By Jane Auster
Recessions change the way business operates. In the hotel industry, particularly, recessions redefine the service model. The guest experience, while always important, becomes even more critical as a way of attracting and retaining both business and leisure customers. At a time when all travelers are scaling back and searching for value (see chart on travel intentions), the quality of service you provide can mean the difference between a booking at your hotel and your competitor's.
2009 Travel Intentions -- Leisure
* Intend to take an overnight trip of 50 miles or more over the next six months (71%)
* Do not plan any changes to their future travel plans as a result of the financial situation (48%)
* Expect to book a packaged vacation to save money (76%)
* Plan to comparison shop for prices and rates, specifically on the Internet (58%)
* Plan to stay fewer nights (67%)
* Plan to spend less on food, beverages and entertainment while traveling (67%)
Source: Travelhorizons survey co-authored by U.S. Travel Association and Ypartnership.
"Guests want to feel reassured and relaxed during a very unrelaxing time in the world,” says Roberta Nedry, president of Hospitality Excellence, a company which promotes service excellence through guest experience management and develops specific training and online programs to enhance guest and customer service. “With fewer dollars to spend, consumer expectations for value are even higher as they want to get the value for the dollar they are not getting elsewhere. Customer service is critical to providing that value, that reassurance and creating that relaxed state of mind that releases them from their worries, even for just awhile."
Top challenges in the hotel industry
At a time when both business and leisure travelers are closing their wallets, and travelers have an abundance of choice, hotel operators must make each and every guest experience memorable. At the same time, they also face the challenge of:
* Cutting costs without compromising service.
* Differentiating their property from their competitors.
* Streamlining operations. Harnessing technology to add efficiency and cut costs while at the same time accentuating the all-important personal touch.
* Greening hotel operations. Despite the need to watch the bottom line, hotels must assure guests of their commitment to environmental stewardship as part of their service offer.
Emphasize customer service expertise
Customer service affects your repeat business, referral business, additional income, profitability, brand value and customer retention, says Nedry. "Loyal guests and loyal employees lead to great customer experiences for everyone and yield tremendous value to the bottom line. Attitude leads to gratitude…inside and out."
Hiring hospitality experts with the right attitude is key to ensuring customer service excellence. They come to your operation with an inside track on the “world of welcome,” and their experience helps them learn the ropes faster. Whether housekeeping staff, front desk clerks, servers, concierges, general managers, call center workers, or security staff, your operation will benefit from hiring hotel candidates with guest experience expertise.
"Look for employees who have had experience in strong service roles, even if behind the scenes," says Nedry. "Or, look for those who have had life experiences that involved empathy, enthusiasm, communication and teamwork. Look for employees and managers with stamina and energy, a sense of humor, who are open-minded, problem solvers, trustworthy, and who manage their time well."
These are the best ingredients for finding top-notch talent for your hotel operation.
Tips to retain talent
* Recognize the top performers throughout your hotel operation.
* Treat employees as you would treat your guests. Says Nedry, "Create an employment experience that is powerful and rewarding and you will see powerful and rewarding experiences take place with guests."
* Train to retain. Invest in hiring the best; invest in training to make them the best.
* Define a service mission and standards for service excellence.
* Provide employees with constant, consistent tools, techniques and strategies for exceptional service delivery.
* Seek out and reward customer service success. Recognizing the importance you place on customer service will help you retain a service-excellence focused staff.
Year over year hotel occupancy rate declines – for the week ending January 24, 2009
* The overall U.S. hotel industry's occupancy rate fell 13.6 percent to end the week at 47.3 percent (54.7 percent in the comparable week in 2008).
* Average daily rate dropped 2.7 percent to finish the week at US$103.24 (US$106.15 in 2008).
* Revenue per available room for the week decreased 16.0 percent to finish at US$48.80 (US$58.07 in 2008).
* Five of the Top 25 markets experienced year-over-year occupancy declines of more than 20 percent:
Source: Smith Travel Research (STR)