Is Your Hotel a Comedy of Errors?

Melbourne’s hotels are full of stand-up comedians this month, and as a professional in the hospitality industry, I have to wonder if any of their experiences will find a way onto the stage. After all, an event like the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is full of raw and raucous observations. Everything and everyone is fair game.

 This is actually a good question for hoteliers to ask: Is there anything about our guest experience that could end up as fodder for the stand-up comedian? You might not be able to come up with good material on the spot (stand-up comedy is a notoriously difficult art, requiring years of practice)—but you can look at some of the common blunders in hotel management and how they make business more difficult. From there, you might be able to develop a truly funny act. (I attended a concert once where the band was staying at my hotel and hence was quite embarrassed when they made fun of our pressing service as we had placed a pleat in the front of the lead singer’s jeans. Apparently that was funny to an Englishman!)

Strengthening the divide between management and staff

Industry leaders know that teamwork in hotels is not a gratuitous concession or a warm and fuzzy concept. It’s closely related to the bottom line of bookings, reputation and profits. When staff are tangibly stressed or unhappy, the guest experience is impacted. Since this stress is often related to the divide between staff and management, the joke is on managers who are overly concerned about being the authority figure. If you have ever heard/expressed the thought “management’s a joke”, then you know what I mean. Authority must exist to some degree, to be sure—but managers who seek feedback from staff, including them in strategic discussions and working to develop open communication, will see a strengthening of morale and a collective boost of energy that drives business in the right direction. (The odd light hearted moment at work doesn’t hurt either. As a young supervisor I was presented with a wonderfully decorated birthday cake from my manager, only to find it was a decorated piece of cork when I cut in! No wonder so many other staff came to sing me happy birthday!)

Going for the quick fix

When dry spells come (and they will, for most hotels) it can be tempting to fill those extra rooms with bargain basement pricing. These “fire sales” are often facilitated through OTAs or coupon deals that take their cut of the booking price. When the fire is over, your hotel is plumb full of guests but your coffers are empty. This scenario is only funny if you’re not the mastermind behind it.

Meticulous thought and calculation should always go into your pricing, promotions, occupancy and profits. Rather than a panicked attempt to fill empty rooms at all costs, focus on strengthening the bond between your brand and your guests—whether they’re currently in your hotel or navigating to your web site. Ensure the line from booking to checkout delivers standout presentation and service and there won’t be any funny bits.

Another aspect of this “quick fix” mindset involves search engine optimisation. There are plenty of fast-talkers out there who, for a nominal fee, promise to launch your hotel to the upper echelons of Google search rankings. But many techniques that worked five years ago have already gone the way of the corded telephone, and many of these SEO miracle workers are beginning to look like snake-oil salesmen in checkered sport coats. (I recently stayed in a major hotel where they still had a corded phone on the guest floor, but it wasn’t connected to anything!) Today, Google consistently rewards web sites that are rich in meaningful content. A basic SEO tune-up might help, but the smart money is on the steady accumulation of content and quality interactions with people in both the real and virtual worlds.

Ignoring new technology

Remember when comedians had a field day with new computers being out of date the moment they were released? It’s a thoroughly used-up joke, yet strangely relevant in many hotels. Whilst bulky television sets and malfunctioning showerheads are bound to draw some laughs, they will, more importantly, attract a few critical reviews.

On the administrative side, tablets can streamline communications (including social media interactions), improve workflow, and lead to fresh insights at all levels of hotel staff and management. And they’re becoming so cheap that a whole stack doesn’t cost much more than a year’s supply of paper.

Web sites are another example. In this day and age, the useful lifespan of web sites is far more comparable to a pair of shoes than to an automobile. Too many hotels feel that updating their virtual infrastructure every five or seven years is enough, and prospective guests find the experience more tragic than comedic. The point is, there will always be aspects of hotel service that are best done the old-fashioned way, and there will always be aspects that must change with technology.

All in good fun?

No matter what profession we’re in, it’s healthy to be able to laugh at ourselves once in a while. The stakes of a hotel with real investors and real quarterly reports though, is no laughing matter. It’s important to cultivate a working knowledge of how hotel operations are changing today, and where they’ll be in five or ten years’ time. That way, when next year’s International Comedy Festival rolls around, you won’t be giving those hilarious guests any easy opportunities to rake you over the coals. More importantly, the state of your business will be something to smile about.

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