to come

By Steven Ferry Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers | November 17, 2019

 

Did you hear about the case of the incredible disappearing hotel manager?

No?

Well, this is not so much a joke or a detective story as the beginnings of an obituary for the old-time general manager who used to have the time to cruise the lobby, building relationships with guests.

Where is he now?

According to a recent article by Hong Kong-based journalist, Vijay Verghese, GMs have left the lobby in order to address more-pressing concerns such as cost-cutting and investor-driven imperatives.

Like the canary in the coal mine, the GM-free lobby most likely has fallen victim to myriad back-office exigencies (urgent needs/demands) and can be seen as an early warning regarding the downsides of the increasing mechanization, social-media-ization, and creeping automation/robotification of the guest experience. Like oxygen for miners, emotional engagement is not an option for hospitality, so how can such a fundamental have been pushed so far off course?

It has been a slow process: Over the decades, the industry has responded to the tempestuous winds of the economy, changing market conditions, and guest perceptions and expectations-the most cogent amongst which are a) generational, b) cultural diversity opened up by globalization, and c) technological advances-all of which have resulted in a number of fundamental changes that may not be in the best interests of the guests and thus the hotels and chains that service them. Some would call such dead canaries "progress," others might see them for what they are.

What other canaries may be lying inert at the bottom of their cage?

Brand Loyalty without the Benefit of USPs?

One seriously sick canary is undoubtedly the challenge in maintaining brand loyalty and increasing those coveted repeaters.

How come?

As the industry consolidates and consolidates, and then consolidates some more into corporate behemoths, brand identities and differentiators start to bleed like a red shirt in the white wash, everything turning pink. The 20,000 Five-Star hotels around the world, for instance, are owned by a decreasing number of companies who, with a few notable exceptions, seem to have reached an amorphous plateau where their brand lacks any meaningful-to-the-guest USP. By way of a simple reality check, when a property is de-flagged, the new operator can and often does take over almost seamlessly, thereby calling into question any asserted differentiation.

The illusion of choice is created by having multiple brands from which to choose-much like a car-rental company that offers a choice of different makes of vehicles that have no effective advantage one over the other-the only actual difference being between categories of vehicle, such as saloon, SUV, sport, luxury, and van.

From the guest point of view, there is a loss of the unique, the personal, the home-away-from-home feel, as corporate-think nudges out plain old hospitality-think (Hospitality: The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers, originally from the word Host: "A person who receives or entertains others as guests.")

Is it any wonder, therefore, that guests lack brand loyalty, preferring online aggregators offering the largest possible selection and the most-competitive pricing to determine where they will stay? You could say that hospitality is falling away from being a desirable experience by guests to a mere commodity as guests lose interest and become less engaged.

The above problem children (decreasing live guest-engagement and the lack of differentiation and thus loyalty) are real challenges faced by hard-working and well-meaning managers and owners. They did not create the environment so much as find themselves operating in it as "The way things are, so adapt and make the most of it!"

Except this whole idea of adapting to the environment is another piece of conventional wisdom that could use some examining. For those who react to life, it is the way to go. For industry drivers who are aware of the environment, able to compute accurately and take action, the actual and successful operating basis is to change the environment proactively to the way one wants it to be. The trick, of course, is to want it to be in a condition where the most entities influenced by the environment benefit from it-not to take action that only benefits self and a few others.

A person who is proactive will be alert for new ideas, think them through, and take action to improve conditions. A person who is reactive will not look at, or will reject, any ideas that require independent thought or bucking the status quo. And so, having great faith in the abilities of hoteliers, almost all of whom that the author has met being rather exceptional, it may be of interest to step outside the conventional wisdom and offer a new course for hospitality to chart so as to a) bring it back to its roots or essence and b) help resolve the lack of differentiation in their offerings, guest engagement by the staff, and loyalty of their guests.

What is the new direction?

QA Designed for a Different Purpose

The first step is paring guest complaints down to the basic one: A failure by the facility to deliver what was promised-assuming, of course, that what was promised aligns with what the guests want (as discovered by proper market research and survey).

When something is not being delivered as promised, that is the time for Quality Assurance to step in and push things back onto the right course. And this is where we hit the pivotal problem: QA has itself been blown off course, bit by bit, and has not had the benefit of a QA Overseer to push it back on course!

In what way is QA off course?

While claiming to provide QA, the two main independent QA organizations are really focused on, and of benefit to hoteliers as

a) benchmarkers against the competition and offering membership in a club that guests used to consider of value in selecting properties;

and

b) as an advertising and marketing boost.

There is nothing wrong with these boosts and activities, but if these market leaders, who control almost the entire QA space, present themselves as QA, then everyone assumes that all the QA that needs to be done is being done.

And the truth is that the QA standards being used leave much to be desired. This is perhaps why most hoteliers see hotel inspection scores primarily as a marketing tool and indicator of how they compare to their competition (which in part drives performance assessment and related bonuses), rather than an objective operations analysis that points to the needed operational improvements that will lead to greater guest satisfaction.

QA is at the core of hospitality, for guest perception and satisfaction are based on what the guest actually experiences in the real world. QA audits that dig into what and how the staff are doing are key to maintaining high levels of guest satisfaction. Yet when QA plays second fiddle to other pressing concerns or is relegated to an occasional obligatory assessment, the main purpose of which is to achieve sales and marketing goals, then a real QA that improves staff performance and guest experience may well be a concept and activity that has disappeared from hospitality, just like the oxygen in a mine blow-out.

QA actually started in the 1950s in England, and, as covered in the first article in this series A Report Card on Independent Quality Assurance [link], standards assessed covered 50% guest engagement and service standards and 50% facility. This provided a pretty accurate assessment of what the guest could expect and what the property needed to focus on in order to improve the guest experience. Over the years, the QA focus switched almost entirely to assessing facilities and service standards, with only a lick and a promise returning recently to the assessment of guest engagement.

To make matters worse, standards in use today were created, and have remained substantially unchanged since, on the preferences of Western Silent Generation and Baby Boomers. Don't look now, but the generations flooding hotels and resorts today are much younger, and they certainly do not all come from Western countries.

Then there are various other operational subjects that really need to be audited and improved as part of the greater audit in order to address those subjects that interest or impact guests: Efficiency of the staff; environmental impacts; emotional engagement (as distinct from service style-these terms not being distinguished in audits because emotional engagement is not understood as a science); and guest perceptions as expressed in social media. A truly on-target experience for the guests cannot manifest if any one audit element is missing or weak. Achieving that balanced overview and strategizing based on it would be, in and of itself, one fundamental differentiator for a chain or hotel, simply because they would be in tune with their guests and delivering on the promised experience.

Quite a few chains have taken QA in-house, but they walk forward with a blinker on each side of their head that reduces their effectiveness: On one side, they are too closely involved with their own product and on the other, they have the same shortfalls in standards as the independent QA market leaders-all following the same general approach and conventional wisdom.

While and since writing the three earlier articles on QA in 2018, I have contacted hundreds of GMs and corporate people and found most to be very much involved in their operation and set on the conventional wisdom, making it hard for them to step outside the box and look.

And that is what an independent and comprehensive Quality Assurance program would deliver, looking with a fresh pair of eyes at the whole guest and staff experience, highlighting the kind of creeping changes-those suffering canaries-mentioned above that elude those focused on the demands of day-to-day affairs and following current policies/strategies/imperatives/wisdom.

As a note, some chains try to bring about this fresh look at the property level by changing their top managers frequently from property to property. This creates other problems, as such managers never have the opportunity to implement a long-term strategy, such as one indicated by a comprehensive QA operational audit.

A better strategy might be to carry out an objective analysis periodically and allow the GM to keep the resulting business plan on track and not be pushed off it by daily routine and demands.

This article is not suggesting that the market QA leaders, with the benchmarking and marketing benefits they bring, should not continue as they have been-but let's not be lulled into thinking that such audits are really operational audits focused on improving the guest experience, rather than just the guest perception of the facility.

For in the final analysis, what use is focusing on the perception when the substance that underlies the perception is not delivering on the promise; and what use is benchmarking if the standards used fall short in multiple ways? *

* As covered in Auditing the Auditors, Parts I-III:

1. A Report Card on Independent Quality Assurance [link]

2. The Art of Finding the Pulse [link]

3. A Quality Assurance Program for the 21st Century [link]

Prof. Ferry Professor Steven Ferry was born and raised in England, where he worked in education, hospitality, and private service before moving to the USA to continue in private service. He took a break from service to establish a photographic and writing communications company that produced a wide range of educational, PR, marketing and editorial products for many major US publishers and corporations, while also writing books for the butler profession and ultimately, being drawn back into the service industry to train and consult. At the request of peers, he founded the International Institute of Modern Butlers (www.modernbutlers.com) in 2004 to set and raise standards for the profession through advocacy, consulting, and training. The Institute staff have trained at one hundred and thirty 4 & 5-star resorts around the world, and in multiple estates of the wealthy. Steven Ferry can be contacted at 813-354-2734 or stevenferry@modernbutlers.com Extended Biography

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If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.

12. PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION

Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Hotel Newswire Headlines Feed  

Richard Takach, Jr.
Anne-Juliette Maurice
Bonnie Knutson
Jacqueline Clarke
Holly Zoba
Bonnie Knutson
Marc Stephen Shuster
John Poimiroo
Bill Meade
Gini Dietrich
Coming up in January 2020...

Mobile Technology: Feature Focus Demo

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is "resilience", the ability to "go with the flow" and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition-new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.