.  Can you think of an instance or instances where your fear of hearing “no” has kept you from making the request in the first place?

It will take being really honest with yourself to see if this has been the case, and I would argue that everyone has been at the affect of this unrealistic phobia at one time or another in their lives.

I heard a great example the other day that I’ll share with you as an access to giving you an example to look for yourself.

Peter, a successful business man, has just left work and is headed for home.  He has about a 45 minute commute to get home.  He is married to a great woman, Mary, who is successful in her field as well.  They bought a new house a few years ago and they have been very focused on paying down their mortgage, as a priority above everything else.  Peter sees the importance of this, but it has been Mary that has been the driving force on this issue.

Over the last couple of years, there have been a couple of opportunities to deviate from their mission for a little self-indulgence, but after having discussed the matter each time, they have always decided to stick to their original priority – pay down the mortgage.

Just before leaving work today Peter received a great opportunity for him and Mary to take a quick trip to Mexico, deeply discounted, but he is sure that she will say “no” because that is money that could be put toward the mortgage.

So sure is he that she will say no that he spends the next 45 minutes on his way home having a fictitious argument with her, imagining what he would say, followed by her responses and on and on, with the obvious conclusion that after having argued back and forth, they will not be going to Mexico.

Peter arrives home after his commute, and now he is frustrated and angry, having lost his imaginary argument with Mary on the way home. 

The irony of course is that he is frustrated and angry with Mary, and she has no idea why?

Sound familiar?  If you said no, you are kidding yourself.  We’ve all done it.  Been so sure of an outcome of a conversation that we haven’t even bothered to initiate it in the first place, and then we blame the other person.

It’s what we make “no” mean that gets in our way, as well as our firm belief that we know that person so well that we can in fact predict their response.  We can foretell the future.  Wow. 

Sounds kind of ridiculous when you really look at it doesn’t it?

No means no, and that’s it.  It means no now, to that request, singularly, and it is not necessarily a predictor of future behavior, so the next time you are stopped by no, before you have even started, try letting go of all of your attachments to what it will mean if they say no, and just go for it, imagine they will say yes instead and you may be surprised to find that you approach the conversation in a completely different way, (because you haven’t already given up), and you may, in the process, create an environment where yes is possible where it wasn’t before.

Think about it.  If no one has been able to successfully predict the future up ‘til now, what makes you think that you can? 

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Environmentally Friendly Bathroom Amenities

What ever happened to the push to move towards amenity dispensers in hotel guestroom bathrooms?

I can remember being with two hotel companies, at different times in my hotel career, that were at one time exploring the possibility of installing dispensers into the shower/bath area in their guestrooms.

In both cases, we actually installed dispensers into a select number of guestrooms as well as having created specific guest comment cards for those rooms, in order to solicit specific feedback and to gauge how well guests accepted this environmentally friendly option.

That was over 10 years ago, and it occurred to me today, as I was reflecting on recent trips that I have taken, which have for the last year or so been confined to the United States, that I have not seen a dispensing system in any of the hotels that I have stayed in, and they have ranged from 3 star to 4.5 star and represented the major industry brands.

The same can be said of hotels that I have stayed in, within the last 5 years, within Europe.  All major branded facilities, both urban and resort locations, and all still using those tiny little amenity bottles.

So, what happened, and how did this seemingly pressing need suddenly fall off the radar?

Are you aware of any hotels that have successfully moved away from individual amenity bottles to a more environmentally friendly alternative?

If so, please let me know.

I recognize that the industry has continued to move forward with the recycling of left-over amenities, and with the use of more environmentally friendly amenity bottles and wrappers, but is that it?  Is that as good as it gets?

I’d be the first to admit that some of the dispensers that I saw, at the time when we were doing testing, about 10 years ago, were both unattractive and problematic, but I would have thought, in the same way that we have made so many advances in virtually every other field, that someone, arguably smarter and more creative than I am, would have invented a “better mousetrap” and then convinced one of the industry leaders to be the guinea pig and away we go.

So again, what happened?

If you were involved in testing of amenity dispensers at your hotel, or, you have any other insight in why this seemingly good idea never took off, please share your comments with the rest of us.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Free Coffee - Yes Please

First of all, can we all agree that the majority of guests have now come to expect that there will be an in-room coffee maker in their hotel room, regardless of the brand?

That’s my belief. 

I think guests now associate in-room coffee as just another room amenity, like shampoo and soap.  They assume when they walk in their room that they will find some sort of coffee maker waiting for them, and that, depending on the brand, it may be anything from basic to extravagant, with the simplest of coffees or the addition of potentially elaborate offerings of various teas and other hot drinks.

Unfortunately, I also think the same is true of the coffee provider.  That is to say that there is a wide range of the level of attention or importance, or lack thereof, that this in-room amenity receives from hoteliers depending on whether they see this as an opportunity to elevate the level of guest service and guest loyalty, or, if it is simply viewed as an unnecessary and irritating expense.

This is apparent in many ways, not the least of which is the type and brand of coffees being offered out there in the hotel world.  As a guest, I myself have experienced everything from brown coloured water masquerading as coffee to Starbucks (which I admit to being a fan of).

You can tell a lot about the level of importance placed on the coffee service by the type and condition of the coffee maker and the coffee “caddie” and its contents.

I stayed in a hotel not long ago that offered a simple basic in-room coffee service.  Being the organizational freak that I am, (according to friends and co-workers over the years), I like to prep my coffee before I go to bed, so that I can simply push the “on” button as I stumble by on my way to the shower.  I did so in this instance as well.

When I got up, en route to the shower, I pushed the button as usual, and off I went.  When I returned to the coffee maker about 10 minutes later, there was about a half a cup of coffee in the pot, where there should have been 2 cups.  I checked the reservoir and it was empty.  I carefully pulled out the filter basket to find it filled to the rim with boiling hot water.  Obviously it was clogged or blocked in some way.

I was running behind by now, and I decided I would mention this problem to the concierge on my way out, unfortunately, when I entered the lobby, there were line-ups everywhere, so I left for my meetings, thinking I would call the hotel later, during a break.  The day got away on me, as did the evening, and I never called before returning to the hotel quite late that night.

Before bed, I gave my coffee maker the once over, I couldn’t tell if it had been replaced or not, but obviously the room attendant would have seen what happened and had it fixed or replaced, so I prepped my coffee and slid between the sheets.

Next morning, push button, have shower.  Return to check the state of my much-needed coffee.  Too bad for me, half a cup in the coffee maker, probably another half a cup spilled over onto the counter, and a basket full of boiling water.

Needless to say, I was disappointed, but what was most apparent to me, and the greater source of my disappointment, was that my room attendant obviously saw in-room coffee service as a pain in the rear, and as such was not even slightly concerned that my in-room coffee maker was malfunctioning, which left me to question both the commitment to guest service at this hotel, but also, to question what message had been passed on through the ranks with respect to the importance of providing this guest amenity with a level of commitment and professionalism that mirrored the brand commitments of this hotel.

Bottom line, if you’re going to provide a service, then it should be reflective of your commitment to your guests, and be viewed and treated with a level of commitment from you that demonstrates to your employees that EVERY aspect of a guests’ stay has the potential to create a defining moment and nothing should be left to chance when it comes to creating and providing that which has an impact on your guests experience.

There are no second chances to create a great first impression.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bed Linen – Do Your Guests Really Know the Difference?

I’ve just returned from a quick trip to San Francisco, during which I had occasion to stay at a couple of different hotels, in different price categories, in order to be close to the conference that I was attending on leadership.

Both hotels were clean and comfortable, and both had similar amenities and services, both within my room, and, as it relates to the additional services and facilities to be found within the hotel properties themselves, but, as you may have guessed, there was a substantial difference in the room rate.

(As an aside, ironically, as I find more and more often, it was in fact the 3.5 star hotel that included free internet access, although I was paying a significantly lower rate than at the other property, and at the 4.5 star hotel there was a significant daily charge for access to the internet).

There was one notable difference between the two hotels – one featured Egyptian cotton sheets from a major supplier of high quality linens, and the other did not.

Now, I am as you know a hotelier that has been in the business for more than 25 years, during which time I have purchased my share of linens, as well as having participated in and facilitated blind comparisons of linens, so I recognize certain names and identifying marks when I see them, and, I’d like to think that I can also tell the difference between Egyptian cotton linens, and those of a slightly lesser caliber, but can your guests?

Before you get all excited and think to yourself; “of course my guests can tell the difference,” I’d like to reiterate that I am not talking about comparing Egyptian cotton linens to those paper thin, see-through, thread bare sheets that we’ve all run into at one time or another in our career, but rather, as I said, Egyptian cotton sheets compared to those of a slightly lesser caliber.

The answer is no, so stop wasting your money.

Only the most discerning of guests can tell the difference, and even then, it is a very small percentage of those guests that can tell, and I would argue further that their recognition would largely be influenced by whether or not you are openly promoting that your hotel features Egyptian cotton linens in the first place.  If you didn’t give them a hint, they wouldn’t know the difference.

There are so many top quality linens available right now, that are not nearly as expensive as Egyptian cotton, that it is simply not necessary to spend the extra money, money that could be spent on other things – things that your guests do notice, such as higher quality towels and bath robes.  That, they do notice and can appreciate.

So spend your money where it will have the greatest impact, where your guests will both recognize and appreciate the investment that has been made on their behalf and in the interest of providing them with the highest level of comfort.

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