THE NEW GLOBAL WE.

Another Hilton Review

Posted in People, Reviews by Harsha on December 12, 2007

This is a great post by the incomparable Richard Quest. He has a Hilton review that seems to agree with my crash course in hospitality this past week on the road trip. That would be the subjectiveness of the service offerings across their hotels. If you visit McDonald’s around the world, then you will understand what ubiquity means. In Hilton’s case, when I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Virgina Beach, VA, they had coffee-to-go in the lobby. So you see, they don’t seem to have standards when it comes to amenities in their hotels.

It is mind-boggling for me to think about the various moving parts in a hotel and it’s hotel room. To even think about the planning it takes from thinking about things that can be kept in a room for the user’s convenience to keeping the room clean, is head spinning! Maybe they need to hire a franchising expert to figure what is the best way to solve this problem, that is obviously global for Hilton.

The Hilton Garden Inn Review

Posted in New by Harsha on December 11, 2007

As we drove through “tough” neighborhoods in Norfolk to get to VIRGINIA BEACH, VA, we suddenly felt the change in the air. There was a remarkable switch from fairly average buildings and businesses, to sudden high-quality buildings and well laid out streets. That is where The Hilton Garden Inn is located.

This was by far, the worst place we stayed. The bed, linen and bathroom were just fine and we were there for just a night, but the hotel service was lousy. Our room was a steamy 75 degrees all evening and night because the A/C had conked off. We got a new room and complimentary breakfast, which was a nice touch, though I’d have preferred a room discount. The food was really great including the dinner that we had ordered from The Great American Grill (their restaurant). The breakfast was excellent as well, and I have the best things to say about their omelets and grits.

Parking is not clear at all. The best part was they did not have a valet. You could either park at one of the very few reserved guest parking spots at a nearby parking lot of a bank or use your ESP to figure out that the 5th floor at a nearby parking garage is free for Hilton guests. After a 7 hour drive from Charleston, SC, I wanted someone to lug around our stuff because we were tired. No luck, we were on our own.

The front desk person was just plain ok when we checked in. But it got more interesting at night when we complained about the A/C. My first call to him about the problem yielded no results. He probably felt that if he did not send the engineering guy up 15 minutes later, that we would just accept our rotten fate and sleep in the sauna like room. My wife as livid again and wanted me to “teach him a lesson”. Well, I just called him again and a very sweet guy who spoke little English came to help. He tapped the unit, opened it and did some screwing around then left with a promise to come back in 10. We called in 5 because the heat still stayed on. That is when Romeo, the front desk guy offered to change rooms, but oh, I had to trudge downstairs in my pajamas to pick up the new room key. And the same engineer was our bellboy now. Stop laughing now ..

The million dollar question: Would I stay there again?

NO. I will definitely eat at The Great American Grill or join them for breakfast. I will NEVER stay there again. This is not even the last place I will stay if I go back to Virginia Beach.

The Hilton DeSoto Review

Posted in Reviews, Roadtrip by Harsha on December 10, 2007

Not all Hilton’s are born the same. This is a clear nature vs nurture situation, with nurture being the reason behind it’s appearance and feel. But I should thank them for providing fodder for the Name Experiment – 2 post.

When we drove up here in SAVANNAH, GA, we were not greeted by anyone at the door. They did upgrade our room to the 10th floor because we called earlier telling them we may be late thanks to the horrible Atlanta traffic. They put us on the 10th floor with fantastic views of the Historic District.

The room itself was nice with an amazing Tempur-Pedic bed. The bathroom was huge with two sinks and well kept. The view was amazing. The air-conditioner did make weird noises on startup but then worked out just fine. The room was decked out well with good clean linen, curtains and sofas.

The staff were generally good and prompt and helpful. The servers at their restaurant were just average and not particular keen on making sure we were having a good breakfast – I guess that is symptomatic of a restaurant in a hotel; they are after all in the hospitality business and not catering. Or is that just an excuse?

The million dollar question: Would I stay there again?

Obviously, there were better hotels in Savannah at the same rate. We just did not know about it till we got there. But I have no regrets and will stay there again if we get that 10th room floor or something above the 7th story. If you’re in town, I think The Hiton DeSoto is a good option.

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The Courtyard by Marriott Review

Posted in New by Harsha on December 5, 2007

The Courtyard by Marriott in NASHVILLE, TN is a great place to stay if you want to stick around near downtown. It has easy access to Broadway, Music Row and other places so the location is just perfect. If you came in thinking the hotel room is going to look good, then you’ll find yourself in a Best Western kind of room. The room was substandard, the bathroom just about OK and very below average in design and feel. Maybe I’m missing something here? Is this expected of the Courtyard by Marriott? Doesn’t the Marriott name mean something associated with quality? Wasn’t he just the greatest hotelier there was? You’d have no idea by staying here.

The staff were average in friendliness, meaning they were neither rude nor warm and welcoming; it was just about OK. The bed was fairly comfortable and the room was pretty clean. The view was other hotel rooms across the street so I can’t say it was the best. The valets were really nice folks and chatty. They did a fine job of putting the car away and getting it to us when needed. They deserved their tips no doubt.

Quite honestly, we did not think through or research into other hotels in the area. We just took this one because we were getting close to our deadline to make the bookings. There were other hotels in the vicinity and some in downtown that looked better from the outside. The free internet also helps – I am not going to pay anyone $9.99 for one night, even if I could afford it.

The million dollar question: Would I stay there again?

Next time I go to Nashville, I am going to keep this place as my last choice. If I don’t find something else, then I might consider this, though the Gaylord Opryland Resort seems interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever want or choose to go back to this hotel.

The Hamilton Crowne Plaza Review

Posted in Reviews, Roadtrip by Harsha on December 1, 2007

Welcome to a hotel in downtown DC that charges $30 for parking (no option to self park), and un-smiling staff. The hotel sign is easy to miss at the street level. But the lobby is grand and the hallways are well lit.

Our room was cheerful with good linen and carpet. The bathroom was great as well with good lights and clean tiles. The food being served from their 14K Restaurant, is just unbelievably good (read the food review here). The bed was awesome as well.

We had booked a king bed, got checked into a queen bed and then got moved to the right room. When this happens, I’m left shaking my head because the reservation will clearly tell the front desk staff our preference. There are no two ways about it – either you ordered queen bed or a king bed, a smoking or a non-smoking room. There are only so many options. It is like having your tires rotated when you asked for an oil change. It is that stupid.

But, I’ve been in instances where my reservation has been disputed by the front desk folks, but that did not happen here. The room change was made sheepishly by CJ, the front desk person. But not before asking some really brilliant questions like “Would you like to come down to pick up the new key?” and “Do you need help with your bags?”. Take a wild guess, I just drove in from Boston.

The million dollar question: Would I stay there again?

Well, if this were the last hotel available in DC, with every other choice either booked or not affordable, then maybe. Otherwise, never. I will still eat at the restaurant because it is just out of the world fantastic.

Hospitality

Posted in New by Harsha on November 30, 2007

I probably stayed in more hotels this past holiday week than all of 2007. So I was able to get a crash course in hospitality.

The #1 question that kept popping up in my head was “Why are you in this job?” No, it is not rhetorical but a genuine one question to understand why that person across the desk is in this business. If one choses to work at a hotel, is it just because one needs a job, or because one wants to work in hospitality?

If you work at a hotel, then you’re in the business of being hospitable. Dictionary.com says hospitality is “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers” or “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way”

The fundamental tenet of a hospitality job is being friendly to strangers, not just people you know, but mostly plain and simple strangers – people you don’t know or wouldn’t generally care about. Now you’ve got to care. How many times have you seen hotel employees laughing and chitchatting with their coworkers but then put on their game face (trying to be “professional”) when you walked up to the counter.

More often than not, people behind the counter are there because they need a job. This is a major problem for hotels that want to hire people who love hospitality. Service roles are the toughest gigs out there – try being nice to people on an 8-10 hour schedule, day-in and day-out. It is the hardest role and at the same time, so many people seem totally wrong for the job. You’d ask “how in the world did they hire that person for this job?”

The solution can be simple. One of the fundamental problems that I observed in tough situations in hospitality or other service roles is the assumption that the service provider (hotel clerk, cashier etc) kind-of expects you to know the routine (like checking into the hotel, payment methods at a store etc). They obviously know the process really well due to repetition so it frustrates them when you walk in and fumble around or ask questions. Your questions may be and are probably completely valid, but it “irritates” them to no end because the process is simple to them yet you don’t seem to get it. How silly are you?!

This is a training problem. This assumption needs to be systematically exorcised from the minds of service providers. The front desk team obviously know the check-in procedure really well. You won’t if you’re not a frequent traveler. Most “silly questions” come from your ignorance on these things.

Hospitality means you want to be with people. You’re the cat that is cat friendly. You either like dealing with these people problems or you don’t. However, I feel that all of us are service providers (think of a marketing manager dealing with the engineering team). So all of us need people skills and the ones that don’t automatically will fall off in the wayside and that is the process of natural selection at work and life.

So to reiterate this problem and tying it with my people experiments, the next time you’re interacting with a service provider (waitress, hotel clerk, bellboy etc), keep this post in mind. This is not a complex problem so when I tell you that the solution is that simple, you’ll probably disagree with me. Humans value complex solutions more than simple ones – come on, the problem of “bad customer service” is universal and yet the solution lies within you and is just a matter of empathy? That is ludicrous!! I don’t mean to sound “new age” or offer you alternative treatment for what you believe is a complex situation that warrants a good ol’ walloping on the wrongdoer’s backside. This is the reality of the experiments that I run almost daily. This is the result of those attempts at understanding how I can improve the situation for myself. Simple.

Big Luxurious Green Lies

Posted in Pulpit, Roadtrip, TOOBs by Harsha on November 28, 2007

Andrea Barnett of Travel And Leisure writes on CNN about the hospitality industry’s Eco lies.

I saw some of what she writes (like being “asked to recycle towels and use a key card that controls your room’s lights and climate” on my recent road trip).

But here is something I wrote about what Auden Schendler now says, in a recent BusinessWeek article.

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