Saturday, June 11, 2011

A hotel is a “home away from home”

Wojciech Debski shared his philosophy on successful hotel management.
He was associated with the Marriott in 1989 – 2001.
He has worked in countries such as USA, Bermuda, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, managed hotels in Kazakhstan and Poland.
Currently Wojciech Desbski is the General Manager of three hotels belonging to the Louvre Golden Tulip Hotels & Group
On the most important element of the success
The hotel provides services for people by people. The most important in hospitality business is appropriate staff.
It has to be receptive, friendly, warm, accommodating… but first of all they need to like people.  Because you can not teach people smile… Your staff is 80% of success the remaining 20 are cleanliness, loyalty programs, etc.
There are people who radiate with happiness. Sometimes they are even not aware of it. It’s the role of the leader to wake them up!
On treating the customer
I have 3 different hotels under one roof. These are economical hotels. One of them after the conversion to Golden Tulip will become a 4 Star. The owner asked "what do we need to fulfill to become a 4* hotel." And there are certain rules, legal requirements that you have to fulfill, the variety of services you have to provide, and also building wise, let’s put it this way…

I also got a question, from head of Human resources: "Will we have to do special training for the staff to be a 4* Hotel?" And honestly I was shocked by that question coming from human resources. Because in my philosophy, because this is the only truth that can be in this business: whether its 1*, 2*, 3*, 4*or 5* Hotel you treat your customer the same way.

You can not treat your customer differently in 1* Hotel, I mean servicewise. The customer is a customer. He pays your salary. And you are in the hospitality business: whether you are in the 1 star hotel you treat them in the same way as in Marriott: you smile, you show them respect, you are hospitable. You do not make a difference. I guess this is what Marriott gave me. The principles I was taught during training in Marriott will always stay with me. The learning that we took from our first tutors, teachers- this will carry on in other jobs. And very often we hit the wall when we try to change other people, because they don’t understand.

On being a sales person
Actually every person in the hotel is a sales person: From the doorman through the waiter, to the general manager.
The waiter who greets you in a restaurant would not offer you only water; he should try to serve you wine, cocktail, food... And if you order food, again he should insist that you take wine, vodka, whatever. 

The bellman who takes you up to the room, on the way to the room should sell your food and beverage outlets, should sell you additional services. Every one of us is selling the product.

On First Ten
In the middle of 90’s we came up with a program called first 10. First 10 are the first 10 seconds of your experience in the hotel. How you start it? - You tell all the departments that they are the most important departments in the hotel. They are all important for different reasons.
The first 10 seconds of experience are crucial for his/her stay in the hotel.
From this perspective who is the most important? - A doorman! From the doorman to the bellman to the front desk.
If the guest experience is great, then even if in the restaurant they will get not that good food they are ready to excuse you, they are happy. But if the first 10 experience is bad then the whole stay is bad.

Very often guests’ the flight was late, they have to queue up to get a taxi, and they come to the hotel already desperate, they are angry. And this is really a huge role of these people to diffuse the stress.

Usually in this business you try to build a portfolio of repeated customers, you build relationships. So you have to answer yourself: "Who builds relationship, the beautiful marble floor or your receptionist?" This is what you should focus on.

On breakfast experience

When you (the guest) get up in the morning you already hate the day, because you have to go to work. So it is very important that your breakfast experience is something which will set your mode for the whole day. 
These are economical hotel, but still we create them for business people, for middle business, or for bigger companies, but also there the big chiefs go to the 5*, 4* middle management staff are going to these hotels.

People are coming to work and in the evening they very often have negotiations that end up in the restaurant. They drink…-it’s human.
So in the morning when they have to get up and suffer from hangover, they go to the restaurant and they want a good coffee, they want somebody smiling, they want a variety of food on the buffet. They want to eat quickly; they don’t want to wait, because they are already late, because they overslept. And there is a whole chain of things. And you can achieve it only with happy staff.

On cost of doing business
Every Year there is GMs convention where people come from all over the world. So Bill Marriott comes on the stage and says: "Listen 98 % of you guests are honest, 2 % are cheat, but this is cost of doing business. Stop policing them" I love this attitude.
I had a front desk manager at Marriott, and he would not let go. Very often there are certain kind of customers that always want to get something for free. They pay 10K dollar bill but they want to get a 100 dollar taken off of their bill.
So lets say if the guy comes to the front desk and he is disputing his telephone charges for 200 USD, the whole bill is 5000.Here is the situation: this guy would not let go, he’d say: "No, but you made this call" So the client would ask: "Get me somebody higher". And I would come down listen to him and say "Ok, take it off his bill".
On the knowledge your boss may have
Then the manager would get frustrated, he says “I look stupid, i said No! No! No!"…
There will be situations when you will say "No! No! No!" and the manager will come down and say "Yes!" There will be situations when I will say “No! No! No!” my boss will come and will say "Yes". This is life!
But on the other hand these 200 dollars... Your 40 minutes is much to me is worth much more that these dollars. Don’t do it! Your time is much more valuable for me.
But sometimes there are people that don’t see beyond their desk.  You boss may have the knowledge that  you do not possess and he may know, for example,  this customer is gonna bring in 2 months time business worth 200K dollars. There are things and things that you have to take in consideration.
On  overbooking …
There was a time when the company said:  “We want you 100% sold out every night, regardless of the price. “ This means that you overbook the hotel, and you pray to God that somebody does not come.J That’s the frustration!
You play with percentages, you build the history of your hotel, and you build your market.  As I mentioned before usually the guess is expecting problems, it’s the way how you resolve the problem, helps to turn your failure into a victory.
…and dealing with problems
I will remember to the end of my days one guy from the World bank, which was one of our biggest customers, that was a guy coming from US. That was one of the guests which I had to walk to another hotel. Of course he “played golf with Mr. Marriot, he knows Mr. Marriott; he will talk to Mr. Marriott to get me fired. I am a nobody, I am just a lowlife!”…
On his next visit I used to be behind the front desk. We were very busy, and there was a huge line, and this guy was at the end of the line. And I look at him, big smile and I waved my hand, and I shout through the lobby: “Welcome back Mr. Singh!” So the whole line turned around…. The guy was my best friend since then on. Everybody new how important he was, he got recognized. Since then on I could have walked him to 1* hotel and he would not even speak. We became buddies…. Because he felt important!
On being able to say “No”
It’s very important not to be shy to say “No” to the customer.  But you cannot say it straightforward. When the customer comes to you and requests something that you now you cannot give, you never say “No!”. You say: “Sir, Ma’m- let me double check!”
You are going to the back, you count to 20 you come back and say: “Sir, I’m extremely sorry but we cannot do that”. If you say straightforward No, they get angry. Nobody likes a straight forward No. They want to feel that you make an effort that you really try to do something for them. Or you say “Unfortunately we can not do that but…” and then you come with another solution, an alternative.
The worst think you can do-to say “No”, you turn around and you walk away.
On making it look effortless
The majority of GMs in the big chains started as a waiter or as a cook. And to become a good chef is years of schooling. Right now it’s a science! It’s a rocket science. And the same thing is in hotel management with all the materials which you have to use for carpets, curtains- it’s a whole science. The way you maintain them, they can not be flammable…etc. 
But the trick is in a good run hotel a customer should think it’s easy, it’s the natural way, effortless. They should not know what an effort it is behind the scene.
In many restaurants on the exit to the dining room there is a sign “You’re going on stage”. The customer does not care that we are tired, that it is hot in the kitchen… Smile! You are entering the stage.