Hotel Online Special Report


Hotel Common Sense
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“A Bakers Dozen” of Strategies for
Hotel Front Office Managers

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by  Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE, July 2006
 

Top ten lists are often quoted or used to catch people’s attention, but this series has
been expanded to be certain that no one is “short-changed.”   The number thirteen
has evolved into what is called “baker’s dozen”.

Following is A Bakers Dozen” of Strategies for Hotel Front Office Managers

1. Learn to practice and improve listening skills – and then coach others, as the front desk is the critical listening center of the hotel.   We all need to not only hear, but listen with better intensity. Front office managers must remember that the front desk is the communication center of every hotel.   It is the financial center for reservations and much of the cash activity at many hotels. The front office manager must monitor both guest and staff interaction to insure proper guest service and protocol.  Mentor those staff that need it, coach appropriately and increase the two way communication cycle.

2. Learn everything about the services and product you will be promoting and then be certain your staff also knows the details. This first step is very similar to the suggestions offered in a previous article for Sales Professionals.  The most obvious requirement for any successful front office manager or sales professional is to know all the details about your product and services.  At a time in business history when the danger of many hotel accommodations being considered commodities differentiated primarily by price, the need to be able adequately explain what your hotel offers is critical to and potential guests and staff. This cannot be overlooked at any size hotel because our product that is not sold tonight cannot be put back into inventory for resale tomorrow- it is lost forever!   Particulars include:

  • Personally inspecting every type of accommodation in your hotel.  Learn the differences and potential benefits of each type and how they can be of value to different customers.  This tour should not be a one time event – monthly or even weekly tours will keep you aware of changes in the hotel and can also help management to be better aware of potential problems.
  • Maintain your awareness of the property of the whole.   This includes parking areas, public areas, access points to the hotel and the all important curb appeal. 
  • If you have work with an adjacent restaurant or other external service that is part of your offerings, regularly assess their quality and how it affects your guests’ satisfaction. 
  • Effective front office managers take pride in their hotels, and often offer to assist senior management in room inspections or in the sales effort as appropriate.
3. Learn everything about the services and product of those hotels that you will be competing with.  As in the preceding strategy, effective front office managers know who is in their competitive set, and everything about them.   They learn the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors and plan accordingly as they try to increase market share at the expense of their competitors. It is not the sole responsibility of the “sales” team or general manager to be part of the selling effort – successful front office managers embrace the mantra “Everyone Sells.”

4. Share the professional expectations provided to you from ownership and or Management Company clearly with all members of the staff.  Newcomers to the industry sometimes imagine huge profits when they compare their hourly wage with the rooms’ rates paid by guests. Those of us who have been in the industry for more than just a few years realize that profits and losses go in cycles, and that it is important to share the realities of the cost of doing business at all levels. All staff should understand the total costs of ownership, including support staff such as engineering and sales, franchise or royalty fees, management company fees, the concepts of debt service and more.  Make those expectations understood, explain the value and rationale to all staff and be certain these expectations can be measured fairly.   

5. Hold regular one-on-one sessions with all direct reports in this department, including the night auditor.  While the 3rd shift is usually quieter, it still represents 30% of the day and needs to be included in discussions and communication.  These sessions should not be formal “reviews” but guide posts to reinforce positive actions or to correct a potentially dangerous course of action.  The 1st time will be awkward because people might be “gun-shy” or are looking for hidden agendas.  When it becomes apparent that these are honest dialogues, they sessions are actually anticipated as opportunities to clear the air.

6. Constantly assess time management.  The 80-20 rule of priorities and value remains true much of the time.  80% of our profits often come from 20% of the client base.  The same hold true for problem areas or staff that needs attention.  The question needs to be not are we doing things “right”, but are we doing the “right” things correctly?    

7. Learn the science of accurate and realistic forecasts.  Operating budgets are often approved by the ownership or Management Company in a remote location, but the start of every budget is the forecast of anticipated volume and revenues. The most opportune time to project accurately for the next years is right after that period has finished for this year. For example, if one waits until July to project the following January to December, there can changes in market conditions, staffing or simply a memory lapse that can seriously undermine accuracy. If one makes a draft of the budget for following March in April after the incomes statement and market analysis has been reviewed, the chances are that the projections will be able to be justified and more accurate than when trying to prepare 12 months in one action. One will obviously adjust a forecast if there was a special event in the current year that will not be repeated or if there is a one time event (such as the Super Bowl or Olympics) but regular practice improves accuracy and success at many levels. 

8. Plan, coordinate and implement revenue management strategies regularly.  This is another example of blended learning.  Some hotels are fortunate to have a full time revenue manager working with their hotel, while other companies sometimes have someone at the owner’s or management company office regularly watch inventories and demand patterns.   The blended learning must come from “people” who recognize trends and cycles and anticipate the necessary steps.  Software programs are excellent resources, but they must be properly programmed and maintained.

9. Embrace the Brand.   A majority of hotels in the US today are part of brand, and the trend is growing worldwide.   The Front Office Manager should become the authority on all the brand’s services, features and programs.  

  • Have you, as Front Office Manager, explained your brand’s expectations and agreed on values and standards to your staff?
  • Do you take the time to train your staff on the brand’s programs?
  • Does your staff know how to address a range of questions relating to those programs?  
A WORD TO INDEPENDENTS - if your hotel is not part of a brand, does your staff know the special programs offered to the Department of Tourism, AAA or other negotiated partners? 

10. Training must be maintained and increased.   There is no excuse today for inadequately prepared or untrained front desk staff.   There is enormous training support available at very low cost online from the major brands and a wealth of support from CDs, books, newsletters and the internet.  When running high occupancy, many managers claim to be “too busy” to train. When occupancy is flat or declining, cutting ongoing training to “save money” will really cost more as it will drive the good staff to consider leaving and the loyal customers to the competition because it appears you don’t care.   The following expression holds true: “the only thing worse than an untrained staff that leaves, is an untrained staff that stays to service your customers.”

11. When hiring people, pay attention to the “human” resource role. We must balance “high touch” and ‘High Tech”.  Recruit and select people wisely.  Encourage your General Manager to pay competitively or better and lead in incentives.  As Front Office Manager, recognize your team regularly with “thank you’s “and expressions of appreciation. Retain the champions by whatever it takes to keep them.

12. Review your market analysis monthly.  It should not just be the sales team or general manager that has an interest in trends or shifts in markets.   As the area closest to guests, understanding their needs is essential. Sharing observations on changing guest preferences, needs or demand should be a critical part of front office monthly management practices.

13. Know your customers.  The legendary managers are those who know the base of their clients and interact with them regularly.  This is not the same as analyzing trends – it is the “high touch” of our industry.  As the nerve center of all hotels, the front office is essential to keeping up with what is happening at all areas of the hotels.  Effective front office managers professionally interact with guests as often as possible.  


Think Tank 
Questions of the day
These questions are offered to stimulate discussion about the way we do business.  There is not necessarily only one “correct” answer – the reason for this section of the column is to promote an awareness of how we might all improve our operations.  Consider using these or similar questions at staff meetings encourage your team to THINK!
 

Topic 

A Bakers Dozen” of Strategies for Hotel Front Office Managers

 
  1. How often do you really listen to guests?  (We are not talking check-ins, but real interaction)?
  2. How are your forecasts prepared? When? By whom?  Do you challenge yourself on accuracy?
  3. What percentage of your staff really understands the fundamentals of revenue management?  How to interpret the Smith Travel STR Report?
  4. When was the last time you had an open forum discussion with your night auditor and listened to their input?
Feel free to share an idea and contact me at John.Hogan@bestwestern.com anytime and remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication or of Best Western International.
All rights reserved by John Hogan. 
This column will be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.

John Hogan, Ph.D. CHE CHA MHS is the Director of Education & Cultural Diversity for Best Western International, the world’s largest hotel chain.  Best Western International has more than 4,200 hotels in 80 countries and is one of the worlds most established and recognized hotel brands, founded in 1946 in California.

He serves on several industry boards that deal with education and/or cultural diversity including the Hospitality Industry Diversity Institute, the AH&LA Multicultural Advisory Council, the AAHOA Education and eCommerce Committee and is the Best Western liaison to the NAACP and the Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association with his ongoing involvement in the Certified Hotel Owner program.

He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts and his Ph.D. in International Business and an MBA via Distance Learning from UNW.  His professional experience includes over 30 years in hotel operations, food & beverage, sales & marketing, training, management development and asset management on both a single and multi-property basis.  He is a Certified Hotel Administrator (CHA), a Master Hotel Supplier (MHS), and a Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE) and is a past recipient of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Pearson Award for Excellence in Lodging Journalism.  He has served as President of both city and state hotel associations.

John’s background includes teaching college level courses as an adjunct professor for 20 years, while managing with Sheraton, Hilton, Omni and independents hotels.  Prior to joining Best Western International in spring of 2000, he was the principal in an independent training & consulting group for more than 12 years serving associations, management groups, convention & visitors’ bureaus, academic institutions and as an expert witness.  He has conducted an estimated 3,000 workshops and seminars in his career to date.

He has published more than 250 articles & columns on the hotel industry and is co-author (with Howard Feiertag, CHA CMP) of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – A COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES, which is available from HSMAI www.hsmai.org , www.SmartBizzOnline.com www.roomschronicle.com and other industry sources. 
 
He resides in Phoenix, Arizona and is working on his 2nd book – The Top 100 People of All Time Who Most Dramatically Affected the Hotel Industry.

Contact:

Dr. John J. Hogan, CHA MHS CHE 
Director, Education & Cultural Diversity 
Best Western International -THE WORLD'S LARGEST HOTEL CHAIN ® 
6201 N. 24th Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85016-2023 
Phone 602-957-5810; fax 602-957-5815 
john.hogan@bestwestern.com


"...we all need a regular dose of common sense "
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Also See: “A Bakers Dozen” of Strategies for Hotel Sales & Marketing Professionals / Hotel Common Sense / John Hogan / June 2006
"A Bakers Dozen” of Strategies for Hotel General Managers / Hotel Common Sense / John Hogan / May 2006
“A Bakers Dozen” of Ideas for Hotel Management Company Executives / Hotel Common Sense / John Hogan / April 2006

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