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People, Product, Service: An Operator’s
“Back to the Basics” Manual for Success
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By Wayne Goldberg, Senior Vice President, La Quinta Corporation, February 2004

In mid-March, La Quinta Corpration (NYSE:LQI) will bring together hundreds of general managers, owners and associates from our 370 hotels at our annual conference in Las Vegas.

Many topics will be discussed, and we will review the accomplishments of the past year and anticipate the year ahead. Like our colleagues in the industry, we will report the news back to the trade.

Underpinning the news is a formula that has proven successful for generations of operators, and can be summarized in a simple phrase: People, product and service.

In important respects, the phrase is at the core of our approach to hotel operations.

"Product or Service?" 

When you “sell” a hotel room to a customer, are you providing a product or a service? 

On one level, a hotel is a product – a room, a set of amenities, a restaurant, a lobby. But selling a hotel is also selling a service: After all, a guest’s comfort is determined not just by a good night’s sleep, but by a property’s ambiance, its feel – the image it creates and maintains in the mind of the guest, the way He/She is greeted when first entering the lobby.

So in the end, a hotel is both product and service-oriented. To be successful as a hotel operator, you need to combine excellence in both areas. 

From a revenue perspective, general managers know this very well: A hotel may be located perfectly, have just completed millions of dollars in renovations, offer comfortable beds and fabulous amenities. But if the staff is not well trained and the service is sub-par, you will never keep loyal guests. After all, there is a huge difference between a satisfied guest and a truly loyal guest.

Similarly, you can have the best-trained, most helpful staff in the world and the most wonderful ambiance – but if the rooms are outdated and the hotel is poorly located, it’s unlikely that it will be profitable. 

They Key to the Equation: People

The common thread, that which binds any hotel together and makes it work – in any market, any place, any time –, is people.

That means not just the people who operate the front desk, but the full scope of partners and associates required to maintain, operate and improve a property, including back-of-the-house personnel, marketing professionals, vendors and partners, owners, lenders and others.

What are some implications of this, for successful hotel operations?

# 1 – Training is not only important – it is paramount. 

To say that training is necessary is a banality. But in an age of increasingly complex guest interactions, computerized systems for maintaining a property and marketing it, how many hotels are taking full advantage of the resources available to make sure their people have the tools they need, when they need them?

At La Quinta, we will soon be announcing a comprehensive “e-learning” initiative, which puts the latest technology at the disposal of our hotel owners, operators and associates. We also will be raising the bar on individual property training efforts, to assure that every La Quinta has access to the latest information, insights and systems they need to continue to prepare their people for interacting in today’s highly competitive marketplace. 

There is no substitute for great training and preparation.

# 2 – Consider the impact of decision-making on your “human assets.”

An enormous amount of time and effort go into decisions affecting the physical aspects of a hotel - and with good reason: Renovations, upgrades and upkeep all cost money, and have direct and dramatic impact on the guest’s experience and the operator’s bottom line.

But behind every physical aspect of a hotel’s operation, is a person – someone changing the sheets, fixing the roof, or checking in a guest. Every decision requires a human being to implement it, and that impacts how a hotel utilizes its most precious resource, its peoples’ time and energies.

Here is a hint: next time you are preparing a memo or report analyzing the pros and cons of an operational decision, add a column that is called “impact on our people.” 

Then take the time to reevaluate the hiring practices that put your people in place, and reexamine techniques by which they are trained and incentivized to excel. At La Quinta, doing so has enabled us to dramatically reduce levels of management and staff turnover throughout our system.

# 3 – Share information

Today, information moves with lightening speed.  Investment and buying decisions are made in an instant, and market conditions seem to change minute-by-minute. That impacts hotels in individual markets, as well as large companies and brands.

Operators can operate at maximum efficiency only if they receive the most complete information, in a timely manner – and thankfully, there are a number of tools at our disposal for doing it - including email, intranets, newsletters and teleconferencing.

At the end of the day, nothing succeeds like the “human touch.” At La Quinta, every one of our properties receives a visit from a regional representative or other corporate manager no less than twice a quarter. Corporate managers interact with property managers and line staff, helping property level hoteliers understand the full scope of products and services available to them – and learning, firsthand, what operators need to make the La Quinta product succeed in local markets.

Nothing Succeeds Like the Basics

None of this is “rocket science,” and much of it is in use by hotel professionals around the country.

At the same time, re-focusing on the human elements of hotel operations is a good way to insure that everyone remains grounded in the “basics” that are indispensable for running a profitable hotel – a hotel that provides the very best in guest service.

When we greet our owners and general managers next month, they will learn that “Taking Care of Business” means, especially, taking care of the people that make a business great.

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Contact:
MFC PR
Michael Frenkel
212-808-6556
michael@mfcpr.com

http://www.LQ.com


 
Also See: La Quinta Adds Eight Franchise Properties in December, 2003 / January 2004
The 651 room Sheraton Four Points Hotel, Kissimmee, Florida Reflagged La Quinta Inn Lakeside; Now Largest La Quinta Hotel / March 2003
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