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February 24, 2009

The Wall Street Journal's Middle Seat Column (subscription required) reports that hotels nationwide have essentially been hanging their DND signs when it comes to AEDs (automatic external defibrillators). The Journal notes that AEDs are "laptop-sized devices that can automatically restart a heart after sudden cardiac arrest -- are now required equipment on commercial airliners and have saved lives at airports, casinos, health clubs and many public buildings". But, as Mr. McCartney, who writes the column for the journal, observes "hotels have resisted installing them, citing potential liability issues".

The Middle Seat's survey of hotel majors shows that the Hyatt Corp has roughly 20% of its properties fitted with AEDs with more to come. Select service franchisor, Choice Hotels has "very few" of its hotels equipped and Intercontinental Hotels "doesn't require its hotels to have AEDs but the matter is currently under review". Finally Marriott, Hilton and Best Western declined to say how many of their hotels have AED devices while Starwood didn't comment.

Choosing to highlight an inarguable lacuna in hotel preparedness in terms of guest needs during acute economic distress is probably inefficient in terms of changing attitudes; many hotel owners and companies will likely resist taking on capital expenses associated with equipment purchase. That, however, should not rob the initiative of its merits. Neither should the fear of liability - an unstated but overt concern of hotels. Even programs that subsidize the installation of AEDs seem to have come up against a wall when it comes to hospitality as the the Journal notes in the case of a program funded by the St. Margaret Foundation in Pittsburgh where hotels have "been reluctant and want nothing to do with it".



a site with a byline that says "saving lives through education" also offers a clear primer on why "casinos, hotels and leisure facilities need AEDs".The site underscores the facility which the devices can be used noting that "

the new generation of AEDs analyzes the victim's condition and, if warranted, delivers an electric shock to the heart to reverse SCA (sudden cardiac arrest). Nearly anyone with proper training can use these devices".

AED.com also elaborates on liability issues noting that "

All U.S. states but one have passed Good Samaritan laws with language about AEDs". That along with the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act of 2000 provides AED users with protection from liability.

The foregoing would suggest a need to rethink policies regarding fibrillators. Perhaps it is time to lift the DND sign for AEDs and roll out a welcome mat instead.

Star struck hotels

February 19, 2009

Hotels.com is highlighting some of the hotels around the world that have been made famous by movie stars from Hollywood and beyond.

The list spans many countries and starts with Taj Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur India which figured prominently in the 1983 film Octopussy with Roger Moore as James Bond. The hotel, a former palace, was built in 1746 and is made largely of marble.  Also, making the cut is the Grand Hotel Pupp, Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic and the site for a more recent Bond film starring Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. Others include the Park Hyatt Tokyo which featured Scarlet Johansson in "Lost in Translation", The Bellagio Resort, Las Vegas which was the scene of "Oceans Eleve" and its rich cast of Matt Damon, George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Somewhat predictably, given Hollywood's location, there are a number of other US hotels including the famous Plaza, two in Beverly HIlls, CA - the Beverly Hills Hilton hotel and Regent Beverly Wilshire besides the lesser known Timberline Lodge in Oregon made famous by a Jack Nicholson film, The Shining from 1980.

Hotels that cater to movie stars who stay for reasons other than location shooting don't seem to have made the list, perhaps due to privacy concerns. In New York, the Elysee hotel used to be a favorite for the Hollywood elite till a renovation in the 90s saw it move away from its distinctive non-numeral style of identitfying rooms.

Slimming down: pay vs people

February 17, 2009

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has an article that suggests a more humane way of dealing with expense cuts needed to cope with the recession - trimming salaries as opposed to people. The Journal article quotes the example of Southwest Airlines who in the last downturn "decided not to make any layoffs. Instead, the company cut bonuses, profit-sharing payments and salaries for executives, and also froze managerial pay. This let Southwest rebound strongly as the economy improved". Further, the article correctly points out that "Southwest's 'cut pay rather than people' strategy provides a lesson for the current economic downturn: When employees are carefully selected and trained, work in self-managed teams, are customer-oriented and are highly loyal and committed to their organizations, they should be viewed as indispensable assets. They are integral to the process of rebounding from a downturn".

Hotel companies rarely need lessons from airlines, as instead of being paragons for service standards, they are arguably the worst exemplars for customer retention strategies. Southwest, however, is and always has been an exception. Yet, some the heavy hitters in the hospitality space continue to embark on time-worn and probably inadequate if not incorrect strategies of laying off staff, managerial and line, reflexively as another article in the Journal notes.

However, as this article in the Chicago Tribune notes, outside both the airline and hotel industry, others seem to be picking up on the idea realizing that, apart from high training costs involved with re-hiring whenever the economy picks up, the loss of goodwill and morale both with remaining employees and customers, past, present and future, are all of greater consequence than the difference to the bottom line, particularly if the company's survival is not at issue.

Deflated & Deflation

February 13, 2009

That hotels around the world are suffering escalating losses is no longer news. But when the US government imparts a seal of odium to staying in hotels, perhaps it is time for the industry to band together in an attempt to revive fortunes. That effort has attracted newsprint in some leading publications such as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).  The Post article notes that "Washington's attacks on corporate excess -- the private jets and trips to Vegas -- are prompting a backlash from the travel industry" and notes that "Hilton Hotels chief executive Christopher Nassetta has also said he is alarmed by events in Washington".  The Journal article headlined "Hotels Say, We're Businesses, Too" details how "a number of hotel executives who (have) grown frustrated with the public perception of the industry". Further, the paper points out that "companies like Marriott International Inc. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. have seen big drops in corporate business in recent months as companies -- even those not receiving government aid -- have canceled meetings, fearing public outrage over what may appear to be lavish spending".

While the government must react to the populace's outrage about Wall Street excesses it is clearly missing the forest for the trees in penalizing, if inadvertently, an industry that surely did little, if anything, to bring about the mess on Wall & Main Street. Indeed Federal reaction to the crisis is reminiscent of the, in retrospect, absurd measures instituted by the Carter administration in 1980 when, the President effectively controlled what banks could or could not do by way of putting out credit lines to consumers - the latter merely stopped spending and sent the economy into a deeper abyss. In the current crisis, it would behoove the government to urge banks to adopt all requisite risk measures but telling them how to spend money is eerily reminiscent of socialist if not communist regimes likely to result in (among other things) price deflation.

Evidence of that deflation can be seen in these hotels selling rooms for less than two dollars! That is true price deflation for an already deflated industry.

Recession training

February 11, 2009

As in previous downturns, some (smart) companies are using the recession to ramp up training programs. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) in an article headlined "Despite Cutbacks, Firms Invest in Developing Leaders" notes that "many employers are investing in leadership-development programs, hoping not to be caught short of strong managers when the economy recovers". Philips, per the article is investing in "high-potential employees, stressing subjects such as business strategy and personal leadership. Participants are assigned to teams to work on a business project. The expectations is "that investing in leadership development will help Philips through the recession and the recovery". The Journal article quotes Accenture as saying that "the emphasis on leadership development is a departure from the past".

Others including civic leaders such as those in Kansas City seem to be following a similar strategy of training and/or retraining noting the need to  "grow talent and retrain idled workers to fill needs in the health-care industry". Farther afield and across the pond the sentiment is along the same lines as this article in the UK's Guardian newspaper notes as to "why training is crucial in a slump".

Hotels can and must take a similar approach and invest in training staff at all levels but particularly at the executive and sales offices. The first line item in a budget to be trimmed if not axed in a downturn tends to be training. Resisting that somewhat natural urge takes resolve and foresight. Some such as Thistle hotels in the UK have adopted the right if semi-compromised approach by "looking at ways to control resourcing through examining replacement of vacancies and whether we can cover roles by other means (while retaining) leadership development training to ensure that customer satisfaction and quality (is) not compromised". Training ideas for hotels can and must include upselling, package promotion, revamping the property's website to reflect current buying preferences, using e-commerce to revisit and reintroduce current and past customers to offerings. Most importantly taking a fresh look at appearances including staff uniforms by introducing low-cost cosmetic changes such as a different look to the name tag can bring in more customers.

The non-room revenue

February 06, 2009

While there is no dearth of adjectives to describe the economy there is certainly a paucity of revenue generating ideas. Hoteliers looking at the abyss that seems to have replaced the cash-register have an urgent need to find alternative revenue sources given plummeting room rates without adopting the tin-ear tactics of airlines who seem intent on aggravating an already aggrieved customer by levying fees for checked baggage and, now, pillows!

Some ideas for non-room revenue could include the following:

- Late night arrivals combined with the new era of austerity frequently compels many a traveler to steer clear of expensive in-room dining. As an alternative, hotels can offer pre-packaged (preferably low-fat) meals on the go that require neither preparation nor microwaves. (Oakfield farms, for example, offers a product along these lines)

- As above for "medical kits" that could include non-prescription analgesics, band-aids etc.

- If the hotel has any USP by way of products in-room (frette linen, duvet pillows, temper-pudic mattresses, "logoed" items etc.) look into "selling" them to interested guests.

- Take a fresh look at pricing in all miscellaneous income departments like laundry, parking garage commissions, car-rental agency commissions and all vending machines.

- If the property accepts pets, look into offering related services such as dog-walkers, vets etc on a revenue sharing basis with the providers. The same goes for a "nanny service".

While most if not none of the foregoing will likely compensate meaningfully for the precipitous drop in RevPar, the measures could help add to a bottom line that is fast changing color.

Novel adaptive re-use

February 02, 2009

With a burgeoning inventory of hotel rooms in almost any part of the world one would expect adaptive re-use, where buildings that were built for non-hotel use, to be a less than hot hotel idea. But in a heretofore unheard of variation, an entrepreneur Oscar Diös a longtime owner of a hostel and hotel in Arlanda, Sweden, has converted an unused Jumbo jet (Boeing 747) into a hostel, the Jumbo Hostel.

Although termed a hostel, the refitted aircraft has suites including a "cockpit suite" that has panoramic views of of the runway and taxiway of Stockholm's Arlanda airport.  There are other room variations besides "dorm beds" where four 90 cms (about 3 feet wide). Prices range from $400 for the cockpit suite to about $45 for a dorm bed.

Recently (January 15th) inaugurated, it remains to be seen whether this novel idea takes off but other adaptive reuse projects are stalling quickly as is the case with the headquarters of Goodyear tire in Akron, OH that has come up against headwinds brought about by the credit crisis and is unlikely to find any traction any time soon.

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  • President of Apple Core Hotels, a chain of 5 midtown Manhattan hotels offering value and comfort in the heart of the city.

    Member of the board of Directors - Hotel Association of New York.



  • The views expressed in this blog are my own and not that of any company, association or organization.