How Hotel General Managers Identify Their VIPs

120073465In an effort to help our peers compete, we at ALICE sat down with a roundtable of New York City’s leading hotel General Managers to learn how they are leveraging data to run their hotels. We share our findings in our report, “The Data-Driven Hotelier.

Given their varying levels of loyalty, spending habits, and influence on future bookings, not every hotel guest is equally valuable.

While hoteliers generally agree it’s vital to segregate guests by potential value, each of the General Managers we work with have a different way of defining a guest’s Lifetime Value (LTV).

Here are a few of those ways that our hotels are determining a guest’s LTV, along with a few of the challenges that come with it.

Booking Channel. The simplest and easiest way to start segmenting guests is by how they booked. Was it through an OTA? Through the sales team? Directly through the website via a referral? Was it a corporate account? Knowing how a guest booked their room can paint a picture around how involved and loyal that guest will be.

Corporate Booking Potential.
Specifically amongst larger hotels, many GMs define the value of a guest by the potential corporate business she can bring depending on how big her company is, how often she travels, and how much upsell potential is there.

Total Spend. The most obvious way to determine a guest’s importance is by how much he or she spends. While simple in theory, many of our GMs find it a challenge to keep track of this data and “make the connection between the guests that are just staying for a room, and those that interface with F&B outlet, take advantage of our other services, and keep coming back.” It would appear that although all of the data is there, isolating the important metrics and linking the reservation to the spend is difficult.
Booking Frequency. Another common method of determining a guest’s LTV is repeat bookings. One of our General Managers says he tasks his front office team with “being responsible for recognizing repeat guests and making management aware of it.” And then, he says, “Once we’ve identified a VIP, we’re going to make sure they’re treated as well as possible. That could mean anything from VIP perks to comped dinners.” But as in the case of keeping track of a guest’s spend, the GMs we spoke with expressed difficulty in keeping track of all of this information in one place. Specifically, they find it difficult to “figure who is coming back, and why they’re coming back here. I wish we had something like Salesforce to give us an idea of where the value lies,” one GM says.

Social Media Influence. Beyond TripAdvisor reviews, many GMs are looking to a guest’s social media imprint as a way to anticipate poor reviews before he checks out. One GM we talked with went so far as to consider a guest’s social media influence to be the most important factor in determining his or her value to the hotel. In an ideal world, this GM would have “a dashboard that would show all of [his guests’] social media influence to see what they’re posting and its impact so that I could assign some kind of value to them. For example, it would allow me to see that a major fashion influencer with 40,000 followers is going to be staying with us, and treat him accordingly.”


A Radical Thought: Do Millennials Really View Travel Differently?

millennials-digital-business-travelerForget what you think you know about traditional travel marketing principles and crafting effective loyalty programs. There aren’t many differences among Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, Gen Zers, road warriors, or vacationers — at least not when it comes to how they travel.

If you want to engage consumers of all ages and types, and build brand loyalty with them, you’ve got to look beyond those definitions to get at the heart of their shared travel wants and needs.
That’s what two new studies, one from Price Waterhouse Coopers’ (PwC) Consumer Intelligence Series, and another from Upshot, a Chicago-based marketing agency, seem to be hinting at.

The PwC study, “What’s Driving Customer Loyalty for Today’s Hotel Brands?” interviewed 1,026 business and leisure travelers (59 percent business; 41 percent leisure) ranging in age from 21 to 69 to understand loyalty behaviors across a spectrum of guests.

What the PwC researchers found, in some ways, was surprising: “Millennials are not unique in their attitudes and behaviors toward loyalty programs. In fact, they are quite similar to travelers aged 30+,” the researchers note. On average, travelers ages 30 and up have 3.6 hotel loyalty memberships while Millennials (ages 21 to 29) have three.

“There are some differences between Millennials and other travelers [when it comes to loyalty programs] but they’re not as significant as we thought,” says Adam Kennedy, PwC hospitality and leisure advisory leader. “They’re just not as varied.”

The Upshot study, “Travel Quest: Building a Travel Superbrand,” takes that assessment further. “Demographics, or even business versus leisure designations, have ceased to offer predictive value for understanding individual travelers’ preferences,” the study’s authors write. “Instead, these distinctions have blurred as today’s travelers fluidly shift between mindsets depending on their immediate circumstances.”

For its report, Upshot conducted an online survey of 500 frequent travelers (having taken three or more trips a year) with equal representation of Millennials, Gen Xers, and Boomers, as well as an equal number of business and leisure travelers.

Brian Asner, Upshot planning director, says that when the agency initially embarked on this study, it was focused on examining traditional travel categories like business and leisure, Boomer and Millennial, but what he and the other researchers found was that it was more important to realize that “breaking down travelers that way doesn’t answer the questions that the modern traveler has today,” he tells Skift.

What they found, instead, was that frequent travelers of all types share similar patterns in “mindsets” or travel values. “Brands need to appeal to a diverse range of mindsets,” Asner says. “To try to speak to a more static type of traveler was the old way of looking at things. Brands need to have multiple facets of their personality to address all of these mindsets that take place in a single day.”

What are those travel mindsets? They’re about finding opportunities for cultural immersion, escaping the everyday, enabling spontaneity, and having a stress-free, hassle-free experience. Sound familiar to you? If they do, that’s not surprising. In fact, those mindsets have been used to describe Millennials’ traveler preferences and desires in countless studies and reports.

“Some of the changes in broader priorities are being attributed to the younger generations,” explains Asner, “but those crucial traits for Millennials have trickled out to every other generation, too. The demand for authenticity and experiences has become really universal now, and that’s where the bar is set.”

Those mindsets identified by Upshot, in addition to a desire for authentic experiences, and travelers’ perceptions of accommodations like those Airbnb offers, align with some of the findings in the PwC report. Here are some key takeaways from both studies for marketers in the travel and hospitality spaces:

Experiences Matter

For hotels and travel brands, it pays to create unique, memorable, and innovative travel experiences.

In PwC’s study, both Millennials and business travelers placed a higher premium on softer loyalty program benefits like upgrades than other traveler types, suggesting the importance of the overall hotel experience. While all travelers, regardless of age and traveler type, redeemed points for room nights, the second-most-redeemed category was for upgrades, which was chosen by 21 percent of business travelers compared to 12 percent of leisure travelers, and 36 percent of Millennials compared with 16 percent of non-Millennials. By focusing on offering better, more unique hotel experiences, hotels can drive more guest loyalty and brand commitment going forward.

“There’s this general notion of people valuing experiences over things, and I think that is often misconstrued as a Millennial mindset,” says Asner. “I can say from both personal experience with researching travel brands and with this survey that the desire for deeper and more authentic experiences is a very universal thing among Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z, and business and leisure travelers.”

Define Authenticity

All travelers, in their own way, are seeking some sort of an “authentic” experience but it’s very difficult to define exactly what that is for different people. “When we spoke with travelers in our survey, the definition for ‘authenticity’ was really broad,” says Asner. “I can’t say all travelers share the same definition, but they all feel like it’s really important.”

Asner and his researchers ultimately concluded that “authenticity” is a “hybrid of cultural experiences and an escape from the everyday life you have at home,” he adds. “The majority of people like this balance of new and different places and experiences with something that feels comfortable.”

Know How and When to Surprise and Delight

Building on that mix of offering both comforting elements and new and different experiences is knowing how to best surprise and delight your guests. Asner says that hotel brands that want to build loyalty with their guests need to know the difference between what’s expected, and what has the power to make a guest remember his or her stay.

Today’s guests, he says, expect certain things from their hotel experiences but they also want to be surprised and delighted by the unexpected. “Consumers have extremely high expectations about what brands should be providing them,” Asner says. “Just satisfying those needs doesn’t wow them enough.”

The research from PwC supports that assessment, too, finding that for all travelers, loyalty is about receiving benefits they don’t actually request. What makes any traveler loyal to a particular hotel brand or program, beyond room quality, is accessibility, promotions, and personalized service.

“At the base level,” says Asner, “your hotel loyalty program has to make sure the functional rewards of the program are compelling, but that’s table stakes. For long-term loyalty, it’s the surprise-and-delight side of the equation, the benefits that are really unexpected and get people’s attention.”
Use Technology Wisely

Technology can be vital for providing a seamless, hassle-free traveler experience and it also has the potential to surprise and delight in direct engagement with consumers.

“When you think about all the options there are out there to engage with customers, hotels can do that much more directly now, as with an app or a website,” says Kennedy. “They need to think about how the user is consuming services from them, and how to continue driving engagement, that next stay, or that next opportunity.”

Brands that use technology and social media to really connect a guest to the hotel and to craft a memorable experience will also resonate more deeply with their consumers, says Asner. “Mobile check-in and stuff like that — it’s sort of expected. That doesn’t delight them.”

One example of a hotel brand that harnessed the power of social media to personalize the guest experience is Four Seasons, says Asner. “If people were going to stay at their properties, the Four Seasons asked those guests to create a Pinterest board that was aspirational, and illustrated what they wanted to have in their travel experience. The concierge would look at it, and put together a customized itinerary for that person and send it back to them,” he says.

Loyalty Can’t Be All Business

Many loyalty programs cater to business travelers primarily, says the PwC report, and hotel companies need to decide which they prioritize more: business travelers or everyone else? “More hotels are focused on extending loyalty programs beyond just the high-value customer,” says Kennedy. “Historically, the high-value traveler was the business traveler with high travel frequency, but they’re also looking to engage with customers who may not travel as much, or the leisure traveler who doesn’t have the same level of travel frequency. They’re looking for more ways to drive engagement for them.”

Driving engagement by offering those one-of-a-kind, authentic experiences spans all traveler types. “Stress relief and spontaneity were most appealing among all the traveler archetypes we examined,” says Asner. “You still saw the same leisure-like priorities for business travelers; their demands on the road are very much leisure-like. As any traveler goes about his or her day, they’re responding to different circumstances. They want a taste of the local culture, too.”

Asner points out Courtyard by Marriott’s “make room for a little fun” advertising campaign is an example of a hotel brand that understands how today’s business traveler wants his or her hotel experience to be. “Some people get to travel for work, as opposed to some people who have to travel for work,” he says. “Being able to explore more places as part of your work travel is a way of really understanding modern business travelers.”

If your brand can drive engagement successfully, that will likely translate to higher revenue gains, suggests the PwC study. The majority of both business (69 percent) and leisure (59 percent) travelers in the PwC survey were willing to pay between $10 to $50 more to stay at their preferred hotel brand.

Value Your Human Capital

For those hotel brands that are concerned about the impact of disruptors like Airbnb or HomeAway, they may not need to worry too much for now. Even though the sharing economy has gotten a lot of attention in recent years as a potential disruptor to the hospitality industry, it’s not as well known or trusted among the majority of travelers, says the PwC report.

While 80 percent of leisure travelers and 90 percent of business travelers surveyed by PwC said they were aware of non-traditional accommodations, only 16 percent of business and 24 percent of leisure travelers have used them. Of those surveyed, with the exception of adventure-seeking Millennials, most were concerned about the variances in quality, safety, and security at these types of properties.

The Upshot study shows that among its frequent traveler respondents, 49.2 percent have used a peer-to-peer travel service like Airbnb, and 65.9 percent prefer them to traditional travel brands. Even though the research suggests traditional travel brands should be concerned about these disruptors, utilizing human capital is one way to keep hotels top of mind with consumers.

“Big hotel brands, for a long time, were selling standard, predictable experiences as an asset,” Asner says. “What Airbnb offers is that they take this natural variety you get from going to different homes and neighborhoods and builds this into a never-ending experience. No matter how many Airbnbs you stay at, it’s always slightly different, there’s always this sense of discovery.”

What can traditional hotel brands do? “Traditional brands can harness their people and make their consumers become brand advocates,” he says. “Not standardizing the concierge experience is very important.”

For example, at Kimpton properties, Asner says, there are different staff members with specific specialties and interests like sports, nightlife, dining, etc. who can assist guests. “Really offering that variety, and leveraging the people who work for that organization brings in that natural variety.”

Don’t Have Millennial Tunnel Vision

Even if it seems like typical Millennial characteristics are seeping into all different traveler archetypes, it’s important for travel and hospitality brands to know there’s much more than just Millennials, or Millennial mindsets, out there.

So, instead of trying to cater specifically to Millennials, PwC’s report suggests you’re better off crafting a hotel loyalty program that appeals to all age groups. Yes, that’s even if Millennials are the biggest group right now in terms of numbers (75.3 million in the U.S. in 2015 according to Pew Research Center) and they have the most annual spending power ($2.45 trillion globally in 2015 according to Youbrand).

Likewise, the Upshot report emphasizes that brands shouldn’t be overly focused on courting Millennials. In fact, in looking at data from Experian Simmons Spring 2015 Connect and 2-Year National Consumer surveys, Upshot found that even though more Millennials (69.8 percent) desire to travel abroad than Gen X (60.7 percent) and the Boomers (51 percent), the percentages of those travelers who have traveled abroad four or more times in the past three years painted a very different picture. Only 16.5 percent of Millennials had traveled abroad that many times, compared to 17.8 percent of Gen Xers and 20.7 percent of Boomers.

The highest-spending group for both domestic and international travel among Upshot’s respondents was the Boomers: 28.5 percent spent more than $1,000 on their last domestic trips, and 11.7 percent spent more than $5,000 on their last international trips.

“While it is certainly important for travel brands to position themselves as relevant for the future,” the study states, “brands that are overly focused on wooing Millennials may be missing out on those who are actually doing the most traveling and spending the most on these travels in the present.”

Bottom line: Don’t get caught up in definitions or categories, or what you thought you knew about certain traveler types. All travelers as a whole, regardless of age and type (business or leisure) are looking for a unique, authentic, personalized, seamless travel experience that is culturally immersive and offers local, human connections. The best hotel loyalty programs, and the best-in-class travel brands will know how to deliver that to them.


The 3 Questions That Keep Hotel General Managers Up At Night

ask-question-1-ff9bc6fa5eaa0d7667ae7a5a4c61330cIn an effort to help our peers compete, we at ALICE sat down with a round table of New York City’s leading hotel General Managers to learn how they are leveraging data to run their hotels. We share our findings in our report, “The Data-Driven Hotelier.

While most property management systems can generate reports with basic information about a hotel’s occupancy and rates, our hoteliers are always on the lookout for more “breadcrumbs” of data around their guest habits, their real-time inventory status, and their employee productivity.

Who are my guests?
When it comes to hotel guests, the most important data is geographic – where did they come from? Since most guests book through OTAs, this data can be very difficult to find, and hoteliers are forced to make educated guesses or compile this information post-stay. Typically, this involves manually adding notes into their guest CRM, or gathering data with post-stay questionnaires—both of which are time-intensive, and make it possible for vital information to slip through the cracks.

What is the status of my inventory?
Managing a hotel is an hour-by-hour endeavor, and hotels must be vigilant in tracking their inventory. “Inventory management is vital,” one GM told us. “Do we have enough clean towels? How many are being delivered to the guests? How many are being cleaned? It’s the little details matter, and right now it’s all based on word of mouth.” The issue with relying on word of mouth of course, is that information can be incorrect or outdated, both of which can contribute to operational hiccups that might directly impact the guest’s experience.

How is my staff spending their time?
As any accomplished hotel manager will tell you, a hotel is only as good as its employees. Of course, like any business, “there are certain personality types that might not be doing anything,” one GM said. “Knowing how they spend their time would be very helpful in managing employee productivity.” However, unlike most “traditional” businesses, which operate in a confined office setting, “hotels are big spaces, it’s difficult to understand where each employee is and what they’re doing at any given time.” Because payroll and, specifically, overtime are among a hotel’s largest costs, a good manager will do his best to “understand what the staff is doing at any given moment, where they are, how long it takes to complete tasks. If you notice that they’re not doing anything, you can use data to cut total payroll hours.”


Recruitment websites: I hate to love you!

[ File # csp7879102, License # 3047123 ] Licensed through in accordance with the End User License Agreement ( (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / silent47

Why Applicant Tracking Systems don’t work

Yes, you’ve read it correctly. I hate to love you!

I’m referring to recruitment websites and the use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). Hated by applicants, loved by recruiters, at least that’s how it looks like from the outside. Don’t get me wrong here, I do understand why companies use ATS. They literally get hammered with 100’s of applicants each day and they need a way to streamline the whole process so that they don’t have to go through all these resumes and applications themselves. Applicants have the feeling that their resume is ‘sent into the big black recruitment hole’ and end-users never know for sure if the presented applicant by the system is the best one. There is just no way to track this due to the automated process. There are plenty of people who just leave the application process as soon as they see the words “powered by …..”.

8 years

Can you blame those people? No you can’t! Do I understand them? Yes! About 8 years ago I applied for a position at one of the largest hotel chains in the world through their recruitment website which is “powered by ….”. After I pressed the ‘send’ button I received an e-mail thanking me for my application. For 8(!!) years I haven’t heard from them until about 3 weeks ago. I received an e-mail stating “thank you for your application but your experience and background doesn’t fit the role you’ve applied for”. Probably somebody got the noble task of cleaning up the system….you must be hated by your boss to get assigned that task!

How hard can it be?

There are so many hotels and chains and so many hotel career pages. Recently I’ve developed a rather unhealthy tick which is checking every career page I run into. Unhealthy because in so many cases I get frustrated from the user-friendliness, or rather lack of. And I’m not even in the process of applying for a position, I just want to see how they do it. To give you a couple of examples:

  1. Worldwide hotel chain: First it’s really hard to find the search button for their vacancies and second; when you’ve found the button and click it, nothing happens. Oh, wait, they use pop-ups to show their vacancies… (I’m using a pop-up blocker and I’m not the only one)
  2. Ultra-luxury hotel chain: Most beautiful and user-friendly guest website, but the career page looks like it’s build in the ’80’s
  3. Luxury hotel chain: Career page can’t even be found….
  4. Ultra-luxury hotel: the career page is transferring an applicant to a generic job board
  5. Luxury hotel chain: ability to search within parameters, multiple vacancies are loaded, click on one to read the job profile, click on “go back” and…what?!?! all search parameters are reset and you can start all over again..

Service, service, service

As you can see, there is a lot to gain for hospitality companies and their career pages. Especially in our service industry where our staff are our most important asset. It’s key to have a good, functioning and appealing website to attract the best, biggest and brightest talents and professionals. You can’t deliver the best service, which your guests are expecting and paying for, if you don’t have the best professionals.

Then why is it so hard for hospitality companies to have an appealing and functioning career page? Probably because a career page is a specialism while the general idea is that a ‘guest’ website is for internal & external guests. Or it’s just that there a lack of knowledge on how to develop, create and maintain a great career page.


The Linkage Between Your Hotel’s Brand Promise, Loyalty and Profitability

Delivering an exceptional guest experience is a fundamental goal of every hotel seeking profitability and a good return on investment for its owners. But a recent analysis by Deloitte shows how hotels must go far beyond the guest experience to achieve that goal.

The Deloitte analysis of the J.D. Power 2015 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study concludes that:

Underlying the guest experience, a hotel’s brand promise can have a strong impact on business results. Knowing what your brand stands for— and delivering on that promise—can serve as a key to long-term success. Loyalty and commitment are strongest when a brand offers a differentiated brand promise and consistently delivers on that promise by providing an outstanding experience.

 The Linkage Between Your Hotel’s Brand Promise, Loyalty and Profitability

The Linkage Between Your Hotel’s Brand Promise, Loyalty and Profitability

So building a strong, positive reputation is critical to creating loyal guests. In doing so a hotel can move into what J.D. Power calls a “High Prestige” property. As the chart on the right shows High Prestige hotels are significantly more likely to attract repeat guests as Low Prestige properties. High Prestige hotels are more than twice as likely to attract repeat guests when a guest experiences a problem during their stay.

The Value of Loyal Guests
There is a significant body of research detailing the financial benefits of maximizing customer retention.

  • Gartner Research is quoted as saying “65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers, and it costs five times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one satisfied.”
  • Perhaps the most compelling reason to invest in customer retention are the findings from Bain analyst Frederick Reichheld and published in his book, “The Loyalty Effect, the Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits and Lasting Value.” After exhaustive research among hundreds of companies across many different industries Reichheld concluded:

Companies with the most loyal customers are the most profitable.

Creating More Loyal Guests
So, how does a hotel build and maintain a strong and differentiating brand promise and ultimately create more loyal guests? Deloitte offers the following suggestions:

  1. Know what your brand stands for and what it means to your customers. Hopefully it is a benefit guests really want to buy and not simply a feature of your property.
  2. Make sure your employees understand your brand promise and can help ensure it is consistently delivered to your guests.
  3. Create a culture within your property that consistently reinforces your brand promise.
  4. Measure how well your brand promise resonates among guests and employees.
  5. Monitor how well it is being delivered and establish standards to ensure that it is.
  6. Maintain ongoing training to help consistently deliver on your brand promise, reinforcing the message. with customers and strengthening your brand’s reputation.

The Deloitte analysis provides a good foundation for how a hotel can create a strong brand promise and is definitely something hoteliers should consider implementing. As Deloitte points out – your profitability depends on it.

Taking Your Brand Promise and Loyalty to the Next Level
To truly succeed however a hotel needs to go well beyond the six steps detailed above. It needs to incorporate its brand promise into every point of contact with a guest or potential guest since the hotel experience goes well beyond the time a guest spends on property.

Therefore, a hotel’s brand promise needs to shine through in the call center (especially if it is outsourced), its website, advertising, email marketing, reservation confirmations, pre-arrival and post-stay communications, brochures and even personal correspondence.

Hoteliers need to think of communicating with prospects and guests on a continuum – before they arrive, during their stay and after they leave. Repetition is the mother of learning. So, during this continuum your brand promise continues to be delivered until they rebook. Before, during and after so the cycle begins once more.

This is the essence of integrated Customer Relationship Marketing or iCRM as practiced by professional experts in the fields of database and direct marketing. Communications are designed to deliver relevant content including your hotel’s brand promise effectively at each stage of the customer lifecycle from initial awareness through where you have developed loyal brand advocates.

Brand Promise and Loyalty Case Studies
The next HospitalityMarketingBlog post will provide examples of hotels that have built strong and unique brand promises. They have used CRM best practices to establish themselves as High Prestige Properties and seen their customer loyalty, repeat business and profitability grow.

If you believe your hotel has a good example of a strong brand promise that has led to increased loyalty and profitability and should be featured in the next blog post, please contact me.


How to make your hotel feel more like home

candidate-868853-2014-07-15-16-35-45A hotel has to “flow” and feel welcoming and comfortable. Here are tips on how to help guests feel more at home.

I’ve been involved in the architecture and design of many hotels. My experience working hospitality on three continents has taught me one critical key to success: pleasing your guests.

I adhere to the wisdom of Steve Jobs: “Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.” How do you ensure your facilities will work for guests, providing what pleases them, what they like rather than what architects and designers like?

By being empathetic to travelers.

Imagine you are a guest walking into your new hotel. Does it adhere to status quo, an entryway to a registration desk with tired furnishings that almost snore? Or does your lobby breathe energy, broadcasting a welcoming environment stimulating all five senses?

I’m a fan of open lobbies because guests love them. Our “restaurant, lounge and bar” begin at the front door and end at the back door. From the moment guests enter, they feel welcomed, at home and relaxed. Desk personnel are not anchored to the counter; they’re trained to engage. A welcoming lounge/bar is available.

The lobby becomes a hub of hospitality, where guests feel comfortable using the open space to work, relax, eat and drink, without being confined to the room waiting for roomservice. This communal atmosphere sends a great message to arriving guests–– people like seeing people unwinding and enjoying themselves.

Here are five criteria for open lobbies:

  • Check-in feels like entering a lounge; the space buzzes with activity and welcomes.
  • The reception desk is obvious to arriving guests, and staff members can quickly establish rapport.
  • Bar placement and lounge seating are close to the check-in counter and accessible for guests to sit.
  • Seating is mixed among sofas, armchairs and comfortable restaurant accommodations. There are a variety of coffee, occasional, small, communal and restaurant tables. Counters contain plug-in power for devices, and it’s obvious that guests can eat and drink anywhere at any time (why have guests going off property where their hunger and thirst feeds someone else’s bottom line?).
  • Guests should feel encouraged to seat themselves and all staff members, including reception personnel, are trained and focused on fulfilling guest needs.

Now, let’s discuss the design of guestrooms. Over the years, we have conducted many surveys and talked with travelers about their preferences. We listened, and here are things they like in guestrooms:

  • a spacious, well-lit entryway and hallway table or wall shelf for keys and small items;
  • as much working /counter /desk space as possible, used for everything from actual work to a convenient place to empty pockets and lay magazines, papers, etc.;
  • light switches that are obvious and easily accessible;
  • simple bedside switches to operate all lights;
  • a large bench for a suitcase, rather than a folding luggage rack;
  • multiple power outlets at desk height, with at least two by the bed for charging electronics (everyone wants more power, and if you have international travelers, supply at least one power outlet for European and World pins);
  • draperies that open and close easily and can darken a room;
  • a plugged-in coffee machine, and cups/condiments, etc., at counter height;
  • an in-room safe in a closet or armoire, at eye level and not where guests need to kneel on the floor or stretch uncomfortably (don’t make guests contortionists); and
  • an ergonomic and comfortable work chair, not a dining chair.

Here’s what guests want in the bathroom:

  • ample bathroom counter space (with single vanities preferred over double);
  • great lighting, ideally dimmable, and fog-free mirrors;
  • a shower only in the bathroom, especially when corporate business is at least 60% of your guest mix, with great water pressure and room to move, with a step for ladies to shave legs, if they like;
  • non-slip flooring tiles and grouting that are easy to clean;
  • easily accessible towel storage with a towel hook by the shower;
  • a small space with lockable door and ventilation for the toilet, if possible;
  • decent-sized waste bins in keeping with room design; and
  • great fixtures and fittings. Don’t worry about fancy artwork, but rather use the money on great fixtures and fittings; they’re what people notice and appreciate.

In closing, remember another Steve Jobs quote: “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.” That’s your job. Delight, surprise and please them.


Think Outside of Technology

forget-technology-hotels-696x465Reading the article made me consider that the hospitality industry is looking in the wrong place in respect of how to continue to grow and thrive in an ever competitive digital and experience marketplace. It is reacting to the behaviour of users and competition rather than investigating and understanding the causes that lead to this behaviour. The industry is treating the symptoms of the digital revolution and human reaction to it, as opposed to the causes.

I hear you say – “That sounds awfully academic, boring and has no real benefit or realistic justification for my time and attention in the real world” – well you could be right! You have rooms to fill, competition to beat, reducing budgets and increasing costs to contend with.

But I ask that you forget about technology, forget about mobile, analytics forget about digital marketing for a few moments.

Stop looking at the various number of systems and huge amount of customer data that you have a gathered over the years (which is – despite being data from which you can identify trends always going to be reactive data) and think about those customers as individuals.

Individuals who have emotions, distractions, pressures, problems and triggers that can lead to their behaviour and therefore interactions being different from those they have shown in the past or may indeed show in the future.  Individuals driven by emotion who make 95% of decisions sub-consciously.

The subtleties of human behaviour

There are many numerous, subtle layers to human behaviour – however when working with clients I initially focus on three high level considerations which can help drive ideas and begin to affect beneficial change;

  1. Digital Behavioural Types
  2. Path to persuasion
  3. Most effective persuasion techniques

To prevent this article becoming an essay – I will only focus on the Digital Behavioural Types and will discuss the path to persuasion and the most effective techniques in other posts.

So, we know – as it has been scientifically proven – that humans exhibit similar high-level behaviour when interacting with organisations whether they are online or offline. The variances in this behaviour can broadly be summarised as (with thanks to Jeffrey Rohrs and his excellent book Audience);

Seekers – people who are investigating an area of interest – be this buying a pair of shoes or looking to book at weekend break. This could be online (via TripAdvisor) or offline (talking to friends).

Joiners – people who have completed some level of investigation and are interested in an organisation, author or a product – they will in the online world ‘like’, follow’ or even bookmark some content (be this a product or an organisation) and in the ‘real world’ will maybe visit a shop.

Buyers – people who have completed a ‘transaction’ – this could be this financial or could be in terms of providing an extra level of personal data (for example date of birth, income etc.) – they have in effect provided an organisation with information willingly and do expect to receive a product or service in return.

Amplifiers – people who talk about you and your organisation. These could be people who simply like the look of your website, they could also be people who have experience you and your hotel. They could be any of the previous three types or none. Here the key is to turn an amplifier into a fan – someone who does not only talk about your organisation but become an advocate (think Red Bull and their success with customer feedback and loyalty).

Clearly the objective of any organisation when looking at these types is to turn Seekers into Buyers and Amplifiers into ‘fans’, not an easy task but the starting point however is to recognise that these types exist – you can then begin to look upon your customers and their behaviour from a wider and more human angle.

So what to think about now?

  • Think about yourself, your friends and family and how you behave online depending on individual need. Don’t forget you are a human too…
  • Start looking at your customer data from the angle of seeker, joiner, buyer, amplifier – can you see trends in your Google Analytics, PMS, CRM data that identify people at these different stages? Look for revisits, forms started and not finished, long time on a page, haphazard site visits (navigating around every page!); think like a human.
  • Do not just take data at its historical word – people dropping off a page may not be because it is badly designed (it might be!) but consider that they may have been distracted by an event or another thought.
  • Look at your user journeys differently – not solely focused on getting all users to ‘Book Now’ as quickly as possible, use the data to mould different journeys to different types.


Hoteliers look to millennial fashion to evolve uniforms

uniforms-5-webSome hoteliers have adapted uniform styles to make employees feel more comfortable on the job, appeal to guests and employees of all generations, and match the vibe of the hotel’s environment.

With the number of millennials in the workforce growing, some hotel companies are updating their uniforms to boost employee morale, increase employee retention, and attract younger, casual and creative guests, according to sources.

Leaders at the Hilton West Palm Beach in Florida looked to millennials for uniform inspiration because of the hotel’s younger staff and millennial guest market. GM John Parkinson said the hotel gave employees different uniform options to allow them to express their unique styles.

“Oftentimes, you go to hotels and the employees are wearing uniforms that aren’t representative of their personal style,” Parkinson said. “So instead of just giving them one type of tie and one type of shirt, we gave them multiple color ties, multiple color shirts, so that way, it’s all uniform, but it also allows them to express themselves personally.”

Likewise, the JW Marriott Grand Rapids in Michigan is known for its younger staff and approachable luxury style, according to GM Brian Behler.

Uniforms at the hotel changed from dark suits with ties to more fashionable suits with colored pocket squares to give employees a more humble look, Behler said.

“We (looked) at a variety of things,” Behler said. “And looking at our culture, as well as the younger generation with some of the millennials and a large portion of our staff being part of the younger mindset, we thought we would change the way we dress to be a little more approachable, so to speak.”

Uniforms weren’t updated for the entire staff, but Behler said managers’ suite styles were changed and statement necklaces were added to front-desk associates’ wardrobe options.

Millennial style translates to other generations
Many millennials inhabit the Hilton West Palm Beach hotel in terms of staff and guests, but Parkinson said the property employs other generations as well, and that was top of mind when deciding on an appropriate uniform style for everyone.

“Not everyone who works here is a millennial, and we took that into consideration when we were coming up with the uniforms,” he said. “But I think what we found is that fashion is typical. Like the shoes I wore when I was their age are the same shoes that are back in style now.”

Before the hotel opened, Parkinson said executives traveled to Manhattan to study the style of local bartenders at chic bars in the city. Once the fashion research was completed, valets at the Hilton West Palm Beach were given black shell-top shoes; bartenders received leather vests; and baristas were given flat caps to wear as part of their uniforms.

Hotel Indigo Lower East Side New York opened its doors to the creative people of New York City at the beginning of December with doormen dressed in orange military coats and front-desk associates dressed in block orange and gray dresses.

The goal was to design unique uniforms that would complement the property’s artsy, graffiti-covered New York neighborhood, according to GM Tania Getzova.

“Usually, (Hotel Indigo) is a hotel brand with a more classic, traditional uniform style,” Getzova said. “We thought that for this hotel, because of the way that the hotel is built and designed, it’s all about art and graffiti art, so it was important that we do something out of the box that would reflect the style of the hotel and also reflect the downtown neighborhood kind of fashion.”

Getzova said the “professional yet casual look” was chosen because of the younger creative demographic of people in New York.

“Uniforms play the same part as trendy guests who stay at the hotel,” she said. “No one in the Lower East Side is walking around in a suit and tie.”

Better uniforms improve employee morale
Based on employee feedback, sources agreed that employees felt better in their uniforms, which led to better customer service for guests.

Parkinson said the uniforms benefit employees and guests.

“I think (the uniforms) are a benefit for our guests because the customers come in, they see it and it feels fresh; it feels good,” Parkinson said. “The team members are comfortable in what they wear.

“When I was in college playing sports, we always said, ‘You look good; you play good; you feel good.’”

When asked if changing the uniforms helped attract, retain or boost morale for employees, Behler said, “yes to all.”

“(Employees) definitely have appreciated having different styles to work with,” Behler said. “We made the change, literally, just to give some flexibility and some different options because we’re always looking to be a little different at our property.

“Take care of the associates, and they will take care of your guests.”

Getzova said Hotel Indigo’s trendy uniforms have helped boost employee self-confidence.

“I started at the front desk. I had an ugly uniform, and I couldn’t wait for the shift to be over so that I could change into regular clothes,” Getzova said. “Here, it’s exactly the opposite. Employees can literally go about the rest of their day in their uniforms because it looks good.”


Teaching Your Staff Not to Live Shift to Shift

keep-hold-of-your-staffOne of the reasons people enjoy working in the hospitality and service industry is because they expect to leave each shift with cash in hand.

In fact, that was one reason I got into the service industry when I was in high school. I loved that feeling of getting cash and having money in my wallet. It gives you a sense of security and freedom.

The problem with having money in your wallet is it’s readily available to be spent, which is also exactly what I did. As I grew older, I worked in bars and restaurants where I would make hundreds of dollars in tips a night and then spend hundreds of dollars the next day, impulse buying whatever caught my eye.

Saving for the future is something that I am just now beginning to understand.

I attribute my bad saving habits directly to the service industry. I knew that if I needed a few hundred dollars, I would have it by the end of the week.

Saving money is not always on a young person’s mind.

There are some that think that money management skills should be taught to kids in high school. I tend to agree with this. If I would have learned the consequences of spending money and how it affects my life I think I would have been a little more careful in the early days of my career.

When I became the manager at some of the bigger restaurants, I had staff members who were just like me when I was younger.

They too were young and loved to party. They were excellent servers or bartenders and would make hundreds of dollars in tips a night.

The problem was as soon as they were cut from the floor, had finished their side duties, and had checked out, they would walk next door or down the street to the nearest bar and blow all of their tips on partying.

Then they would come to me the next day or later in the week and beg me for double shifts or extra shifts saying,

“Please! Rent is coming up and I need to make enough money to pay my bills!”

To be fair, not all young adults are like this, but there are enough of them out there that it bothered me. As I’ve said before, not only was I a leader, but I grew to care for some of my employees like family.

Unfortunately, it may fall upon you to save your young employees from themselves and teach them some skills they should have learned at home or at school.

Some advice I should have followed.

When I was a young bartender, I met a guy who had “been around the block” a few times. He had been a bartender himself for years, working his way across The States. He had finally settled in Las Vegas.

He gave me a piece of advice then that to this day I still wish I had followed.

“Take my advice. Stop messing around and put $10,000 away. Put it in the bank. Leave it there. Don’t ever touch it. Just leave it there for security.”

I was in my 20’s then and probably responded with,

“Whatever, old man. What do you want to drink?”

I would have saved myself years of heartache if I had just taken his advice and put that money in the bank.

What should you do? Be proactive, help solve the problem. It only benefits your business more.

So what I’m saying is this: make it part of your orientation or training and take the time to talk to your employees about saving.

Kids don’t get told these things enough. They’re not taught life skills like money management in depth. They touch on it in school, but it seems it’s not enough in this day and age.

If you don’t see this as a problem, or think that it might not be any of your business, just keep an eye out for signs of trouble. Me personally, I never have had a problem asking an employee how they’re doing or if there was anything they needed to talk about.

I’ve even let some of my employees borrow money from my own pocket. They’ve never let me down, always paid me back, were always grateful for the favor, and have never forgotten my kindness.

Take my word for it, it pays to treat your employees well.


Resolving Workplace Anger by Listening to Your Emotions

imageI have seen many hotels achieve high customer service scores and yet struggle with low employee satisfaction scores accompanied by high turnover rates. Many hotel executives scratch their head wondering “How is that possible? Is this just the nature of this industry?” The answer is yes and no.

Yes, the hotel/service industry has a higher turnover rate than many other industries. And, no, it doesn’t have to be the case for your hotel.

High demands and high stress create a ripe environment for anger. Unresolved anger behind the scenes can lead to low employee engagement resulting in high turnover. There are many tools and best practices that you can implement to increase employee engagement which will result in lower turnover. One of the most effective tools to increase employee engagement that you can practice yourself and then teach your staff is listening to your emotions to navigate through anger.

Think about the word: Anger. What is the first thing that pops in your head? Did you feel your heart rate increase and get a little flush? Did you think of a person who was overcome by it? Did you think of an event that ended badly because someone gave in to the power of anger?

When we are engulfed by the emotion anger, we react. We tend to do the first thing that pops in our head regardless of the consequences. This angry reaction usually results in outcomes that are less than desirable. What if as a leader, you could guide your team to embrace the power of that emotion, listen to the wisdom of it, and choose a response appropriate for the situation? How much more effective, productive and stress free would your hotel be?

A Defining Moment of Leadership From One Hotel Executive

“I walk into the managers meeting the instant a verbal fight erupted. Our sales manager is yelling at the top of her lungs at our operations manager. Both managers are hot, red faced and loud. All the other mangers are staring at the two of them, eyes and mouths wide open in disbelief.

“In shock, my instinct is to raise my voice so they can hear me, put them in two separate corners and ask them both why they are behaving like children? My mind is racing “How could they do this? This can’t happen today. Several of our Board of Directors are coming in 3 hours for a meeting and this will not look good. Why can’t they control themselves and act like adults? I need this day to go perfectly. This behavior is unacceptable.”

“I take several deep breaths to allow my shock to subside. I begin to listen to the leader within me. I remember that this is a man and a woman that care passionately about their work. They are people that I trust and that I have seen come to work every day and do their job to the best of their ability. I remember that it is my job as a leader to pick them up when they fall, to help them respond appropriately when they make a mistake and to lead them when they have lost their way.

“This moment isn’t about me and the plans I had for my day. This moment is why I chose to become a leader. This moment is why I was chosen as a leader. This moment will define my strength as a leader.*

“I will guide these two valuable members of my team to diffuse the situation. I will teach them to find the source of their anger. I will lead them to creating a resolution.

“I will lead. I will guide. I will teach. Ready. Set. Lead.”

This hotel executive had a choice. He could give in to the overwhelming power of his anger in the heat of the moment, raise his voice and shut the situation down. Or he could demonstrate to the team how to navigate through the emotion of anger, teach them how to do the same and lead his team to a peaceful outcome. He chose the latter and used the following tool to do so.

To navigate through the wave of the powerful and overwhelming emotion of anger, you must identify, acknowledge and listen to the emotions of anger. Follow these three steps:

  1. Identify the emotion underneath the anger

    Anger is a surface emotion. While it looks like anger on the outside to everyone else, underneath it is actually one, two or many different emotions that you are experiencing. Dig deep and get to the root emotion(s) that are showing up as anger. Is it fear? Is it disappointment? Is it frustration? Is it sadness? It is all of them?

    In our story above, when the hotel executive began asking questions of his team, he found out that the underlying feeling of anger from the sales manager was FEAR. She had a big proposal in front of a new customer that she had been pursuing for 18 months. When she presented the customer’s needs to the operations manager, he replied that 2 of the 5 requests were impossible to meet by his team. She was experiencing fear of losing the sale, of missing her quota, of losing her job.

    On the other side, the hotel executive discovered that the operations manager was experiencing frustration and disappointment underneath his anger. One of the key objectives his operations team had for the year was customer service excellence and on-time delivery. He didn’t currently have an adequate amount of trained staff to deliver on-time the request the new customer was asking. He was frustrated that he wasn’t given enough time to meet the request with the standards that his staff wanted to achieve. He was disappointed that he didn’t have his staff trained adequately right now to help win this customer.

  2. Acknowledge the root emotion

    There is power in the spoken word. Have you ever been in a group situation where everyone is avoiding talking about the elephant in the room? The pressure builds, the tension mounts and the air feels like it is slowly being sucked out of the room. Then one person has the courage to speak up: “Does anyone else want to talk about the big elephant in this room?” The moment everyone acknowledges the elephant, it suddenly doesn’t seem as big, the pressure and tension diminish, and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.

    It is the same with emotions. As soon as you have identified the root emotion behind your anger, say it – out loud. Acknowledge the emotion. Once you acknowledge the emotion, you are no longer trapped under the weight of it. Your mind is free to shift from the emotional side of the brain to the problem solving side of the brain and then you will begin to see options available that you hadn’t seen before.

    Going back to our story, as soon as the sales manager expressed to the hotel executive that she was upset because she feared she would lose this potential client, the hotel executive acknowledged that they all wanted to get this client and that they all experienced a fear of losing the big ones. He reminded her that they had always worked as a team to win these deals together and asked her what options she could think of to meet the client’s needs and also maintain the standards that would keep the client coming back. After taking a deep breath, she shifted from anger and fear of losing to creatively brainstorming on how to solve the challenge.

  3. Listen to the wisdom of the root motion

    Emotions are an extremely valuable tool for leaders, if (and only if) we are listening.

    Many of us have been taught to avoid emotions and never let them surface at work. Consider what happens when an emotion is shoved down into that deep place within us. It festers. It grows. It becomes bigger and bigger each time we ignore it or leave it unaddressed.

    If you take a different approach to emotions by acknowledging that emotions can provide valuable knowledge, you gain wisdom from that emotion, you empower yourself to navigate through the emotion and you shift your thinking from overwhelming emotion to powerful problem solving.

For the sales manager in our story, what if instead of ignoring the fear of losing the deal only to explode in an angry outburst at the manager meeting, the sales manager listened to her fear when it first arrived two days prior. What would that fear have told her? For her, the emotion of fear might be telling her “I think something is about to happen that I don’t like or that is not good for me”. If she was listening, she might have started problem solving at that moment rather than dwelling in the anger and pointing the anger at the operations manager. She might have called the potential customer and expressed the hotels commitment to customer service excellence and asked if their dates were flexible. Or she might have called the operations manager to brainstorm together on how they can get staff trained and up to speed in time.

We each have a right to our feelings, even anger. Anger burns hot. It can overwhelm us or it can empower us. Feeling anger does not cause problems. Feeling anger does not generate bad results. It is our response to anger that matters. It is our response to anger that defines the results.

Not every employee will have the tools necessary to navigate the anger that arises in them. As leaders, it is our responsibility to give them the tools. Teach them how to diffuse anger by uncovering the emotion that is behind the anger, acknowledging it and listening to the wisdom of that emotion.