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Lowering Hotel Operating Costs – There is a Gold Mine Surrounding You

“Alternative Skill Sets”

By Dr. Diana Driscoll, September 15, 2010

It seems that all hoteliers are looking for ways to cut as much from their operations costs as possible – and for good reason. No one knows when this slump will end, and if you watch the news closely, you likely have whiplash from the contradictory messages we face every day. For the sake of our mental health (or what is left of it), many of us have found it best to avoid the news entirely. 

No matter what the news holds for us today or a year from now, it is prudent to remember what we have learned to date.  For example, this recession has taught us how to watch our expenses closely. Some of us have removed the mouthwash and shower caps from the guest rooms, perhaps a few of the towels, and one hotelier I know switched the in-room coffee to a horrible brand, so that guests would never want a second cup! Is this going too far? Drastic cut-backs that affect the guest experience will likely result in the loss of future occupancy levels.

As a commercial real estate owner and serial entrepreneur who has bootstrapped quite a few businesses, may I suggest an alternative that may lower your operational costs immediately and improve your team’s morale?  It costs nothing to implement and you can start today. I call it the use of “Alternate Skill Sets.”

Basically, you will be able to lower operating costs, and potentially increase occupancy levels and guest satisfaction by utilizing your staff’s numerous skills, talents and hobbies. You can set up a spread sheet today, and meet with your staff one at a time. Obviously, it is a great time to tell them how much you appreciate them, and let them know you are interested in their other skills, too. They may have the opportunity to utilize these skills inside the hotel for everyone’s benefit. The items you want to discuss and record on the spreadsheet include the following:

• Do you have any IT experience? 
How many times does your staff wish they had someone to call on for those persnickety computer issues, but your IT wiz-kid is either too shy or unaware to step forward?

• Do you own a 4-wheel drive vehicle? 
Have you ever been short-handed because your staff is afraid to drive to work in high water or snow? Be sure to check with your insurance company for coverage.

• Are you good with home repairs? 
There is no need to outsource many routine repairs if a member of your staff is truly talented and enjoys repair work. This is especially helpful for those “off-hours” repairs needing immediate attention. This is a chance for your staff member to be a hero.

• Tell me about your hobbies:

You may be able to obtain original pieces of art, letting the staff member use your hotel walls as a gallery of sorts. All the better for everyone if the artist’s work is for sale. Offering a showing for the artist can also draw a crowd to your hotel. Obviously, the artwork needs to fit into the brand of the hotel and be an asset to the hotel’s image. This staff member likely knows other artists who would be happy to rotate their art through your hotel on a monthly basis, keeping it fresh and bringing new visitors to your hotel.

If you have any space for a small band, piano, guitar player, etc., it can be a delight for both the staff member and the hotel guests. Let your musician shine! A opportunity to glow in the spotlight is a huge motivator.

This has the same potential as any other artist’s work, and in addition, great photography of your hotel can help your SEO if placed on Flickr, your website, blog (should you have one), printed material, etc.

This may be an opportunity for you to start a hotel blog. The entire staff can offer suggestions, your in-house photographer can add compelling images, and you are on your way!

Social Media? 
Some people just have the gift for reaching out to others and keeping relationships going with both potential hotel guests and current hotel guests. Take a look at their personal blog or twitter site and judge for yourself. 

• Tell me about your educational background 
True story. One hotel I worked with had a physician working in the kitchen. He was practicing medicine out of the country and was unable to get a license in the United States. But for first-aid and emergencies, he was perfect for the job. And of course he was thrilled that he was occasionally called upon to utilize his skills. Additionally, when the staff realized that he was a physician, he was treated with a bit more respect, and his self-esteem (and love of his job) went up dramatically. 

• What languages do you speak? 
I would recommend keeping this list at the front desk. Having translators at your fingertips is efficient and impressive to guests. Don’t forget to ask about sign language!

• Do you have any interest in car pooling? 
With today’s gas prices, vehicle expenses and the “green” movement, you may be surprised at how important this option is for many staff members. By making this information a part of the questionnaire, you remove the potential embarrassment that could preclude many staff members from inquiring about car-pooling.

• Tell me some characteristics about you that most people don’t know. 
This can be interesting! There is really no limit to what you can learn, but I’ve seen answers such as “I love children” (this staff member may offer to be an emergency babysitter for guests or staff), to “I have a handicapped son and am comfortable around the wheelchair-bound.” (This can translate to that extra level of care and empathy for these guests, whereas other staff members may not know exactly what to say or how to meet their needs.)

• Do you have any other skills you would like to share with us? 
Again, the responses to a wide open question such as this may amaze you. “I make an awesome cheesecake.” Perhaps this should be on your menu, or offered for guests in the evening?  “I love to teach yoga.” Well, OK then! If you have a fitness center, a yoga class may be appealing for both your guests and your staff member.

• Finally, “We are open to any and all of your ideas to increase efficiency of the hotel. In fact, we would be thrilled if you could bring three ideas to our meeting next week.” 
Your staff knows where most of your hotel’s inefficiencies can be found. They can usually offer numerous ideas to remedy the situation. To prevent this meeting from becoming a “gripe session”, we suggest the “Rule of Three” – for every inefficiency or problem observed, they need to offer a minimum of three potential remedies. 

It is impossible for anyone to know everything about the inner workings of a hotel. You will be shocked and amazed at how your staff can assist you, when empowered to do so. 

So, take advantage of your staff’s “alternative skill sets” and give them a chance to offer all that they can to the hotel. With a sense of empowerment and ownership, you could very well see both reduced turn-over and increased morale. 

You have a gold mine of talent surrounding you. Utilize it, and appreciate each and every member of your team for all they can offer. 

Dr. Diana Driscoll, LEED AP B, D + C (“green” specialist in Building, Design and Construction) works with hotel developers on their LEED, Energy Star, and other sustainability efforts. As CEO of Ridgeline Hospitality, LLC, and the founder of HotelRescue®, she heads up a team of experts to offer immediate assistance to hoteliers in this tough economic climate. 

Prior to forming Ridgeline Hospitality, Dr. Driscoll developed and managed office and retail developments through Driscoll Realty Developments, Inc., and acted as a Registered Investment Advisor in her own company - Professional Money Management, Inc.  She practiced as a Doctor of Therapeutic Optometry for over 20 years and received numerous awards for excellence in her field.


Dr. Diana Driscoll, LEED AP, B, D + C
twitter: @dianadriscoll @HotelRescue
skype: diana.driscoll1
1834 Keller Parkway, Suite #400
Keller, TX 76248

Also See: Hoteliers - Lending Headaches? Changes in SBA Lending Deserve Your Attention / Diana Driscoll / August 2010
Hoteliers – Use Your Marketing Dollars Wisely; The Importance of Visual Imagery / Diana Driscoll / July 2010
Greening Your Hotel Meetings and Conferences /Diana Driscoll / June 2010

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