Confessions Of... A Hotel Executive

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'You can't tell me these people care about service!'

Our anonymous confessor, who over the past decade has worked as a front-desk clerk, auditor, accountant, human resources director, and general manager at several big-name hotel groups, is currently based in the Pacific Northwest.

We stick to the chain of command

When guests have a problem or special request, it's important that they speak to the right person. Don't bother managers about extra pillows or a copy of your bill; those issues can be handled by housekeeping and the front desk, respectively. If you have a complaint that hasn't been addressed, ask for a supervisor, and then the supervisor's supervisor, until you're satisfied. Hotel managers are notoriously hard to get ahold of, but we do check voice mail. It helps if you leave a message detailing the problem, so that we can get started fixing it immediately, rather than just playing phone tag ad nauseam. If you're still not happy, contact the hotel's corporate office (mailed letters often work best). We do get reprimanded for legitimate customer complaints; I once had a 24-hour deadline to fix a mistake or lose my job. Always present your case calmly and clearly, even if you feel you're being given the runaround. If you rant and go off-point, it's easier to assume that you're just another nutcase.

Guests really should reserve directly

It's been said that we treat guests worse when they reserve through third-party Internet sites. It's no myth: Of course we treat them worse! Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline, Hotwire, Orbitz, name it, we turn up our noses at them. At some websites, you put in a price and stay at whatever hotel comes up. You can't tell me that these people care about service! Can't! The way we look at it, these folks are solely concerned about price, and they probably can't differentiate good service from bad.

People who reserve through third-party sites are the first clients we downgrade or relocate if rooms are oversold. Heck, we might even pull the sparkling water, cheese and crackers, and other nice amenities from their rooms. You might think that policies such as these are unspoken rules, but they're discussed openly during our staff meetings. On the other hand, guests who make reservations through our website or call center almost always have access to the lowest published rates. And when you book directly, it says that you picked us for us, and we'll treat you accordingly.

Join the club

It never makes sense when a customer chooses not to join a hotel's frequent-guest program. Most are free and the benefits start kicking in right away. The programs I've worked with offer guests free upgrades, magazines, welcome snacks, late checkout, and ways to bypass check-in and checkout lines. Members might also be able to secure a room when the hotel is otherwise "sold out." The only way to get better treatment is to be related to someone in the industry.

Tipping is a good investment

Managers are usually compensated for going above and beyond the call in the form of a year-end bonus. Food servers, bellhops, maids, and other hotel employees are typically paid by the hour, and tips are often their only incentive. If the service is decent but unremarkable, tip the standard amount. If a staff member does something outside of his or her job description--say, a server special-orders your favorite dessert that isn't on the menu or a front-desk clerk plays the role of personal travel planner during your stay--make the tip extraordinary or the special service will disappear.

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