Managing the Intricate Challenge of Today's Hospitality Leadership.
By John Hogan
Tuesday, 2nd March 2010
As I continue to speak before hospitality associations and management groups, I have come to believe that the focus of leadership in this industry must evolve with speed and clarity.

My career in this industry began in independent family operated resorts in a small town in northern New England.  The facilities were not exotic and they were beginning to show their age. Yet, I noted that with the use of basic personalized marketing efforts, many guests tended to return year after year for family vacations and events. The "hospitality" and genuine service offered was the key in building repetitive guest reservations.

When the hospitality industry was enduring an earlier financial crisis in the 1990s, I reported in a column for Hotel & Resort Industry magazine widespread comments shared with me by staff at multiple levels about "insensitive management or uncaring companies."   I also shared a different perspective I observed at the American Hotel & Motel Association's (AH&LA previous name) where I was invited to lead a workshop for the Society of Family Hoteliers in Colorado Springs, CO.  Participants at these sessions owned and operated all types of facilities, from small dude ranches to prestigious downtown locations in San Francisco and Boston. 

Their challenges and concerns were similar to those of other hoteliers, but their attitudes on how to address them were dramatically different.  The outlook of this committed group of "family" hoteliers differed from attendees at other kinds of programs, in their unusually collaborative and high level of participation in discussions and potential solutions.

"Keys for Success" was chosen as the title to this series because I, among many others, have come to realize there is not one stand-alone guide to ongoing achievement.  A strong brand and a well-financed hotel in a good location are certainly all very positive factors, but the human touch of delivering hospitality will be the crowning touch to that ongoing success.

The hospitality industry, like many others, has undergone a rough two plus years in many markets, and the forecasts for recovery are all over the spectrum.  The industry has become so mired in numbers crunching that it is causing a negative evolution of hoteliers from "good hosts" that operate successful hotel businesses to simple "managers".

Consider these scenarios:

1. The owner or manager is frequently not, around when today's guest is in.  Managers' receptions are a positive idea, but they are often "hosted" by support staff and the opportunity to interact guest-to-host is lost.

2. Breakfast, which is clearly a high demand period, is another opportunity for interaction that is not capitalized on by most full service general managers.   Managers of many rooms-only properties have told me they find breakfast an ideal time to meet and greet guests, in anticipation of making them regulars through the feeling of more individual attention.

3. Banquets are usually the highest profit centers of hotel food and beverage centers, yet how often does the GM even make an appearance?

What is the answer?

Part of determining the direction to take means comprehending the overall situation.  Today, more than ever, a majority of US and a growing number of Canadian properties are part of efficient and standardized franchised systems.  There are clear advantages to this form of business model, but it should not be at the expense of no longer being a "friendly, high touch" property.

In this challenging economic time, staff turnover is not a major challenge for many properties due to high rates of unemployment.  When the economic cycle does swing the other way in a recovery, how will hoteliers keep their strong team members?

I am not suggesting a trip into nostalgia when things seemed "easier" – that is an imagined time.  What I am suggesting is that hotel owners and management groups pay more attention to what is going on in their daily business experiences.  By paying attention, I mean a change in behavior by actually listening, observing and then acting on ways to improve the sense of staff "ownership" of making the guest experience memorable.

The answers to our long-term challenges do not rest with money-losing discounts or the latest in what used to be termed "amenity creep".   Success will come from aggressive and creative marketing strategies AND a balance of real "hospitality" at the property level.

Over the past two years, I collected ideas from groups of individuals who shared their best practices with me.  These ideas evolved into a series titled "A Baker's Dozen of Strategies", which now has grown to encompass eight different positions on the property level.

The "Host of yesterday" was always present to greet guests. Too many of today's managers evolved from the bureaucrats of a generation ago when hotels became larger and layers of management were added.  In the early days of franchising, everyone sought to refer business to the next branded hotel along the travelers' routes.  With the internet, toll free numbers and 3rd party web sites, how many of today's staff even give thought to referring guests to other hotels of the same brand, name or even ownership?

Managers today deal with many frustrations and feel they do not have the time or the inclination to be the "host". Managers are still regularly transferred and do not build a loyalty to the staff, hotel, owner or community and often have a short-timers outlook.

The unique challenge of profitably operating hospitality businesses and hotels in the next 5 to 10 years requires a change in philosophy.  The American presidential election of 2008 showed a desire to change course and the special election in early 2010 for the Massachusetts US Senate seat left vacant by the death of Senator Kennedy demonstrated that continued change must come rapidly.

The difference in behavior I observed in many of the family operators attending that meeting in Colorado was the realization and willingness to change their ways from mainly managers to that of combined leader-managers and hosts.  We need to be the catalyst ourselves, and not wait for the government or franchise organizations to do it for us.

"Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things"
Book cover quote of LEADERS, By Warren Bemis and Burt Navis

KEYS TO SUCCESS is the umbrella title for my new 2010 workshops, programs, hospitality services and columns and this year's writings will focus on a wide variety of topics for hotel owners, innkeepers, managers and associations.

Feel free to share an idea for a column at johnjhogan@yahoo.com anytime or contact me regarding consulting, customized workshops, speaking engagements …………. And remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense.

Autographed copies of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES are available from THE ROOMS CHRONICLE www.roomschronicle.com, www.smartbizzonline.com and other industry sources.     

All rights reserved by John Hogan and this column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.   The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication

John Hogan is a successful hospitality executive, educator, author and consultant and is a frequent keynote speaker and seminar leader at many hospitality industry events.

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