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Do You Train Your Team To Be Locally Authentic?

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 16 November 2017
True, we have brand standards to abide by, but that shouldn't stop you from engaging in small acts of regional expressionism, especially when you already know that it is such a strong determining factor for returning guests these days. Moreover, there's no excuse for your staff to not be thoroughly versed in all local happenings and places of interest.Given how slow it is been for many of us to fully embrace what this phrase implies, it is as if we need to develop approximate our SOPs insofar as developing a training program for authenticity. This would start with the most obvious in the form of protocol to routinely keep staff members up-to-date on events and attractions, but then work its way up the ladder to include methods for rethinking how to better infuse local craftsmanship into any object seen or sold on property.It all starts with your team, because any investment you make with them will pay off tenfold in the forms of heightened guest satisfaction, worker autonomy and less turnover. The first step towards continually updating and educating your associates on the local area - and rest assured that this is something which needs constant attention - is to find a practicable frequency by which your staff can be reassessed on their knowledge.Not to imply something on the level of a quarterly performance review, but more along the lines of a set time each month when groups of associates meet in a fun environment to discuss what they've found enjoyable in the near past, what they're excited about in the near future and any other important community factoids they feel like sharing.While I am advocating additional training so that your team can effusively converse with any guest about what to do while staying at your hotel, there's a way to go about this where you kill two birds with a stone in that you combine it with a team building exercise. The key here is sharing. The constant development of local knowledge is not a top-down instructional program like that of SOPs which have already been honed for decades. Instead, getting your staff up to speed (and ahead of the internet!) is a matter of fostering a relaxed environment where associates can learn from each other.One positive outcome of a motivated staff is that they will have more ideas to bring to the table when it comes to minor upgrades to your property's physicality in terms of adding that local touch which will subtly distinguish your hotel from others, even if it is a part of a major chain. If you are a member of the senior management team so has embraced this bottom-up style of authenticity training, then finding those ideas that will help differentiate your hotel is simply a matter of further encouragement - making sure that every team member knows that their input is valuable and in fact critical to success. Good ideas can come from everywhere, so let them!As it goes with most trends in the hospitality industry, what was two years ago a value-add is now a guest expectation. As the millennials continue to ascend in overall spending power, the need to deliver a local authentic experience becomes all the more crucial because that's exactly what they want, and all other key demographics are swiftly following suit.All guests want a unique experience, and with other hotel working tirelessly to offer them just that, they won't come to you unless you can go above and beyond to truly 'wow' them. While there are many ways to go about tackling this 'local authenticity' challenge, if you fail to get your team behind you then your efforts will never merge into a cohesive experience, so I suggest you start by training them then watch as all the other pieces fall into place.

Analyzing Airbnb's Advertising

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 10 November 2017
For those who have restricted their television viewing to Netflix or other streaming services and have missed the advertisement, here's a short synopsis. The ad depicts an retired couple talking about how renting out a room in their home helps them keep up with payments. It goes on to suggest that Airbnb is helping thousands of friendly folks just like them make ends meet. Moreover, the ads are geotargeted. The one I saw focused on Toronto - my home city - with classically iconic CN Tower photography thrown in for good measure. My sister reported similarly bespoke cutaway stock shots adapted for the New York City market.Clearly, these ads are not directly targeting the traveler looking for a stay for the weekend, even though they can work subliminally simply by throwing the company logo up on the screen. One might naively believe that they are primarily aimed at cash-strapped, middle class homeowners with the hidden objective of building rooms inventory in a given market. Hardly, though, as the real audience for these ads is elected officials - anyone who has the responsibility of passing legislation that would limit Airbnb from operating in their jurisdictions.First, note that the advertising does not lie. The claims they make are factual, as an individual renting out a spare bedroom can indeed net a few extra dollars. And from a hotelier's perspective, I don't think any of us would object to Uncle Max and Aunt Mary renting out their extra room to a few twentysomething backpackers. Sure, Max and Mary need the companionship and they're eager to make them breakfast, too!But Airbnb didn't grow into a multi-billion-dollar empire solely from folks on social security finding new short-term friends. What the ads do not show are those who rent their entire apartment unit or the landlords who deal in scores of units, even entire buildings, with the end result being that these places are removed of the long-term rental market. The travesty is presenting a good deed - that is, helping Max and Mary - as a red herring for the underground economy of acting as hotels without owning the real estate or paying the proper taxes.Let's hope the town councillors and mayors of the world aren't sufficiently gullible to be taken by some 30-second TV spots of slick creative.As it concerns you, what should hoteliers do about this? There's nothing illegal here. The ads just aren't telling the full story. But a response from our industry would be fully justified. Instead of presenting the case for helping a few pensioners, sheer the conversation towards jobs. The hotel industry is a big employer; Airbnb is not. People with jobs pay taxes and help communities grow. And hint-hint, employed folks also help candidates get re-elected, too.No advertising campaign of this nature can be undertaken by an individual property or even by a single big brand. Hoteliers need to band together, ideally through a revitalized not-for-profit hotel association. This requires serious lobbing efforts including advertising to tell our story to the wider public. But it has to be initiated now before voter sentiment shifts irreversibly away from our camp. So, what are we waiting for?(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in HotelsMag on June 20, 2017)

What to Consider for Your New Hotel Website

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 8 November 2017
Hence, for many GMs, one of the largest items on the 2017 marketing budget is likely the development of a new website, or at the very least a refurbishment of the current one to show newcomers that there's something new to get excited about. This can come in the form of new interfaces or layout schemes, pages, offers, events, exciting visuals, plugins, iframes - whatever it takes to boost the user experience (UX) and keep customers engaged.I say this taking into full account that for many of you, the website is something beyond your control, as dictated by the corporate overlords of your brand. For you, while you may control the actual content on the specific portion of the brand.com that's relevant to your property, you likely don't have control over such top-level features as the UX or theme.In any case, whether you are an independent or semi-independent with your own vanity URL or part of a larger group with only limited control over your brand.com, there is still much to be conscious of before you greenlight any web-related project. For this, it's wise to take a step back and view your website as only one part of a much larger picture. And to help you along, I've listed five 'big picture' questions that you should ask your marketing team before proceeding with any expenditure.1. What is the single, underlying purpose of your website?Or, to put another way, how does our current site fail to meet the current requirements for your brand identify or for how online consumer behavior has progressed? Does it lead with stunning visuals that both tell your hotel's story and give a strong sense of place? How will it grow your business?For instance, if your site is not built responsively - that is, automatically configuring to mobile - then by all means make haste and get a new one underway immediately. Mobile isn't the future; mobile is now and it is everything. Bolting on a mobile-ready format is not easy to do, and you don't want to create a 'Frankenstein' in the process. However, if the site works great on mobile (try it yourself to confirm and note any UX deficiencies), then and only then should you investigate further enhancements.2. How much is the new website going to cost, both now and ongoing?With so many diverse and fully mature layout theme generators available nowadays to help create a reasonably good looking website from scratch and manage via a user-friendly CMS, your first thought might be that getting set up is both relatively easy and cheap. While this is partially true, it is nonetheless very naive thinking.Developing a website that is both functional and attractive is no simple task. While the functionality aspect has been somewhat commoditized of late given the versatility of plugins and your chosen CMS platform, every hotel's business needs are slightly different, and so additional programming resources will always be needed above what was outlined in the quote for your shiny new website.Furthermore, things break and third-party software needs to be upgraded. How are you going to account for those additional coding hours? Managing a website and all the social networks connected to it is now a full-time job. Do you have someone onsite who is proficient with the CMS and can handle all the day-to-day updates, or will you have to farm this out too?As to the latter point on visual appeal, I liken this to an arms race in that you must compare yourself to your most proximal competitors as well as those far away. Look for how design standards are shifting, and make sure that you are always ahead of the curve. Moreover, developing a website that truly stands out these days takes a lot of time and a lot of resources.3. How will the new site improve direct bookings?Building off of the first question, this is a critical task towards effectively growing your business. Ideally, you want all your bookings to come through your reservation hotline or your website rather than a third party. So, how specifically will the new website convince people to book at your property instead of one of your competitors? How will it create a seamless booking process so that they prefer your interface over, say, that of an OTA?Properly answering these questions is no small undertaking. It requires a thorough understanding of how everything from social media and mobile-specific behavior to your channel mix and how customers are finding your website. In other words, getting people to book direct has a lot involved with it than just upgrading some graphics and copy on your brand.com's homepage.Tying this back in website development, it's vital to ask how the site will integrate all the other channels and allow for coordinated changes to reflect those made further up in the consumer travel research and purchasing funnels. While I previously stated that attractiveness is important, substance trumps style. If a website isn't built with any underlying CMS controls or code to track, say, search engine ad conversions or remarketing, then this will be a mandatory, and quite substantial, cost for later on down the road. As budget is concerned, should you need to sacrifice a bit of razzle-dazzle to ensure that you are 'all good under the hood' then so be it.4. How will the new site improve the UX?The UX covers everything a user sees and can potentially interact with from the moment they enter to the moment they leave your site. You want this experience to be frictionless, intuitive, meaningful and captivating. As a broad primary goal, you want future guests to be able to easily find every single bit of information necessary for their stay on there and not accessible in some convoluted way.For a second goal, you want the UX to be dynamic, interactive and visually stimulating to the point where customers actually remember what your website is like. Barring a full UX audit which is always an option for those with serious budgets and time to boot, simplicity rules the day. Have everything accessible from the homepage and opt for clean, brisk text with speedily loading images.Given the aforesaid point about accessibility and that a typical single property site can cost between $20,000 to $65,000, would you be better off compromising on a few design features and pushing that surplus into content creation instead? In other words, UX is only as good as the people who are visiting your site, and if it isn't updated frequently then usership will drop. If all your upcoming events, blog articles and promotions can't be readily communicated to your audience, what incentive will they have for being recurrent visitors? Clearly, a balance must be struck between the upfront design costs and those allocated for continual 'renovations', and this is something your DoSM must figure out before moving forward.Taking all this into account will take some time as there are many cases where a new site is fully justified for the ongoing success of a hotel. But remember, the goal is not vanity, but revenue. So, be sure that you first comprehend all the hidden costs so that you don't dip into the red and that you don't stray from your key objectives.This article may not be reproduced without the expressed permission of the author.

Making Sense of the 'Level Playing Field' Plea

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 1 November 2017
I attended an interesting travel panel during the summer in my hometown of Toronto. The topic was the leisure segment, with the panelists all senior members of tourism bureaus and hotel organizations, while their presentations quoted the usual ream of statistical gobbledegook. The mood was rosy as Canadian travel statistics have never been better with the nation approaching its 150th anniversary. The ebullience in the room was so thick that I felt that it couldn't be cut with even the finest Japanese samurai sword.But then I asked the question with a somewhat naive tone, "Have you seen any impact on the hotel sector from alternate lodgings?"The responses revealed a sharp dichotomy. Those representing the tourism sector clearly want more accommodations, with Airbnb and the like fitting that bill to a tee. A hotel can take several years to build while Airbnb rooms can be added almost instantaneously. Contrarily, those representing the hotel sector were surprisingly not overly concerned on the surface yet their remarks nevertheless had a foreboding undercurrent. They unanimously said that they wanted a level playing field. They went on to point out in various ways that the statistics showed that the hotel sector was not being overtly impacted by the sharing economy, at least at this moment. As a fellow hotelier, I found this complacency to be somewhat worrisome.My own views about the lurking consequences of unchecked alternate lodgings aside, what exactly does the industry mean by leveling the playing field?On a simple basis, I would imagine this means that the Airbnb landlord runs his or her property as a business - filing proper tax returns at all levels of government, declaring profits to pay appropriate taxes, subjecting his or her property to regular inspections for health and safety, obtaining all the necessary commercial operating permits, ensuring that he or she levies any occupancy taxes that are paid by guests, and submitting all of these proceeds on a timely basis to the proper authorities.To me, though, this is not enough. Hoteliers are also required to meet ADA requirements. What about Airbnb? Shouldn't they be mandated to have a minimum percentage of rooms available in each market that are fully accessible? For those serving breakfast or other meals, should we ensure a health inspection compliance? What about all the statistical and other forms we regularly complete just to stay in business? Shouldn't they have to complete them as well?Tourism organizations measure their success on the number of incoming visitors. This single number keeps them operating and their CEOs in their jobs. It is a simple and efficient business model. Having more accommodations in a jurisdiction means that there is room for more visitors. Thus, alternate lodging providers are the best thing to happen to tourism since the advent of cheap airfare. All the tourism organizations want is to collect any guest-levied taxes.The hotel associations measurement is a tad more complex. They too want increased occupancy by their members, but this is only part of the story as they also want to build average rates. Basic economic theory dictates that increases in supply without commensurate increase in demand will lower price. Airbnb and others represent the biggest and fastest increase in competitor supply that our industry has ever witnessed.Let's all get on the same wavelength here. If Airbnb and its competitors want to play with us on the accommodations stage, let's really make sure they are operating under the same conditions as us. It is in our collective hoteliers' nature to be friendly and hospitable but this attentive attitude won't serve us well for what's to come.Recall the advent of OTAs and the effective increase in commission load on our operating statement. That was explained away as just another cost of doing business. Airbnb is not the same. This isn't a 15-30% loss, it's closer to 100% as once a customer gets comforting using that platform they may never come back. In this sense, leveling the playing field is the only the start to ensure that our customer base isn't permanently eroded.

Cyber Crime, Cyber Liability and Cyber Liability Insurance

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 31 October 2017
It is a hotelier's worst nightmare - the theft or loss of guest records. Recall the data security failure at Target Stores HQ or the more recent challenges being faced by Sabre Corporation on their SynXis booking system. Now, imagine that this happened to your IT system. How would you explain this to your past guests? What steps would you take to remedy this situation, and at what cost?The simple fact is that when it comes to cyber security, no one can claim to be 100%, ironclad safe insofar as protection of data. If it is not hackers then it could be an internal breach from, say, a disgruntled employee. As a general manager, it is your responsibility to your guests as well as to your owners to take both the appropriate precautionary steps in protecting data, but also to consider means of mitigating damages to the company in the event of a loss.I recently had an opportunity to discuss the issue of cyber liability insurance with Bobby Horn, an associate director at Crystal & Company, a national insurance brokerage with significant experience in the hotel sector. While his responsibilities encompassed a much broader field, I wanted to drill down on the specifics of cyber insurance."It used to be property liability that was the primary issue for hoteliers. Nowadays, cyber liability is equally important," said Mr. Horn. "And remember, the injured party is not going after your third-party partner (often not transparent to the guest), but after you."He notes that no two policies are alike. He recommends that when considering a cyber liability policy, you should look at the following aspects:Liability coverage for items such as virus transfer, unauthorized data access, unauthorized use, network security and loss of information/dataMedia liability for such items as loss of electronic media and trademark infringementFirst-party costs for business interruption and data restoration, cyber extortion (such as ransomware), forensic analysis and researchBreach response including legal council, crisis management, public relations, social media response and potential credit issuesIn calculating the policy costs, underwriters will consider total property revenue, how much data you are storing, credit card transactions, and third-party programs, all in addition to the existing security protocols that you may already have in place. Mr. Horn added that the underwriters are getting more proficient at managing these policies as they gain further experience with the risk management issues.So, should you consider this type of coverage? Given the recent coverage garnered by SynXis and Target, the profile of cyber security is at an all time high. The good news is that coverage costs are not onerous. As a very rough ballpark, Mr. Horn suggested that a 200 room, $30 million annual revenue, $1 million policy with a $50,000 deductible limit would result in an annual premium in the range of $10,000 to $15,000. He estimates that about one third of domestic hotels currently have this coverage. If you do not have cyber liability coverage, perhaps now is the time to ask your insurance broker to consider this addition to your policy. Given all that's happened of late, I certainly would!(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in HotelsMag on August 8, 2017)

Your Wine List Is Too Long

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 25 October 2017
Perhaps the more apt word is 'busy' in that we are all too rushed and distracted to notice everything that's happening around us. For example, you stand at a busy urban intersection. Have you noted what the make and model of every car that passes by? Have you read every billboard? Do you notice the attention to detail that goes into each person's fashion sense?We have so much on our minds that concentrating on any one particular thing for an extended period of time or even giving something the attention it deserves is impossible. In this sense, we are all indeed stupid because there are so many worldly fascinations and so much beauty all around us that we fail to notice each and every day.So you're an idiot, and I'm an even bigger one. Big whoop. To this day it amazes me that we're all still able to keep society functioning, let alone create marvels like cellphones and rocket ships. Thus, keeping your marketing message simple is of the utmost importance because if a customer has to think about your offer - even for a moment - you've lost them; they have better things to do.Keeping your wine list as succinct as possible gets to the heart of this marketing tenet because if you give your guests too many options, it can have dire consequences on the overall dining experience.For starters, a longer wine list means more time spent deciding what glass or bottle to order. Even if this boils down to a matter of seconds, those seconds will amount to - especially if your restaurant is busy -fewer table turns per day and less alcohol ordered. Next, and related to this, placing the order will consume more of your servers' time. While this may be preferred in some instances in order to deepen the rapport with patrons, oftentimes it can delay the waiters from helping another table. Again, the seconds add up; an extra minute of wine list indecisiveness at 6pm could mean a 20-minute backlog by 7:30 - that is, if you are running a happening spot.Part of the reason why the contemporary wine list - and the entire drink menu for that matter - often becomes too long is that it tries to be everything for everyone. Another marketing mantra to deploy here is, "If you are good at everything, then you are great at nothing." Or, to react it back to the axiom in the opening sentence: Keep It Specific Stupid.Often these extensive wine lists which generic offerings from around the world are the result of a wine merchant acting on behalf of those wineries or vendors who are willing to give them a few perks on the side for pushing certain brands. A common result here is an focused mess of a wine list with no overall unity to make it at all memorable to the guest. For instance, why do many American restaurants offer a full range of Australian shiraz when they already have impeccable equivalents coming from their own backyard?My response to this is to give such acts of collusion the middle finger and focus on being as locally authentic or regionally specific as possible. As an example of the former, if you operate a hotel in Southern California, you might opt for a wide array of bottles from Santa Ynez and the Central Coast with only a token acknowledgement of Napa and Sonoma and nothing from anywhere else.The latter is a bit different, insofar as it's not necessarily local, but it is paying tribute to the core theme of the restaurant. If you run an upscale Southern Italian eatery, you might opt for a list that only includes standard skews and private imports from Sicily, Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia with nothing from the northern mainstays of Abruzzo, Tuscany, Veneto or the Piedmont. Regional specificity also means knowing when to eschew your wines in favor of other culturally relevant beverages. For example, a casual Mexican restaurant would best let wine take a backseat to margaritas and cervesas with perhaps only a few tempranillos or other easy drinkers from the Latin world offered by the glass.In this sense, the number of different labels and the types of wine you offer must relate directly back to the restaurant's USP. And be forewarned, if every bistro and eatery already had a high degree of confluence between the beverages and the dishes that are presented to customers, then I would have no reason to write this article.The flip side to this argument for brevity pertains to those places at the very upper end of haute cuisine or those that are bona fide wine bars. Five-star dining restaurants are well within the definitions of 'special occasion' and so the expectation is to take your time with what bottle to choose as well as to have a knowledgeable server or sommelier help you with your selection. For these sorts of eateries, an inventory consisting of hundreds of different bottles may be advantageous in order to help patrons feel like it truly is a special occasion.And even then, simplicity in the wine list can help you to 'nudge' customers into buying the more expensive offerings. You decide, but if you have to take away one lesson from all this, it's that there's a reason why the KISS principle has stood the test of time and it isn't just that it's a catchy acronym.

A Hotel School That Supports Alternate Lodging Providers?

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 24 October 2017
This is a hotel school advocating that its students learn and embrace everything there is to know about alternate lodging providers and all the various ways in which the sharing economy might disrupt the hospitality industry. To elucidate why this is the case and what established hoteliers can glean from this shift in instructional focus, I arranged for a quick confab between myself, Nicolas Graf, Chief Academic Officer at Les Roches, and David Fudge, Chief Marketing Officer for Oasis Collections, a home-meets-hotel, short-term rental company actively involved with the school.Larry: It seems incredible that Les Roches, a school vested in the success of the hotel industry, would be 'colluding' with a company like Oasis.Nicolas: The world of hospitality must push new boundaries. The old bricks-and-mortar model is already broken. Just examine the hotel industry today. The hotel brand is separate from the physical hotel itself. The owner of a property asks a brand to run a business using his or her facility. The 'real estate play' is now independent of the 'guest experience'.David: It's best to think of Oasis as a hospitality brand. To book a room on a branded hotel site, you select the city - perhaps a sub-brand if the primary brand only has a few offerings in that destination - and then select your room. With Oasis, you select the city - we're currently in 23 different locations worldwide - and then select your home. The difference is that we only have one of each property available but with a much wider selection of home types.Nicolas: When you look at companies like Oasis, it's clear that our industry has to adapt quickly. Our industry has been too stable for decades. The first disrupter was the separation of the real estate from the brand and the introduction of management companies. The second was the growth of IT systems and the expansion of electronic channels such as the OTAs. How is this latest 'threat' any different than what has already transpired?Larry: But what about the loss of jobs?Nicolas: The job of revenue manager didn't exist two decades ago. And ten years ago, the social media manager role didn't exist either. Next, recall the days when hotels had in-house laundries which rarely exists today.David: Our model does not necessarily lead to a reduction in jobs. Rather the employment is more adaptive to the needs of our guests in a more distributed environment. For example, we have housekeeping, but instead of a housekeeper working in one location we may hire a company that can dispatch teams to several different locations.Larry: So, we're talking about replacing the hotel as we know it?David: Hardly. There is a place for the hotel in this new landscape for travel functions including short bookings (the Oasis minimum is three nights) and conventions located on hotel properties. The hotels of the future need to better understand who their guests are and how to serve them.Nicolas: Building on that, just look at Accor's new Jo & Joe brand as an example. Here is a product that is low priced and targeting a younger audience. It is an experience and delivers great customer value with a real formula for success.Larry: Do you see an end to the role of general manager?Nicolas: The days of the GM are hardly over but the role is evolving at an increase rate. The skill set is changing to reflect the needs and wants of the modern guest. And remarkably, it's been this way ever since the job title was created!David: Well, I'm not so sure. Perhaps the name will remain but in a different capacity. When hotel rooms are distributed across a broader geography and staff is no longer concentrated in a single location, management will be more regionally focused.Larry: What skills should a general manager equip themselves with then?Nicolas: Be an agile entrepreneur, prepared for and able to accept any change.Larry: To conclude and so hoteliers know what they're up against, what differentiates Oasis from other operators in the sharing economy which in and unto itself is becoming a highly saturated business ecosystem?David: Several factors. First is our unique brand guarantee. Oasis curates all offerings to ensure that they meet our standards for comfort, security and quality. Second, we provide a unique brand experience that goes beyond the home, with partnerships that give guests insider access to local gyms, spas and members' clubs. Third, we generally offer second homes or apartments, rather than rooms in homes or condominiums, and we work in each region to adhere to all local and regional short-term rental regulations.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in Hotels Magazine on July 28, 2017)

The New Rules For Hotel Coffee Service

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 20 October 2017
As a self-diagnosed coffeeholic, one of the important elements in my evaluation of a property is their coffee service, both within the guestroom and at any restaurant outlet. Given this beverage's significance in everyday life, it's a definite no-no for a hotel that cuts corners in its procurement and preparation of this brown elixir. Hardly a drug, though, coffee is not only big business but an aspect of our culture that continues to evolve.To witness this evolution, look no further than guests' expectations for a property's in-room coffee and tea service. Within the past decade, we've seen a migration from metal foil sachets, to Keurig, Nespresso and a host of other machines capable of delivering a more flavorful and bespoke experience. Complementing this, most hotel restaurants offer barista levels of services with cappuccinos, lattes and espressos the norm along with a few custom creations in tune with the local market. Even basic by-the-gallon foodservice grinds like what you would find in a breakfast buffet are far better than they ever used to be.Thinking of coffee as more than just a direct - and highly profitable - revenue stream, it's also a point of pride for a hotel as well as a prominent contributor to a great guest experience. After all, what hotel wants to be known for having a lousy brew? What hotels want their past guests to shine them in a negative light because their coffee service was subpar?I've attended conferences where the coffee was so awful that delegates were slipping out to the Starbucks in the lobby. While being average in this regard may have negligible impact either way, bad beverage service will be immediately noticed and have harmful effect. Contrarily, offering something exceptional may be enough to turn that four-star review on Tripadvisor into a five.Look at improving your coffee as just another way of building your reputation as the best property in your trading area. With so much at stake for this often-overlooked aspect of your food and beverage operations, here are ten new rules for coffee in your establishment.Recognize coffee is critical to your property's success in all its forms and at all your venues. No one cares if you don't have an incumbent coffee culture - your guests do and that's what's important.Taste the coffee in your restaurant and catering venues. If your local McCafe or Starbucks is better, you've got a problem.Coffee cannot be reheated - 30 minutes from the time it was brewed is all you have before the flavor profile is irreversible sullied.With a Keureg or Nespresso, you've got a way to give guests a great start to their day for about a hundred bucks a room. Yes, the coffee capsules have a markedly higher cost. Suck it up and find cost savings elsewhere.All your restaurant outlets should offer more than just coffee. Machinery to produce espresso-based drinks is inexpensive and, with proper training, easy to use.Clean all your coffee equipment daily at a minimum so that the repugnant soot never builds up. Check brewing temperatures as well, as this can increase the 'burnt' taste profile of the end product in addition to alter the sugars in milk.Experiment with different suppliers. Taste samples early in the day and ask your staff members for their opinion, too. Coffee selection and menu additions can be a good opportunity for team participation.While I don't drink decaffeinated products often, there has been a marked improvement in their processing. For this, you must ensure that your 'low test' matches 'high test' in quality.While you're evaluating your coffee service, broaden your search for differentiating your property by examining the aesthetics of the overall experience - mugs, cups, saucers, serving utensils, room decor, menu design and nearly anything else to boost the ambiance. See what your budget can spare for something out of the ordinary.Having sat through numerous budget, procurement and operational meetings, I've never heard a controller complain that too much was being spent on coffee!(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in HOTELS Magazine on Tuesday, September 26, 2017)

Reinvigorate Your Guest Satisfaction Surveys

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 18 October 2017
With the success of online review sites, including the behemoth that is TripAdvisor, it's all too easy to surmise that their growth was primarily because of how they aggregated hotels and cross-linked to OTA booking engines. However, we must also stomach the fact that it's our own fault that these channels proliferated. We gave these watchdogs an abundance of meat to chew on because our properties were rife with unchecked service errors. These sites gave angry customers a place to vent.Eventually we woke up, realized we had created a monstrously powerful beast, then attempted to rein it in by cordially replying to online complaints as well as by (shocker) remedying the underlying problems. But quick fixes are a far cry from correcting this fundamental shift in consumer behavior.Hotels have always had comment cards and customer satisfaction surveys but somewhere along the lines guests lost faith that this time-honored system produced real change. And so, customers migrated to third-party websites where their grievances were not only visible to managers but also to other potential guests, thereby greatly enhancing accountability for the property to actually do something. Nowadays, the de facto voice for a property's legitimacy is its online reviews - fed by millions of new entries every week while only a paltry percentage of guests bother with the comment cards.Undoubtedly you have a social media management procedure already in place for how to respond to negative online reviews that involves a well-written answer as well as some degree of onsite coordination to ensure that any issues don't come up again. That's the hope at least, although the latter action may still require a ton of retraining in order to make it stick.Taking this one step further, though, it's time to close the feedback loop by assuring guests that they can indeed trust the survey system and that their complaints will be taken heart when speaking directly to the hotel staff. Very difficult to achieve, this will have the added benefit of further reducing the number of negative online reviews because guests will bring them to hotels privately instead of immediately posting their woes on the internet. Moreover, opening up a confidential dialogue - or even better, an in-person one - may bring to light further issues that a guest would not otherwise describe within a harried online critique.The first step to rebuilding the old system is to ensure that it's functioning as well as convenient for guests. Where can guests fill out these surveys? Are they available in guestrooms and easy to find online? Are visitors cued to act by front desk clerks at checkout? Do you send a visually pleasing thank you email that prompts guests to fill out these forms as well as stressing how valuable their feedback is?Next, who collects and records the results? Who distributed these tabulated criticisms to the person who will take action? How are you rewarding those frontline staffers who perform at their best to help eliminate negative reviews and thereby incentivize more employees to follow suit? Finally, which individual acts as the enforcer to ensure that everyone else is doing his or her duties effectively as well as quickly? On that last point, it's one thing to have a functional comment card distribution system in place with appropriate follow-up; it's a whole other to have this set up so that feedback is met with near-instantaneous results.If you can't confidently answer all these questions, how can you expect guests to change their behavior? The process of posting an online review is so easy that the only way we stand a chance at bringing guests over to our camp is if our method is better or if we offer some sort of additional incentive.Above all, we are talking about improving the quality of guest service delivery. But how are you to know what your customers consider to be your faults without a public and efficient feedback system in place? Hence, whatever corrective actions you take to not only fix specific issues but also to enhance the underlying process by which we address those shortcomings will serve the ultimate goal of increasing guest satisfaction, online review scores, return visits, word of mouth and revenues.

Learning From 'Old School' Hoteliers

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 17 October 2017
Recently, I had the delightful opportunity to sit down with two 'old school' hoteliers. While both continue to have their hand in the game via part-time consulting projects, their days of managing luxurious properties are behind them. The goal of my interview was to get their perspective on the current state of our profession and see what lessons could be gleaned that are applicable to those of us still in the trenches.Both born in Germany and with classical European hotel school instruction, their work experiences include a myriad of properties. Klaus Tenter spent most of his time with various Four Seasons hotels then latterly to the luxurious Hazelton Hotel in Toronto. Hans Gerhardt's experience rests primarily with the Sutton Place Hotel, also in Toronto.What do you see as the greatest issue facing hoteliers today? Tenter: The ability to attract good, and even better, great talent. It used to be that hotel management was a very desirable career choice. While our profession was never one that paid top dollar, at least it had class. But, the idea of the 'grand' hotel is fleeting. Without that, how can hoteliers ever compete with technology and finance for new graduates?Gerhardt: It is not just the talent pool, but also the aspirations of those graduating our hotel schools. Somehow, the idea now is that you can complete your studies and instantly assume the role of general manager or close to it. Graduates do not want to go through the multi-year investment to build their own experience base. Just as in our days, to succeed takes time. There is no such thing as instant gratification in hotel management.Have advancements in technology helped or hurt the hotel business? Tenter: You cannot operate a hotel today without technology. The key is to adapt technology to enhance guest services rather than use it to hide from the guest. For example, there are digital concierge programs. These are clearly better than having no concierge program whatsoever, but they pale in comparison to live services. Technology makes hoteliers better as they can lever the data to improve their guest service delivery.Gerhardt: It comes down to understanding what your property's goals are. The obvious technology elements such as a property management system as well as other back-of-house programs are tremendously useful. But I am concerned that if we lean on technology too much it becomes a permanent crutch, lessening our all-critical need for the personal touch.Should hoteliers be concerned with the rise of the sharing economy? Tenter: Airbnb is a well-entrenched business, and a good one at that. Hotels that continue to embrace personalized service will withstand its inroads into the accommodations industry far better than those properties that merely offer a bed and a shower. I hope that the industry takes Airbnb's growth as a wakeup call to reinvest in a true service culture.Gerhardt: Even the best properties will feel some affect as adding inventory to the market more than the demand will deflate prices and occupancy. But those properties who are more limited-service are most vulnerable.How has the guest changed in the past 20 years and how should hoteliers adapt? Tenter: The greatest change is the myriad of options available to the guest. First, a guest can consider full-service, limited-service or no-service accommodations. Next, they can research their decisions to stay using TripAdvisor, general web searches or by contacting their travel agents. And they can choose how they are going to book - travel agent, reservations hotline, online (OTA, brand.com, meta search, deal website) - in order to get the best deal.Gerhardt: I think the hotel guest of today is more price conscious than brand conscious. Just about every hotel delivers the basics well. With limited differentiation between hotel brands, hoteliers are literally encouraging their guests to go price shopping. Hoteliers need to recognize that guests are much more educated insofar as their travel accommodations options.What's next for our industry? Tenter: Service-oriented hotels and resorts will solidify their client base, attracting new customers through personal relationships and referrals. Limited-service hotels will retain their marketplace positions as well, given the demand for generic-style 'bed and shower' properties. Hotels in the middle range, sadly, have no future.Gerhardt: People will continue to travel, and in doing so temporary accommodations will be required. Hotel managers will have to get used to incorporating Airbnb properties into their market supply. There will be continued pressure on room pricing for those properties who cannot create unique points of difference for themselves.What has the hotel industry lost since you've gone out on your own? Tenter: The current theory is that everything is measurable. This is nonsense. There is no such thing as a happiness metric. And as a result, we're losing our humanity. Hotels are all about people, both the staff and their guests. Numbers are important but guests drive numbers not the other way around. It used to be a hotel team was a family. This imperative to relate everything back to the budget has all but driven this concept to the dumpster.Gerhardt: We have lost our sense of adventure and our sense of humour. Hoteliers are afraid to venture into the unknown and try new initiatives because they're petrified of failing to meet targets. Budgets are squeezed so tight that hoteliers can't even laugh anymore because that's not in the plan!What services from years' past would you bring back to help a hotel differentiate itself? Tenter: It's not really services; it's service! Service makes a hotel. The industry should never lose sight of this. Limited service is for the youth hostel model. That's fine for some travelers, but don't call it a hotel. A hotel should be a special place, better than what the guest would get an home. Differentiate your hotel on service quality and create loyalty by making memories.How would you inspire the next generation to live up to the grand tradition of hospitality? Tenter: Give them leadership opportunities early. Involve them in the community. Encourage them to create their own thumbprints. Most hotels are members of their local CVBs or hotel associations. But to what degree are they involved in committees and programming? Here's a fantastic opportunity to both build their knowledge base and their leadership capabilities as well as add value to your organization.How would you mentor an aspiring hotelier? Gerhardt: There is so much information available online. Read as much as you can and post comments. Attend at least one conference per year, more if you can. Don't just attend but make a presentation to the team on your learning. Work in every department. Learn the hotel industry from every aspect. Go back to school and take courses to advance your competency. Become an early adapter of technology. Always ask, what if?(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in eHotelier on March 30, 2017)

CRM Success is Built on Partnerships

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 10 October 2017
The program started with an identification of exactly what today's CRM comprises. At a minimum, CRM includes the following in no particular order:Data collection and storage of information pertaining to hotel guestsThe ability to access and aggregate this data for the purposes of personalized marketing through email and perhaps social mediaCampaign management tools to effectively undertake this activityTriggered event activity from pre- and post-stayAnalytics, including surveys and guest review analysisThe ability to access or interconnect data with the guest through point-of-sale activitiesSecurity to protect this dataAdvanced integration tools and further uses as developed.All the panel members, as well as the audience, were well-versed in the specifics of CRM from a technical standpoint. And, while these were CIOs of major chains, the same approach applies to any individual independent property - the ability to collect, catalog and utilize guest data as an important part of a hotelier's success.Knowing your guests' likes and dislikes in advance is an important service component in a contemporary property. Nowadays, it is almost heresy to ask guests checking in if it's their first stay with you when they are in fact frequent visitors! Moving a few steps deeper into CRM, you should strive to learn preferences for room type, F&B, amenities and so on. All of this adds up to a personalization profile that not only makes it easier for the guest to enjoy your property, but also reinforces loyalty.But that is only the first step in CRM. The real advances come when you start to lever the data to build the top end of the sales funnel. In other words, using what you know about current guests to create trial opportunities for new prospects with a non-negligible return on investment. If you believe that your property's guest profile is indicative of the type of customers who appreciate your product, use this CRM data to go after more likeminded folks.As an analogy, remember those old cowboy movies from the 50s and 60s where the westbound wagon trains would form a circle as a defensive move? If you look at CRM as only a tool to manage current guest profiles, the number of wagons will continue to get smaller, drawing the circle further inward with each passing year. This gradual decline is inevitable in today's global travel market where consumers are not only available looking for a better deal but also want to explore the farthest reaches of the planet regardless of whether or not they had an exceptional stay at one specific property. There will always be a need to acquire new customers, and CRM is the sniper rifle to past techniques' shotgun approach.Staying with our analogy, effective CRM keeps your wagons in the circle, and then adds new stagecoaches with each successful implementation of what the data suggests. In other words, use your CRM as a base to fine tune your marketing efforts. This can only come to fruition when IT and marketing departments forge a very close partnership to work together to solve the challenges faced by today's ever complex hospitality environment. Everyone knows, it's not the tools you have but how you use them. Start by getting the departments talking to one another to see how CRM can be leveraged for incredible greats.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in eHotelier on Friday, July 7, 2017)

Why We Love the Hotel Business in Ten Parts

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 6 October 2017
As someone who admittedly has never been at the helm of a property with the exception of short term MOD responsibilities, I feel as close as anyone can be to hotel management. Yet I recognize that it is not the same as the burden of being general manager, where day-to-day decisions can make or break the budget as well as destroy hard-earned asset values. I am humbled by many of the GMs I've met and in awe of their ability to stay calm in the midst of multiple mayhem constantly surrounding them.Perhaps this is why hotel management is such an adrenaline rush - the landscape changes hourly and there is no time to get bored. It's perfect for those with a touch of ADHD or a very curious mind. To reflect on this chosen career path and to offer you an extra dose of incentive to remain ever-passionate about this line of work, here are ten reasons why I love being a hotelier so much.1. You get to see the fruits of your labor. Make any decision and you typically don't have to wait very long to see the outcome. Compare this to any product-based business where you have to wait a full season or more to realize whether or not your ideas delivered on their promise. Immediate gratification has its rewards!2. You work with great people. Hotel teams employ a wide range of characters from chefs and accountants to engineers and housekeepers. Being involved with so many different silos, often also from many diverse cultures, adds to the overall enrichment of the workplace and presents an opportunity to build a truly multinational team. Altogether, this makes for a fantastic, lifelong learning experience.3. You never know who is going to show up. Guests can include real and cultural royalty, business leaders, foreigners who will test your language skills or just some great 'average' folk. Where else can you meet so many new people and give them an opportunity to experience your locale as well as your gracious hospitality? Talk about bragging rights!4. You get to play with amazing technology. Very few professions have access to as much technology as hoteliers. In fact, we have an annual trade show (HITEC) dedicated exclusively to the advancements in our industry. With so many toys, it's often hard to choose!5. You get to eat and drink 'professionally'. Sure, you could have gone into finance and spent your time taking clients out to fancy dinners or 'business' lunches. But where else, other than a hotel's restaurant, can you talk to the chef and immerse yourself in a discussion about each dish, its processes and its ingredients? Good luck trying to get 30 minutes with an executive chef when you're simply the diner!6. You can be innovative without approval from multiple layers of senior management. Even within a branded product, there is room for creating thumbprints that are unique to your property. Moreover, there is always the encouragement to do so!7. The scenery changes everyday. No two days in the hotel business are the same. The marketplace is dynamic with new groups and guests arriving daily. You never know what you will be dealing with. It can be stressful, but you will look back on these hectic times, and your ability to juggle so many tasks, with pride.8. The job has excellent mobility. For those who are interested in expanding their careers globally, nothing beats being a hotel general manager. It is not unusual to see GMs transfer from one property to another across international boundaries. The skills you learn in one location are instantly transferable. My suggestion is to learn as many languages as you can.9. You can feed the inner fashionista and never worry about dry-cleaning costs. What an opportunity to not have to worry about selecting the blue or grey suit. Get both; you'll need them. And chances are that you'll have a budget for this, too!10. Friends visiting? You've got the answer. Most of the time you'll have a room for them and will not have to worry about cleaning up after them. This will make you quite popular.That's my top ten reasons to love being a hotelier. What would you add?(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in eHotelier on April 21, 2017)
Article by Larry Mogelonsky

Never Let Your Breakfast Be Boring

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 4 October 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?Take My Breakfast Challenge!Thus, the rationale behind my breakfast challenge is to get you to retool your breakfast so that no customer is left without a strong lasting impression of what you offer versus everyone else. I'm asking you to seriously reconsider what breakfast 'experience' you provide for your patrons - not just the food and its presentation - with the emphasis being that it is an opportunity to extend the hospitality far and above a basic meal. In doing so, turn your breakfast into a Breakfast of Champions.The challenge is simple: take a picture of your chef's creation then send it to me with a very short summary. No need for a recipe, ingredients spec sheet or delivery plan. I will review all the materials received and publish the best in a follow-up for all to see. So, you may ask, what's the reward? Unfortunately, nothing more than being published. But hopefully this approach will get your team thinking about how you prepare and present your entire menu.

The Downward Spiral of SEO and SEM

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 29 September 2017
I am sure that this is the dream of every hotelier on earth. Somehow, there would be a magic potion or genius company that could drive us to the top of the listings for both the lower funnel (branded terms) as well the top of funnel (broader travel terms). Deep down, though, we all know that this is pretty much impossible all the while Google (traded under its parent company's name, Alphabet) is showing record profits and commensurate share prices.But does this all make sense? Why is it that our budgets for this activity are constantly growing yet we don't seem to be making any real progress in this regard? Our industry spends billions of dollars, not just on these so-called ads but we also employ a cadre of internal experts both and outside consultants to help us properly spend our money. Will it ever stop?Let's back up and circle in on some basics. For those managing branded hotels, we rely on the folks in HQ to develop brand standards as well as to ideally promote the brand through the collective website and loyalty programs. After all, isn't that why there are fees for marketing? Through the sheer size of the brand's website, it should naturally be at or near the top of the Google search for hotels in a unique geography, then followed by the OTAs and other third-party aggregators.For independents, the SEO/SEM game is far more challenging. You're always going to be second (or third) fiddle behind the big players. Spending anything on generic keywords can be throwing money away when not set up correctly. More prudent would be an extreme focus on only those terms that are performing.Taken at a macro-scale, the more that is spent on keywords, the higher the price for everyone competing in the market. One property increases its bid-per-click and gets outstripped by the other wile OTAs can afford to usurp your bids continuously because they have a much larger budget to play with. It's a death spiral for your operating statement.In some instances, I've seen ad conversions increase from 5-7% of rooms revenue to over 30%. At this point, you might as well throw all your inventory onto the OTAs and close your marketing department because clearly you aren't effective in utilizing any other channels to raise your property's awareness so that they know how to find your website without first searching for a top-of-funnel keyword.This said, it's time to rethink the entire SEO/SEM model, so here are some thoughts:Build a great website and focus on those items that you believe can differentiate your property from any other.All the measures of SEO ranking are certainly not fictitious, but not entirely meaningful benchmarks either. Worry less about your ranking and more about delivery of the best product that you can afford.Insofar as SEM, move to a strictly pay-for-performance model, defining on a maximum percentage basis how much you will pay for a booking. There are several companies offering this and merit your investigation.Make every guest a disciple. Cultivate your customer base, and give them reasons to recommend you personally to their friends and family. Loyalty pays. Invest here for far greater future dividends.Rekindle traditional marketing efforts. Take the promotion, advertising, public relations and sponsorship tools out of the storage room and utilize them to your advantage. It's all about having a good channel mix and too much emphasis on SEM will through the entire campaign out of balance.(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in HotelsMag on June 27, 2017)

Raising Awareness for the Physical Demands of Being a Housekeeper

Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited - 27 September 2017
I decided to change that by spending a day working alongside (shadowing, really) an experienced team member of a luxury hotel property. I was asked not to reveal the name of the property nor the housekeeping staff member who I will refer to as Donna (obviously not her real name). Nursing a single malt as I write this, my back is still aching and I remain in awe of her capabilities.To be blunt, slackers need not apply. Housekeeping is not an occupation for those who are unfit. The day's mission was to obtain 13 room 'credits' (where a suite is either 1.5 or 2 credits), half being departure rooms with the balance as continuations. In one regular shift, this gave Donna about 20 minutes per room.With her fully-laden housekeeping cart, HotSOS handheld and determination to meet the commitment of the corporate 'perfect' mandate, we dove in for our first room which was prioritized for an early arrival. It was what Donna described as lightly used. The single guest had departed in the wee hours of the morning, probably to catch a flight. Most of the room appeared unused, yet Donna meticulously checked most every aspect, bending and contorting her body under furniture just to be sure. She recommended that she has seen just about everything, adding after opening the bar fridge, "Even a set of false teeth in here." Thank goodness that wasn't this time!To clean the bathroom, restock amenities, vacuum the carpet, change the linens and inspect the entire room took about 15 minutes. It was a thoroughly practiced routine of constant movement and well-honed techniques to hasten the process. As Donna went through her routine, she also trained me on how to make a bed, clean a shower, and check for wear and tear. The ease in which this was done was impressive.As our day continued, I was given the chance to actually assist. It's taken me nearly 40 years of working in the hospitality industry to finally know how to make proper 'hotel corners' on bed linens and to consistently wrap towels in order to deliver a perfect fold. Of note, I was not allowed to perform the more rigorous tasks such as glass or counter cleaning, which I suspect was due to the risk of damaging myself rather than the property because these jobs can be quite strenuous on the joints and they open the hotel up to certain liability issues.While the initial guestroom on our housekeeping round was relatively straightforward, others were daunting. The 20-minute target per room was uniform, but the workflow anything but. In particular, one nasty room took nearly double the time allocation, and that was still with all hands on deck, brushing, scrubbing and disinfecting practically uninterrupted for 40 minutes. After first observing this room's condition, I questioned how anyone could have lived like that. Donna was nonplussed, shrugging it off and remarking that she had seen much worse before diving right in to her brisk pace of methodically cleansing this sty.One observation was immediately clear from all this - housekeeping can be quite demanding on the body. It is difficult to master in order to keep the times down and it can take a toll when it comes to the heightened risk for employee injuries.When was the last time you sincerely thanked a housekeeper for a job that is both physically and mentally challenging? Moreover, when was the last time you shadowed a housekeeper? Put this high on your to-do list as understanding their plight will help you to better find solutions that will make their jobs easier or safer, increase their morale and, ultimately, improve room cleanliness so that guest satisfaction also gets a boost.

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)

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