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Resolved for 2007: Better hotels!

It’s that time of year, and we’re all making resolutions in hopes of improving our lives. Maybe the hotel industry should make a few New Year’s resolutions, too. After all, there are plenty of things the industry can improve.
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It’s January — resolution time! A fresh start, a new way of doing things — surely, change is in the air. I, personally, will be trying to exercise more, stress less, vacuum regularly and wash my face before I go to bed every night.

But enough about my shortcomings. The hotel industry (as much as I love it) really needs to make some changes, too. Here are the top four resolutions that I wish hotels would tackle in 2007.

Stop all the silly charges
Nobody likes to be nickeled and dimed. It’s always bad business practice. A company can only get away with unnecessary or exorbitant charges for so long, and I believe that hotels have reached the tipping point.

This is what I expect to be included in my room rate: someone at the front desk at all hours, someone to fix major maintenance problems at all hours, daily housekeeping services, use of common-area facilities (including pools and fitness centers) and help with my luggage (where available). If you plan on charging me extra for any of these standard services, then drop the room rate accordingly and advertise yourself as an a la carte property. It’s that simple.

There are extras that hotels must charge for, of course. But perhaps they should consider charging a little less for them. Consumers have wised up; they know hotel charges are high, and they know how to get around them. Guests know the mini-bar is a money pit, so they stock up on snacks at the corner store. They know that your gift shop prices carry huge markups, so they get their sunblock and souvenirs someplace else. Your customers are going elsewhere, and that’s just driving your prices higher. Why not bring those prices down a little bit, and see if you can sell a little more while pleasantly surprising your guests.

And another thing. Parking may be scarce at your downtown big-city location, but that doesn’t make it right for you to charge ridiculous parking rates. Gouge the general public if you have to, but let your weary arrivals park in your lot for free. They are your guests. You want them to come in the door happy.

Go ‘green’ — really
Hotels are big businesses, and they really do a number on our environment. They use lots of water, chemicals and electricity every day. Yes, they’re trying to make some changes. You may have heard of new environmentally friendly policies that allow guests to have a more limited laundry service if they choose. Cynical travelers see this as a ploy for the hotels to save money. Sure it saves money, but it also saves the environment. But it doesn’t go far enough. If hotels really want to go green, they must make more sweeping changes. They should install energy efficient lighting, actively involve guests and employees in recycling programs, choose less harmful cleaning products — there are so many ways to be environmentally responsible these days. Washing sheets and towels a little less often just isn’t enough.

Take better care of employees
Please pay your workers more. Happy employees make for happy guests. And who do you think is happier, the employee making $6.50 an hour, or the one making $9.50? I’ve heard people say that hotel employees perform “menial” jobs, and this makes me furious. These jobs are hard! Hotel employees work long hours, under tough physical conditions, at stressful tasks. They deserve decent pay.

Also, why not use some of your record profits to invest in your employees’ morale and career development? You can provide some great training programs, tuition reimbursement, day-care assistance, free meals at work and more. Doing so will increase employee loyalty and so reduce turnover, thereby providing better service to your customers, therefore gaining you more customers, thereby increasing revenue and shareholder value — and isn’t that what it’s all about to most big hotel companies these days?

Pay attention to what guests want
Get to know your customers so that you can give them what they want. If you’re a roadside motel, chances are your customers want a clean and safe place to rest for a few hours; they don’t want to pay for gourmet coffee delivered to their rooms in the morning. If you cater to business travelers, you probably shouldn’t invest in a fancy swimming pool; you’ll do better investing in a good Internet connection and technology that allows for a speedy and efficient check-in and check-out process.

A large part of knowing what your customers want is giving them a way to contact you, and then paying attention to what they have to say. Provide guests with multiple ways to answer satisfaction surveys, and provide an incentive for doing so. Use complaint letters as a way to identify problem areas. It’s all about figuring out what your property should really be about, and then doing all you can to be tops in your niche.

I kept the list short. After all, isn’t it better to concentrate on a few meaningful goals than on lots of unimportant ones? I truly believe that changes in these areas will bring about immediate benefits for guests, employees and hotel companies alike. But what do you think? What are some resolutions and improvements that you’d like to see hotels implement this year?

with your comments, and maybe you’ll find them in an upcoming column.

Happy New Year!

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. or on!