Overseas Experience: SOS From Island Paradise

An important step in a well-rounded hotel manager’s career is getting overseas experience. I’m proud to say that I have overseas experience – all of one month’s worth. I alluded to this story last June, and since then a number of readers have asked for the sordid details. So here goes.

In 1996, a hotel company approached me about a job as director of sales & marketing at a luxury resort in Palau. I wasn’t keen on living on a tropical island, but they assured me it would be my base only and I’d be traveling around the world on business at least six months a year – in Australia, Europe, Asia and North America. It sounded too good to resist. I signed a two-year contract, gave up my apartment, job and happy Vancouver life, and told friends I wouldn’t be back for at several years because this was the beginning of my life as an international hotelier and playboy.

A month later I was back.

The problem had little to do with Palau itself, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, a chain of 200 islands in the South Pacific, with friendly people and some of the world’s best scuba diving. It had more to do with me. Things started off badly when, upon arrival, I learned that the travel budget had been axed. In the next six months I’d be going to Korea and Taiwan and nowhere else. Island fever quickly set in.

During my first week I attended a 5-day orientation session that could have been covered in an hour. In week two I wrote the resort’s marketing plan, reorganized the office, designed a series of ads and launched a marketing campaign. By week three I had nothing to do. The bulk of my job involved printing form letters, placing them in envelopes and mailing them. I took four years of university for this? To keep from going insane I learned to lick envelopes very, very slowly. Still, I could get a day’s work done in the first half-hour. I would have just called it a day and headed for the beach, but face time was important at this resort.

Staff always seemed busy, although I wasn’t sure why. The phones rarely rang, there was no email, and faxes were reserved for emergencies. When I realized life was going to be like this for two long years I decided it was an emergency. I scribbled “Get me the hell out of here!” on a piece of paper and faxed it to a colleague in Vancouver. I never heard back. During lunchtime I’d go for long walks and contemplate hurling myself into the ocean. At night I was obliged to attend the resort cocktail party and schmooze guests, which I found particularly difficult because I hated them for being happy and tanned while I was miserable and pale.

Shopping on the island was interesting. When I needed sunglasses I was forced to choose between a pair of Minnie Mouse sunglasses and some bad-ass Terminator sunglasses. I opted for the latter, which did little to boost my popularity on the island. The GM let me drive the resort’s beat-up old car, which was nice, except, being Japanese-made, its steering wheel was on the right side. One day I lost my bearings – maybe it was the sunglasses – and swerved onto the shoulder of the road, almost taking out a local. I came so close I heard his sharp intake of breath. This didn’t help my popularity either.

It wasn’t all bad. One day the GM took me to Jellyfish Lake, hidden in a crater at the centre of one of the islands. The lake is full of enormous jellyfish that, through some ecological phenomenon, have lost their sting. You may remember it from Survivor: Palau, when it was featured as a prize in a reward challenge. We swam through schools of them, tossing them around like balls of Jell-o. Maybe it wasn’t so bad here after all, I thought. The next day I was evicted from my gorgeous room at the resort and relocated to a dark, prison-like apartment in Koror. That’s when I began to plan my escape.

Word got around that I was lonely. One night there was a knock on my door and a Palauan woman about twice my size stood grinning at me, smelling strong of perfume. I thanked her and sent her away. I was lonely, but not that lonely. Another night the resort’s ex-pats invited me to a party. I arrived hours late and angry, having driven around the island several times, lost in the total darkness among the winding roads. The party was in a garage. I was sipping beer, trying to look happy, when an enormous coconut crab (see above) fell from the rafters and landed on me. Have you seen those things? They’re the largest terrestrial anthropods on earth and look like those creatures in Alien. Everyone laughed. I almost fainted.

Within a few weeks I decided I had made a terrible mistake. I was a city guy, not an island guy. I went to see a travel agent. That afternoon, by coincidence, resort staff surprised me with a welcome reception. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I had just booked a flight home. The next day I broke the news to the GM. He didn’t believe me, and who could blame him. What kind of fool would fly halfway around the world to accept a job in paradise, only to go home after a month? Me, apparently.

As far as I’m concerned, those contestants on Survivor: Palau got off easy. At least I now know that island paradise is not for me, unless I’m on vacation. Chalk it up to experience – overseas experience.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 11:25 AM


8 Comments:

caro said…
Daniel, Some years ago, when my husband and I were traveling half-way around the world (okay, mostly Asia/South-east Asia and Australia), we encountered a coconut crab … somewhere in Malaysia (was it Sipadan Island?). The room key chain was a rectangle piece of wood about 3/4″ thick. Someone pointed out a coconut crab climbing up a post and one of the guests poked it with his key chain. The crab got a hold of it in it’s claw and wouldn’t let go – to the point where it cracked the wood piece lengthwise. And it was a smaller crab that the one in your picture. But I’m happy to finally read your story about Palau. Now, I wait for your book….
10:02 PM

roland said…
Good Day!I am Roland,i would like to post my interest that i want to work in any hotel in Palau, it’s my dream- I am a very skillfull person, ice carving and doin’ the styro arts
is my skills! If there’s any one willing to hire me or let me enter to Palau—i am welcoming you! Thank You!Roland R.AbocejoPaete,Laguna,Philippinescell # +63915-2050-994 or email me at roland.abocejo@gmail.com
6:17 AM

Garry said…
Daniel, Hi as a fellow hotelier who also has his background in Canada. i was able to cope with the island life in fact I am still here . from a no nothing diver to a divemaster candidate. i just have to learn to blend in. but I strongly agree it really depends on one’s personality.
12:11 AM

Anonymous said…
wow. i didnt even know general managers had a blog. i dont think i even know what a general manager is. but hey im bored searched coconut crab and this story. and i tell ya buddy, it was a good story. sorry you did have a happy ending (well there was the giant island lady) but besides that life’s doing ya good now so no worries :)-Seth Dendy teenage story searcher & famed movie maker
11:21 PM

Anonymous said…
hi daniel,Your blog made up for some very interesting reading. I haven’t laughed such a lot in ages… Hope you are happy where you are now. The coconut crab encounter was the Pièce de résistance. It’s truly awful that you were both shaken and stirred in what you had hoped would be a “BOND” ing experience…. So what if aren’t licenced to kill… you are definitely licenced to thrill… iona
9:36 AM

Anonymous said…
I’ve heard that these are the tastiest of crabs because of their coconut diet. Mmmmmmm…coconut crab. Can anyone confirm or deny this?
2:46 PM

Cherlyn said…
Wow… interesting stuff. The coconut crab sounds terrifying. And Palau sounds… fun to visit but not necessarily fun to live on.
4:09 AM

Anonymous said…
well put. Consider writing once you retire from your present job :). You have good “writing” skills and sense of humour. Good read.good luck.
9:36 PM

Hotels Restaurants: Together at Last

It’s December 29 and I’m feeling sorry for myself because for weeks now, while friends and colleagues in the industry have been stumbling from one holiday party to another in a boozy haze, I’ve never been busier. While they’ve been Christmas shopping during work hours, I’ve been shopping for a director of food & beverage. And while they’ve been inventing all sorts of excuses for coming in late and leaving early, I’ve been coming in early and leaving late. You get the idea. I’m bitter.

I was whining about this to my Mom over dinner last night, likely boring her to tears, and she basically told me to get over myself. Did I think being a general manager would be a walk in the park? I really hate it when she’s right. Problem is, I’ve never been fully convinced I want to be a hotel manager. Right now folding sweaters at the Gap or greeting at Walmart is sounding pretty appealing. I’ve always been in the hotel industry a bit grudgingly, convinced that another career is out there for me, one with more pay, less hours and frequent trips to Tahiti. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. LOVE IT. But would I want to be a general manager anywhere but Opus? Probably not.

Normally things settle down for me this time of year and I’m one of those irritating people drifting around in a boozy haze. But recently my job got a lot bigger. I’ve assumed responsibility for Elixir and Opus Bar. When Opus opened four years ago the hotel and the restaurant/lounge were set up as separate companies, and I joined the hotel side. The ownership wanted to avoid the dreaded curse of hotel restaurants: bad food, inflated prices and poor financial performance that sucks the life out of the more profitable rooms division. So Elixir was given its own identity, its own entrance and a brasserie concept that contrasted with the hotel’s contemporary style. Things have worked out well for the most part, and Elixir and Opus Bar are popular with locals and guests alike. But there have been internal challenges and problems with consistency. For me it’s been frustrating not to have control over food and beverage, but at the same time it’s allowed me to focus all my attention on the hotel. All that will change now that we’re one big family.

When Elixir staff first heard I was getting involved they were nervous. I guess someone told them about my days as a waiter in Toronto when I was in my early twenties. I had two waiter jobs, one in a fine-dining restaurant and the other in a nightclub on ladies’ nights. My specialty was spilling drinks, usually on people, like the cold glass of milk I dumped down an elderly woman’s back and all over her fur coat. She screamed so loud everyone ran over to look. I was so embarrassed and apologetic that she felt sorry for me and gave me an enormous tip. At the nightclub I didn’t fare as well with spills. The ladies wanted my scrawny butt out of the way so they could see the big, buff strippers. Now that Elixir staff know I won’t be waiting on tables, they’re very supportive of the change.

Present position excluded, serving tables is the most stressful job I’ve ever had. Anyone who scrimps on the tip after receiving good service should be forced to spend a day as a server. I still have a recurring nightmare in which I have a section full of hungry, angry guests and the kitchen is totally backed up. It’s like those university dreams where you show up for an exam and realize you never attended class. (Other people have those dreams too, right? It’s not just me?)

Once I get a director of food and beverage in place the workload should ease up. I’m really excited about working with our management team to provide a seamlessly brilliant experience in Elixir, Opus Bar and Opus Hotel in 2007. Stay tuned, and swing by.

One last note. Condé Nast Traveler’s 2007 Gold List is out and once again Opus has been recognized as one of the top hotels in the world. What’s also cool is the write-up tells readers to “check out the general manager’s irreverent blog”. Thanks for the plug, CNT.

Wishing all of you a very happy new year! Hope to see you at Opus soon.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 4:08 PM


5 Comments:

Maple Guy said…
If only I could move the clock 5 years, I’d nearly kill, or cook, for the opportunity to be the Opus Director of F&B.; Alas there is much to learn between now and my first directorship. I’m very curious to see how the integration unfolds, please keep your readers in the loop.Best of luck with the future wandering around in a drunken haze, and your new project.
7:47 PM

Anonymous said…
Hello Sir, your post r really something i as a sstudent can learn from.I went through them and its quite intresting.I wanted to also get in touch with you so i can be like you.Just to tel u about me My name is Daniel. I am from India, Mumbai. but doing my On campus U.K degree in Singapore.I am very much intrested and hae a dream to work and settel in Canada. i am studing Bachelors in Internatinal Hospitality and Tourism.Hope to hear from you soon.R egards, Daniel. Mail id — silverstudpearl@rediffmail.com
4:11 AM

Anonymous said…
Hello Dan,I am doing my second year degree in Sigapore i wann do my final year in Canda, i m in Doing my degree in Hospitality and Tourism, Can u pls guide me..Regards,Daniel.
8:43 AM

roger said…<br
/>Came to your blog recently so this particular corpse is pretty stiff … but I’d be interested to hear your comments on the “in house” or “contract out” restaurant question …
8:54 PM

Daniel Edward Craig said…
Roger, that’s a loaded question. There are advantages – and disadvantages – to both. In my opinion the best scenario is for a hotel to run its own restaurant. You have much more control of staffing, service, quality and branding. Independent restaurauteurs tend to resent the need to offer room service, breakfast service & banquets, all of which tend to be money-losing services. It’s only recently that outside companies have started successfully managing hotel restaurants, but these guys tend to be very experienced and savvy. As for Opus, we’re very happy to be running our own F&B.;
5:43 AM

Guests Behaving Badly

Last weekend was a challenging one at Opus. You would have thought it was a full moon. Maybe the incessant rain and contaminated water seeped into our brains. Whatever the reason, by Sunday three of our guests had been blacklisted. They won’t be welcome back.

Of course, I never divulge the identity of guests, but I will say that one decided to hold a very loud party in his suite, and was indignant when we shut it down. He was even more belligerent the next day when we informed him he’d have to pay for the room charges of his neighbour, whose room and tax were refunded due to the disturbance. We didn’t press the issue when things got ugly, but we also won’t be registering him again.

Guests who arrive without a reservation are often suspect. Of course, lots of perfectly decent people rent hotel rooms spontaneously. But for some reason same-day reservations are the most likely to cause trouble. “Cash-only” guests are a red flag too, which is why some hotels won’t even register them.

Another challenging guest this weekend was a drag queen. I passed him in the lobby on Friday night and he looked fabulous – tall, thin and glamorous, with big blonde hair and lots of makeup. It was cool having a drag queen in residence, I thought at the time; added some colour to Opus. Unfortunately, it added a bit too much colour. I guess he didn’t like the colour of his room, because he repainted it – with his makeup. It was everywhere: carpet, walls, doors and bedding, resulting in a large cleaning bill. Bad drag queen, bad.

The third guest had a steady stream of, um, “rentals” (an industry term) to his room whom he claimed were his “nieces”. One got off on the wrong floor late in the night and knocked on another guest’s room to offer her services. The couple politely declined, and promptly called the front desk. That’s all I’ll say on this issue.

Oh, and another guest punched a hole in the wall of his room. But he fessed up (people usually neglect to mention these things at checkout, like we’re not going to notice). And he was gracious and apologetic, offering to pay for damages. So we’ll let him come back. We all have our bad days.

When I was duty manager at the Pan Pacific we used the term “UD”, for Undesirable, to identify a visitor who might cause trouble. One afternoon a scruffy-looking guy in a lumberjack’s coat came to the front desk and asked me for a room. Deciding he was a UD, I politely informed him that the hotel was sold out. I guess he didn’t believe me, because he went across the street and called Reservations, who said, “Sure, come on over! We have lots of rooms”. He did, and marched right up to me, yelling and swearing. Turns out he was an executive with Truck Loggers Association, one of the hotel’s top clients. Oops. Suddenly, a room was available.

At Opus we welcome people from all walks of life, and we don’t judge their conduct, as long as they respect their environment and don’t do anything illegal or harmful. Fortunately, for every misbehaving guest there are hundreds of wonderful guests. Because the safety and security of guests, employees and property is paramount, sometimes we’re forced to be less understanding and compassionate that we’d like. Sensitivity and tact are essential. I can picture Dawn, our very-pregnant Guest Services Manager, sweetly but firmly informing the guest who had the party in his suite that he won’t be welcome back. Ever. I’m sure she handled it brilliantly.

Sometimes I miss my days in operations. But only sometimes.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 10:48 AM


6 Comments:

Maple Guy said…
Thanks for this one. After a week of similar challenges and problems I forgot that other hotels have their UD’s as well.At least our’s are furnishing us with several dozen new towels and a couple of blankets, that they loved so much they had to take home.Also at least its the guests ordering ‘Rentals’I once worked somewhere that the Rental booked a room then adveratised in a weekly newspaper to call the hotel and ask for her/his (yup one person both pronouns) room number. I never felt clean when I was on the 12th floor after that
6:11 PM

boberonicus said…
The “bad guests” writeup was very entertaining. For some odd reason, I really love reading the insider stuff about what’s happening behind the scenes, etc. I was recently “bumped” at a high end oversold hotel. My initial irritation led to curiosity: Why me and my six night stay? Are guests who register directly on the hotel website less likely to get bumped? How is compensation determined? How close to the wire do you cut the overbooking number? The night clerk was too embarrassed to answer all these questions, but I think that pricing and overbooking would make for an interesting blog entry…
10:06 PM

Anonymous said…
Daniel, It has been a pleasure to read about your experiences in your blog. I hope that you find the time to keep it going. As a memeber of the management team at several hotels over the years, I like you, have learned to never under estimate the ability of guests to surprise you with their antics. Keep up the good work!
10:24 AM

Anonymous said…
Great Blog. For the next one could you tell us about how and why you became a GM of a Hotel. I am a tourism graduate and got a job offer to GM a hotel. Just looking for some advice? What should drive a GM? What would you do if your hotel unionized? How do you structure the employees? thanks for any help you can provide!
7:25 PM

just call me jeff said…
About your drag queen in residence, you said:”I passed him in the lobby on Friday night and he looked fabulous…”Don’t you know that you always refer to a drag queen by the feminine pronoun? As a friend told me once, “If I’ve gone to the effort of tucking it under, don’t I deserve to be called ma’am?” That aside, your blog entry was, as usual, highly entertaining. Well done!
9:06 AM

Crissy said…
Great post! :DCheers,Crissywww.paraviondesign.com
8:57 PM

Hotel Housekeeping: Lysol Comes to the Rescue

In the past few months I’ve received lots of great stories from readers about their hotel experiences: the good, the bad, the ugly and the hilarious. I encourage you to send me yours by clicking any of the “comments” link below. All comments are monitored, so please keep them clean and brief. Oh, and try to leave the boring parts out.

Now on to my rant. Recently there’s been a barrage of stories in the media regarding a study that found travelers leave a lot more than toothbrushes and socks behind at hotels. They leave germs too. Nasty germs with scary names like rhinovirus that lurk on TV remotes, light switches and hotel pens. In the ensuing panic, many overlooked the fact that the study was conducted before rooms were cleaned, not after. Even more suspect, it was sponsored by Lysol. No bias there.

If you’re going to freak out over germs you should probably be more concerned about the journey to your hotel. Think airplanes, airport bathrooms and taxi cabs. Unlike hotel rooms, which are occupied by one or two people and cleaned from top to bottom prior to your arrival, these places can be virtually festering with rhino-type viruses and God knows what else. Now that’s scary.

Another thing that hotels are battling these days is “amenity creep”. Now before you run off in a panic to take a scalding shower and spray Lysol all over your body, I should explain that it’s not some incurable flesh-eating disease brought on by secretly recycled hotel bath amenities. It refers to the hotel practice of adding new amenities to keep up with changes in technology, lifestyle and guest preferences. These litte extras can range from an eye soother to a spa. When one hotel adds one thing it forces competitors to follow suit, which can lead to the never-ending race known as amenity creep.

Guests appreciate these little extras – as long as they don’t have to pay for them. But they also increase hotel operating costs, and rooms can become so cluttered guests think they’ve walked into an occupied room. There’s something to say for the stark minimalism of the St Paul in Montreal or the Hotel on Rivington in New York, where my room didn’t even have a clock radio.

No one has been hit harder by amenity creep than the housekeeping department, whose job has become increasingly complex and physically demanding. When Westin introduced Heavenly Beds, which consist of “a custom-designed pillow-top mattress set with 900 individual coils, 3 sheets, a down blanket – 3 versions for 3 different climates, comforter, crisp white duvet, and 5 goosedown/feather pillows”, I’m sure room attendants were totally unimpressed. They probably long for the days of a simple foam pad, two flat pillows and a floral bedspread. But guests don’t, so things aren’t likely to get easier.

Opus is not immune to this insidious disease. In fact, we might be a carrier. When we opened in 2002 we stocked our rooms with cordless phones, safes, irons, bathrobes, mini-bars, coffee stations and more, and we’ve been adding things since. Recently, we introduced CDs and bedside books, hand-selected to complement our five lifestyle-inspired décor schemes. Housekeeping staff must match the coloured dot on the CD or book with the colour of the room or they’re fired (kidding). All the more reason not to forget to leave a tip for the room attendant. When I travel I even tidy up my room before the maid arrives. But that’s because I don’t want her to think I’m a slob.

“Technology creep” (I just made this term up; feel free to borrow it, it’s going to be big) is another challenge for guests and staff. When I worked at the Metropolitan Hotel the penthouse suite had a state-of-the-art entertainment system, but no one knew how to work it except for the owner, who lived in Toronto. Last Saturday I spent a night at Opus and experienced technology rage (another new term, also bound to be big). Upon arrival, everything in my room was perfect: bed turned down, curtains shut, stereo playing the first song on the hotel’s Magnum Opus CD. Then the song repeated itself. Again. And again. I spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out how to turn the damned repeat function off, almost hurling it out the window, then finally gave up and switched it off.

Sometimes, silence and simplicity are best.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 11:03 AM


4 Comments:

boberonicus said…
My favorite hotel amenity of the last half year: A simple plastic clip that joined two blackout curtains together. I’m not a light sleeper, but I don’t have blackout curtains at home, so the thin shaft of light that usually invades the hotel room is especially irritating. Seemed like a very thoughtful $2 add-on.
6:32 PM

Anonymous said…
Does your blog count as an ammenity??? I have been reading for a while now, anxiously awaiting my trip to Vancouver. I find your humour delightful and enjoy the behind the scenes stories. Can’t wait to arrive on Thursday!-patty..
1:12 PM

877-4-BedDog said…
I own cabins in McBride. I suppose one would consider them boutique cabins and hotels like the OPUS are my inspiration. Almost all our guests (those that don’t damage and have parties) say that it was one of the cleanest places they have ever stayed. Thus my repeat clientel. I own two bed bug scent detection dogs (only half a dozen in the world) to regularly sweep the rooms for any signs…so far so good. Every 60 days I sanitize the mattres
ses, ozonate and “scrub” the air of dander, dust and lint with a 4 stage HEPA air cleaner. My housekeepers use simple products like vinegar and water (no ammonia) for windows, hydrogen peroxide for cleaning etc. All furniture is hand made with real wood…no volatile organics like pressboard. I have good mattresses but they certainly are not Hypnos’s. Not a day goes by that a guest doesn’t say it was the best sleep they have ever had. Cleanliness pays. Hygiene is the number one amenity. www.mcbridebc.ca Great blog. thanks, Stew.
2:32 PM

Gina said…
I sypathize completely on both the amenity creep and the technology rage. I work in housekeeping and it is just crazy the things we need to put into guest rooms, especially the suites. As well, we are under going renovations, so as the new rooms open, there are new items in the rooms our ladies are expected to maintain. Technology is frustrating. I recently stayed in a hotel in Jamaica and our room attendant turned on our radio at turndown. Unfortunately, we could figure out how to turn it off for 2 days. We just turned the volume down. We also had to use the alarm once. We couldn’t figure out how to change the time, so we just got up at what ever time the last guest set it at. Gina
7:47 AM

A Few Notable Hotels: I’m baaaaaack! Did you miss me?

First up, thanks to Katrina for filling in for me during my vacation. When I read her posts and saw how brilliant they were, I thought, “That brazen little upstart is so fired.” But I’ve since learned to accept being upstaged, and I quite like the idea of a backup for times of low inspiration or excessive workload.

Like now. It’s budget time at Opus, and the reality of having been away for a good part of September is sinking in. This is the busiest time of year for hotel managers; we’re trying to focus on planning for the upcoming year at a time when our hotels are still full of guests who need our attention. Which means lots of extra hours.

Not that I’m complaining. Planning for the upcoming year is always exciting, and I’ve got some great ideas after my recent travels. Right now I’m struggling to find a catchphrase for Opus Hotel’s 2007 plan. In previous years we rolled out our “best boutique experience” vision and a “focus on innovation” strategy, but this year, our fifth in operation, calls for something that reflects how established we now are as a business. I thought of “resting on our laurels” or “less work, more pay” but I doubt it’ll fly with the owners. I’m thinking the best strategy is to stabilize: to secure our guests’ loyalty, our staff’s eternal dedication and our positioning as Vancouver’s #1 boutique hotel.

Phew, glad that’s over. Now I’ll share a few observations from recent trips to Seattle, Paris, Rome, London, Montreal and Toronto, where I checked out about 30 hotels.

Parisians are a lot nicer than they used to be. Maybe it’s because my French is marginally less deplorable than on previous visits. Or maybe they’ve realized that France is the most visited country in the world, and if people stop coming they will have no one left to condescend to. Whatever the case, merci bien. It made my trip all the more pleasurable.

At the lounge in Hotel Le Meurice (where, you may recall, I wanted to stay but refused to pay $1300 per night) a simple vodka tonic is 24 Euros, or CDN $35. Thank God I was being hosted. It’s a beautiful hotel with impeccable service, but I’m glad I didn’t stay there. It’s too fussy and old-world for my tastes, and the drinks are far too expensive.

More to my liking in Paris were Murano, Hotel Costes and the new Kube. Located in a rather dodgy part of the 18th arrondissement, Kube is home to Ice Cube (how cute), a bar made of 22 tons of ice. For 38 Euros (CDN $55) you get ½ hour to sample unlimited Grey Goose vodka blends out of hollowed-out ice cubes. The temperature is kept at a balmy -5, but staff very thoughtfully supply coats and gloves.

In London, the lobby of the Sanderson Hotel, designed by Philippe Starck and part of Morgan’s Hotel Group, still looks modern and fresh. The bar is hugely popular, and the courtyard is stunning, but we couldn’t help but notice all the working girls preying on international playboys.

Back in Canada, I stayed at the Drake in Toronto, which lived up its hype. With only 19 rooms it’s more a cluster of bars and restaurants than a hotel, but rooms are well thought-out and inexpensive, and service is great, provided you don’t mind staying on the fringes of Queen West.

In Montreal we encountered an impressive doorman when we dropped by Hotel Le St. James. Miguel greeted us warmly, sat us down and gave us an overview of the hotel that would put your average sales director to shame, then introduced us around to other staff. Other hotels we liked include Le Germain, the Nelligan, Place d’Armes, Le Godin and the Gault.

I’ve admired W Hotels for years, but I fear they’re losing their edge. It’s the world’s fastest growing luxury hotel brand, but the look hasn’t evolved much. Service remains inconsistent (some staff interpret the “whatever” philosophy much differently than management intended) and it’s over-branded; you can read only so many cute plays on “W” words before it becomes annoying. Problem is, W appeals to a fashionable crowd whose ever-changing tastes are tough to keep up with, particularly for a hotel chain. Let’s hope they address these issues as they plan for 2007.

The new Hotel 1000 in Seattle looks awesome.

I could go on and on and on about my travels (as my friends and colleagues will attest), but I’ll leave it at that for now. It’s time to get back to my budget.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 1:49 PM

4 Comments:

just call me jeff said…
Sure we missed ya. Welcome back!
8:02 PM

Caroline said…
Welcome back! I’ve been checking every week (sometimes 3 or 4 times a week) for the next post. Hope you’ll tell us more about your various trips.
8:41 AM

aishwarya rai said…
good site http://www.aishwaryaraiworld.org/
9:26 PM

Anonymous said…
i missed you too. welcome..
3:21 AM

Hotel Management: Appropriation, the Highest Form of Flattery

Sometimes I miss the days when I was in sales. I got to travel all over the continent at the company’s expense and – my favourite pastime – check out other luxury hotels. This job keeps me chained to Opus most of the year. But this fall will be a heavy travel month for me.

On Sunday I’m going to Seattle for Opus Hotel’s annual sales & marketing retreat – or, as they say in ultra-positive business speak, “advance”. We’re staying at The W, where we’ll conduct sessions on 2007 marketing, sales and brand evolution. We’ll also check out the latest & greatest in Seattle hotels and see if anyone is doing anything new and interesting. If so, we plan to steal their ideas and try to pass them off as our own, which will make our sales & marketing plan all the more impressive. We won’t feel bad, because Seattle is stealing a lot of Vancouver’s Alaska cruise business. I guess they need it, with Hotel 1000 recently opened and a Four Seasons and Pan Pacific on the way.

After Seattle, in case you missed all my gloating in previous posts, comes my vacation in Europe. Unfortunately, my expensive tastes will have to take a holiday with me, since I’m not prepared to pay 500 Euros for a good hotel. So, I’ll be slumming it in cheap, likely roach-infested B&Bs;, hoping no one recognizes me. The day I get back Opus is holding our 4th anniversary staff party at the Rowing Club. I’ll probably be so jetlagged staff will have to prop me up in a corner and slap me awake every so often. But they’re used to that from meetings.

Next I’m off to Toronto for a Tourism Vancouver media event. I’ll be staying at The Drake, which gets lots of great buzz, so I’m hoping to appropriate ideas from them too. From Toronto I fly to Montreal for our annual executive retreat – um, I mean advance. We’re there to plan for 2007 and to check out what’s new and hot in hotels, lounges and restaurants. Each night we’ll be staying at a different hot boutique hotel – Le Germain, the St Paul and Godin in case you were thinking of sending us an amenity.

Last year we held our executive advance in New York. In 72 hours we checked out 50 hotels, restaurants and lounges. We had strict, oppressive rules like only one drink per venue to ensure we were always on the move. We stayed in a different hotel each night – 60 Thompson, Hotel Gansevoort and Hotel on Rivington – all super cool in their own way. Norah, our New York publicist, got us on the list at some of the city’s most popular clubs like Marquee, Bed and Double Seven. Being ushered past the waiting masses through the velvet ropes made us feel extremely important – until the doorman at Bungalow 8 told us he didn’t care if we were on the list, we weren’t getting in, now scram. We had to skulk past all the people we had just smugly marched by.

In New York we had hoped to steal lots of great ideas, but we learned more about what not to do. At one hotel a front desk agent and bellman had a fight in front of us over showing a room. The bellman finally agreed, and was sullen, disinterested and chewing gum for the whole tour. We suddenly understood how Russell Crowe felt at the Mercer.

If these retreats/advances sound awesome, they are. We get out of town, brainstorm, analyze, commend and critique, all in an urban, inspirational environment. The investment always pays off, and it’s been a key part of Opus Hotel’s success. When I say we steal ideas from other hotels, I say it partly in jest. As an independent we try to keep on the cutting edge of everything, so we don’t often encounter ideas we haven’t already thought of. It’s more common for other hotels to steal ideas from us. But as they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

In my absence Katrina, our DOSM, has promised to write a post or two. Whenever I ask her what she plans to write she breaks into a wicked cackle. Remember, Katrina, it’s performance review time in November.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy hearing from Katrina. Have a great few weeks.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 4:53 PM


1 Comments:
massyandra said…
I understand you fully!!!I’m a crazy traveler too– I can say it’s my sense of life!!! I was in many countries as well as resort places and have already formed a general opinion about them. Though every country has its own beauties in some degree, I’ve opened for me Turkey, Morocco and Cyprus as the most romantic places in the world!!! Cyprus for instance impressed me much with its splendid yachts, villas, restaurants and hotels. As for the downtowns, I can say that Cyprus impressed me so much that I consider it to be the center of all the downtowns!!!!! There are so many restaurants, hotels, clubs, and many many other beauties that it carries you away with its rich and merry night life!!! When you’re looking through the windows of Cyprus Four Seasons and see this unbelievable game of colors and unforgettable beauty, you understand what you are living for!!!
5:48 AM

Guest Complaints: The Tyranny of the Mistreated Traveller

I’m still smarting from a review posted on a travel website recently by an unhappy guest. It’s hard not to take these comments personally. I’m passionate about the hotel, as are my staff, and we want everyone to love Opus. The frustrating thing is the review is anonymous, so I can’t respond and try to make things right.

With the ever-increasing popularity of websites like TripAdvisor, Fodors and Yahoo Travel, consumers are more empowered than ever, and hotels are at their mercy. Travellers can now bypass the propaganda on the hotel’s website and go direct to its guests for the real story. The day we hoteliers have always feared has arrived, God help us all. No more smoke and mirrors!

As a traveller, however, I love this new trend. Problem is, consumers don’t always agree. In my search for hotels in Rome for my upcoming vacation, I’ve come across hotel reviews ranging from “THIS HOTEL ROCKS!” to “THIS HOTEL SUCKS!” Which do I believe? Since the reviews are anonymous, how do I know that the “ROCKS!” reviewer isn’t the hotel manager, or his mother? If I follow his advice and it turns out the hotel really does suck, how can I hunt him down and hurt him for spoiling my vacation?

Fortunately, many of these sites rank hotels and give averages, so negative and positive comments tend to balance out. There are also helpful tips and entertaining anecdotes. Whenever I want to feel better about myself I read up on the “worst rated” hotels. Some sites even feature amateur photos. But even the most beautiful hotels look kind of scary without a professional photographer, stylist and supermodels posing as rapturous travellers. As for bogus reviews, TripAdvisor claims to review all submissions before they’re posted, and penalizes hotels for fake reviews. I don’t know why a hotel would spend time fabricating reviews anyway; it only sets up false expectations. I’d rather focus on fine-tuning services to generate authentic reviews.

The immature, spiteful side of me sometimes wishes there was a website for hotels to rate guests. I’d give a “not impressed” rating to the guest who trashed a room last weekend and was found naked, drunk and bleeding from the you-know-what in the hallway after getting a Prince Albert (look it up at your own risk!). And I’d give a “very disappointed” rating to the guest who wrote a scathing, libelous letter about me that was published in Condé Nast Traveler after her car was towed from a clearly-marked no-parking zone and I refused to reimburse her. That happened 12 years ago, but I’m still mad. Otherwise, I’d write rave reviews about Opus guests, who are generally well-traveled, super-cool, and spend lots of money. Oh, except for the guy who checked in a few months ago and racked up over $4,000 in charges – with a stolen credit card. I’d probably give him a “do not recommend.”

If you have a bad hotel experience my advice is to contact the general manager directly and give him or her a chance to fix things. Try not to embellish your story or say nasty, malicious things about staff. Listing all the important people you know personally won’t really advance your case, either. Stick to the facts, and present a fair assessment of your experience. If you want compensation, say so. If you’ve been mistreated, any respectable general manager will acknowledge this and will make amends. We didn’t work our way up the ladder in the hospitality business from being petty and defensive.

If you’re not happy with the response, then by all means go ahead and publicize your experience on a travel website. But again, give a fair, rational assessment, which will lend you greater credibility. Try to avoid hyperbole, as in “it was the absolutely most unbelievably worst experience ever in my whole entire life”. Also, go easy on the CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks!!!!! You risk being written off as an embittered, raving, possibly unstable person.

I’m always appreciative when guests take the time to provide feedback, good or bad. Either way, it helps me understand what we’re doing right and what we can do better. Fortunately, I get loads of positive comments and very few negative comments. But it’s the negative comments that keep me up at night. It’s like throwing a party and everyone but one person shows up, but instead of celebrating the amazing turnout you spend the night in a corner obsessing over why that person didn’t show. If you’re like me, you’ll do everything you can to ensure that person shows up next time and has a great time.

Guest comments are always welcome at comments@opushotel.com. All are reviewed and answered by me – unless they’re anonymous.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 10:47 AM



5 Comments:

Michael said…
It’s refreshing to see a GM blog about his experiences and his hotel. Thanks for sharing! I am staying at your hotel towards the end of this week for the first time and it’s great to get some ‘insider’ insight before my stay. I was drawn to Opus by the SLH brand which has almost never disappointed me. I am really looking forward to experiencing the Opus Hotel!
2:00 PM

snap-shot said…
Opus Hotel has been a great stay for myself as a busy publicist! Having lived in the heart of Yaletown previously before leaving for New York City and now Montreal, I love the fact I am close to my old stomping grounds. I must admitt that the Opus Hotel can be a mix of the wrong crowd at times, all in all it is a great place to stay. Superb beds + soft sheets = the best sleep in Vancouver! Honestly . . . “No kidding around here”! Might I add I did many events in the Opus Hotel as well as Opus Bar and Elixir and they were nothing but brilliant help!Thanks Opus Team, Craig and my favorite Katherine & John Evans.Kalvin SimsKalvin Sims Media & Public Relations
9:46 PM

Tania said…
Unfortunately I have never even been to Canada. I am just starting out in my first GM position at a small chain hotel.. no names…. and stumbled accross your blog. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to more.
7:48 AM

quang ba website said…
Might I add I did many events in the Opus Hotel as well as Opus Bar and Elixir and they were nothing but brilliant help!Thanks Opus Team, Craig and my favorite Katherine & John Evans.—————-Hotels in Vietnam
12:06 PM

Usoff said…
This is funny because I actually decided to stay at your hotel because of all these tasteful travellers (or LOOKED like they had taste anyway) who said they’ll be staying at Opus when I asked them the ubquitous question “… and where would you stay while you are here?…” while I was still a Fed with the good old agency formerly known as the CCRA. Not to worry, I promised my wife I won’t get plastered on our Vancouver trip this time lol. Incidentally, I wish the serviced apartment/they-dare-call-themselves-a-hotel place that I’m staying at in Hong Kong was managed by someone with as much tact and wit as yourself. I’m still waiting to get the promised phone call from the manager about their staff’s policy to not sell/give toiletries to their guests (even though they admit they stock them) at whatever price (yep they declined my offer to buy one of their plastic combs for a thousand HKD). Anyway, hope you guys will offer more than one set of toiletry… lol
9:20 AM

Hotel Management: Rates and favours

After meeting Stephen Perrine recently, Editor-In-Chief of Best Life magazine and all-around great guy, I picked up the current issue and came across an article by Peter Greenberg, author of Hotel Secrets From the Travel Detective. Mr. Greenberg advises readers looking for hotel room upgrades to call ahead to the general manager or director of sales and establish a relationship. This explains the calls I’ve received lately, seemingly out of the blue, from guests wanting to chat.

I think I speak on behalf of all general managers when I say I hope not many people take Mr. Greenberg’s advice. We’re always happy to hear from guests, but we’re not so eager to hear from guests looking for a free upgrade. If you’re determined to get an upgrade, my advice is to request one at the time of reservation. If the agent can’t confirm it then, ask him or her to note it on your reservation, with a reason for the request if you have one. Management reviews arrivals each day, and they are in the best position to upgrade you if something is available. But don’t have a hissy fit upon arrival if it hasn’t been granted. If you really need a bigger room, pony up.

When hotel managers travel we try to take care of one another, offering a special rate, upgrade or amenity, and sometimes even a comp room. If this sounds like favouritism, it is. GMs are “Connectors”; we have a vast network of contacts in the travel industry and we talk about our brand experiences ad nauseum to anyone who will listen. People come to us for recommendations, and we’re always happy to dispense our sage advice. So it’s in our best interest to recruit one another as brand advocates. It’s also nice to have a deposit in the favour bank.

Before I travel I go online to see where I want to stay, then email the general manager to request an industry rate. I almost always get a favourable reply. Except last week, when I contacted Hotel Le Meurice in Paris. It’s more old-world than I tend to like, but I thought it would be fun to experience, and I’ve heard great things. I almost fell to the floor when I saw their rate: CDN $1,292 per night. They were also offering a “Decoding Da Vinci” package, which I thought was a bit unoriginal and bandwagon-ish, but only because I’m (apparently) the only person on earth who thought the book was semiliterate pulp. (Oops, so much for Dan Brown ever staying at Opus). My request for an industry rate was met with a polite but resounding “Non!” September is peak season, my contact explained, and no discounts are available, not on any day, not at any time, not for anyone. Tres désolée.

I was disappointed, but I do respect the decision, even admire it, and certainly envy it. Oh, to be in a position to banish discounts entirely – let them eat cake! Hotel managers understand better than anyone that peak season – or any busy time – is not the time to ask for favours. We must make hay while the sun shines. So please don’t ask us for a seniors rate for your Aunt Sally during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

As for upgrades, hotels are becoming as tightfisted as airlines. When I worked as a sales manager at Canadian Airlines I was overwhelmed with requests for upgrades, special fares and free flights. I learned from my manager that the industry was changing, and we no longer gave things away, not without a trade of equal value. Unfortunately, this change didn’t happen fast enough for Canadian; they went bankrupt. The same principle applies to hotels. If you want a gift certificate for your golf tournament, be prepared to convince us how the exposure will benefit the hotel. Charities are an exception, but even then the hotel benefits by generating goodwill, helping a good cause, and making staff feel magnanimous.

Incidentally, Mr. Greenberg’s name looked familiar to me, so I looked him up in Guest History, the hotel’s equivalent of Google. Sure enough, he stayed at Opus a while back. Did he get an upgrade? Even better. He got a comp room.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 1:47 PM


3 Comments:

Kim said…
Keep on writing Daniel. Don’t let the PR folks over sanitize it. This is a VERY well written blog and I will be telling others about it. I am a consultant who works with hotels and I’m a huge fan of blogs. Well done!
12:29 PM

stephen said…
Oh god… I completely agree with your review on the De Vinci Code. It is a semiliterate pulp. Fun blog. It gives me another reason for staying at your hotel this coming October (just to stalk you.) I would even pay for the internet connection (BTW, who charges for internet access anyway… you need to work on that.) May I get an upgrade? (I promise I won’t call)
6:36 PM

Usoff said…
LOL finely written and throughly entertaining =)Now I can tell my wife that I made the right choice in choosing Opus over the Sheraton Wall Centre cause at least it’s managed by someone with humour, not a faceless group of people in suits. I actually came across your blog when I googled “Opus hotel reviews”
9:10 AM