Full is Beautiful

May 14, 2014
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I was recently having coffee with an otherwise outstanding and refined hotelier, who shared some of his challenges with me. The owner of his hotel was constantly urging him to keep the hotel full. My colleague felt it was unhealthy as it was pushing his people to their limits and the wear and tear on his furniture and fixtures was high. “A hotel of this caliber”, he told me, “is not meant to be operating at full capacity.” Among other things, what he was basically implying is that he needed to have a few vacant rooms at all times, in case he would have to move an important guest.

My answer to that is that you should never have to move an important guest, because all your rooms have to always be in tip-top condition, and no important guest should be checked into a room that does not meet those criteria. Should there be some type of annoyance from the guest, a bottle of  champagne and/or a bouquet of fresh flowers will accomplish more than a room change (who does not hate to have people touch their “stuff”?) at a small fraction of the price. Ok, I give you $60 worth of amenities, and I can sell the other room for $500. As Bill Clinton used to say: ARITHMETIC.

“My staff are getting exhausted when we run a full month at 90% occupancy” he would continue. Do you have the same number of employees when you run 90% as you do 60%? If so, you are not only exhausting your employees, but also shortchanging your guests on service levels. Hire more people. And, by the way, I doubt your tipped employees complain when you run a full house: more guests automatically means more money in their pockets. A busy bellman is a rich bellman. And a rich bellman is a happy bellman. And we all like happy bellmen, don’t we? Guests sure do.

The hotelier added, “My hotel is falling apart because there is no time to fix draperies, paint, mirrors, carpets, etc… If I could only run it at 10% less occupancy, I could have an ongoing preventive maintenance program, take rooms out of commission a few at a time, a few days at a time, and keep them all pristine.” At, say, $500 per room per night that would mean leaving a lot of money on the table, wouldn’t it?

I’ll tell you what you can do: take ONE room out of commission at a time, for 24 HOURS ONLY, have your “white tornado” dream team get to it, including a grouter/painter, an electrician, a housekeeping manager and a drape and carpet shampooer. Rotate the mattress, remove the art work, clean behind it and rehang the art professionally. Remove scuff marks off the night stands and furniture. Move every piece of furniture away from the walls. Change the TV set if needed. Cost: not much as these are people who are already on staff, but why not allow an eight-hour shift for each of them to that particular room: it can be rented the next day in pristine condition. Lost revenue: one night at most. (You can actually mitigate lost revenue if you send the “white tornado” to a room whose occupant has checked out early in the morning, with the next arrival not due until after 5pm. Just make sure the paint is dry.)

“In addition, Guests cannot get reservations in the Spa or the Restaurant when we run full occupancy, and I do not think it is fair to them.” he also says. More and more luxury hotels are doing “pre-arrival” servicing of the guest. This can be accomplished by telephone, or by e-mail: make sure guests are contacted and specifically told that because the Spa and the Restaurant are are in extremely high demand, it is  recommended to have advanced reservations for either or both. Don’t be one of those General Managers who keep ten tables empty in the restaurant in case hotel guests may walk in: with your money, do whatever you want. With your owners’ money, be a good “pater familias.”



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