This past summer, I had a less-than-adequate experience while staying at a branded property that was clearly well past its best before date. This is putting it nicely to say the least. Despite its prime location in its market and good promotional efforts, it was obvious that this chain outlet was not meeting any of the defined standards outlined by the corporate website.
I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that this economy-plus level hotel wasn’t meeting some of the most basic criteria that characterize ‘a good night’s stay’. Being part of a group booking, it was apparent that I was not the only one who took notice of the property’s blatant shortcomings. The grumblings passed along throughout the event sessions would have made for exceptionally shrill TripAdvisor commentary. The one saving grace was the staff – all were gracious and attentive, but it still wasn’t enough.
Alas, we are all here to learn, not just to admonish those who might serve as cautionary tales in hotel dilapidation. As numerous external factors are poised to lure consumers away from the traditional ways of finding accommodations, our industry is shaky enough without these marginal operators. Part of running a flagged property is being true to that flag. Undoubtedly the higher-ups at the property in question know what’s currently going on, but more importantly, what can they do and should they do?
1. Standards are there for a reason. Every brand has a standards manual. This outlines not only what is required (hard goods, amenities, colors, etc.), but also maintenance levels that have to be upheld. Think of these as “bibles,” whereby the scripture on each page represents the cumulative input of many experts in various operational areas who have through many years of hard work honed what the brand is today. The brand standards also are connected with guest expectations – cheat on them and you are cheating your guests! Knowing this simple relationship, the most obvious path to revitalization is to follow the brand standards manual.
2. Compliance management should not be an adversarial relationship. If you’re reading this and you have responsibility for a property or group, compliance management should be considered fundamental. You cannot allow any member of your portfolio to fail. Remember, your brand’s viability is only as good as your weakest link. Travel to all of your properties regularly, inspecting and anticipating areas of improvement. Share results openly with owners and operators to get everyone on the same wavelength. Reinforce the critical nature of product delivery as the basis for success. These should be congenial conversations, with everyone working together to restore problematic areas of operations. My advice: Always keep the guest at the forefront of your thoughts – when everyone is focused on improving the overall guest experience, it keeps everyone banded together towards a common goal.
3. Operators have responsibility, too. If you’re the operator, consider brand standards as the minimum requirement – the base from which each property leaps and soars. Understand these requirements and factor reserve allocations for future maintenance needs into your operating costs. Study your TripAdvisor and OTA reviews to ensure that you’ve not missed anything. And once you’ve met the brand’s criteria, formulate your own plan of attack to boost guest satisfaction scores by adding nuances so that your property stands apart from the comp set. It’s these unique touches that will bring character to your hotel which guests will remember beyond the sense of normalcy proffered by the brand standards.
4. Passing the buck, or selling to avoid renovation. I’ve heard many times about those who want to sell rather than renovate. Usually these decisions are strictly done on a financial or cash flow basis. But don’t hide behind a flag. Savvy brands are making it much harder to get away with the for sale sign as a reason for not renovating. Understand that you have an obligation to maintain; you’re under contract so to speak. Try selling your property without a flag – I’m skeptical that it will be worth as much.