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By Amy Bradley-Hole Travel columnist
updated 11/1/2006 3:52:36 PM ET 2006-11-01T20:52:36
OPINION

I hear it all the time: Service at hotels isn’t that great anymore. And surprisingly, I hear this from employees within the industry as often as I hear it from guests. I agree that hotel service is declining, and I blame four kinds of people for it.

I blame the “suits”
Too many corporate officers are too far removed from the day-to-day reality of running a hotel, and the head honchos are more concerned about shareholders than guests. This top-down, bottom-line mind-set leads to cost-cutting at the expense of service. Of course, it also leads to greatly rising revenues, but the profits aren’t being put back into the service part of the business. Instead, the suits invest the money in the latest trends or coolest technologies, neglecting the fundamentals: good employees and good facilities.

Also, when your Legal Department becomes more important than your frontline workers, there’s a problem. Corporate offices often make bad business decisions for fear of lawsuits. This is especially true in Human Resources, where middle managers find it very difficult to get rid of bad employees. They are either afraid that firing a low performer will result in a discrimination lawsuit, or they find it’s too expensive to hire and train a replacement. But bad employees are poison in a hotel. Not only do they provide bad service, they also lower morale among their co-workers, leading to a bad experience for guests. Again, when the suits lose focus on what really matters — pleasing their guests and retaining their good workers — the service cycle breaks down.

I blame the employees
While there are many wonderful, dedicated people working at hotels, there are also many employees who just don’t care about their jobs. Let’s face it, hospitality isn’t always an enticing career choice. Most hotel jobs involve long hours, holiday shifts, lots of stress and physical challenges — all for very little pay. Turnover is high. In fact, hotel workers often aren’t interested in career advancement — much less the success of their company; many of them just want to pay their bills. With little investment in themselves or their employer, they don’t care much about training and development, or putting effort into their performance. As for creating a wonderful experience for the guest, that’s not really on their radar screen.

But no matter why they take a hotel job, hospitality workers must remember one thing: They have chosen to accept a position in the service industry, and when you work in a service position, you must be able to put personal feelings aside so you can please the guests. No excuses!

I blame the unions
Good service means exceeding guests’ expectations, and that often means working overtime, making snap decisions and going beyond the scope of regular job duties. Union membership can hinder an employee asked to go that extra mile. For example, a union bellman at an Atlantic City hotel once stood by the front entrance to his property and never opened the door for the arriving guests. When asked why by a superior, he replied, “I’m a bellman, not a doorman — opening doors isn’t in my union job description.”

Make no mistake, I believe hotel workers deserve better pay and better working conditions, and unions can serve a great purpose in promoting these campaigns, but pleasing guests means being flexible, and unions often take that flexibility away from both employees and management.

I blame the customers
We live in the Age of Complaining. There are whole Web sites dedicated to giving consumers a place to complain about bad service. And boy, do people gripe about some really silly stuff! Was that road construction out front the hotel’s fault? And did it really ruin your entire vacation? Be realistic. Also, how many Web sites have you seen that encourage people to praise good service? When workers hear only complaints and receive no praise, they get worn down and lose their motivation to do a great job. If you want good service, make an effort to recognize employees and reward companies that do a good job.

On the flip side, when you do receive bad service, complain well. Don’t just complain to your friends or on a Web site; let the company know where they’ve failed by providing constructive criticism. Good hotels want to hear your feedback because they want to get better and earn your business.

You’ll hear me say this over and over: As guests, we get what we pay for. Demanding low rates means companies will have to cut costs. They will cut staffing levels first, leaving fewer employees to please you. So if service matters to you, think twice about giving a hotel your business because of a good deal. You should give a hotel your business because it’s a great hotel, and it deserves it.

I’ve placed a lot of blame on a lot of people here. But you know what? I blame myself, too. I’ve helped make corporate decisions that might have been better for the bottom line than for my guests. I’ve been a frontline employee who’s come to work with a bad attitude. And I’ve been a cranky guest who’s walked into a hotel expecting to be disappointed.

Whoever you are — hotel executive, hotel worker, union leader, guest — ask yourself this: Are you also responsible for the decline of hotel service?

Amy Bradley-Hole has worked in the hotel industry for many years in many different positions and at all types of properties -- from small luxury boutique hotels to large resorts, both in the United States and abroad. E-mail her or read more of her articleson tripso.com!

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