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Tips for When You Become a Semi-Retired Hotel Consultant

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 20 September 2017
Typically, the higher up you are in any organization, the further away you are from the basic tasks required just to manage your new 'one person' consulting operation. The myriad of functions previously completed by your support staff now occupy your time. For example, some former executive colleagues of mine did not even know how to set up their own email or how to manage their own websites. (If you're reading this and think that I'm describing you, I apologize...but you should know!)Accordingly, I've assembled these six simple tips for anyone planning to make that important first step from employment to self-employment, especially with respect to the grander transition from full-time employment to semi-retirement and retirement.1. The devil you know. You've spent 25+ years working in the hotel industry. You know pretty much every element in the business from front desk and housekeeping to every amenities and the marketing plan. Now is not the time to contemplate a starting a new career in retail, technology or manufacturing. Instead, play to your strengths and your experience. Yes, you have passions outside of hospitality, but in most cases, your fresh fruit concept is a disaster waiting to happen.2. Keep your powder dry. Your retirement funds are your reserve funds. Withdrawals from your 401K to provide stimulus for new, speculative ventures are just plain wrong. You would never spend your retirement fund on risky stocks or investments, so why would you transfer funds to something else with an unproven track record and no guaranteed yield?3. Be selective. Unless you are in dire financial straights, you should not delve into any new job-like activity without proper consideration. Take your time and plan out your long-term objectives before you plunge. Seek help from your peers and other experts in the field. Remember, your time is far more valuable than cash.4. Be realistic in your fiscal expectations. You might have had a package of a quarter million a year or more in your previous occupation. But that does not mean that, as an independent consultant, you are immediately a rock star worth over $500 per hour. Simply put, once you go rogue, you're now in a competitive marketplace. You have to prove yourself all over again and rebuild much of your network. There are also many other younger consultants out there with less experience but much more stamina. Not only will you have to duke it out with these young guns at a fair market rate, but you will have to demonstrate that your past experience effectively translates to consulting wisdom. Often this 'burden of proof' will require you to put in many hours of pro bono work in order to get a paid gig.5. Be realistic in your capabilities. Even if you have maintained a physically active lifestyle, you're not in the same condition as when you were a twentysomething. Years of catching early morning flights and late nights socializing will inevitably catch up with you. You need your sleep. You need regular exercise. You need a good diet. Plan accordingly.6. Have fun. Remember, there are fewer days ahead of you than behind you. Do what you want to do and do it well. While semi-retirement means less overall income, it also means having the luxury to be picky about where, how and when you work. Focus your efforts on those projects that you can meaningfully fulfill and build upon your successes.

Don't Fear The Word Sorry

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 18 September 2017
This is a word you should never have to say, and yet it is one that can have a very powerful effect when used correctly.For most well-run properties, mistakes are a rarity. While this doesn't preclude them from happening entirely (we are human after all and errors are bound to crop up during transition periods or staff turnover), apologizing is not something we do only when we are at fault.This comes down to a debate between logic and emotions. When a guest comes to you with a grievance or compliant, they are probably not in a purely rational state of mind. Regardless of whether it was an actual error on our part or if the guests have overlooked something, we say that we're sorry in order to show humility and to empathize with their plight.A good mantra to adhere to in this regard is: "The customer may not always be right, but the customer is always king."Rather than shifting the blame or attempting to logically show how the hotel is absolved of culpability, just say the 'S' word then work with the guest to resolve the issue. I've witnessed this firsthand and heard stories of it countless times where the hotel staffer reacts defensively to a guest's criticism, and it never ends well. Even though it's commendable for a team member to stand up and protect the integrity of your property, I can't think of one instance where this tactic has won over a guest. In an emotionally charged debate, logical reasoning never wins.Instead of exacerbating an issue, a quick and sincere 'sorry' is the path of least resistance. Only once you have demonstrated that you care can you politely insinuate that maybe, perhaps or possibly the hotel isn't at fault...or at least not completely so.Moreover, this simple phrasing harks back to what it means to be a hospitality professional and dedicated to service. That word 'service' implies that you are willing and able to serve or oftentimes act subserviently to achieve a given result. Guests may not be expecting you to be at their beck and call for everything, but they will certainly appreciate that you care or are at least attempting to understand.Sometimes the true nature of service means going beyond the mere tasks you perform and into the manner with which you perform them. Deploying the magic 'S' word in the right place will help guests see that you performing those tasks with only their best interests at heart.

How Would You Define Modern Luxury?

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 15 September 2017
How many times have you heard the word 'luxury' in a hotel description? It seems to be one of the most abused words in the hoteliers' dictionary! I've seen many hotels claim to be luxurious, when at most they are just slightly better than average.There seems to be no clear definition for luxury. Looking for some clarity in the dictionary, the word 'luxury' come from Old French luxurie and the Latin luxuria or luxus, meaning excess. In other words, something that is luxurious is an inessential - a desirable item that is more than basic but not a necessity.In keeping with this definition, the basics of our product/service offerings are definitely not luxuries. These include cleanliness both for rooms and public areas, free and fast wifi, comfortable beds, sufficient amenities, generous hot water for showers, enough towels, quiet HVAC, good lighting for all needs, entertainment facilities, and security. These are the minimum expectation. Don't confuse delivering any of these elements with the providing of a luxury for your guests.The first and obvious step towards attaining bona fide luxury status is to seek quality - better furnishings and fabrics as a start - to better differentiate your hotel. While these are CAPEX decisions, quality can also be found in smaller items such as room amenities. But beyond this, let's look beyond the mere concept of quality to try and define luxury for hoteliers with these five aspirations or status markers.1. The Right Technology. The luxury guest anticipates easy and fast internet access for all of his or her devices. Increasingly, the expectation is for a tablet device in-room that controls most functions such as exploring room service menus and learning more about the local area. But technology is so much more. It now involves advanced in-room controls, smart thermostats, televisions that record your preferences and tools that can automate turndown service or front desk coordination.2. Authenticity. You can go to visit Paris in Las Vegas or you can go to Paris, France. One is a facsimile; the other is real. The same comparison applies to your property. Luxury means wholly embodying the real thing. As an example, think room decor with real paintings, photographs or lithographs on the walls, not cheap reproductions.3. Attention To Detail. A fresh flower in a bud vase can go a long way. Folding towels in a unique arrangement will make guests pause and delight in the little things. In-room umbrellas seems so logical and yet it's a rarity because we are more concerned with theft than providing for the four seasons. Housekeeping tying up loose computer recharger cords will make people feel loved. Newspapers delivered in a fabric sleeve show that you always go out of your way to give your best. Each of these items individually seems inconsequential but when added together they provide a lasting, holistic luxury impression.4. Personalization. When in a luxury property, guests expect staff to recognize them and address them by their name. Handwritten notes upon arrival are traditional while an electronic, taped welcome message on the telephone is simply unacceptable. Above all, dedicated effort is put towards remembering customers' preferences because luxury brands are confident enough to assume that their guests will be returning.5. A Positive Surprise. The welcome bottle of wine along with a fruit or cheese plate sets the tone for an outstanding stay. In a similar fashion, your restaurant should always offer diners an amuse bouche, but luxury hotels go a step further in that each complimentary snack is a personal expression of the chefs' craft and the servers are equally passionate in describing all the details of its creation. The overall idea is to provide something extra that is both appreciated yet unanticipated, and with all the bells and whistles befitting a first-class brand.

Using Loyalty Programs as a Tool for Brand Education

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 30 August 2017
From a psychology standpoint, the proliferation of this technique makes sense because of how often we humans are slaves to our emotional states of mind. When it comes to purchases, we habitually complete translations based upon our own internal 'hot buttons' then back-rationalize these decisions into features and benefits - that is, the logical aspects of traditional sales training.For instance, a woman joins a gym not to be healthier (logic) but because she wants to look drop dead gorgeous in her wedding dress (emotion). As another, a millennial buys a certain Japanese model as his first car not because it was lauded in Consumer Report for its gas efficiency and safety rating (logic), but because he saw his favorite actor driving one in the most recent Fast & Furious movie (emotion). To touch on a personal example, a marketing executive buys the newest Macbook Pro, not because he needs all that extra speed to load Microsoft Word or Outlook a few milliseconds faster, but because he has been locked in a game of technological one-upmanship with his cousin for the past three decades.For all of the abovementioned cases, if a salesperson knows these underlying purchase drivers, he or she can subtly or overtly rephrase the pitch for maximum returns. While I would like to believe that we've moved past these antiquated methods (or maybe only given them a more innocuous name), playing upon one's emotions is a component that's sorely overlooked in today's hotel loyalty programs. Perhaps we can take the constructive aspects of hot button selling while leaving out the unscrupulous.Transactional Pseudo-LoyaltyToday's loyalty programs are almost purely transactional. You give away your name, email and perhaps your home or mailing address, and in return you get basic perks such as free WiFi, complimentary breakfasts, extra drinks at the lobby bar, members' only room rates or shuttle service to the airport. While these are all great features of a contemporary loyalty program, there are three grievous errors that have been overlooked.First, if it's a quick sign up process, then your loyalty program won't linger in someone's mind long enough for it to stick. Membership becomes akin to a convenience store; it's there only when it serves the immediate needs of the customer, but said customers won't go out of their way to stay loyal to any one store in particular.Second, these perks are all but perfunctory nowadays. Everyone is offering them and as such you aren't differentiating your loyalty program from the others out there. This in itself contributes to brand apathy and agnosticism - doubly true for special rates whereby consumers will only join to obtain this rate - when instead you should be using your loyalty program to offer benefits to your guests that they cannot help with any other brand or hotel.This belies the third point in that loyalty programs are too easy to join without any prequalification or introductory brand education. After all, you can't discover customers' hot buttons without first getting to know them.PrequalificationThink of all the times you've been funneled through a hotel's booking engine and the prompt to join the loyalty program is nothing more than a basic form at the bottom of a colorless web page. Not only are there no exciting visuals to elicit an emotional reaction, but the brand remains oblivious to that person's individual tastes and preferences.With the power of Big Data, computers these days can perform such amazing feats to infer future customer behavior from answers to even the most basic of multiple choice questionnaires, and yet we aren't making our new guests go through these rudimentary hoops in order to gain access to a myriad of benefits. Without any sense of prequalification, we are transforming travelers into mercenaries, always on the prowl for the best numerical value with little to no emotional attachment.I'm not suggesting that we exclude certain guests from joining our loyalty programs, only that we require an ounce more of engagement on their part before induction. So include your member signup at the bottom of the booking direct page, but be sure to also throw in a "Before you join, take a minute to learn about all the things that make us great" segue.That, or you can be more audacious by adding a graphic with the header that reads, "Tell us about yourself" or "We don't just let anyone into our loyalty program," and then have people input a few of their own preferences to build some initial rapport. Some interesting questions to this effect may include what they already like about your brand, whether they prefer shopping online or calling the hotel to speak with a reservation agent or even which occasions and features might entice them to opt for a room upgrade.In this sense, yes, you are excluding guests, but only those who aren't willing to go the extra inch to tell you a little bit more about what makes them tick. This in itself is a qualifier as those guests who are intrinsically brand disloyal and very likely to not give you repeat business are the ones who want go through this harmless extra step.Loyalty Programs as Brand EducationThese additional steps represent a fine balance whereby you don't want the process to be lengthy to the point that it terminates the sales funnel. But when done right, you can educate potential customers to make them at the very least 'brand conscious' as well as give them reasons beyond price to select your property over others.Key here is to make this brand education and member induction process visually stimulating. It's less a list of features that includes 'free internet access' as a top bullet point and more a slideshow that shows a happy guest relaxing in the lobby while streaming a video of his or her phone. While you may not touch upon each individual's hot button, you are certainly getting closer by prompting customers to discover more about your brand before you automatically sign them up for your loyalty program.In other words, don't give it away, make guests 'earn it', because if people doesn't feel like they have earned something then they definitely will not bother to learn more about it. While this represents the beginning of the process, once you have that opening hook, subsequent e-blasts, offers and questionnaires will then stand a better chance towards building true brand advocacy and giving you the necessary data to better cater to your guests' emotional hot buttons.

HITEC 2017: A Show About Integration

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 24 August 2017
Frankly, the same question may be posed by those who attended as well! Putting aside the exceptional educational seminars, the exhibition show floor now resembles a miniature version of the world's largest technology trade fair, the annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas each January. Some of the HITEC supplier booths have even gone to great lengths to replicate hotel facilities in order to elicit the same levels of customer excitement generated at CES. Most also have ample space for lively conversations and intimate customer presentations.Spending as much as is humanly possible of 15 hours of allotted open time on the actual exhibit floor, I ended up speaking with dozens of vendors. Walking every aisle, I attempted to absorb all the various product and service offerings. According to my trusty health monitoring app on my iPhone, I traversed some ten kilometers in the process. It's a big show after all!But what did the visitor see aside from the glitz? Here's my take. None of these are big ideas in and unto themselves, but together form a consolidation of reoccurring themes critical to the success of each and every hotel property.Integration. Need a solution? There are multiple vendors all offering ways to provide the services you want. At this day and age, what is the point of a standalone solution provider? Thus, the discussion is less about the product offered, but more about integration with various property management systems (PMS) - a critical task that nearly every vendor is now acknowledging. Every PMS handles data differently, and some PMSs encourage third-party add-ons while others do not even allow middleware solutions, seemingly so that they can capture maximal dollars from their 'locked in' clientele. No hotelier wants to manage multiple databases or manually enter data into their PMS from other satellite platforms, so seamless integration and consolidation of software solutions was the dominate theme of this year's show. Hoteliers beware: if you are in possession of a piece of software that doesn't push its data to the PMS, add it to the chopping block.Cloud. Cloud computing is not a new concept. This HITEC, however, represented the tipping point between locally-based server solutions and the cloud option. The general forecast is that our operations and data centers will be fully cloud-centric in the few years, particularly if you are operating within the sphere of influence of a major PMS and not using any obstinate legacy systems. It is certainly not a good time to invest in a local data center as all future updates will only be for cloud-based technologies.Security. Data is a precious commodity. No one wants to 'own' a data breach. Systems that separate public access from private or provide additional levels of data security are to be lauded and promoted. In speaking to the vendors, one of the primary concerns remains hoteliers who continue to use legacy operating systems (such as Windows XP or, heaven forbid, MS-DOS) that are no longer fully supported and can serve as a backdoor into any system. One weak access point like this can be exploited to serve as an easy entry for hackers.WiFi. Five years ago, the discussion was about offering WiFi to the guest for free. Today, however, the issue is about how much WiFi bandwidth you leave available for guests, both as free and at a premium level. The answer is never enough! There is an insatiable appetite for this as more devices hit the hotel threshold and as we adopt casting technologies that better facilitate additional streaming hours. Advanced hardware solutions can now allow the hotelier to take charge of bandwidth by temporally managing allocations and creating customer equity.Screens. It is no longer called merely a television. Call it a visual display panel. Numerous sizes and configurations were displayed by key manufacturing conglomerates, thereby demonstrating their versatility for every corner of the guestroom and every nook of public hotel spaces. Other accessory companies were demonstrating how their solutions fluidly linked these panels with the PMS to create a robust dashboard for the guest with property information, purchasing opportunities and all the regular broadcast features. There are many solutions, and again the issue of system compatibility is a key factor.Employees. Recognizing that labor is the highest cost facing any hotel operator, several vendors were displaying ways to maximize staff utilization. Some worked to enhance the beginning of any journey in hospitality by presenting a more streamlined approach to hiring and retaining good staff. Others presented a means of increasing the onboarding efficiency of staff members once they are hired via mobile apps, thereby reducing training costs and offering a comprehensive online resource for all internal company education. This appeared to be one of the few emerging fields at this year's show as not many vendors or hotel properties have yet to fully embrace how cloud-based technologies can work to heighten staff training.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in eHotelier on July 5, 2017)

Thoughts on the Major Chains' Cancellation Policy Change

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 22 August 2017
Taken together, these three chains dominate the largest segments of the hospitality marketplace and one should anticipate that many additional hotel companies operating in other niches will soon follow suit. And for good reason, too! But first, you must understand why policies have been undertaken at this particular moment in time rather than, say, ten years ago or even five decades ago when they were equally applicable.It all has to do with the sweeping changes related to how technology has affected consumer behavior. The rise in whimsical last-minute and mobile bookings - with a plethora of websites and apps to facilitate this form of conduct - means that cost-conscious travelers can easily find cheaper accommodations (sometimes even within the same property!) in the short timeframe prior to their arrival.Hence, a customer might book in advance on a hotel's brand.com then rebook at the last minute through a third party at a much lower price. Some of these 'get it cheap' sites are so proficient that they can even be set up to notify the booker of cost savings, thus eliminating the need for the user to regularly check up on availability. While this behavior has existed since the creation of the first website that allowed for last-minute bookings, it has only now reached a critical mass whereby it's forced the largest companies to act.A 24-hour or 48-hour cancellation policy will help to seriously reduce some of this arbitrage. It will also work to alleviate some of the stress on revenue managers who want to push leftover inventory to these third parties without cannibalizing their pre-existing reservations. I anticipate, though, that the discount sites may adjust their own rules to stay in stride with what has been dictated by the world's largest hospitality companies.So, what does this mean for the business and independent hotel consumer? Putting aside the last-minute savings focus, the obvious risk is cancellation penalties resulting from changes to business plans. Large businesses with travel policies will probably collaborate with their hotel account managers to add some degree of flexibility to these rulings into their corporate plans during any renegotiations. For smaller businesses, it may mean that they too should consider joining groups or negotiating directly to secure a workaround to this potential constraint.For the independent traveler, it will eventually lead to a minor shift in how individuals approach their planning. For most, it won't matter at all as last-minute re-bookers hardly represent the majority of hotel customers, even though this niche has grown large enough for the major chains to take notice and update their policies.For this rebooking subset, however, they may simply become more conscious of the time restrictions now in place and adjust their 'deal making' to fall just outside of the penalty window. Worse, they may be more hesitant to reserve a room in the first place - thereby giving hoteliers less information about future occupancy - or they may decide to only give their money to hotels that do not have this type of strict cancellation policy.Alternately, I would expect that some of the larger, traditional travel agencies will have the clout to negotiate some exceptions for their preferred clientele. It is interesting to note that these three companies' actions may swing the pendulum back towards this third-party 'old guard' of the industry. Concurrently, since most OTAs already have similar cancellation policies in place, this could be a small but important bonus for them.Unfortunately, there will be some travelers who will be disadvantaged by this move. For example, suppose you have a late change in plans that's outside of your control such as a meeting running late or a flight alteration. Under the current rules, you could call up until the afternoon of the arrival date to make the necessary adjustments. Such changes would now be impossible without incurring a penalty, although I suspect that the top tiers of Marriott, Hilton and IHG's loyalty programs will have some exemptions from these cancellation polcies.Overall, though, I see this as a step in the right direction insofar as ensuring that travels don't take our fragile product for granted and I'm glad to see these chains leading the way.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in Hotels Magazine on Tuesday, August 1st, 201

The Communications Hierarchy in Three Principles and Five Tips

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 21 August 2017
For going on a decade now, I've encouraged readers to reexamine their B2B and B2C communications in terms of how the medium impacts the message itself. To help organize my thoughts on the matter, I proposed a heirarchial flowchart outlining 13 different forms of modern communications based on the level of importance conveyed by each.My motivation for tackling this subject was the rise of email and mobile communications, both of which have had sweeping influences on how we behave and socialize. With each passing month, mobile becomes more significant as a channel, thus necessitating a reexamination of the communications hierarchy I first drew up half a decade ago.This updated ranking is based may not be exactly the same for everyone, although the broad strokes will ring true. What remains unchanged, though, is that the more intimate the interaction, the greater the influence. Any opportunity you have to meet your customer or business partner face-to-face will yield better results than more impersonal modes of communications. In fact, sometimes using a lower communication channel can be considered insulting and detract from your business goals.Specifically, one cannot dismiss the rise of the text message as a valuable clutter-cutting tool for direct interaction and fast answers. Unlike emails which can mysteriously be labeled as junk, be delayed in delivery or simply not opened by the recipient, texts are instantaneous and unfiltered. Nowadays, phone calls go to voicemail while smartphone users are instantly notified of incoming texts.It is important to understand the relative significance of each item within this hierarchy as well as how you and your team manage your own response protocol. To maximize your return on communications, I've developed the following three axioms to adhere to.1. The more important the situation, the higher the communications level. This is quintessentially demonstrated in the world of politics where one-on-one summits between leaders are oftentimes the only route for resolving serious conflicts. Use the same approach when situations requiring this type of intervention are necessary, but also seek them out wherever time permits. Face-to-face meetings convey far more than the words themselves - emotions, character and friendship. Personal discussions are always memorable, and thus your customer will be much more likely to act on your behalf than after a chat on the telephone or an email exchange.2. Respond to inquiries in kind and don't lower the level of communication. If a customer telephones you, you should phone your response. Or even better, seek out a meeting. A personalized email might be acceptable in some cases, but only if you acknowledge the initial telephone inquiry and offer an explanation as to why you are emailing instead of calling back. And in this instance, if the recipient doesn't promptly reply to your email, then you should take the initiative and dial back.3. Elevating communications demonstrates superior service. It instantly tells your consumers that they are a priority. Imagine the positive feelings that such a customer experiences when his or her email inquiry generates a telephone call - and not just a call a week later but one within a day or two. Use your discretion, though, as responding too many levels higher can generate a sense of unease. For example, a potential customer might not yet be ready to commit, and increasing the level of communications could be seen as an act of desperation or that you have too much time on your hands.In addition to these three everlasting rules, there are a few more that are more appropriate to our present situation, knowing all too well that times may change as new technologies and communication mediums are adopted.1. Don't forget the value of a handwritten note. In these days of electronic communications, mail merge, texting and all manner of digital screen bombardment, a handwritten piece has substantially increased in value. People understand how laborious this process is versus typing something out. Used sparingly, it can become a very strong tool in your communications arsenal.2. Avoid building rapport purely through social media. This does not at all mean that you should completely sidestep social media. Rather, look at these platforms less as a means of effectively communicating directly with any single person and more of an awareness generation vehicle. You should not really expect a consumer to respond to a tweet or wall post within a sales-closing capacity. Instead, think of these low-tier mediums as 'foot in the door' tactics - a stepping stone from which to open higher, more intimate channels.3. Stop hiding behind your voice mail. Telephone communications is paramount even to this day where we have a full slate of digital substitutes. You hear a person's actual voice - their tone and the emotions conveyed as well as the words themselves. This channel builds rapport far faster than any email thread. Be sure to actually answer your phone and have your staff do the same. It is amazing to me how CEOs and owners will answer their direct phone line personally because they understand how effective the medium is, and yet many sales managers are just 'too busy' to ever lift up their own telephone. If such a salesperson is too busy to take my call then he or she must also be too busy to properly handle my business.4. Train your staff to move up the hierarchy. Too often, I've seen juniors frustrated by their own use of communications - emailing a client when they should be using the telephone or sending out a group note for information release as two examples. Barring a few exceptions, moving up the communication hierarchy will always bear fruit. Develop an action plan and procedure for effectively prompting an upward shift. Even though it might seem counterproductive, using higher channels saves time because it is easier to reach conclusions and make decisions as a group. Ten emails back and forth over several days oftentimes accomplishes the same as a single 20-minute phone call.It has been over 50 years since Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, "The medium is the message." While social media and electronic communications had yet to be invented, the symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived remains true to this day, and it will remain accurate for many generations to come. You'd be wise to analyze how you can best utilize your channels to build relationships with your customers and your business partners.

Developing Your Ownership-Leadership

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 14 August 2017
There is no set definition as to what constitutes an appropriate demand by an owner for his or her team. After all, it's your investment! Clearly, issues that would be considered material to the property from a monetary standpoint - such as major CAPEX or significant changes to financial position versus budget - are worthy of a timely discussion. Conversely, an urgent call from an owner to management addressing, for instance, a single one-star TripAdvisor review is not warranted.It's all about your leadership approach. Some owners are far more hands-on than others. In my own career, I have experienced an ownership group that phoned its advertising agency (in this case, your humble scribe) early on a Sunday to address copy points from an advertisement scheduled to run in that morning's New York Times. I've also witnessed owners who personally select their restaurants' wine lists, no doubt based upon personal preferences but without their chefs' input or advice.While these are obviously flagrant examples of overstepping that critical owner-operator boundary, it is nevertheless incumbent upon you, as the owner, to help establish the ground rules by defining your own leadership style. Everyone working at your property knows that you care and are keenly interested in the venture's success. This is a matter of expectation management, as your team will work best when they already know exactly how you intend to oversee their management of the hotel.Establishing Your Ownership-Leadership StyleLet's set aside those laboriously long operational manuals, complex mission or vision statements. They're useful if you feel the need to bulk up your corporate paperwork but can often only amount to more work for senior executives without any clarification.As a start, numerous pundits offer their guidance on this topic. Just Google 'leadership' - or indeed look through past issues of Today's Hotelier - and you'll discover a myriad of differing approaches outlined in full. Moreover, there are many experts in the field including leadership coaches, and if you desire you can register for courses on the topic.The framework that I am suggesting affords you, as the owner, both the opportunity to get involved and at the same time drive your own self-actualizing objectives. Here are the top ten considerations to guide your business relationships, which, taken together, will help create your own leadership style.Focus your requests. And, once you make a request, ensure it is completed to your satisfaction. Too often, owners fire numerous scattershot questions at their management team with no real sense of priority. This can result in significant staff time away from direct operational supervision and potentially guest service deficiencies. Best to target on a few succinct requests, reprised in writing if possible and with a specific due date. Don't forget to acknowledge the response, confirming that what you received met your needs. Lastly and of course, saying thank you is an easy way to build morale and close the loop.Encourage initiation of projects by your team leaders. Empowerment of this nature is far better than having them wait for you to assign tasks. Your goal is to generate self-sufficiency amongst your property leadership team. If they are used to relying upon your direct involvement and, ultimately, your 'helicopter' leadership, you end up becoming the surrogate general manager. You need to step back and encourage them to set the agenda as well as to act upon that agenda.Take an active role in strategies and goal setting. But remain passive when it comes to the execution. Owners must be visionary, setting both short and long-term goals for the organization. Once goals are mutually agreed, however, your ownership role should be distinctly hands-off. It's hard to step back like this, but you need to let your team execute on your behalf. Measure the delivery, be there as a cheerleader and offer encouragement but don't meddle. You'll be surprised when the goals are not only achieved but also exceeded in ways that you could not imagine.Focus your activities on larger and more complex challenges. You aren't needed to analyze daily reports, the social media position versus the competitive set, today's restaurant menu, turndown service analysis or the manager-on-duty schedule. Leave these seemingly simple, day-to-day duties to your team. Focus instead on meatier subjects that do not involve the operating team such as major financial or real estate issues. You'll find that your time will be used far more productively.Have confidence in your decisions. This gives you force and substance. The worst owner is one who makes no decisions, instead vacillating between one approach and another. Best to make that critical decision, explain your rationale and stick to it. Often owners seek counsel from a team member prior to decision-making. This is all well and good, but be prepared to listen and not just pay lip service to those who you involve.Set a leadership example through delegation and respect. Just as you lead your on-property team, so too should the on-property leadership - most likely the general manager - approach his or her management team. The parallels are undeniable.Set appropriate goals for your team to ensure a constant sense of purpose. We all live by the concept of meeting budget. How many times have you had to recalibrate after a first quarter of the year failed to meet target? I have personally delivered a first quarter record result 15% ahead of previous year, yet suffered the wrath of an owner because that number was still a few points shy of budget. I might also add here that the plan was set by the owner, with the team being told it was a 'stretch budget' - whatever that is. This demonstrates how you should be realistic in your objectives. Performance goals are not dictated by your financing needs but on marketplace factors for which you rarely have any control.Progress lies in accomplishing difficult work. Make an example of rewarding such activity as not all projects are equal. Some tasks will require more effort as well as an element of risk for a favorable outcome. Do not shy away from these challenges. True success comes from accepting these trials and delivering positive, profitable results. When a member of your team delivers in this fashion, single them out for praise and appropriate compensation. Others will follow!Allow your team to think creatively and find new solutions. Think about the past five years and the changes that have been brought about to our industry through technology and the sharing economy. Now imagine what the next five years will bring. It will take great minds working together to deliver ever-improving results. How will you set the tone to have your team respond and thrive?Don't shy away from confrontation. It's often necessary to achieve progress. You must keep your team focused on the overall goal even when the debate becomes unproductive. Remember to focus on principles and not personalities or emotional whims. There are times when you must use your prerogative as owner. But do so sparingly and only as a last result when all other avenues of consideration have been exhausted. You never want to end up in a situation where you have to say, "Do it this way because I am the owner."Testing Your Ownership-Leadership StyleHere are three real situations that I have been a party. For confidentiality reasons, the names and locations have been altered. What actions would you take in each of these scenarios and what would you delegate to your management team?Scenario 1: Harish owns several limited service branded properties across the southern states. Their STR reports reveal the group is at the top of competitive set. The market is buoyant, so Harish is interested in selling one or more of the properties. A deal is imminent but not yet announced nor consummated. In confidence, he speaks to Sam, one of his best general managers. A few days later, Sam comes to Harish tendering his resignation as he plans to accept a position in another, potentially competitive property. Should Harish fight to keep Sam? And, if you believe so, how should you manage this situation?Scenario 2: Sara works as a front desk manager and is a solid performer. Sonny, her general manager, knows she is ready for promotion but is wavering on recommending an advancement since he feels threatened by a woman. This is substantiated after Sara apparently overhears a conversation whereby Sunny says, "He would never endorse a woman to his executive committee." Quite rightly so, Sara is now considering her position and involving legal counsel. Hassan, the owner, is totally unaware of any of this until Sonny comes to him. If you were Hassan, what would you do? Do you support Sonny or Sara?Scenario 3: Chen is the regional sales manager for a well-run, profitable airport hotel. Without telling Jane, his director and supervisor, he approaches David, the owner, with a partnership idea to generate additional revenue. David is excited and goes to Jane with the idea that Chen presented. Jane claims the concept as hers and recommends dismissing Chen for insubordination. How do you sort this out?Your immediate reaction may be to say that these are all human resource issues and that they should be dealt with by the corresponding personnel. While HR does play a critical role in any hotel's operation, it is extremely hard for owners to resist involvement. As well, some smaller properties rely on outsourced support. Sometimes knowing when to get involved is of overarching importance.These scenarios remind me of the saying, "When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's easy to forget that the initial objective was to drain the swamp." The expression means, of course, something along the lines of, "I'm so busy with all the complications of work that I can't make much real progress." Indeed, sometimes leading your property when you're not the hands-on operator feels this way!Many of you are probably expecting me to provide the final outcomes to these three scenarios. All were resolved positively, but not before putting undue stress on their respective owners. No one said that owning a hotel is easy. Leadership means delegation. Setting the rules, hiring a competent team and giving them the responsibility to accomplish their tasks will afford you the best chance for true success.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in Today's Hotelier on May 1, 2016)

The Proof of Prix Fixe

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 11 August 2017
The best prix fixe menus not only feature a restaurant's signature dishes as selected and perfected by your chefs, but they also offer a few options within broader course grouping. For instance, if you offer a simple three-course dinner, you might give two choices for appetizers, three as mains and another two for desserts. This way your patrons don't feel as though they are being coerced to go down one specific track where the perception would be one of inevitable boredom unless, of course, your unalterable menu entries are of Michelin caliber. Limited optionality gives guests the illusion of choice, while at the same time allowing members of the same table to vary their individual selections so that the differences act as talking points to add to the overall experience.The opposite of prix fixe would entail those restaurants where the menu is far too long, typically bordering on double digits in page length. In these situations, guests end up perusing the menu for a tad longer than if the menu were displayed on one to three pages - that is, increasing the time per seating - or they give up and go with something similar. Both cases inevitably lead to reduced meal satisfaction. In the former scenario, too much choice leads to indecisiveness which subconsciously causes people to be unhappy with their final selection as they always wonder with a hint of regret what could have been. And in the latter, the order that's familiar won't win your kitchen much praise because you aren't wowing people with a unique creation.Ultimately, a prix fixe menu can help to streamline meal delivery (and thereby increase turns if deserved), reduce total ingredient number and boost revenue per turn in situations where customers wouldn't opt for a full meal (including appetizers and sweets at the end, also called a perfect check) and only order a main. While it's all but a given for banquet or big catered events that a fixed meal be used, many restaurants shy away from fully investing in this approach for their regular fare because it's felt that - to offer two reasons of many - it may limit the overall ingenuity of the kitchen or hurt meal satisfaction by restricting the total breadth of what's available.When done right, though, you can move to a permanent prix fixe outline. The first step is to identify your most popular menu items for each category then design a prix fixe menu around them, offering a bit of choice for each course. Next, look to set up a daily or semi-daily rotation of prix fixe menus like how you would for the specials. This second step will inform you as to which combinations of dishes are working best as well as whether there are preferred days of the week for the prix fixe option. From there, and undoubtedly after a significant amount of feedback and fine tuning, you can aim to make this the centerpiece of your restaurant by offering multiple prix fixe menus at different price points with all substitutions or a la carte selections at an extra charge.Adapting this broad methodology to other hotel operations reveals that there are sizeable parallels for more efficient service delivery, significant cost savings and increased sales, all based on the psychological principle of limited optionality or partial choice. It's this last aspect of heightened revenues that can be particularly handy when it comes to upselling on rooms or amenity packages.For instance, if you are on the senior planning committee for a resort, what types of all inclusive, prix fixe packages might you offer to potential customers so that they can experience the best of what your property has to offer and get a good deal in the process? While you might want to silo off the golf from the activities, spa and dining components - and indeed you may be restricted in this regard by software systems that are incompatible with your PMS - it may be worthwhile investigating how you might set up a multi-operation promotion that includes accommodations and the guest's choice of amenities from a selection of onsite or partnered facility offerings.Obviously, this mixing-and-matching would have to be properly balanced so that you recover your margins, but the bones of the idea is that you are incentivizing people so that you can capture more ancillary revenues upfront while also keeping them involved in the overall process by giving them a bit of choice. As an extension, you might consider offering a resort-wide voucher where credit can be applied towards any amenity with better deals for the more nights that are booked.In my experience as a hotel marketer, I've helped build numerous packages of this nature, so let me finish by saying that these generalizations barely scratch the surface as to the amount of work required to properly get moving in this prix fixe direction, especially when you take into account on-property software conflicts, third-party supplier agreements or any region-specific challenges that your hotel may be currently facing. Nevertheless, as has been proven time and again, promotions with clear messaging and a somewhat flexible offer will work. If you want to discuss further, I'm only an email away!(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in HotelsMag on June 14, 2017)

Eliminating the Offseason

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 9 August 2017
A major issue that many hotels confront is the cyclical nature of their revenues and occupancies. Although seasonality affects resorts and rural properties more so than urban hotels, the latter can also suffer from week-to-week or intra-week fluctuations due to their targeting of primarily the corporate and groups segment.Even though most of these suggestions pertain to the leisure segment where the highs and lows are more pronounced, making weekend traffic at business-catering urban hotels should still be a foremost initiative. In fact, regardless of your particular situation and however much your occupancy vacillates, there is room for improvement if you address the issues now instead of waiting for the next ball drop in December. Real and healthy change takes time, and you will need a full nine months to set up these new, viable programs.The first step is to embrace the offseason and be transparent about it with any offers you present to customers. That is, most savvy consumers will already be primed to expect, for instance, seaside properties or ski resorts to be relatively quiet during their respective off-seasons. However, these same consumers may not immediately recognize that this nadir of occupancy means incredible savings for them and interrupted access to all the hotel amenities and facilities because of the lack of crowd.Advertise incredible deals is not enough, though, especially if these loss leader rates are going to cut into your margins. There has to be a hook. During peak season, this comes easy - it's the beach, that perfectly manicured golf course or hitting the freshly powdered slopes. But when those physical draws are inaccessible, you have to rely on 'softer' promotions, boosting ancillary features and giving them extra attention so that they can help sell. No matter what discount you offer, if there isn't an attraction - something entertaining for guests to do while onsite - then you won't sell many rooms.Food and beverage programs are always a good way to garner attention because no matter the weather outside, people have to eat! This is doubly true now that the foodies and locavore movement have become widespread with many people always on the lookout for innovative and unique culinary expressions. If you know that you will be experiencing some downtime in occupancy within the next year, you can plan a large-scale food event set over the course of a few days or even with some repetition to accommodate multiple groups. Beyond such extravaganzas, wielding F&B to generate interest in the offseason can also mean subtler tactics like weekly specials, vendor sponsorships, extended happy hours or low key tasting events.The next lowest hanging fruit is to target your past guests or your loyalty program members. After all, these are consumers who are already primed to receive your messages and will thus be more receptive to take you up on a special promotion or exclusive discount, even if it is for a less desirable period. Reward redemptions can work even better, though, when combined with, again, some form of entertainment. Just because they're loyal doesn't mean they won't allow want something to make their experience memorable. Moreover, if you offer them just a heavily discounted room and nothing else, then it may be rejected or, worse, turn them off completely because they won't perceive any value from long-term loyalty.Thirdly, and bridging the gap between leisure and business, look for ways to draw in groups during your offseason. To do this, you'll need a good sales team but also a solid activities program to occupy a corporate retreat or any other crowd in between sessions and meals. After all, when it comes to meetings and conferences, most hotels already have the basics covered insofar as good audio-video support, configurable rooms and acceptable F&B, so how are you going to convince an event planner to select your property over the competition? The answer is in what entertainment you offer that is unique to your particular location and what you do to neatly package these experiences.Fourth and finally, look to boomers who are currently reaching retirement in droves and with a healthy surplus of funds specifically designated for vacationing now that the work life has subsided. This demographic is far less constrained by when they are able to travel and will be much more receptive to offers that not only promise a good deal but also a unique experience in a less-than-pure-chaos environment afforded to visitors in the off-peak months.Above all, the emphasis is that you start now towards the grand objective of eliminating the offseason entirely. If you are already planning the packaging, events and seasonal promotions for 2018, then you should be able to create and hone specific programs that will ensure that all downtimes are reduced or not eliminated altogether.

The Four Pillars of Hospitality Technology

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 7 August 2017
Nowadays, hoteliers are so inundated with technology that the tasks of prioritization and selection have become far more than just daunting; research and procurement are practically a job title unto themselves! Unless you have specific objectives with a firm plan and budget in mind, you'll easily be intimidated by the sheer myriad of options for consideration.With this in mind, I will attempt to simplify your journey through this process by defining hospitality technology according to four distinct pillars. While each pillar interconnects with the others in various forms - notably, guest service delivery as well as the nightly rates that you can get away with charging - breaking them down into these silos will help you weigh the matters financials as well as ensure that no single area goes overlooked for too long a stretch of time.First Pillar: Physical InfrastructureThis first pillar is the most readily understood as well as the most established and expensive to upgrade. Infrastructure systems include those that run the physical structure of your property such as lighting, HVAC, telephones, in-room sensors, in-room tablets, laundry units, water treatment, kitchen appliances, smartphone door keys, mobile wallet receives, security instruments, televisions, cable boxes, entertainment devices, WiFi routers, point-of-sale terminals, housekeeping dispatch and engineering equipment to name but a few.For each of these systems, there are multiple vendors offering solutions designed foremost to reduce costs from a labor as well as from an energy management standpoint, for which there are opportunities to save millions on your yearly utility bill. It's rare, though, to find a revolutionary, game-changing new device in this arena as typically such hardware is quite expensive at the outset - both in upfront charges along with all the increment maintenance fees accrued due to the technology's yet-to-be-fully-stable nature. Moreover, such incredible advancements don't usually push for hospitality industry as their primary entrance to the market. While we are often laggards in adoption, this would never stop you from breaking formation with the rest of your comp set and taking a risk on an unproven piece of technological infrastructure that might have tremendous benefits in the long-term.If you are working on a new build, your task of deciding which vendors to court is somewhat simpler as you are less burdened by retrofit requirements and legacy contracts. For existing structures, infrastructure improvements can be straightforward or they can be a nightmare. As one example, some installations will require hardwiring and CAT6 cabling through walls which might make their implementation cost prohibitive. Then you have to worry about how all these disparate systems will talk to one other in order to produce some semblance of automation.Last is the discussion of your in-house servers responsible for your digital storage, cyber-security and information distribution requirements. Triple redundancy is one of the most fundamental prerequisites these days given how reliant we are on electronic data. Many properties are now opting for cloud-based solutions that eliminate the need for the traditional home-based server, but a complete removal of the on-property requirements in this regard is a long way off so do your due diligence and upgrade accordingly until that time.Second Pillar: Management SystemsParamount here is your property management system (PMS). This is like the central nervous system for your property, connecting all the various pieces of physical infrastructure as well as automating the communication between them and processing any credit card data. Moreover, it's here where you take the reins to yield manage your room distribution channels and connect in any ancillary revenue streams to make packaging a cinch.If these ancillary management systems can't connect to this central processing bank, I strongly recommend that you consider replacing them as your PMS is also where your guest profile data is housed. Commonly referred to as customer relationship management (CRM), guest profiles are becoming ever more sacrosanct to our operations as it is through the amalgamation of this rich data that we can better analyze how we are performing, what entices our visitors to spend and what each individual guest prefers.Thus, an effective CRM will both help you improve guest satisfaction on an individual level by remembering each person's specific preferences as well as reveal opportunities for growth on the macro level. The two keys to make this happen are to first ensure that as many points of contact between the guest and your property as possible are set up for quantified recording and next that all data is being compiled into a singular bank so each guest profile is as rich as it can be.Various CRM tools are available to lever this data towards building a new and improved guest marketing program. A complete 'tool set' would include such touch points as voice reservation activities, data gleaned from the website, check-in confirmations, post-checkout surveys and newsletters in addition to all the onsite touch points and points of sale.In terms of how to improve in this regard, first know that the PMS is a mature piece of software, meaning that every single one has a plenitude of features that you have probably never used before. Start by reaching out to your provider for a refresher as many of these features are designed to enhance your profitability by computing the data in various ways to offer new insights into how your operations are performing. Most PMS companies offer webinars and regional meet-ups on a regular basis so this shouldn't be hard to arrange. After all, the more you use their software, the more output you get from it and the happier you are as one of their customers!Third Pillar: Digital Marketing ChannelsI've separated digital marketing from the aforementioned internal management systems because these are external efforts that largely exist beyond your property's borders. CRM technology is primarily concerned with database while communications activities encompass all your efforts to target the consumer at large and move them down the sales funnel right up until they input their credit card data.Whereas a PMS contains specific, and hopefully secure, information about each past guest, digital marketing is broader and more ambiguous. These channels include your website, search engine optimization (SEO) activities undertaken in tandem with your website updates, search engine marketing (SEM) such as Google Adwords, email newsletters, blogs, social media, mobile apps, what OTAs you push inventory to and your approach to third-party review websites. There are still many others but these should definitely help you paint a good picture of what's involved here.While there is a lot of overlap with your CRM as these include both sales and relationship channels, the differentiating factor for this pillar is that every aspect is outbound. Like fishing, you know roughly what you are going to catch - specific age groups, psychographics, consumers living in a certain geographic radius and so on - but you cannot say with absolute certainty. Some channels cast a wide net, such as the OTAs, while others can be refined to the nth - for instance, Facebook's promoted posts and how they can target well-defined interests.The technological advents in this arena pertain mostly to automation and business intelligence. That is, software that will help reduce labor costs or those that will unveil new growth opportunities in certain audience groups or markets. As an example in the social media camp, there are tools designed to assist your team in disseminating posts to various social media and responding in a timely fashion, all from a central screen. As well, several technologies are available that provide you with an instantaneous snapshot of your guest feedback on social media and third-party review channels, thereby allowing you to take remedial actions to your guest service delivery or to address product deficits with end-to-end accountability.Fourth Pillar: Your StaffThat's right; the oldest piece of technology in the hospitality industry is still the most vital. While some companies are working on building robots to ostensibly replace humans in increasingly non-rudimentary tasks, we are still several generations from android substitutes capable of fully usurping all that your team members do to build the guest experience.In terms of giving your team a technological upgrade, essentially what we are discussing is training, something that many hoteliers put on the backburner once an employee has been fully onboarded. But training is now an ongoing process and crucial for motivating your staff to perform at their best. With mobile apps and cloud-based blackboard curriculum software paving the way for the e-learning revolution to come to the hospitality industry, you would be wise to investigate your options to see how you can enhance your team training in this regard.Both universities as well as several private service providers offer online courses that can reduce the costs of onboarding as well as improve your guest-facing 'soft' skills. While e-learning can cover the basics like language skills, SOPs, operations, guest service delivery procedures and concierge knowledge enhancements, there are also more advanced systems that have already hit the market. For example, there are motion capture stations that can be deployed to enhance your housekeeping team's muscle memory so they perform repetitive movements with proper form to thereby reduce their chances of incurring a chronic injury. Next, using artificial intelligence, there are training units that can measure how well a staff member responds to an irritated guest or a heated complaint then offer suggestions to improve this individual's demeanor and tone of voice.A Checklist For AcquisitionFew hoteliers, if any, can afford to access every technological advance available. There are just so many initiatives that your IT folks can handle simultaneously, let alone the budget. Before you fall head over heels in love with a new piece of technology, check with your team and ask the following questions to ascertain both the feasibility and necessity of each acquisition.1. Will this new technology reduce operating costs?If so, what is the payout or breakeven point on the investment?What assumptions have been taken in calculating the payout such as staff reduction, interest rates, software installations or server upgrades?Have the costs of training and implementation been factored into these calculations?2. Will this new technology improve guest service?What service gap will this technology fill?How easy or intuitive is this technology for the guest to both understand and utilize?Will significant staff time be taken explaining this technology to the guest?3. Will this technology improve the lives of your team?How will your staff benefit from this technology?How difficult will it be for them to adapt or learn its use?How will you be able to monitor the team's compliance and utilization?4. Will this new technology build revenue?Will we gain efficiencies in how we execute our existing programs?Will we learn more about our guests, thereby leading to improved long-term success?Will it give us access to new markets or business opportunities?5. Who on our team will champion the technology?Will there be a service interruption and, if so, how will we manage this?How complex will the technology be for the team to learn?How long will the installation and learning curve take?6. Will this technology integrate with my current PMS?If no, is this integration necessary?If yes, will you need to install any additional, and possibly expensive, plugins?Who on the team will manage this integration?Clearly the outcome of these questions will guide your decision and help to develop a list of priorities. While revenue and cost savings are always important, don't forget the long-term asset value enhancement through improved guest service delivery as well as how this can work in your favor to heighten the overall perception of your hotel.To conclude, the late Steve Jobs once said, "Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them." Remember that the technology you incorporate into your property is designed not to take the place of personal service but to enhance that which you already deliver to your guests.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Today's Hotelier on June 1, 2017)

Building Summer Occupancy for City Hotels

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 28 July 2017
Temperatures rise. Humidity creeps up. Sounds like time to pack up and head to the nearest beach. While your team may be thinking 'vacation', you should be thinking 'revenue' when it comes to your leisure segment.Every resort owner knows that the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is peak. The kids are out of school by mid-to-late June, making it family time. For a moment, though, let's focus on city properties. Bricks and mortar are depreciated all 12 months of the year. There are no summer breaks in your debt service even as the meetings and conference segment wanes. You need a plan to cover your business through a quarter that will see limited, if any, group activity. So, let's examine the fundamentals of a solid leisure plan.Know and be a part of your market. Product knowledge is essential. Look beyond your property's walls to see what is happening locally. Typically, there is a schedule of activities covering everything from music, to sports and, of course, food. Get involved by sponsoring those events that are consistent with your brand strategy and target guest interests. Being the exclusive hotel partner is not necessary. You want breadth of coverage in this case and not necessarily depth.Flag your summer activities. It's great to be a sponsor. I'm sure that some local, and perhaps regional, advertising and promotions are included in your sponsorship package. That's simply not enough these days. You need to broaden awareness on your website and through other relationship channels such as e-newsletters and in-house materials. Then add your own onsite features to elevate your property from just a hotel to an outright destination.Everyone eats. What was considered exotic a decade ago is now thoroughly mainstream. Sushi, Thai, deep dish pizza, crazy burgers, gourmet tacos and even poke bowls and all have widespread awareness and appeal, meaning that you won't be surprising anyone or winning accolades for their inclusion. Your guests want to try something new so you can just imitate what was trendy two years ago. As well, while it may sound sacrilegious to send a guest off property to eat, you must face the fact that unless you're a destination resort in a remote location, guests will want to roam. Why not give them the tools to do so effectively and thereby stay relevant in the conversation?Everyone also drinks. Separate from food, beverage is a critical component in delivering a truly local experience. Most every region has local wine, craft beer or small-batch distilleries. Your responsibility is to proudly demonstrate your community spirit by giving your guests an opportunity to sample these unique creations, adding to their local knowledge and creating a memorable touchpoint. The lure of supplemental revenue from the national brands is strong, and I'm not advocating walking away from those long-established relationships. Rather, I'm suggesting a balanced approach that augments consumer choice.Bring back a little something. When traveling, I'm always looking for some souvenirs. Nothing distresses me more than seeing the same items in the hotel gift shop that I can find at a Walmart (with no disrespect to this fantastic retailer). Think of your on-property store as less of a profit center and more of a guest service reinforcement. If the goods are ho-hum and overpriced, you may make a buck or two more but, as a consequence, imbue a feeling that, once again, the guest is being taken for a ride.Summer is not just for kids. My wife and I travel extensively during the summer period, and our kids are definitely not in tow. Re-examine your marketplace positioning and consider outbound materials that show adult enjoyment, not just a bunch of screaming kids by the pool. Examine your property's ability to simultaneously manage families with kids and those without. Once you've figured it out, amp up your promotions as the empty nesters are a vastly underserved demographic at present.Balance is key. You need to be true to your product. Know your limitations and plan accordingly. Resist temptations to overload your pool or restaurants. That additional bus tour stopover might have looked like great revenue when you booked it in February, but when they arrive in July and max out your facilities - thereby choking off high paying transients - well, you get the idea. While everyone strives for occupancy over 90% during these peak periods, your staff must be appropriately trained and services properly allocated to handle this surge, lest you tick off a few customers whose needs aren't adequately met.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in HotelsMag on June 16, 2017)
Article by Larry Mogelonsky

Raising Awareness For RSIs

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 27 July 2017
Rather, it is vital that all hoteliers recognize how RSIs may develop in a workplace setting so that steps can then be taken to reduce or prevent their occurrence altogether. RSIs can not only hamper an employee's ability to perform at his or her best but they can also have a toxic effect on those closest to the afflicted individual. Being a true leader means caring for your team and their health, and thus corrective actions must be taken.First, identify those areas of your operations that are most prone to RSIs. Next, review what's available for you as ergonomic solutions. Then incorporate these new best practices into your training initiatives to minimize the incidence of chronic injuries amongst your associate.If you want to know where RSIs might crop their ugly heads, start by looking in the mirror. Since the advent of typewriters then computers, there has been a steady increase in RSIs associated with the arms, wrists, fingers, shoulders and neck, all attributed to the widespread use of keyboards in the office, which requires long periods of repetitive motions in a fixed, unnatural posture. One of my first assignments in the early 1990s was working for an ergonomic furniture company called Forminco (long since closed). At that time, the concept of lower-than-writing-desk-height keyboard drawers and soft wrist rests were novelties, and often rejected by businesses as hokey.Nearly three decades later and most offices have fully embraced this, adjusting their workstations accordingly. If you have not examined those areas where associates are working continuously on keyboards and made physical space adaptations to make this work more comfortable, there are no excuses as cost-effective retrofit solutions are readily available. Outside of basic wrist pads and gels to prevent carpal tunnel, consider standing desks that also have the option for seated work when an employee wants to rest their feet.Desk workers using computers are but one area where hoteliers are at risk for RSIs. Most occupational injuries are caused by cumulative injuries rather than a single occurrence - chronic, not acute. Housekeepers, for example, make repeated motions that can lead to muscle, tendon and skeletal injuries. Think about the fact that a typical housekeeper will dress a dozen beds and clean a similar number of bathrooms in a single eight-hour shift. If they are not properly balanced by, say, bending at the knees instead of hinging at the hips, the chance of garnering a lower back or patellar injury is significantly heightened.What's important to know about the symptoms for chronic injuries is that they are like putting a toad in cold water then gradually raising the temperature. They start with a dull aching, a slight tingling or extremity weakness. Initially, the sufferer will experience these as only intermittent discomfort, but they will increase in frequency if the causative movements or bodily positions aren't managed. Many will try to 'work through it', especially when they are paid on a shift or credit basis, or if they feel obliged to the rest of their team. In doing so, their work suffers; to avoid pain, they may cut corners and fail to meet SOPs. The indirect results of which can be catastrophic to your business - just image the impact on your TripAdvisor scores from improperly cleaned guest bathrooms.Still others will recognize their injuries and call in sick. And they are! This is not an injury that heals with a few simple pills and a week off, though. Don't be surprised if the RSI leads to long term disability. Indeed, as the symptoms progress, the ability for that team member to maintain his or her assigned tasks is drastically reduced.Caught early, some RSI issues can sometimes resolve themselves if effective treatments, exercise regimens or rehabilitation programs begin immediately and are undertaken with a reasonable frequency for a very long time. Just an RSI from sitting at a desk five days a week may take a decade to progress to the point where it is incapacitating, you cannot expect such wounds to heal overnight.In rare cases, more aggressive intervention such as surgery may even be required. Not to scare you, but if you have a loyal but aging workforce, think of the impact on your insurance premiums. As we age, and our bodies succumb to the rigors of prolonged wear and tear, RSI mitigation should be first and foremost on your radar. You should include both your training team and operations staff in designing programs to support your staff and keep them as healthy as can be for as long as they are members of your hotel team.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in Hotels Magazine on April 7, 2017)

July is the Month for Bourbon

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 26 July 2017
With the 4th of July come and gone, it seems only apt for this libation-centric article to discuss the spirit that is perhaps the quintessential American contribution to the world. Even though California and Oregon produce some spectacular wines and local craft beers that have taken the nation by storm, no other country on the planet makes bourbon.Yes, it is comparable to scotch, Irish whisky or Canadian ryes in all but the primary ingredient - maize instead of malted barley or wheat - but no other country has even a remotely sophisticated corn whiskey culture or variety of world-class distilleries up and running. It is uniquely American, and like its counterparts stemming from the British Isles, bourbon can help boost your F&B revenues.For the record, bourbon can be made anywhere within the United States so long as maize comprising a minimum of 51% of the raw constituents. Despite this broad stipulation, bourbon is traditionally only made in Kentucky. As for the name itself, bourbon harks back to before the Louisiana Purchase when the French were fur trapping and trading up and down the Mississippi. The Bourbon Dynasty was the ruling monarchial house of France for centuries, and while this family was all but snuffed out during the French Revolution, the title is nonetheless fitting for how popular this liquor has become.In fact, according to DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council of the United States), bourbon is the fastest growing segment in the spirits market, especially among millennials. Yes, the sweet-and-sour mash bite requires a bit of an adjustment from the peaty, smoky tongue of scotch, but the demand is there, so you might as well meet it. On the supply side, the bourbon market is far more colorful than ten or even five years ago. While the staples like Jim Beam and Wild Turkey are always good to have on shelf, many previously small batch providers are now scaling up to make their bottles more readily available to a liquor supplier near you. The awareness of these lesser-known brands is also on the rise, making your job in finding tableside buyers all the easier.I've gravitated towards New World whiskeys of late because good scotch is becoming far too expensive for everyday consumption. No doubt many other people feel the same way, especially when a single shot at a restaurant can run you upwards of $20. Bourbon is thus a relatively inexpensive drop accompanied by a wealth of premier distillers who each add their own unique touches to the formula. With each new bottle under my belt comes exposure to a great array of rich caramel, almond or even banana aromas and equally complex notes for the tongue. Some new favorites include Eagle Rare, Old Forrester, Corner Creek and Double Oaked Woodford Reserve.Before we delve any further, a few questions are in order. What bourbons have you tried? How do the flavors differ from other whiskeys or distilled spirits? Can you recall any cocktails, sauces or food recipes where bourbon is a key component?This third question is remarkable because, unlike scotch which is chiefly enjoyed straight or with a few rocks, bourbon is palatable both neat or as a cooking complement. Indeed, parallel to the uptick in bourbon availability on the drink list is the appearance maple bourbon or other sour mash-infused barbecue sauces. Corn whiskeys are also making their way onto other sections of the food menu including some very appetizing desserts. It would appear as though bourbon is definitely in vogue.And when something is trending, you should at the very least consider ways to hop on the bandwagon. That, or challenge your F&B team to come up with some creative suggestions for cocktail mixology and tasty new cuisine.

Drumming Up Your War Tourism

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 21 July 2017
It's long been on my bucket list to visit the beaches of Normandy and experience just a sliver of what our fathers and grandfathers went through on June 6, 1944. Coupled with some fine cuisine including exquisite wine and delicious camembert cheeses as well as a few walkabouts through picturesque Northern French towns and other historic sites, this would make for an unforgettable summer vacation.Talking over this dream in conversation, it became apparent that many of my friends and colleagues have similar ambitions or have already completed such a journey. And I'd imagine that you or your friends are in the same boat. In fact, while touring the D-Day Invasion locales may represent the pinnacle of war tourism, it is hardly an anomaly insofar as popular travel motivations.Just consider how much war history is out there and how much effort has been put into preserving these locations and offering guests a fun yet meaningful trip. There are WWII battle sites scattered all over the globe as well as many other museums like the USS Midway in San Diego that I recently visited and the USS Intrepid docked in New York City or even the far more somber museums in Warsaw and those places dedicated to retelling the Holocaust. Then there are the WWI battle sites in such locations as Eastern France or Belgium where, as a patriotic Canadian, one of my previous holidays in this region compelled me to include a daytrip to Vimy Ridge. Plus, Civil War battle sites continue to be prominent attractions for those of us here who prefer to travel domestically.In short, this list is exhaustive and worldwide. Even though in an ideal world there would be no war, the sad fact is that such violent events have taken place throughout our past and it is important that we continue to visit them so that we can act more sensibly in the future. Hence, as I see it, war tourism is not only a worthy pastime but a vital part of every traveler's journey of self-discovery.For you as the avid hotelier, though, such excursions tie perfectly into the concept of local authentic experiences wherein you strive to not only service a guest's accommodation needs but also provide them with something they can't quite get anywhere else. If your property is next to or within a reasonable drive from an attraction of this sort, it is definitely worth promoting on your website and other collateral materials or going a step further by arranging for group tours.While the latter of these two endeavors is significantly harder to set up as it entails partnering with other businesses or negotiating deals with local vendors, the former, including putting up the necessary information on your website, can be completed properly inside of a week. Given that the degree of difficulty is low, there's no reason why you shouldn't be advertising all the possible experiences that a guest might have once they've checked in at your hotel.Describing them on your hotel or listing their availability in a brochure can even work nearer to the top of the sales funnel whereby the multitude of regional attractions may convince a customer to choose your property or a competitor down the road. More likely, however, it will come down to how you package these with other activities into preplanned itineraries that give peace of mind to incoming travelers who won't want to do all this legwork.Let me give you two examples that show how this war tourism packaging might work with differing levels of flexibility. The key message from both is that such attractions are a good way to offer a change of pace from other pursuits.First and close to home are the many quaint inns in Toronto's neighboring viticulture zone, Niagara-on-the-Lake. While it's perfunctory for these hotels to offer wine tours and other gourmand experiences, a few have started to point out that their grounds are within a ten-minute drive of Fort George, a colonial stronghold that can be explored through-and-through inside of two hours. While guided tours are still rare, front desk clerks should be adequately trained to keep this site - as well as all the other non-wine-related activities - on the backs of their minds just in case they are asked by meandering guests to offer some variety to their epicurean-centric itineraries.Second pertains to my month-long sojourn to Japan happening later this fall. As part of a larger tour group, the main stops are Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. But I specifically chose this operator because its schedule included full-day excursions to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If I were to venture out on my own in a country where the language was completely foreign, not only would I mostly likely only travel to one of the two places but I would also not get nearly as much out of it as I would with a guide.Even though this last comment is less about hotels than specific tour operators, understanding these types of travel motivations will nonetheless help you in crafting experiences that will greatly benefit those people who are staying with you. It's all about creating lasting memories to propel guest satisfaction further skyward, and if setting up war tourism programs is possible for your location then it's definitely worth pursuing.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in HotelsMag on June 6, 2017)

The Dirty Dozen Of Hotel Renovation

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 17 July 2017
Hotel renovations are a necessary dread of our industry in order to keep apace with the constantly giving decor trends, star rating requirements and technological advancements. They are also stressful and frustrating. Having gone through dozens of this large-scale projects over the past four decades, I was able to navigate the treacherous waters of my own apartment's scope creep by following a general guideline of these twelve tips.1. Define your objectives. Be as specific as possible, and make sure that these are written and approved by your ownership group. My mistake this time around was that my vision was very different than that of my spouse which resulted in serious cost overruns and time delays.2. Timetables are split in thirds. Whatever you are proposing, figure one third of your time will be spent planning, another third in the actual work and the final third in quality control. Do not underestimate any one of these segments.3. Budgets never last for more than the time they were created. There are more ways for costs to overrun than you can count. I thought our planning was generous but we ended up about 25% over budget, and that includes several areas of great cost savings. It's natural to use a renovation to augment deep cleaning, upholstery renewal, upgraded security systems, LED conversions and any other new technologies. It all adds up!4. What's behind the walls? Our condo is only 15 years old, so there were no crazy surprises like what you would find in a century building. Nevertheless, we discovered significant shortfalls in wiring, plumbing and HVAC that all needed to be corrected before we could begin. Of course, these resulted in more cost increases and time delays, but the lesson here is to thoroughly inspect the state of affairs 'under the hood' before finalizing the scope and budget.5. Hire a great general contractor. Simply put, you have a hotel to run, not a construction site. Don't even think of doing both simultaneously. You need someone who will manage the project on your behalf. The GC became my single point of contact for the project, helping streamline communication and saving me time. He collected all my notes and disseminated them to the multitude of tradesmen onsite. He also fed back issues and prevented potential solutions.6. Let everyone know your deadline. In a residential move, this is straightforward; the closing date of your home's sale dictates the project's drop-dead completion date. While this gave us six months of overlap, the GC understood the final month was set aside for moving. With no secrets, the work was accomplished in the set timeframe. As a senior manager, you put decide what the maximum tolerable length of agony is that your property can endure before irreparable damage is done to its occupancy and reputation.7. You cannot walk away. In order to keep everything on track, I visited the jobsite at least twice a week, in addition to a weekly GC meeting. Apart from the obvious status reports, there were always new items and unexpected issues. The devil is in the details, and you won't discover those details unless you are periodically on the ground with the troops. To note one example, we did not specify the location of the thermostat. Without any direction, the HVAC folks placed it in what they thought was the optimal position, which did not take into consideration the high headboard which would have covered it. Good thing I was there to catch this before it was too late.8. Document all change orders. We kept a running tally sheet of over-change that we requested. While this did not lead to any real cost savings, at least we understood the detailed reasons for the overages. This approach will come in very handy when ownership needs to understand your budget predicament or to reconcile excesses.9. Create a positive work environment. I'm fussy about coffee. So too is my Italian, Portuguese, Lebanese and Turkish workforce. I knew that if I did not provide great coffee, one junior team member would be tasked on a continual Starbucks run. A hundred-dollar Nespresso machine plus lots of capsules turned out to be a wise investment. (As additional learning, the decaf capsules were never touched.)10. What ifs are expensive. Want to move a door, reposition a switch or add a dimmer? Most GCs will never say no. Just about anything can be built or modified; it is merely a matter of time and materials. So, be careful as to what you ask for, as your whimsical idea may be converted into reality but at a price too hefty to properly bear.11. Take lots of before photos. Try to image the best angles and where you stood so that you can replicate them exactly with the new look. The before-and-after comparisons may help you explain your cost overruns to your owners.12. Say thank you to your team. I didn't hire painters, carpenters, electricians, plumbers or HVAC specialists. I hired craftsmen who take great pride in their work. It's probably a small job to them, but clearly very important to me. Such professionals will feel similar pride in their work done to refurbish your hotel. No matter what the project is or the size of your property, it costs nothing to say thank you in person or by email, and it will always be appreciated.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in eHotelier on Wednesday, March 22, 2017)

Renovation While Treading Lightly on Tradition

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 14 July 2017
For those whose knowledge of Montreal is limited, a short history lesson is mandated. The province of Quebec, including Montreal, is predominantly French-speaking. Yet, there is a distinct Anglophone culture in this its largest city which steadfastly had maintained a strong influence over the province through political appointments and strong financial influence. This led to a mini-rebellion (quite significant in a Canadian context) in the late 1970s, ultimately culminating in a vote to separate from Canada in 1995 with the yes votes losing by less than a percentage point. Today, through a stream of legislation, both the city and the Ritz Montreal are truly bilingual. Those 'Anglo traditions' which the Ritz has nurtured for a century now blend seamlessly and form just a portion of its wider target audience.But history alone does not make a hotel, and the property closed its doors for several years to make way for a top-to-bottom renovation. In January 2013, after consuming over $250 million in capital, a new slimmed down Ritz-Carlton Montreal with 129 guestrooms and 45 private residences opened. Superficially, the property maintained its traditional exterior, lobby and oval-shaped ballroom. The original restaurant was expanded in seating and renamed Maison Boulud after a partnership with the famous Parisian chef, Daniel Boulud. Under the skin, there was very little if any of the old property that remained.Despite the name, the property is not managed by The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. It is affiliated from a marketing perspective and half of the ownership is held within the Torianni family. Taking the helm as CEO and general manager is Andrew Torianni. A self-proclaimed 'hotel brat', his father Marco retired from the Coiffure Hotel du Rhone Geneve in 2012. Andrew owes his deep knowledge of the hotel business to a 24/7/365 infusion, having lived on property for most of his years.On a recent visit to the hotel, I had an opportunity to sit down with Mr. Torianni in the Bar Boulud to discuss not only the property, but more importantly his perspectives on the state of the hotel industry.What are your thoughts on the sharing economy?You have to look at the accommodations industry a little like television. In the past, there were just a few channels. Now, with cable and satellite, there are many more options for the viewer. It took awhile for the TV networks to adjust, as they had to up their game with not only better content in general, but also productions that targeted at specific market segments. The same holds true for the accommodations industry. Where we now have many more products, including Airbnb, we need to understand how to make our products focused at specific market segments. Be clear in the definition of your target guest, then narrowcast your product and message to those audiences accordingly.Do you expect to see any business lost to Airbnb in the luxury segment?In a word, no. There are three aspects of hotels that Airbnb cannot duplicate. First and foremost, it is service. A hotel without it is really an oxymoron; it simply cannot exist, especially at the luxury level. The second is a vibrant lobby. We tend to underestimate the strategic feeling of camaraderie that comes from guests' interactions within. The third is food. Guests want great food, not just quick-serve equivalents. With these priorities well-established, a good hotel can weather this sharing economy storm.The Ritz has an older, well-established Anglo-Montreal client base. Yet, as I sit here, I'm estimating the average age of the patrons to be mostly in their 20s and 30s.This has been a critical focus for us. We retained the Palm Court off the lobby, and it still serves a traditional tea just as Cesar Ritz initiated in 1913. But next door is the Maison Boulud which breaks the mold. Here, we find an open kitchen with high top tables that seat a dozen, thereby encouraging a younger audience. Today at Maison Boulud, it is hard to tell if a patron is French or English speaking. The two societies often blend together, which at first seems incongruous yet somehow in our setting it works.Speaking of youthful audiences, how can a hotel best approach the millennial market?Think food! While it is probably incorrect to lump millennials into a single segment, one commonality is their focus on food, not just in terms of consumption but rather from the standpoint of experiences. Think of each meal as an Instagram or Facebook impression. Follow this and you will undoubtedly be successful.I see the pond. Where are the ducks?(Smiling) It's still a little bit too cold. They'll be here eventually, as they have been for the past hundred years.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotels Magazine on June 2, 2017)

Messages for Hoteliers from the USS Midway

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 10 July 2017
No trip to San Diego is complete without a trip to CV-41, also known as the USS Midway, the largest ship in the world until 1955. The carrier was since decommissioned in 1992 and has been turned into a floating museum. As basically an entire town in a boat, the sheer size of this craft defies imagination. Touring her decks and viewing the wide variety of aircraft and exhibits can easily take a full day. Not having a military background, I was in total awe and full of admiration all those who had boarded this great vessel and served in the Navy.A tour of the Midway is not complete, though, without listening to the living history provided by the many docents who willingly share their experiences. While the information they provided clearly reflected the life on the ship, significant parallels can nevertheless be formed with the vast array of activities in our world of hospitality. Here are several that I gleaned.1.Expertise is not necessarily coming from the top-down. Landing an airplane on an aircraft carrier is as difficult as they come. The coordination of this feat required an entire team of crew members, each tasked with specific duties to fulfill an orchestral procedure to ensure that each jet made it down safely. The movies make it seem as if the pilots were in control of everything, but the fact is that they were following the exact requirements radioed to them by servicemen of much lower ranks who guided each plane to catch a deck pendant (cable) stretched across the runway.From this, the hotel implication is fairly straightforward. Listen to your restaurant servers, housekeepers, bell staff and front desk clerks. Chances are that they have a better pulse on what's going on than you do, or at least a fresh perspective with insights that can vastly improve operational efficiency.2. Critiques are vital to continuous improvement. After every landing, there was always a complete debriefing session. All pilots attended and watched video replays of their approaches. Senior, more experienced pilots provided the grades, posted for everyone in the group to see. The experience was probably gut-wrenching for those flying, but ultimately they recognized that all share in the responsibility for each other's success and the quest for continual improvement.From this, you can inquire about the last time your departmental managers met with their teams to discuss performance, not to be negative but to search for the best way to achieve guest satisfaction.3. The same position for extended periods breeds complacency. The 'Air Boss' directed all aspects of the flight deck operations while the 'Mini Boss' was his assistant and in training for the job. What was surprising was that the length of time in the position of Air Boss was 12 months, with the Mini Boss assuming then his role. If you think of the many years of experience necessary to get to this leadership position, it seems contradictory to see such an early departure. Yet, the feeling was that those who spend too long in the boss's chair will become complacent, potentially leading to shortcuts on procedures.So think for a moment about how long is too long in any hotelier position? Will your team leaders continue to grow and thereby improve performance? Or should they be shuffled laterally into new roles to strengthen their overall wherewithal through cross-training and new perspectives?4. Safety is everyone's priority. High octane jet fuel, live ammunition, fast-moving aircraft and inordinately loud noises do not make good company without strict rules focusing first and foremost on safety. Everyone on board was fully trained and retrained on these procedures including first aid and evacuation protocols. Moreover, regular drills reinforced this knowledge.As it concerns you, your fellow managers and your associates, the lesson is that safety is just as important in a hotel as an aircraft carrier. It's everyone's business. How are you managing safety training with your team? And is it enough?(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in Hotels Magazine on May 23, 2017)

The Housekeeping Training Revolution

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 7 July 2017
Of course, this all relates to technology - putting your internal curriculum onto an online portal, thereby enabling e-learning. It works because it fosters an environment of microlearning - that is, allowing your team to learn at their own pace and in bite-sized, modular chunks, both of which are better for knowledge retention over the classical intensive and condensed period of instruction. Additionally, by putting your curriculum online, it frees up your supervisors' time as well as allows associates to explore other aspects of your operations that are beyond their current job description but nonetheless a subject of interest for prospective lateral promotions.While it may seem too good to be true, obstacles present themselves during the implementation process and in getting your team to adjust to the new system. And these growing pains are most evident than in the housekeeping department.Likened to the last holdout against the invasion of purely technological processes, your housekeepers are now prone to disruptions on nearly all fronts. Training manuals can be put online or plugged into motion-capture performance tracking stations for new employees to quickly learn the basics before job shadowing begins in earnest. New mobile-centric software platforms offer real-time synchronization to streamline internal communication, shift priorities on the fly and appease the current demand for 24/7 room readiness to the point where the morning lineup is all but obsolete. And then there are engineering firms working to build robots that can fold laundry and clean rooms, thus eliminating the need for human housekeepers altogether, but this is still at least a few decades away from practicality.Additionally, you must consider the health and safety of your housekeeping team. Unlike most other desk jobs, theirs is one of physical rigor, lending itself to a much higher risk of repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) as well as everything that results from that - lowered team motivation, erratic staff scheduling and long-term disability payouts to cite three.While it's a much more straightforward line of thought between how technology can benefit your property from a training perspective, there are also significant implications for how it can be utilized to also boost the wellbeing of your team. Firstly, most contemporary SOP training modules teach the proper techniques which minimize injury. Next, there are now platforms with dedicated ergonomic curriculums so that your housekeepers can get in the habit of using the correct muscles for any given cleaning-related task.This is but a quick overview of how technology can work to propel your team into the 21st century and I would highly recommend you investigate your options. I've purposely left this article company agnostic for brevity's sake, but if you'd like the names of a few to help get you started, email me and we'll discuss what will work best for your specific hotel.

Breakfast of Champions

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 5 July 2017
Here's a simple test to see if your morning foodservice is staid. Order breakfast in your own restaurant and take a picture of what's served on the plate. Now, go to any Denny's - or any other well-known diner of this ilk - and order their Grand Slam or equivalent. This meal delivers a plethora of plate-filling carbs and all at a very reasonable price. If your plate looks similar to this, then it's time to seriously rethink your approach.Remember, Denny's price is well under ten bucks including coffee. That's the baseline your customers have in the back of their minds - one that's been imprinted through countless visits to various fast food outlets. Of course, your price is going to be higher and so too should your presentation, albeit there's no guarantee that the quality will necessarily be better.Breakfast is a critical part of your operations and can drive home a great hotel experience by letting guests start their day on the right foot. Limited-service properties recognize its importance in attracting rooms revenue by including it in the rate. Even the QSR sector has identified breakfast as universally appealing with many franchises extending availability hours from traditional mornings to day-round. Now it's your turn to rethink this meal.Creativity Equals ReengineeringReengineering your breakfast menu is not an onerous proposition. As breakfast generally delivers a high margin, your team has a lot of latitude in what you can create.Let's start with a staple - oatmeal. I encourage you to challenge your approach to this basic breakfast option. Does the presentation look visually appealing? Is it popping with a variety of colors? Does its smell titillate the nostrils and immediately make the stomach rumble? Can you differentiate your oatmeal from another property's dish of a similar name?The opportunity is making every dish your own. Creativity delivers memorability which equals greater meal satisfaction and ultimately revenues. For example, here's a photo I took with my iPhone just last week at a local diner in Toronto called Portland Variety. A little bit of a chef's knife and positioning of a fruit garnish turns a plain oatmeal bowl into a genuine selfie moment! If a downtown diner can do this, why can't you?(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotels Magazine on May 5, 2017)

Enhancing Your Public Relations Success

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 3 July 2017
Thinking of all the hours that are spent by hotel managers and public relations agencies in preparing this material is mortifying, especially since 99% of these well-crafted pieces of literature will be trashed without the recipient ever getting beyond the headline. What a waste! Moving forward, as the general manager or director of communications, you must find a way to get a better return on your PR investments.When public relations works, it is a fantastic use of your financial resources. Too bad that most of the materials that get distributed so badly misses the mark. To this end, here are ten pointers that will greatly improve your PR news release program's efficacy.1. Work to a strategy, not a tactical plan. Your PR strategy should be based upon your product, services or people. Anyone who believes that a strategy is to distribute materials monthly, independent of content, has the cart before the horse!2. Each release must make sense to the reader. Assume nothing. The reader may not know where your property is located relative to geographic reference points or the unique selling points of what makes your hotel great. Similarly, don't even assume the reader knows the name of your property or its affiliation.3. The headline is more important than all the content that follows. Read the headline. If it does not encourage the reader to continue, hold the release until it does. Funny, catchy, poignant, witty, racy, current, political, timely or historic headlines - all can work when done right so try a few and torture test them with your internal test.4. A visual is critical. The saying, 'an image is worth a thousand words' rings true. Readers are far more interested in looking at the photo and will have a higher propensity to read what you have to say, particularly when the picture has a caption. However, more is not necessarily better. For example, a recently received release from a tourism bureau had ten different photos as well as text to accompany each. A single visual has meaning; multiples rarely enhance the communications.5. Brevity please! No one wants to read a 500-word editorial. No one has time! If the recipient is interested, he or she will respond to you for more information. Give them enough to whet their appetites. You have no need to distribute the entire story at once. As the top record for this week, I received a 1,837-word release. Is the sender seriously expecting anyone to read all of this? Would you?6. Personalize if you can. I am far more apt to look at an email if it starts with, 'Dear Larry' than one that has no personal introduction. Program your system accordingly.7. What are the next steps? Photos should have a download link and credits identified. A source for more information should include both a phone number and an email. If there is a FAM opportunity, then that too should be specified. Include general website links but also specific addresses to pages containing the most pertinent information.8. Vanity releases are annoying. Sorry, announcing the promotion of the assistant's assistant to the director of marketing is not a news release. In my mind, the only personnel that are worthy of a news release are the appointment of a general manager and the executive chef. Like the boy who cried wolf, choose your broadcasts wisely.9. Creativity counts. A snappy headline, great photo and a few paragraphs of well-written text is all that is needed. Sounds easy, but often this requires a lot more work than the usual regurgitation of the 'blather'.10. Encourage your PR agency to focus on results (quality) rather than quantity. I know your agency wants to demonstrate that they are working for you. They believe that sending out materials regularly will justify their fees. If you are hoodwinked by that tactic, then maybe they are not even charging you enough!(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in HOTELS Magazine on May 2, 2017)

Moving Up The Ranks Of The Guest Experience Hierarchy

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 29 June 2017
I'm mystified, or should I say confused. Perhaps you can help me solve this conundrum...In most annual budget processes, hotel managers go into immaculate detail on spreadsheets for such line items as capital for renovations, expense allocations for operations, personnel, and sales and marketing. Yet rarely is there a section, nay more than a single row devoted to training or any of its other more elaborate forms such as 'service culture development', 'associate engagement', 'team improvement' or 'guest experience enhancement'. If we are truly in the hospitality industry, why do we neglect the fundamental service function that is our namesake?Giving more thought to your internal service R&D also means you are working to substantially distinguish your hotel when more extravagant facility upgrades are far outside of budgetary scope. Through continuous technological installations and judicious procurement, most limited-service properties now have quiet HVAC, comfortable beds and ample bathroom facilities. With the gap in physical product presentation narrowing, service thus becomes the all-important critical business differentiator. This is good news for the property owner, as service improvements rarely require any form of extensive upfront capital and often have limited cost, mostly allocated to salary for proficient associate instructors and lost training time.Understanding The Guest Experience HierarchyIn 1943, Abraham Maslow published his theory of the hierarchy of needs, and his psychology theory has profound applications to the hospitality industry. As his treatise identified five sets of specific individual needs, let's apply each to how your guests approach an accommodation and how each subsequent level adds further needs that are only important once all predecessors have been satisfied.Physiological Needs. This level denotes the physical accommodations your property delivers - a comfortable night's sleep, a functioning washroom for proper hygiene, essential beverages like water and sustenance (note that this is different from 'food' and 'cuisine'). Also included here would be housekeeping as it relates back to maintaining sanitary conditions, thus explaining why flaws in this area so easily draw the scorn of guests. Nowadays, free high-speed WiFi is teetering on being a part of these bare necessities given how reliant we all are on internet connectivity for communications, our jobs, information access, directions and even payments.Safety Needs. More than just a doorlatch, safety means that you provide as stress-free an environment as possible. For instance, guests should not be woken by rowdy people in the room next door. They should not encounter unsavory characters in your lobby as the security presence is both apparent and effective. Guests should be reassured that their cars are not vandalized in the parking lot. Finally, living in the digital age means that their personal data and credit card information is not willingly shared with third parties and that you have done your due diligence to ward off hackers.Social Needs. This is the first category where service really comes into play, especially when you take into account that the other common name for this level is 'love and belonging'. The focus is the reassurance that the guest's decision to choose your property was a wise one when compared to every other hotel in your comp set, whereby not only are you attending to visitors' personal needs but providing for them in a friendly manner. Included here are operational line staff positions like the bellhop, valet parking attendants, concierge and front desk clerks - basically anyone whose primary function is to interact and help customers in any way that's beyond the scope of physiological and safety needs. For many properties, the mandatory concept of service necessary to fulfill this level is specifically detailed in SOP manuals as well as an innate characteristic that is prescreened during the interview process. In any case, these skills are trainable and can be measured against quantifiable standards.Esteem Needs. This fourth echelon of service is where personalization starts to play a part. A typical example of this is a loyalty program, where habitues are given a preferred status, often with separate check-in, upgraded amenities and additional onsite privileges. For example, your staff should address guests by name when they pick up the in-room phone to call for restaurant reservations. The general manager might also compose a handwritten note on arrival with a welcome refreshment. Recognition of a birthday, anniversary or major lifecycle event also falls in this category. Lastly, food rears its magnificent head again as providing a fine dining experience above and beyond merely refilling one's energy stores is a sharp demonstration of respect for your patrons.Self-Actualization Needs. Representing the pinnacle of service, this classification does not necessarily mean significant added expense for the operator, but it does require time for mastery. Self-actualization implies that our operations are delivering a memorable experience as well as one that enriches a guest's life in some meaningful way. It could be as simple as providing the recipe for a dish that the guest remarked as exceptional in the restaurant - that is, education. Or likewise, it could mean providing a sample of the dry rub the chef uses for the main course so visitors can better understand how individual ingredients contribute to a greater whole. This could also be a facility tour of the property, an invitation to an event held on-property, passing along some information about a hard-to-secure local activity or simply having a lengthy discussion with a corporate group about what else the staff can do to make their retreat go off without a hitch.Satisfying The Guest Experience HierarchySelf-actualization is where you want to be, delivery of which typically results in lifelong memories, extreme levels of positive sentiments and unswerving loyalty. Naturally, commentary on Yelp, TripAdvisor and other third-party review sites reflects these achievements with exuberant and exceptionally compelling appraisals which will definitely help to convert future guests.Think of these levels as building blocks, though. Remember, focusing on any higher level within the hierarchy while letting any of the lower levels slip will result in failure. Your restaurant could be performing excellently, for instance, but if your housekeeping is sloppy, the front desk agents are surly or the air conditioning is noisy, all value-adds will be for naught.The question then is how do you build your service program beyond what's standardized to satisfy the top three levels of this pyramid? It starts by nurturing a culture of guest-focused service as well as the approach taken by your HR team in hiring. There is no such thing as a college course that motivates an individual to be oriented towards a life of service. In addition to this challenge, a good general manager must establish an identifiable service culture that is reinforced through an ongoing commitment to staff empowerment so that each little opportunity to deepen the guest experience is never lost.Exemplifying The Guest Experience HierarchyGreat examples of service are easy to recall because they are immensely memorable. They serve as beacons in a sea of hotel service mediocrity for you to learn from, though and so here are a dozen personal examples (presented alphabetically).Upon remarking positively to a waitress about a cocktail at the bar of Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, I was given a copy of the recipe with additional handwritten note with specific instructions from one of the bartenders.Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland invited my wife to don an apron and learn how to prepare fish in several different ways. While she did not cook the night's dinner, I am confident that that she has shared and embellished her experience with every one of her friends to the point where they likely now believe she was the sous-chef!At the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace in Budapest, we were looking for dinner reservations and were invited to a private wine tasting dinner taking place that evening. Understanding nothing in Hungarian, the staff quickly printed an English version of the tasting menu. Given the strength of the pours, I am glad we only had to go upstairs to retire.The boutique Hazelton Hotel in my hometown of Toronto offered a curated tour of its extensive in-house art collection. They also have an art concierge program that assists with visits to museums and local art galleries.When I asked the doorman for a taxi one rainy night at The Lanesborough in London, he instead summoned a standby car service to take us to the theatre and the same car was waiting for me when the play ended with the driver cheerily offering an umbrella.Arriving early at the Montage Kapalua Bay in Maui, we joined a lei making class with the property's resident Hawaiian ambassador, spending about an hour learning this art form as well as capitalizing upon her extensive local knowledge, all while boozy drinks were served.For many years, Ojai Valley Inn & Spa near Santa Barbara ran a monthly learning program for guests with examples of curriculum including tea tasting, readings by local authors, hands-on flower arrangements and annotated back-of-house tours.When I failed to make a reservation for high tea at The Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong, the receptionist sensed my disappointment and took us to a second level balcony bar that normally does not provide this beverage service. The traditional wait staff from the tea room then served us without any additional delay, all while we soaked in the spectacular view of the city.The signature restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Toronto, called TOCA, has its own cheese cave and encourages guests to participate in tastings of its delectable house-aged fromage. While guests expand their cheese vocabulary, the restaurant in turn boosts its revenue per cover.Not having a restaurant, The Spectator Hotel in Charleston provides breakfast room service. Rather than just having the expected delivery cart, the waiter personally serves breakfast to you, providing butler-level attention to detail that also includes detailed assistance in planning your day's itinerary.After I left my credit card at the St. Julian Hotel & Spa in Boulder, Colorado, I received a call on my cell phone while on route to the Denver airport. A member of their team was already driving out to meet me so that I could meet my scheduled flight departure without any delay.I casually let it slip that my wife and I were celebrating our anniversary while staying at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong and planning to dine at its main restaurant, Lung King Heen. Not only did we get a special complimentary dessert, but our selections for the evening were also printed into a folded card and presented to us at the end of the dinner with our names and the anniversary date. Many years later, we still cherish this keepsake.Looking To The Future Of Guest ServiceWith few exceptions, these examples did not increase expenses in any significant way but in many cases they increased revenue and certainly loyalty. Guests do not necessarily expect self-actualization service to be free, though obviously, to avoid negative surprises, charges should be properly identified in advance.The more you know about a guest, the better your service delivery and the more opportunities to incorporate self-actualizing opportunities. Start by taking advantage of the guest memorandum section of your PMS, denoted under the banner of customer relationship management (CRM). Encourage your staff to add information that can be used for future visits. If you are part of a loyalty program, review the additional customer data that is made available in advance. For those operating with higher ADRs, assign a staff member to review social media, in particular LinkedIn, to glean additional information and help build this database.Another corollary of technological innovation is that alternative lodging providers (Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and so on) have made service delivery an even higher priority for hotels. More than ever, a guest's ability to remember any property in particular is based less on physical facilities and more on personal staff interaction. It's all about getting close to the customer.In this regard, further technology upgrades can certainly help. Electronic advance check-in can be used as a platform to learn and anticipate your guests' needs. As almost all your guests carry smartphones, cost-effective mobile apps can also be deployed to enhance your customers' stay in various ways. Use your daily meetings to identify local activities that may be of interest and to discuss arriving guests' individual requirements. Refer to data from your social media monitoring tools to reinforce successes and identify further opportunities.Successful service delivery is still a hands-on, ongoing effort for all team members, though. Ignore it at your own peril, or embrace it and be rewarded by improved ADRs and occupancies.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Today's Hotelier on April 1, 2017)

What Hoteliers Need To Know About Conspicuous Conservation

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 26 June 2017
Now, however, this term has been retrofitted to account for the 21st century trend of people wanting to publicly signal their alleged altruism through the purchase of green or sustainable products. Although it's a relatively recent phenomenon, conspicuous conservation is definitely one that you should embrace. While there are some lucrative marketing angles, the bottom line is that engaging in activities that are environmentally friendly will ultimately help our planet and potentially save you quite a bit of cash in the process.Even though your back-of-house upgrades are where the true impacts will likely be realized - sometimes well into the seven-digit range in cost savings - your guests won't see these efforts nor will they want to read a descriptive pamphlet to that effect. Going green to be seen means that, in tandem with what you do behind the scenes, you make guests feel good about their choice in hotels and about themselves. And this harks back to a fundamental tenet of hospitality - positively affecting our customers.Three immediate examples that come to mind are placing a vegetable garden near a well-trafficked pathway for all guests to see (thus drastically reducing the food miles on certain ingredients), installing keycard-controlled lighting systems and instituting some form of housekeeping opt-out or in-room towel recycling program. Technology is also helping in the front-of-house with, for instance, several inventive temperature control systems that not only have intricate behavior tracking systems but also integrate with a smart television so guests can monitor or change their settings in a fun, dynamic interface.While I wouldn't go so far as to say that many consumers would specifically seek out the most environmentally friendly property in a chosen destination ahead of other considerations like price and location or change their travel plans to stay at only LEED-certified hotels, conspicuous conservation will definitely play a role in how guests interpret your brand.By being seen as a company that cares about the environment, you will endure customers to your side and you will be viewed as a 'modern' hotel. This is done through visible onsite efforts such as those mentioned above as well as through digital means like allocating a new section on the website. It's all part of the bigger picture to give a fresh context to your brand story, and then letting everything together act as a passive marketing tool.Even with an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from my former life nearly five decades ago, my raison d'etre since then has been hospitality marketing. Although the above offers a rudimentary proof of how conspicuous conservation will work to indirectly boost sales, I've recruited a colleague of mine, Jim Gieselman of Emeritus Consulting, an energy efficiency consultant who I know through my involvement with Cayuga Hospitality Consultants, to offer some additional words of wisdom.Part of what Jim does is to simplify the subject matter so that all senior managers can get on the same page and decide upon the next steps. For this, he uses baseball terms, wherein it's best to approach conspicuous conservation and sustainability in terms of singles and doubles rather than home runs. In other words, while upgrading to new thermostats and smart TVs requires a significant and often untenable capex, there are dozens of other low hanging fruit that you can address first then reinvest those savings into large-scale environment ventures.As an aside, because baseball is awesome, one should always express matters analogously through this sport, even in the dead of winter. With regard to singles and doubles, any team manager who has studied sabermetrics will always value RBIs over home runs.An example that Jim gave here relates to the difference between installing new OLED bulbs throughout your meeting space as opposed to training your staff to check that the lights are turned off when a ballroom is not in use. The former is an obvious environmentally friendly grand slam with huge payoffs in subsequent years both in terms of direct monetary savings as well as subtly boosting the moods of those guests who frequent these halls. But the latter - training your team to help shave off a few burn hours every day - is a project that you can start tomorrow without any budgetary squeezing or loan procurements.Jim also stressed that conspicuous conservation is not a task that's solely for your engineering and marketing teams to figure out, and then relate to the customer. It is something that must be embraced by all departments, including top management. Recalling those fancy thermostats currently on your hotel's wish list, an interim solution is to train your housekeepers to set units to a higher and less energy-draining temperature after guests have checked out, and then coordinate with front desk so that this is lowered to a comfortable level for new arrivals.Similar efforts can be made companywide, so long as it affords the guest some degree of involvement in order for them to openly express their affinity for the environment. With the opportunity for cost savings and a boost to your property's marketability, what are you waiting for?

Treat Guests Right With Welcome Refreshments

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 23 June 2017
Most hoteliers are aware of this in a general sense, but it is the execution where we often stumble. The expected welcome refreshment is a bottle of wine, a small cheese tray, a fruit place, crackers, cookies or any combination of the five. Nowadays, though, you must look beyond the perfunctory and truly own this aspect of the guest experience if you are to make a lasting impression.While I can't speak for your specific hotel and what might work for your budget, logistics and locale, the best I can do is recount several of the more remarkable instances of this that I've encountered over the years wondering the globe. Hopefully one of these can inspire you. In no particular order, they are:1. Montage Laguna Beach swapped the traditional cheeseboard for custom-made sweets and delicacies specially prepared by the pastry chef.2. Le Royal Monceau, Raffles Paris eschewed the bottle of house red for chilled champagne and macaroons along with Perrier for those who might not fancy a libation at that particular moment.3. The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island improvised with a similar tactic when, in the midst of 30degC+ heat and high humidity, they popped a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and gave every guest in the long front desk lineup a complimentary glass, making the wait the last thing on their minds.4. COMO Metropolitan Bangkok offered fresh tropical fruit with bottled water, but it was the focus on presentation that separated this hotel with all food meticulously arranged on banana leaves.5. Ojai Valley Inn & Spa offered a range of welcome gifts where, during my last visit, I settled on a bucket of four Coronas and a plate of nachos.Although these five are all luxury properties, there are nonetheless learnings for all. What doesn't work well is offering anything that a customer would expect to find in the minibar. That is, a bona fide VIP welcome must exude a sense of place for the property or the region as well as personalization (gender, age, group dynamic, past preferences).Outside of F&B, there are examples of handouts that also work, especially with regard to children where there is always a risk of snack disapproval from the parents due to allergies or other dietary restrictions. For instance, I have seen guidebooks to the local area, coloring books with crayons, custom stickers and air spinner toys, all intended to temporarily calm toddlers so the parents can focus on checking in.The key throughout, whether you are planning to offer a well-tailored refreshment or something else, is to pleasantly surprise your incoming guests and garner a fantastic first impression.

Six Questions For Your Marketing Team

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 14 June 2017
No matter the time of year or how well your occupancy figures look for the quarter at hand, the prep and planning for next year's marketing budget is never too far away. Undoubtedly, it will include the usual spattering of KPIs established at the start of the fiscal period, which will be scrutinized and massaged to death until all senior executives are happy.This process makes me yawn. Not that it doesn't work, but it can take up too much time which would be better allocated elsewhere. How about a different approach?Here are six questions that I am encouraging you - as a general manager, owner or other senior team manager - to ask your sales and marketing team right away and in advance of the plan's development for next year. These questions are not necessarily the easiest and will probably require some data analysis. But, the work done in the process will be worth it given the potential return on financial investment. Obviously, involving your revenue management team would also serve you well.1. Can we look at our business for the past year on the basis of net ADR? Chiefly, we need to understand the impact of OTAs on our revenue. In other words, for each source segment (OTAs, direct online leisure sales, group sales) look at room sales and rates net of cost. Then trend the data over the past three years. Now, what can we do to improve those segments that give us the higher net yields and the best overall margins?2. How do our programs stack up against the competition? Examine our comp set's sales and marketing programs over the past year. Identify strengths and weaknesses that we can exploit. There may be many, but you may only have the resources to effectively act upon a select few. Hence, start by developing two or three specific programs that can be implemented in the new year that will positively impact our business as a direct result of these initiatives.3. What plans are being put in place in the immediate term to help offset our low season? The goal here is to think well ahead of time, and get the operations running smoothly before the low season actually hits. For example, in the Northeastern US, most hotels will experience lower occupancies from January through until Easter. Yet, despite knowing these months in advance, typically little is done until a few weeks prior. Planning needs to begin a full season before. New initiatives should be trial-tested during higher occupancy periods so that the process can be refined and so word of mouth can build.4. What would it take to double our wedding business? Aggressive, yes, but also an area of growth for many hotels near and far. Moreover, shoulder season weddings and winter weddings are becoming much more common nowadays, allowing you to capitalize on this trend. So, who would we gain market share from? What distinguishes our weddings? What plan would we put in place now, and at what cost, to deliver this result?5. How are we specifically addressing the changing population dynamics? Aging boomers have bucks to spend on leisure travel. They are just itching at the fingerprints as they hover their mice above the 'Book Now' button, browsing the internet for a property that empathizes with their specific demands and communicates in language they understand. Moreover, how are we introducing our properties to millennial travelers who may not even know that we exist? How is our brand going to cut through the noise of the hundreds of seemingly new hotel brands facing the modern consumer?6. If I gave you a 25% increase in spending, what would you do? And importantly, what would be the result from this spending increase? Next, if I cut 25% of spending, what would you cut and what would our revenue loss be? These sorts of hypotheticals help reveal where your biggest growth opportunities are as well as what expenditures aren't entirely necessary.For too long, marketing folks have relied upon third-party partners to deliver returns, especially in the digital realm. Let's see if they can provide new marketing strategies and tactics that put some spark back into the annual planning cycle. These six are certainly a start!

A Chocolate Expert Tells All

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 13 June 2017
As today is Valentine's Day, it is my absolute delight to interview my sister Marcia who happens to be the Director of Insight for Mintel Food and Drink (www.mintel.com). With offices all over Europe, Asia and North America, Mintel is the world's leading market intelligence agency, and my sister's specific area of expertise happens to be chocolate.What a delicious job! She's here today to give us the inside scoop on all the latest trends and developments in this sweet industry so that you, as the ever-innovative hotelier, can find a way to use this decadent food to help differentiate your F&B offerings.Tell us about how you became the foremost worldwide expert on chocolate.First of all, I am certainly not the foremost worldwide expert on chocolate, but I do love the stuff!Just a bit of brotherly boasting. Go on...As part of my job as Director of Insight for Mintel's Food and Drink division, I focus on chocolate confectionery from many angles - from raw ingredient to finished product. We track product launches in countries around the world, as well as market sizes for the world's top chocolate countries. We also have consumer panels in a dozen countries who provide us with their opinions and attitudes towards chocolate confectionery in addition to, as you can imagine, a wide number of other products.I have been following the industry for Mintel for over a decade. It has been fascinating to track the growth of premium chocolate and to watch the way we are starting to learn more about cocoa and chocolate. I see the evolution as following a similar path to coffee. It used to be that coffee was just coffee, and then people began to learn more about the coffee beans. All of a sudden, 'coffee' wasn't good enough anymore; people wanted Sumatran or Kona. The same thing is happening in chocolate as premium and 'sourced' cocoa - for example, cocoa from Saint Lucia or Sao Tome - becomes more popular and more desirable than plain old chocolateWhat are the 'next big things' for the chocolate industry on a macro-scale?One thing we are seeing is a growing interest in 'Dark Milk' chocolate. The products have a higher cocoa content than milk chocolate but they are not as harsh or strong tasting as many of the dark chocolate products on the market. For example, typical milk chocolate has about 25% cocoa content, while most dark chocolate is about 70% cocoa. Dark Milk is about 45-50% cocoa and has some added dairy ingredients that round out the taste and mouthfeel. These products deliver a stronger cocoa punch than milk chocolate without the harsh or bitter notes of dark chocolate.As I mentioned above, there is also a growing interest in 'sourced' cocoa and cocoa content. People like to know where the cocoa is coming from and they want to know how 'dark' and intense the experience will be. Moreover, there is now more cocoa from the New World on the market than ever before, which ironic because cocoa originated in the New World, but more than 70% of the world's current cocoa comes from Africa, especially Cote d'Ivoire.The third thing to look out for is the growing interest in organic cocoa. This may turn out to be a challenge going forward as there is currently not enough organic cocoa in the world to satisfy those who want to 'eat organic', so we will be watching to see how this plays out.Flavors like chocolate-hazelnut will always be a classic, but are there any new or more obscure chocolate combinations that are gaining popularity?The majority of chocolate on the market has no specific flavor other than chocolate! But you are right that hazelnut is the second most popular flavor after plain chocolate. Other trending flavors we are tracking include:Coconut which has been given a strong health halo in the past yearSo-called 'superfruits' such as blueberry and acaiHerbs and botanicals such as lavender and roseSweet and savory combinations such as chili and chocolate, salt and chocolate and, particularly in the US, bacon and chocolateSmoked flavors with chocolate such as smoked salt or smoked caramelDoes preference in chocolate flavors vary by region?Yes, there are definitely some profound regional differences! For instance, in Japan, which has a really innovative chocolate industry by the way, we see sweet flavor profile vegetables like squash or potato with and chocolate as well as matcha green tea with chocolate. Italian and French consumers prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate, while Germans prefer milk over dark. In Eastern Europe, there is a strong preference for alcoholic beverages as flavoring for chocolate.What are boutique chocolatiers doing nowadays to differentiate their chocolate offerings?We are seeing great creativity in packaging, with 'clean' labels that make it clear that the ingredients are 'sourced' and that there is nothing in the way of additives or preservatives. There are also tastings or flights of chocolates now being offered so that consumers can sample, taste and compare different types of chocolate all at once.Do you have any suggestions for hotels?Again, consumers have become more sophisticated in their chocolate knowledge, and hotels may want to ensure that the chocolate they comp their guests is high quality. Even if it is their own brand, properties should be clear to display cocoa content and sourcing on the packaging. Given the extent to which food allergies and sensitivities are an issue, clean labeling is also important.Given that today is Valentine's Day, what specific tips would you offer a restaurant that's looking to boost its romantic appeal via improved chocolate offerings?Perhaps a special chocolate souvenir that couples could take home with them after a romantic evening. Two small champagne truffles in an attractive box delivered along with the bill at the end of the meal or at checkout would provide an attractive 'last bite' reminder of the hotel for when the couple got home.Be honest: who makes the best chocolate in the world?I am always asked this question and it is really hard to answer! I have tasted hundreds of chocolate brands and I have come to the conclusion that the best chocolate in the world is the one that I want another bite of!(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotels Magazine on Tuesday, February 14)

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