Monday, January 31, 2011

Concierges – The Ambassadors of Exceptional Guest Service

Is there anything more fabulous than arriving at a hotel and looking across the lobby and spotting the concierge, or better yet, checking in on the exclusive club floor and finding yourself in concierge heaven?

A great concierge is worth their weight in gold, and I have had the pleasure of working with some great concierges, but I have my favourites, it’s just true.  I think they know who they are but nonetheless I’ll tell you who they are; Alison, Anita, Tracy, Matt, Rick and Stacey.  I’m skipping the last names and locations because I don’t know how they feel about being listed on my greatest concierges of all time honour roll, but I want them to know how much I think of them when they read this post, because they were my inspiration for this post.

Truth is, someone else also provided inspiration for this post as well – Cinderella.  Yup, I said Cinderella, or more specifically, her “fairy godmother,” who clearly was, a concierge.

Think about it, who else is going to be able to hook you up with a ball gown, hair and make-up, the perfect shoes and a horse and carriage, with less than 24 hours notice?  Clearly, the woman was a concierge, and like so many other concierges she had spent the time to get to know her city inside and out, and she had built relationships with the many business people in her community so that when the occasion called for it, she could reach out and find everything that Cinderella needed, and make it appear like magic, and, as so many concierges do, without it appearing to require any effort whatsoever. I’m telling you, the woman was a concierge.

I love watching the greats do their thing, and what I loved about all of the people on my greatest concierges of all time honour roll was the genuine joy and enthusiasm that they brought to their work, each and every day.  These people really embodied what it means to be a concierge – there was no challenge too great, and no task so small as not to warrant their full effort and attention.  If we could clone them, we would have the first hotel with a 100% satisfaction rating, and likely, the highest level of repeat guests, ever.

It’s one of the many reasons that I have been a long time supporter of Les Clefs d’Or here in Canada, an International society of hotel concierges whose aim as an organization is to facilitate the exchange of ideas between their members and to provide mutual assistance in order to better serve our valued guests.

Members of Les Clefs d’Or are easily recognized by the gold keys that they wear.  The golden keys worn by concierges signify their membership in Les Clefs d’Or and are granted exclusively to those who have not only consistently demonstrated an unsurpassed knowledge of their respective communities, but by those who demand excellence of themselves when meeting the needs of their guests.

And while I respect that there are many ways to provide service, and that there are many stand-outs, regardless of the fact that they may not be concierges, what I love about the concierge position, as such, is that the position is solely and exclusively there to provide guest service.  They are not there to check people in and out, or to otherwise be distracted from their mission – to provide individual, personalized and genuine guest service, and in so doing, to build guest loyalty – and do they ever build guest loyalty.

The stars that I referenced above, on my greatest concierges of all time honour roll, generated the highest volume of positive guest comment cards on an ongoing basis, and repeatedly, the theme was often the same – they had made such a positive impression on the guest that they simply could not imagine staying anywhere else ever again – gold, pure gold.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds for these ambassadors of exceptional guest service.    

Certainly, the luxury hotels will continue to embrace the use of concierges as they look to stand out among their competitors, and arguably, those hotels should be generating a sufficiently robust ADR to offset the cost of providing this level of exclusive service, but what about the mid to upper level hotels, where we see concierges now, but where we are also seeing a steady migration toward technology and to “folding in” concierge duties into existing front office positions, assuming that bellmen and GSA’s can provide the same service as a concierge, while saving the cost of having dedicated concierges?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I know, for me, and regardless of any additional star performers in a hotel, I will always be happy to walk into the front doors of a hotel, look across the lobby, and see the warm and inviting smile of the concierge, the ambassadors of exceptional guest service, as they look to ensure that each guests’ stay is truly exceptional.  

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The High Cost of Apathy

Have you ever wondered why turnover in a particular department seems uncharacteristically high, compared to other departments in your hotel?

Or maybe, you’ve been frustrated because you have lost one or more star performers, but for some reason that mediocre employee that everyone seems to be clear is just that, manages to keep his job in spite of what seems like his limited abilities? 

Could it be that you have a manager that is committing one of two particular hospitality sins?  Is he or she either managing to the lowest common denominator, or, apathetic in the management of their team members?  Either one will net you the same affect. 

It’s one of the reasons that I like exit interviews.

Granted, employees have to be confident that what they share, in confidence, will indeed be held in confidence after they leave, in order for them to be willing to share, but it’s worth it if you are able to coach departing employees into sharing what’s really going on in their department, and perhaps, why they are really leaving, despite what they may have told their manager, and he in turn told you.

All too often when you scratch beneath the surface you may find that you have a manager that does not hold his employees accountable, or, he doesn’t hold his employees equally accountable, and after a while, those star performers that you were so excited to have on board in the first place, get frustrated with the lack of consistency, or worse, the lack of commitment compared to what they were told when they were hired, and they decide to try their luck elsewhere.

They joined your hotel because of the commitment to service, they read about your company’s values on your web site, they read testimonials from existing employees on your recruitment pages, and then once they were hired, they were subjected to your extensive orientation for new employees, where manager after manager came in and spoke about your unwavering commitment to service.

Then, they landed in their new department, all excited about what they were a part of, and sooner or later they found themselves on a shift paired up with that mediocre employee I referred to earlier, (let’s call him John).  They watched as John repeatedly arrived late for his shift, unprepared.  They watched as he dispensed the minimum of service requirements to guests who were clearly unimpressed, and most importantly, they watched as they saw that their manager could see these things too, and did nothing.  They saw their manager roll his eyes as John fumbled to move a guest who had been sent to a dirty room, and most likely, before becoming so frustrated, and embarrassed by John’s service standards, they approached their manager, probably more than once, to complain.

Unfortunately, their manager likely responded by telling them things like; he’s only a few minutes late, or, there’s nothing I can do (about his lack of service) because I haven’t received any guest complaints, or, he’s always been like that and he’s been here forever, or other responses that clearly demonstrated that their manager either did not know how to hold his employees accountable, or what’s worse, he chose what he perceived as the path of least resistance, an apathetic choice to manage his employees to the lowest common denominator.

It has never ceased to amaze me when managers don’t realize the impact on other employees when they do NOT take the necessary action, to hold sub-performers accountable to the high standards that their company stands for, and that their guests expect, bringing down the whole team as a result.

Employees who are proud and passionate about what they do – the service that they provide to their guests, will not stick around in that environment.  They become frustrated and they actively choose to vote with their feet, and it doesn’t end there, not with the technology that we all live with now.  They tell all of their friends, on facebook and twitter, their fellow students in hospitality programs, that your hotel may talk about service, but it’s just that, a lot of talk, so if you really want to work at a hotel that is committed to service, don’t work there.

And if you don’t think that impacts your ability, over time, to attract the best and the brightest as they search out ways to make their mark in our industry, you’re kidding yourself.

No one can afford an apathetic manager or a manager that manages his people to the lowest common denominator.  It’s like a cancer, it starts out small, it goes unnoticed for a while, then it pops up in one area and before long, if it goes untreated, it spreads to other areas, and left untreated long enough, it will kill your business. 

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Monday, January 24, 2011

The Battle for Brand Supremacy

I think we’re in an era where the value and identity of your brand is going to take on a whole new level of importance, especially as it relates to building and maintaining loyalty amongst your customers.

Contrary to that statement, I do still believe that there is also a large sector of the average consumer segment that, while they may consider brand when choosing a hotel, are much more driven by their quest to achieve the lowest possible rate, the best “deal” when staying at a hotel. 

Then, once they are armed with their rate information, they will secondarily look at the brands where they have found the best rates and ask themselves how they perceive the value relative to the brand that they have initially chosen and ultimately make their decision – rate first, brand second. 

Let’s put that group of consumers aside for the moment and talk more about the importance of a clearly defined brand identity.

Arguably, there are many, many brands to choose from when selecting a hotel, and the number of choices is continuing to expand as well-established hotel companies create new sub-brands to try to capitalize on changing consumer interests and trends.

That, I believe, in and of itself is part of the problem, as companies are striking out with new sub-brands in pursuit of additional revenue, but perhaps at the potential expense of their previously loyal guests, who felt that they knew what to expect from their brand, and are now concerned that they have taken their eye off of the ball, to chase after the “new” guests, the new shiny pennies.  And I would say the same about those hotel owners, who have also put their faith in the brand and are now wondering if they, and their long-term loyalty, are as important to the brand as the new owners that they are chasing after to open the new sub-brand hotels.

It all comes down to focus, consistency, confidence in what you are doing, the path that you have chosen, and then continuing to refine and improve, but doing so from the basis of what you stand for, and continue to stand for, where your brand is concerned, so that you do not lose your loyal guests, those guests that believe in what you’re doing and actively, consciously, choose your brand over the others, again and again.  

At the upper end of the brand spectrum, I believe there are a couple of clear winners:

Westin – successfully tapping into our senses . . .

I think Westin has been on to something ever since they rolled out the heavenly bed.  That, to me, was the start of something, and clearly they saw it too.  Since then they have rolled out the heavenly shower and other heavenly options, and that’s great, but it’s not my point.  In and amongst those product introductions, I believe that they came to see something else – the value of focusing on the senses, and that’s what I think they have really excelled at over the last several years, and they continue to do so now.  

Some of our strongest memories are triggered by smell for example and whether it’s the different fresh, natural smells that they have permeating through their public spaces, at different times of the day, or the changes in lighting and the addition of simple candles in the latter part of the day and evening, they have got this figured out and they have expanded their focus on the senses, on their customers’ “whole body & mind wellness” into every facet of their business, and people are taking notice. 

I see other brands trying to catch up and keep up but that’s exactly what their doing, trying to catch up, to emulate Westins success in this area, instead of focusing their efforts on what matters to their existing customers, trying, unsuccessfully instead, to be all things to all people.

Four Seasons – relentlessly focused on service. . .

One of the things that I love about Four Seasons is that they are very, very clear on their brand identity, and for them it is also about uncompromising service, from beginning to end.  Sure, there is much more to any Four Seasons than just great service, but the foundation for everything that they do is still their commitment to service.  And their actions are always consistent with that commitment, right down to their choice not to be listed on discount booking sites such as Orbitz, and the like.  They are clear that they do not want to be listed as “on sale” or “deeply discounted” and devalue their brand as a result.

They know who they are and what they’re good at, and they’re sticking to it, and for that, they get my vote.

There are other examples of hotel companies that provide great service, but I highlighted Four Seasons because of their unwavering commitment to service as evidenced in their brand identity.

Who do you think will win the battle for brand supremacy?  What hotel brand stands out for you? 

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lessons in Leadership, from the NFL

Like many people, I tuned in to watch the NFL division semi final football games last weekend, and as I watched, I was struck by two particular instances during the games that coincidentally reminded me of two important examples of leadership, or perhaps more accurately, a lack thereof.

The first example came through a series of botched plays, where the commentators were united in their criticism of the player involved for what they described as “taking his eye off of the ball,” (during a hand-off), so that he could look around at where he might run after he received the ball.

To me, it served as a great reminder that we too must constantly keep our eye on the ball, as it relates to our commitment to our brand, to service excellence, to producing exceptional financial results for our owners, and, our commitment to our employees.

We must always ensure that we have a clear focus on what is important in our business, what sets us apart from our competitors and is the basis for our unique selling proposition.

In an industry that is constantly changing and evolving competition is fierce and like our friends in the NFL we risk losing the game if we allow ourselves to be unnecessarily distracted and as a result, take our eye off the ball long enough to create a negative impact, or, an opportunity for one of our competitors to step into the void that we have created and steal share.

I don’t know of anyone who is willing to give up some of their loyal guests to their competitors, so remember, keep your eye on the ball, always.

My second example came much later in the same game when a player was fortunate enough to run into the end zone to score a game changing touch down, taking the lead away from their opponents, with only a few minutes left in the game.

After the player ran into the end zone and the touch down was confirmed, that same player proceeded to run around the field as if he were flying, in a self aggrandizing display in the end-zone at the expense of his team, and the potential outcome of the game as well.  Because of his unnecessary display his team was penalized by 15 yards after the next kick off.  

In short, he gave his opponents a significant benefit in field position, with only a few minutes left to play in the game.  This could very easily have cost his team the game, and their chances to advance to the finals and ultimately to the Super Bowl, and for what?  So that he could run around the field showing everyone how great he was.

I actually have two comments here:

First, isn’t this what he gets paid to do, his job if you will?  Not that he shouldn’t be proud of his contribution to the teams’ success, but he knew, in prancing around the field for that long, that his team would incur a penalty for his actions that could jeopardize the outcome of the game, and he did it anyway, placing himself above the needs of his team.

Which brings me to my second point, and the oldest cliché of all: there is no “I” in team, something that this individual clearly lost sight of as evidenced by his self aggrandizing display.

Leaders see the world through the eyes of others, they recognize that it isn’t about them, and that the more you take self-interest out of the picture and instead do for others, the more you end up benefiting your own interests, in both the short and long term.  

Regardless of our position, we all have the opportunity to demonstrate effective and compelling leadership when the opportunity presents itself, to set an example that others will want to emulate.

Ghandi said: Be the change you want to see in the world. 

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Energy Management - A Responsibility

Energy management has been one of the hot topics of the last decade.  Tremendous advancements have taken place, which have yielded substantial savings for hotel owners and operators as they have taken advantage of implementing the new technologies, as well as benefiting from grants that many governments offer for conversion and retrofitting of older buildings.

So, imagine my surprise when I toured a hotel, just recently, that was celebrating its one year anniversary, and found virtually no evidence of responsible energy management anywhere in the building.

As we walked through the common areas, I could not help but notice that all of the lighting was out-dated and there was not an energy-efficient light bulb to be seen anywhere.  There were, as you might expect, many ornate and elaborate lighting fixtures in the lobby and other common areas, and they were quite striking, but at the same time, I could not help but notice that they all had “old school” light bulbs in them – a sharp contrast to the modern environment I was standing in.

As we moved on, through some of those same common areas and on into the restaurant and bar on the ground floor, I was also struck by how many thermostats that were visible in the areas.  It seemed that you could not look around without spotting one every fifty feet or so.  Now you could be guilty of initially thinking that is quite a good idea, in order to get a good level of readings throughout the space, instead of one poorly placed thermostat at one end of the room.  However, these were not just sending units, providing readings to a central system control.  Nope.  They were in fact simple individual units throughout the space that each had to be set in order to attempt to get some balance in the space.

When I spoke with a hotel representative, understandably he told me that the heating and cooling system for the hotel was a “nightmare” and that they had to run around and reset dozens of individual thermostats whenever there was a need to increase or decrease the temperature due to weather changes or significant changes in the level of business in the bar or restaurant.

There was, I was told, no central system installed for controlling and effectively managing the use and consumption of energy within the property – a missed opportunity, to say the least.

Another item that caught my attention was the number of light switches in both the restaurant and bar, which as I watched, seemed to cause some confusion amongst the servers as they attempted to set the lighting levels for the room, not to mention the fact that the light switches themselves, given that were so many, were unsightly in an otherwise visually interesting space.

Staying with lighting for the moment, I was equally surprised, (well, not really at this point), to find that the public washrooms were each equipped with several light switches, rather than opting for motion detection to minimize energy costs.

The same situation occurred in the meeting space, a sea of light switches and individual thermostats, throughout the rooms themselves as well as the pre-function space, and, no energy efficient lighting.

Lastly, guest rooms.  And again, individual thermostats, which of course we all want in order to manage the temperate to our own personal preferences, but also again, I was advised by the hotel that there was no way of adjusting the temperature in unoccupied guest rooms without having the room attendant enter every single room and adjust the thermostat.

I must admit, once I got the thought in my head, I could not help but see the shortcomings and missed opportunities in energy management as I toured the property.  Everywhere we went, it was evident that this issue had either never been raised during the construction of the property, or, as I have previously experienced, it was viewed as “too expensive” to implement and install these items, regardless of the long term savings, and also, in my opinion, the (missed) opportunity to establish your property as a leading edge, environmentally conscious hotel.

With the focus on the environment, and especially on our ability to continue to generate sufficient energy to sustain our lifestyle, should anyone be allowed to build a hotel anymore without a key component of energy management within their plans?

I know none of us want more government involvement in our businesses, me included, but I would support some form of building regulations that mandated a minimum amount of energy management into any new builds based on the implementation of cost-effective and proven technology.

It’s the least we can do.

Have we learned nothing from the random blackouts in California a few years ago? 

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Balanced Scorecard

I’m a big fan of the balanced scorecard approach to management, or leadership, as I prefer to look at it.

I think it can (and should) form the base of your operation and be your organizations over-riding focus when it comes to everything that you do.

Assuming it has been developed from your company’s Vision, Values and Guiding Principles, it should, in my opinion, be the gage by which you measure everything, and the means from which you set your goals and objectives, for your Hotel, every division within it, and every division head.

And it should be widely and regularly communicated to every team member within your Hotel.  Everyone in your organization should know what the priorities are for your business, what they mean to the success of the organization, and how each of them can and do impact the results for those areas of your business that you have defined as crucial.

The reason, in particular, that I think that it is so important to identify the components or themes of your balanced scorecard, and to ensure that everyone is equally aware of your commitment to these areas, is so that they are not forgotten in the decision making process, which seems to happen all too often.

All too often, especially it seems when times get tough, people seem to forget the commitments that have been made to run the business from a balanced perspective and decisions are made in isolation, and no one stops long enough along the way to look at the impact that these decisions will have in other areas of your operation, most often service.

As an example, someone comes along and says that “we need to cut costs” and with that wide spread changes are made without a thought for how this will impact employees’ ability to deliver service, or, how it may even directly impact guests and their perception of service at the Hotel as a result.

To me, the components of a balanced scorecard, the areas that you have identified as critical to your business’ long-term success, are like the pillars of a building, forming the foundation, that supports everything else.  

Assuming, for the purpose of my argument, that there are four pillars, (let’s say; strong financial results, exceptional guest service and guest loyalty, and employee engagement.), you can imagine what would happen if you remove one of the supporting pillars, or, if you start to chip away at one of them.  The integrity of your foundation is compromised at the least.  Remove the entire pillar and your building is going to come toppling down.

Based on that, can you really afford to ignore any of your pillars?

You may be able to make subtle changes to the structural components of one or more of your pillars, but you must consider the impact on the remaining pillars and potentially take action to reinforce them in light of the changes that you feel it is necessary to make.

It’s a great reminder that there is no one component that can guarantee business success, but rather it is the combination of a number of things, brought together and combined in the right way, that creates a successful formula for success.  In a number of presentations I made to newer managers several years ago now, I used to describe it as the “recipe for success” and in that instance, draw the comparison to baking a cake and the impact of removing any one of the key ingredients from the recipe.  It was a simple but effective message that has stood the test of time.

It is a complicated task to create, refine and hopefully, perfect your own recipe for success.  Once you have done so, do you really want to risk throwing it all away in an instant by making decisions in isolation?  

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Hotel Fundamentals . . . Since the Beginning of Time

As far as I’m concerned, as soon as you decide to hang a sign on a building that says “Hotel” you have certain minimum responsibilities, regardless of how many diamonds or stars your property is.

I believe it’s fair for the consumer to make a few assumptions based on seeing that sign, encouraging them to check-in for the night at your Hotel.

You could certainly argue that there are more than the minimum requirements that made my list, but I would hope that you would not argue that these are, at least, the minimum expectations of any Hotel, dating back to when the first Hotels began to pop up around the world, and regardless of what part of the world you are in.

A Decent Night’s Sleep

You’ll notice that I didn’t specifically reference the bed, although that is, of course, one of the key fundamentals required for “the good night’s sleep.”  However, it is not the only thing, which is my point.  You can have an absolutely fabulous bed, but if it is in a room that has lousy climate control, or the room is overly noisy, or maybe you can’t get the drapes to close properly, preventing light from outside streaming through the windows, you are not going to get a good night’s sleep, and isn’t that the #1 reason you check into a Hotel for in the first place?

A Good Shower

This is definitely a personal preference for me.  When I get up, after my good night’s sleep, and after having returned from my morning run, and I am ready to begin the day, I want to have a good shower, which I define as enough consistent hot water, with good water pressure.  After that, I don’t care.  I don’t need a shower massage, and I don’t need multiple shower heads.  Sure, they can be nice, but they don’t make my list of shower fundamentals.  For me, water pressure is king.  It doesn’t need to have the ability to rip my skin off, but to me, there is nothing worse than having to dance around in the shower to get wet, and, after having spent the appropriate amount of time in the shower, to feel like your body is still covered with soap, and your hair is still full of shampoo.

A Good Cup of Coffee

Now some of you might expand this to be a good breakfast, and I don’t necessarily disagree, but there are those of us who prefer not to eat first thing in the morning, and for us, and arguably, as a key component to the good breakfast as well, would still be a good cup of coffee.

Now this is a tough one, given people’s many different preferences, but regardless of brand preferences, we all know a good cup of coffee when we have one, regardless of whether or not it is our own personal “favourite” brand or not, or perhaps more so, we all know a bad cup of coffee when we experience it.

If you are not committed to providing your guests with a decent night’s sleep, a good shower and a good cup of coffee, you have no business calling yourself a Hotel and it’s time to take down the sign and close your doors.

And for those of you who are appalled that I didn’t mention service as a fundamental requirement, please remember that I did say “minimum” requirements, for ANY Hotel, regardless of whether it is budget or luxury or anything in between.  Great service can, and often does, offset shortfalls in other areas of a Hotel experience.

You may wonder why I went to the trouble to state what must seem so obvious to everyone who reads this, and I’ll tell you, it’s because there are far too many Hotels who fail this test on one or more of my minimum requirements, and what’s worse, they either don’t know it, or, they don’t seem to care.

When is the last time that you stayed in your own Hotel, and attempted to experience your property as a guest would?

When did you last use the health club in your Hotel?  (Another hugely important area I might add).  Not just walk through, but actually use the equipment?

It’s not enough to simply do a walk-through of the various areas in your Hotel, and to “assume” that everything is fine, just because you have not received complaints to the contrary.  Remember, a huge percentage of people never bother to report their complaints to the Hotel, but they do go on to tell their friends about what happened, and what’s worse these days, they’ll go on-line and write a negative review  for everyone to see.

Want to know what your guests are experiencing?  Then put yourself in their shoes from time to time.  You’ll be surprised what you see, from this perspective, that might otherwise have gone unseen. 

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Golden Rule

I have often described myself as a student of leadership and I value the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.

There is it seems, an endless supply of resources, both tangible and intangible, from which we can learn important lessons in leadership, good and bad, you just need to open yourself up to see what is out there.

One of the many resources available to us is the wide variety of books on leadership that have been written by many recognized and celebrated leaders.

It was while I was recently reviewing Isadore Sharp’s book; FOUR SEASONS: The Story of a Business Philosophy, that I was reminded of one of my favourite guiding principles – The Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts credits much of their success on their unwavering commitment to the application of The Golden Rule and for me, it reinforced both the importance of that message, but also the simplicity of it as well.

As Hotel companies strive to outdo each other, and to introduce new service components, I often find myself thinking about the fact that, in many instances, these same companies have lost sight of the forest for the trees.

Service, genuine, sincere, authentic service trumps everything else – everything, and the right attitude trumps experience, every time.

And imagine, as a team member at Four Seasons, what you have to think about as you welcome guests and serve them in your respective area – one thing and one thing only – The Golden Rule.  The simplicity of it is genius.  Instead of having to think about the “10 Key Service Standards” or the like at some other Hotel companies, all you have to think about is one thing, and how you apply that one thing as you go about carrying out the duties of your position.

Sure, Four Seasons will have other standards that need to be applied, but regardless, the foundation that they are built upon is about as straight forward as you can get, and what I also love about it, is that anyone and everyone can understand it.

Long before I first became aware of Four Seasons’ commitment to The Golden Rule, I introduced the concept to my employees when I first became a department manager and I have continued to reinforce my belief in the simplicity of service to managers, supervisors and employees that have worked with me ever since, and what simpler way to convey that commitment to the simplicity of service but through the application of The Golden Rule.

It has served me well, and I suspect many of the people who have worked with me over the years as well.

As I've been guilty of saying before; service 101 - it aint rocket science... 

The more that we can simplify things for our employees, and leave them with a sense of ownership in how they can individualize their service delivery, the greater the likelihood that they will deliver the genuine, sincere and authentic service that exceeds guests expectations, creates guest loyalty, and sets us apart from our competitors. 

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Virtual Meetings – Virtually Fabulous, or, a Virtual Flash in the Pan?

I know that I could very well end up being known in the same manner as those people who said that talking movies were just a fad, but I just don’t see virtual meetings taking hold to an extent that gives Hotels any cause for concern.

I love technology and I do think a great deal of this particular technology, but I just don’t see businesses running out to rent these technology suites to use instead of travelling to the location of their other offices, and it’s expensive, from the quotes that I have seen from Hotels that have invested in the technology.

I have a bias as well, just to be up front about it, in the interest of full disclosure.

During a time when I was functioning as an Asset Manager for a company that owned a number of Hotels, some branded and some not, we were approached by one of the major brands that we worked with to put in a technology suite, which we could in turn rent out to clients who wanted to defer the cost of travel in favour of a virtual meeting with their counter-parts in other parts of the world.

According to the brand, our city was identified as one of the major cities where this need was identified as being significant in the coming years and we were being given the opportunity to jump on the band wagon to capture on this market when it takes hold.

Problem is, the technology required is VERY expensive, and, even if you use the suggested rental prices that the brand felt were appropriate, (which I could not imagine anyone paying), the ROI on this investment just isn’t there – not in my opinion anyway.

In case you haven’t already guessed, we did not invest in the technology suite.  I told the owner I thought that the brand was being irresponsible with his money by proposing this investment, and that it was my strong recommendation that he not authorize this expenditure, at that time.  He agreed.

I can see this technology being tremendously successful with companies who have multiple offices in multiple locations around the world, but I would see those same companies investing in the technology themselves, to have in their own offices, so they could meet whenever they please, and with little or no notice required, potentially saving them a great deal of money on travel, and giving them a respectable ROI that would justify their investment.

That was another problem that I had with the brand proposal – they were suggesting that by investing in this technology in our Hotel, in our city, people would travel to our city and choose our Hotel so that they could use our technology for their virtual meeting.  In short, they were suggesting that business executives would still travel, albeit shorter distances, then have a virtual meeting, from our Hotel, with their company executives, at another of our brands’ Hotels, presumably which they too may have had to travel too.

I’m sorry, but I think that’s crazy.  The whole point of the virtual meeting is to avoid the cost of travel, not just reduce it a little bit.

And let’s not forget that the real cost of travel is not just the hard costs associated with air fare and Hotel costs and the like.  As big a consideration is the loss of productivity.  In spite of the improvements in technology, people are not as productive on the road as they are in their offices, it’s a fact.

Also, given the speed with which companies like Skype are improving their platforms, I suspect that it won’t be long before we can have a virtual meeting in any number of ways that may work for us, and at a significantly reduced cost that makes sense for the majority of us.

Lastly, and as important as anything that I’ve already said, is the argument for the benefit of travel as it relates to relationships.  Sure, you can have a good and productive meeting using virtual meeting technology, but it does nothing to maintain or enhance relationships, and as I have been guilty of saying repeatedly, I believe that the hospitality business is all about relationships.

If you agree with that assessment, then you would also agree that there will always be a need, and a benefit, to travel in our industry.  In a business that is all about people, it will always be important to meet, face to face, with the people in our business. 

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