Learning from economy hotels

Most of the time, in our industry, 4- and 5-star properties are the idea generators, leading the industry with new features that are emulated further down the food chain. In this way, we are so highly focused on learning from exemplary hotels in the premium price range that we seldom give enough attention to those providers who are succeeding at the economy level.

These are operators who might not have the lavish facilities or a monstrous and pliable budget, yet they nevertheless find a way to make it all work. In their own way, successful hoteliers at the economy level have also become innovators. Here are five areas where this segment is leading the charge:

1. Complimentary breakfast

One of the reasons I emphasize F&B is that it plucks at our emotional strings. You can help people start the day with a smile by giving them a little fuel, even if it’s just a mug of coffee, a glass of orange juice and a buttered bagel. Breakfast can also be a very social time, acting as a pseudo-meet-and-greet and elevating the overall mood. This might not be cost-effective if you attempt it at a luxury level, but even providing just “the basics” such as a breakfast buffet and a fruit basket will have a hugely positive influence on your TripAdvisor rankings.

2. Free lobby coffee 24/7

Coffee fills a similar function as a complimentary breakfast. It hits our emotional centers, relaxing us and sharpening our brains for the activities that lay ahead. Need I mention caffeine is addictive? Give people their fix whenever they so desire, and they will be thankful for it. Also, like breakfast, turning your lobby into a café will increase the social factor, which again enhances your property’s positioning as a place that cares about its customers.

3. Shuttle service

Yes, it may be a tad slower than hailing a cab to get to your nearby destination, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. My time spent in these “carpooling” shuttles has yielded some delightful conversations with the drivers and fellow passengers. Like coffee and breakfast, the free shuttle service is a chance to boost the social aspect of a hotel. Plus, taking the scenic route to a destination gives the guest a chance to explore. Some properties at the luxury level can follow this model by claiming ownership of a limousine or two for guest use — a more “VIP” iteration of the shuttle bus.

4. No tip expectation

Part of the economy hotel strategy involves keeping guest service uncomplicated and in a “no frills” state. You schlep your own bags, you park your own car and so on. Oftentimes when you reach the upper echelons of the hotel world, there are staffers for every specific task, and there’s a certain expectation that a tip is forthcoming, even for the most basic tasks. While I’m not opposed to tipping (as I know from working behind the scenes at these hotels how tough the job can be), others may find these silent expectations bordering on harassment. Use discretion and team training so staffers know when tipping is appropriate.

5. Everyone pitches in

Building on the last point about job specificity, one other observation about economy hotels is that the jobs are far more flexible. Everyone fills in where needed and knows how to quickly adapt to fit multiple roles. This adds to the character of the hotel as back-of-house staffers often are put in situations where they must converse with guests. To me, this elicits an endearing quality; housekeepers, cooks and custodians can help bestow their properties with a genuine and humanized character. And yes, I have seen general managers of limited-service properties doing housekeeping and front-desk functions where need be, allowing them to talk with customers and receive firsthand feedback.

It is interesting to note TripAdvisor scores for economy brands in the 4-plus range. This is not due to the quality of furnishings, massive capex budgets or the bathroom amenity tray. Rather, it is the consumer telling us they appreciate being treated as a welcome guest without being nickel-and-dimed to death. Sometimes giving a little bit extra goes a long way.