Amusement Park Inspections and the Importance of Picking up Trash

By Brian Harris

rundown-amusement-park

The next time you visit Disney World park, look at the ground. I know it may seem odd in a sensory-overload amusement park, but trust me for this one exercise. You’ll notice there is no garbage – anywhere. You could eat off the floor, although I wouldn’t recommend it given the foot traffic.

I didn’t fully appreciate this aspect of Disney World until I was in an amusement park in New Jersey where the line to one of the roller coasters had a perennial gum spitting contest from a staircase onto a wall.

Disney is virtually spotless, with good reason. There is a trash can every 30 steps. Walt Disney reportedly visited other amusement parks to calculate how long a person would have to hold on to a piece of trash before it hit the ground.

When you think of what matters most in amusement park operations, you might think that picking up the trash seems trivial. Safety is of course paramount.

State and local governments are responsible for establishing safety and regulation audits for amusement parks. Insurance companies conduct their own audits and parks often hire private safety firms. Additionally, trained maintenance staff should regularly check the various mechanical parts of your rides.

As an amusement park management company, you can’t expect your summer exchange student to blow the whistle on a faulty metal switch or poorly draining water slide. However, you can expect them to check for other things, including:

  • Missing safety equipment on the rides
  • Malfunctioning safety restraints or lap bars
  • Standing water in the presence of electricity.
  • Slippery surfaces
  • A guest who is ill -- a “Code V” as Disney calls it. This is a health hazard as well as a safety issue.

Amusement park inspections come down to employee awareness and accountability. This is an operational environment where you need your employees to be your eyes and ears on the ground.

It’s why simply picking up the trash is so fundamentally important. This mundane task sets the tone for operations. In an environment where safety is paramount, no obstruction is too trivial.

The only way to minimize risks in amusement park operations is to train and manage your staff. Teach them the fundamentals of inspection. Conduct regular employee evaluations and follow up to make sure these tasks are completed routinely. This is how a world-class amusement park operates.

Topics: Hospitality

The Hospitality Industry’s Love-Hate Relationship with Social Media

By Brian Harris

people-hate-us-on-yelp

It’s a sign of the times when the U.S. House of Representatives is looking to protect free speech on websites like Yelp. Four legislators introduced a bill last week that would essentially make non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts unenforceable. In other words, it would be illegal for U.S. businesses to use contracts to silence disgruntled customers.

This initiative certainly isn’t far-fetched, considering reports that a geek toy company and a New York hotel threatened to fine customers for posting negative reviews. The proposed legislation is of course supported by the hospitality industry and other service-oriented industries. It is also supported by travel review websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

At the same time, you might recall that the Italian Competition Authority fined TripAdvisor for $610,000 for allegedly not doing its part to squash fake reviews. TripAdvisor denied responsibility for these reviews, but it still raised the question of legitimacy.

In the digital age, where can the hospitality industry turn to for unbiased customer insights?

Hint: Not social media! Social media is a double-edged sword and that’s why many service industries find themselves at the crossroads of First Amendment protections and corporate oversight. It’s a particularly interesting topic in regards to hotel reputation management.

Are there incorrigible people who seize any opportunity to complain on a public forum? Of course there are.

Should hotels seek to squash these views and inadvertently silence the feedback of customers with legitimate complaints? Absolutely not!

Learn from the hotel that started threatening people with a $500 fine for negative reviews. This not only dissuades customers from leaving constructive feedback, but also turns off future customers once word gets out.  Hotels can’t close the lines of communication once they are opened, and removing comments makes your brand look weak and insecure.

Social Media is Not the Place for Hotel Reputation Management

Social media has its limitations and can’t be used in place of a traditional guest feedback program. When a customer doesn’t have an alternative forum like a survey to voice a complaint, they will turn to social media. By then, it’s too late. The hotel is put on defense for damage control.

Hotel reputation management is a topic that Market Metrix studied at length in a 2012 survey.

Here are some interesting statistics to keep in mind:

  • Unresolved problems have a “dramatic impact” on guest loyalty and drive it down 56% on average.
  • Guests who have a problem review it about 22.6% of the time.
  • Gusts without a problem write reviews just 8.8% of the time.
  • Almost two-thirds of the loyalty lost can be regained if the problem is addressed.

The Takeaway

Addressing problems at the source is critical to hotel reputation management. While social media is an important tool for word-of-mouth promotion, it can’t create your reputation.

Also keep in mind that social media has a generational gap and tends to over-represent the younger generation. It’s just as important to hear from older customers who are comparatively spending more on travel.

For these reasons, survey-based feedback programs are far superior.

“Negative scores can automatically put service recovery steps into action, alerting the right person about the problem so it can be fixed right away,” wrote the authors of the Market Metrix study. “That’s how you turn a negative review into a positive one, and build your online reputation.”

Topics: Hospitality

Command & Control: Lessons from Cruise Ship Operations

By Vladik Rikhter

cruise-ship-deck

A friend of mine was vacationing in Florida recently and struck up a conversation with two other women at the pool. Suddenly, one of the women said, “I almost forgot! We have to do our video!” She pulled out a blow-up pool toy of a cruise ship.

The other woman pulled out her smartphone to record. Together they waved the cruise ship and shouted, “10 MORE DAYS!” They explained how they’re part of a cruise ship group on Facebook and were making videos counting down the days until they left port.

People who love to cruise are very passionate about it, and more people are becoming interested. There’s proof in the fact that Carnival Corp. just ordered nine new cruise ships to add over a four-year period from 2019 to 2022. This is in addition to the ships they ordered for delivery between now and 2019.

What makes cruises so appealing? Most are all-inclusive with the fare and you only have to unpack once if you’re visiting multiple destinations. Cruise ships are also floating cities. Everything you could possibly need or want during a vacation is on the ship: bars, restaurants, laundromats, gyms, swimming pools, movie theaters and even medical clinics.

To this end, a cruise ship is a very operations-focused business. Each one of these services has its own set of challenges, and each one contributes to the cruise line’s overall brand image.

What makes cruise ships not so appealing? Despite offering world-class offerings, the cruise ship industry has experienced some operational challenges that have led to very bad press in recent years. These problems are explained below:

1. Sanitation

In the past month, more than 200 passengers on two separate cruises were infected with the norovirus. In 2014, more than 600 people on a Royal Caribbean cruise had the same illness.

The New York Times reported on a norovirus study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases in 2009. In this study, examiners marked more than 8,300 objects in cruise ship bathrooms with a substance only visible under ultraviolet light. Then, they returned the next day to see if the objects had been cleaned. Only 37 percent were. It gets worse. Three of the ships studied had baby-changing tables that weren’t cleaned at all in a three-year period.

2. Maintenance

There’s no denying that 2013 was the year from hell for Carnival. In February 2013, the Triumph vessel caught fire and was stranded at sea for five days while sewage dripped from walls. Barely a month after that incident, Legend experienced engine problems; Dream had a malfunction with its emergency generator and the cruise line had to fly 4,000 passengers home; and Elation had a problem with its steering system and needed a tugboat back to shore.

Crisis Management is Always Tied to Operations

Cruise ship operations are highly compartmentalized. Not every employee can know how to do every task.

Employees on the hospitality side operations must properly sanitize surfaces and raise the bar on disease prevention. Similarly, those in the control room need to improve how they communicate, which was a problem in the Triumph incident.

“Carnival may have planned for an engine fire, power outage and disabled ship, but they perhaps did not account for the sewage, ventilation and food issues they experienced,” risk management expert Dov Gardin wrote in a blog for Risk Management Monitor. He believes Carnival could have handled the situation better had it used a structured decision-making framework called “Command and Control.”

What is Command and Control?

There are essentially four phases of this decision-making process, Gardin explains.

  1. The crisis management team must understand the issue through collecting and analyzing information.
  2. Based on the information gathered, the team determines their objectives.
  3. The team directs subordinates to carry out the objectives.
  4. The team continually reassesses the situation and adjusts the strategy as necessary.

Command and Control comes down to using real-time information, forming clear objectives, and being able to communicate changing priorities. You can see why and how it is being applied to corporate operations, and it’s definitely a process every service industry can consider.

Topics: Hospitality

How to Prepare a Hotel for Summer Guests

By Brian Harris

hotel-rooftop-pool

The warmth of a mid-afternoon sun.
The summer breeze that gently rustles the trees overhead.
The dirty swimming pool that hasn’t been vacuumed in a week.

Sorry to ruin the imagery! If you’re in the hotel business, you’re well aware that someone is footing the bill for paradise. Maintenance and housekeeping tasks aren’t completed without responsible, well-trained staff members who adhere to a strict schedule and prioritize tasks.

Running a hotel is a 24/7 exercise in customer service. Operations are always better as an exercise than as an experiment!

Here are the five areas of hotel operations that need the most attention during the summer months:

1. Swimming Pool and Spa

Families beeline for the swimming pool upon arrival. Who is cleaning the pool and/or whirlpool and when? Maintaining the correct pH level is a matter of safety and sanitation. Unless you have someone on staff experienced in commercial pool maintenance, this task is better left to a professional company.

2. Terrace

It’s not just the pool that needs constant upkeep. The surrounding terrace and lounging areas also require maintenance. A sample checklist may include:  

  • Chairs cleaned
  • Patio stones powerwashed
  • Pool showers working/water temperature normal (not too hot or cold)
  • Drinking water fountains clean and functional
  • Restrooms clean and routinely checked
  • Trash/recycling collected and removed
  • Landscaping properly maintained

3. Foodservice

Some hotels feature a tiki bar or a small café near the pool area. Of course, the same rules of running a hotel restaurant and upholding the quality of the hotel brand also apply to this area. Temperatures will fluctuate in an outdoor setting. Food safety, proper refrigeration and sanitary surfaces are crucial.

Foodservice tip: Keep in mind that not everyone wants French fries on a hot summer’s day. Offer creative lighter fare such as to-go picnic boxes and fresh-cut fruit. Smoothies and frozen slushies can be a big hit.

4. Beach Access

If the hotel is oceanfront property, be sure to provide adequate passageways for guests coming on and off the beach. Also provide a shower or outdoor faucet so that guests can easily rinse sand from their feet. Sand will inevitably make its way into the lobby, elevators and possibly even first floor restrooms. Beachside hotels have the added challenge of routinely cleaning these areas.

5. Gift Shop/Hotel Convenience Store

When it comes to family vacations, there are two facts of life: 1. People forget things. 2. Kids get bored and parents need ways to entertain them.

Seize the opportunity by carrying the essentials as well as some fun items:

  • Sun tan lotions
  • SPF lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Small coolers
  • Beach umbrellas
  • Swimmies/floaties
  • Shovels and pails
  • Beach balls, frisbees, footballs and other games

Create Fond Memories, Get Repeat Customers

Above all, think like a guest. When was the last time you stayed in a hotel while on vacation? What was satisfactory or unsatisfactory? Was there an amenity that could have made your stay more enjoyable?

I’m fond of an oceanfront hotel in Florida that offers cookies in the lobby at night and a free continental breakfast. It’s not a boutique hotel. It’s just a quality hotel that knows the importance of saving families an average of $30 each day. They must be onto something. It’s always booked solid during peak season!

Topics: Business Operations, Hospitality

How to Improve Hotel Operations ‘Hotel Impossible’ Style

By Brian Harris

anthony-melchiorri

A tough-talking New Yorker can give a good kick in the pants. That’s exactly what Anthony Melchiorri provides as host of Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible.”

Melchiorri, a 20-year veteran of the hotel industry, is an expert at identifying problems and finding solutions that generate profits. The hotels featured on the show are independent or family-run businesses. However, these lessons can be applied to any hotel in the industry, no matter the size.

Melchiorri’s audit can be broken down into three components: property, management/operations and marketing. Here are just some of the things he hones in on during a typical visit:

1. Property

Upon arriving at a hotel, Melchiorri always conducts a property inspection to get a sense of the ambiance and to note any surface or maintenance issues that might be turning off guests.

Outside, he takes note of curb appeal, the tidiness of the exterior, and the upkeep of recreational grounds, including walkways, pools and spas.

Inside, he takes note of common areas. For instance, he wasn’t happy when he walked into a hotel lobby and a cat was sitting on the front desk.  He also notes if the interior design feels worn or outdated. Clad in a full suit and tie, he lies down on beds and even sits on toilets to see if the bathroom feels too small.

Reality check: Are you maintaining a property that’s appealing from the curb to the room?

2. Management & Hotel Operations

On one assignment, Melchiorri found the assistant general manager (GM) of the hotel waiting tables in the restaurant. Meanwhile, the bookkeeper was working a 100-hour week to maintain back office operations. The GM clearly had a passion for the restaurant industry, but Melchiorri pointed out that the restaurant should be operated as a hotel amenity, since more money per visit is typically made on hotel stays.

See Also: So, You Want to Open a Hotel Restaurant

When Melchiorri stepped into this office he was overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork and clutter. At one point he asks the managers, “Did you ever think about going paperless?”

As the heir to the family business, the assistant GM has to step up and take ownership of his role. However, he wasn’t good with numbers and hadn’t otherwise received training on how to manage a hotel. Melchiorri is frustrated when managers don’t know their numbers offhand.

See Also: How Hotel Night Auditors Should Spend Their Time

Reality check: What aspects of your operation are cumbersome? How would your business benefit from responsibility tracking and enhanced employee training?

3. Marketing

This particular hotel had an active Facebook page, but it was virtually invisible through online search engines. Even more frustratingly, the booking engine on the website was not functional at peak season.

“Social media is very important but it doesn’t’ book the majority of your rooms,” Melchiorri said to a hotel’s web/marketing manager. “The best way to bring in new business is to have a good website and high ratings on third-party travel sites.”

Reality check: When you visit your hotel’s website, is the “call to action” to book a hotel room apparent? Are you listed on the industry’s leading travel booking sites, including Expedia and TripAdvisor?

The Takeaway

A hotel runs responsibly and efficiently when employees communicate well about individual and shared responsibilities. You’re in the business of putting a roof over people’s heads, even if it’s just for one night. Always look for ways to improve operations in order to deliver on the promise of an enjoyable stay.

Topics: Business Operations, Hospitality

Boutique Hotels: Quality Before Quantity

By Vladik Rikhter

boutique-hotel-room

The reason why the smartphone selfie-stick was invented is the same reason why more boutique hotels are popping up across the nation. The hospitality industry is all about having a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience. It’s the age of Facebook and Instagram where consumers basically say, “Look at me and this cool hotel where I’m staying!”

According to Best Western CEO David Kong, the Internet has driven people to more niches, and everything is more segmented. “Our six brands are actually six different needs,” Kong told the Associated Press.

A boutique hotel may appeal to young travelers aged 18 to 34 who prefer unique designs and décor; more affluent guests who are willing to pay more for special amenities; and business travelers.

Some typical boutique hotel amenities include:

  • beer/wine happy hour
  • cookies in the lobby at night
  • guest pantry with coffee and tea
  • concierge
  • breakfast buffet
  • plush bedding
  • state-of-the-art fitness center
  • club or lounge
  • shoe shine

A boutique hotel doesn’t need to be the Versailles of architecture to still offer amenities that are a notch above your standard hotel.

Maintaining a Consistent Brand

Did You Know? The world’s 10 largest hotel chains offer a combined 113 brands, and 31 of these brands didn’t exist 10 years ago.;

– Associated Press report, April 2015

Opening a boutique hotel can require a lot of investment, so that’s why many major hotel chains are in this segment of the industry. While boutique hotels allow for a good amount of creativity while building, renovating or decorating, the management, staff and overall quality of a guest’s stay must meet – and preferably exceed -- the brand’s overall standards.

See Also: How Hotel Night Auditors Should Spend Their Time

Currently, there are almost 129,000 hotel rooms under construction, up 32 percent from last year, with more than 306,000 rooms in development stages, the AP reported.

Some experts believe that the boutique hotel market will eventually reach saturation. While this remains to be seen, a hotel’s survival depends on its ability to adapt to changing market trends and visitor preferences while delivering consistent quality.

“It’s not a question of how many brands. It is a question of the right brands... We may need more.” Anthony Capuano
Global Chief Development Officer
Marriott

Topics: Hospitality

So, You Want to Open a Hotel Restaurant

By Naomi Balagot

hotel-restaurant

Opening a restaurant in a hotel comes down to two questions, depending on your side of the business.

If you are a hotelier, you must ask yourself, “How much does my company want to be personally involved in the restaurant business?” Developing a concept, hiring a staff, and managing all of a restaurant’s operations are an enormous undertaking.

Don’t just take it from us. Check out this restaurant development and operations checklist, which hospitality management specialists Turner Lodging Co. calls “just the basics.” The checklist includes the business concept stage, planning and operations, location, menu and beverage considerations, marketing your restaurant and human resources.  

Similarly, hospitality expert Gordon Cartwright advises hoteliers on what to consider if they want to open a restaurant on their property and whether or not they should contract out or run it themselves.  

“Whichever direction you choose, franchise or expansion, your premises need to be suitable to deliver a sound level of functionality,” Cartwright explains. “You'll need to consider, for example, the amount of staff you'll require, your stock of crockery and cutlery, where you can hold a stock of food, if you have sufficient kitchen equipment and a dining venue that functions with the market you're looking to engage. Your business will also need to have a structured, functional and rationalized business plan that links into and protects your current business model.”

Playing Well With Others

As a restaurateur, do you play well with others? It’s the question you must ask yourself before starting a business or expanding your franchise to a hotel. According to the experts at FoodserviceWarehouse.com, it all starts with a concept, a contract and a partnership.

From the concept perspective, restaurants have a great business opportunity for week-day hotel guest traffic, in addition to weekend guests and local traffic. The business agreement largely comes down to what the hotel owner or manger wants, since it is their turf. The contract may be formed between the restaurant and an off-site management company or between a private hotel owner and the restaurant.

Here are a few things to consider when forming a contract with a hotel:

  • What, if any, improvements are needed to the facility?
  • Who is hiring the labor to complete the work?
  • Does the hotel receive a portion of the revenue for providing restaurant guests?
  • What is the point-of-sale system when hotel guests charge meals to their room?
  • Will the restaurant and hotel share employees, including cleaning and maintenance staff?
  • Who handles property inspection and maintenance?
  • How are utilities such as gas, water and electricity shared and billed?
  • Does the restaurant have a liquor license or will the hotel provide one?
  • Will the restaurant be able to have live music and host parties/events?

Just like hoteliers, restaurant managers have plenty of their own concerns to address before signing an agreement.

Remember: Just because a restaurant is located in a hotel doesn’t necessarily mean it will survive. The same fundamentals of quality and service that apply to any standalone or shopping mall restaurant apply to hotel restaurants.

Also, if the restaurant is part of a chain, it must have a brand-consistent experience a customer/hotel patron expects when they’re stopping in from out of town. Due to the restaurant’s partnership with the hotel and the competitive nature of the industry, the pressure is on to create an enjoyable and memorable guest experience.

Topics: Restaurants, Hospitality

How Hotel Night Auditors Should Spend Their Time

By Naomi Balagot

grand-budapest-hotel

In today’s economy, many companies are focused on hiring employees with specialized skill sets. In recent years, there has been a push against putting “multitasking” on your resume after researchers found that handling too many tasks at one time can be detrimental to productivity.

However, a night auditor in a hotel is one job where multitasking should be a prerequisite. You want to hire someone who is a competent problem solver and who won’t get thrown off by potentially stressful situations.

Here are just some of the tasks and responsibilities that a night auditor must complete daily:

Money Handling & Financial Reports

It’s the crucial job of the night auditor to close out daily hotel financial activities. Business is done for the day, and now it’s time to tally results and reconcile receipts.

If a discrepancy is noted or an account isn’t balance, the night auditor must fill out a report for management. He or she works as an internal auditor to make sure the hotel’s day staff didn’t make errors in room rates, bar or restaurant tabs, etc.

Front Desk

It’s less likely during the week, but someone may show up in the middle of the night looking for a room. Overbookings become the problem of the night auditor, so the individual must know how to quickly accommodate a weary guest.

Customer Service

From someone smoking where they shouldn’t be to noise coming from the next room, responding to complaints becomes the night auditor’s responsibility once the day shift leaves. The night auditor must follow the hotel’s guidelines for customer service and remain professional. After all, exceptional customer service is integral to hotel brands no matter what time it is, and customers expect it.

Housekeeping and maintenance

A hotel simply can’t afford to have housekeeping and maintenance staff working around the clock, so it becomes the night auditor’s job to document everything that happens overnight, from a clogged sink to a guest who needs more towels. Tasks are assigned to appropriate staff members the following day.

Security

Safety is paramount in the hotel industry. All staff members must know how to call in emergencies and when to call the authorities vs. calling the hotel’s security guard. The night auditor must know the hotel’s procedures and protocols, and to be able to communicate effectively with police, fire, or EMT respondents if needed.

One former night auditor recalls, “Nobody had bothered to explain ANY emergency procedures to me (I eventually read the emergency procedures manual and became the most knowledgeable person on them other than the lead engineer who wrote them).”

Good for him, but that’s actually terrifying! For the sake of your guests, please train your employees and track their progress.

Shifting Responsibilities

Just like a vampire called into the night, the night auditor must vanish before daybreak. While it’s not that dramatic, eventually the shift changes and the night auditor must hand over financial reports and other documentation to the next shift.

Communication

When the night auditor changes shift, it is likely that he or she is tired, and the person coming on to work at the crack of dawn may also need a cup of coffee to wake up. Do everyone in your organization a favor by backing up your reports. The advantage of cloud software is that anyone in your organization who is authorized to view the information can quickly see it and sort through issues.

For example, perhaps you had a guest like rock drummer/famed destructionist Keith Moon visiting your hotel last night. The night auditor can assign maintenance staff in the morning, while housekeeping should get the hazmat suits ready.

Let’s hope this doesn’t happen, but you have to expect the unexpected in the hospitality industry!

Topics: Hospitality