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


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

Hotel Confidential

At Opus we host lots of media, and in return they write stories about Vancouver and (we hope) say great things about us. Recently I’ve been approached by writers of travel blogs like who want write a review. Tech companies and celebrity publicists have long recognized the ability of popular bloggers to generate buzz. But only recently has the travel industry begun to catch on.

Yesterday I had lunch with a colleague, Mika, from Tourism BC, who told me she wants to host a media fam comprised solely of bloggers. I think it’s a brilliant idea. Now that I’m a blogger, the importance of bloggers in my mind has increased dramatically.

For those not familiar with the term “fam”, it is short for familiarization trip. Hotels and tourism bureaus host groups of travel agents, meeting planners and corporate bookers to allow them to experience a destination firsthand. The objective is show them such an amazing time that they go home and tell everyone. Everything is usually free, which makes me think that bloggers would be very enthusiastic participating.

When Opus first opened we hosted all sorts of fams to get the word out, giving free accommodation to anyone remotely influential in the travel industry. We now restrict fams to media groups and film companies, who generate the best results. For media fams, our publicists in LA and New York corral journalists from a variety of outlets. We put them up for a few nights, host a dinner, and hook them up at various spas, restaurants and attractions. Past notable participants include George Wayne of Vanity Fair and Grant Stoddard of Men’s Health.

One of our more memorable media fams took place at the same time Anthony Bourdain, bad boy chef and author of Kitchen Confidential, was staying at Opus. We invited him to our reception, and over champagne he enthralled us with anecdotes about his life as a celebrity chef and hedonist. Moments earlier, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner had been spotted in the lobby, so everyone was feeling that Opus was quite a fabulous place to be.

Then I noticed smoke billowing from the behind of a man Anthony had arrived with. He had unwittingly backed up against a candle and set his jacket on fire. The jacket went up in flames, everyone screamed, and the man ran around in circles crying out for help. Someone yelled at him to remove the jacket, which he finally did, throwing it to the floor. We all poured our drinks on it (a waste of good champagne), and a banquet server stamped it out.

The man was not hurt, but he was very angry. After uttering veiled threats about suing the hotel, he marched off in a huff, clutching his smoldering jacket, never to be seen again. It turned out that he was not with Anthony; in fact, no one knew who he was. Still, I feared that every piece written by these journalists would start with this story, the lesson being not to crash a party at Opus or you may be set on fire. Fortunately, they focused on the more positive aspects of their stay.

Anthony Bourdain swept into Vancouver once again a few weeks ago, on a tour to promote his new book, The Nasty Bits. I haven’t read it yet, but I loved Kitchen Confidential. We held a reception for him, where he once again regaled local media and staff. Fortunately, this time no one was set on fire.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 12:49 PM


Anonymous said…
Daniel – what a great idea to have you doing this. I greatly enjoy it and as a manager in the hotel business it is even better. I wish my GM was as personable. 🙂 I know it must be hard finding time for this but I urge you to keep it up. Thanks!
4:18 PM

Queen of My Own Destiny said…
I stayed at Opus several times a few years back, just after you opened. I am no one special and had to rely on a strong US dollar to even afford it. However, your staff always treated me like a princess and made me feel special.Although I haven’t been able to afford a trip back to Vancouver and the Opus recently (guess that conversion rate was too good to be true forever!), I am enjoying reading your blog and “keeping in touch” with the hotel. I will always remember the exceptional treatment and service your staff gave me.Heather MooreLawrence, Kansas
8:01 PM

Hotel Newtravel said…
great blog 🙂
7:52 AM

Anonymous said…
I came from shanghai China; I worked as a hotel general manager in shanghai city. I want to be a new friend with bolg is
5:51 AM

Dappy said…
Thank god, people to relate at l
ast. I am a General Manager based in the UK. We’re only a little Hotel, about 26 rooms, and although we have two sister hotels we are pretty much stand alone. Anyway, about 2 weeks ago i managed to make a remarkable jump from Senior Receptionist to GM of what can only be described as an extremely run down hotel with spectacular sea views (when the double glazing isn’t full of condensation). Even I am aware that I need help.
9:59 AM

Hotel Inspections: Something fishy around here

It’s room inspection time at Opus. Every manager, from sales manager to controller, gets a block of rooms and a detailed list of items to check off. Walls, mirrors and artwork free of smudges? Check. Toilet paper roll folded into a perfect triangle? Check. Magnum Opus CD playing at turndown? Check. Mini-bar liquor bottles watered down? Check.

[kidding about that last one, of course]

It’s a lot of work, and it’s nerve-racking for our room attendants, but getting our managers into the rooms, checking under beds and lifting sofa cushions, is a great way to familiarize them with guestrooms. An eye for detail and general fussiness are prerequisites in this industry. Because if we don’t find it first, a guest will.

Some of the tricks of the trade to ensure a room has been properly cleaned include running your fingers along picture frames, baseboards and the far reaches of closet shelves. Look at things from a guest’s perspective. Place yourself somewhere a guest will go but an employee would not. Lie down on the bed. Sit on the lid of the toilet. It’s amazing what you might discover. Just make sure the room isn’t reserved or you’ll have some explaining to do when a guest walks in.

In addition to room inspections, once a day I do my “rounds” at Opus. This involves inspecting guest floors, outlets, facilities, meeting rooms and the building’s exterior. Along the way I often pick up debris, tidy up the lounge, seat patrons in Elixir or help guests with directions. My noble nature stops at valet parking, for which staff and guests are grateful (see Never a Dull Moment below). After an unfortunate incident in which a guest thought I was stealing her suitcase, I’ve learned to make sure I’m wearing my nametag before helping with luggage.

Years ago, while on my rounds at another hotel I detected the unmistakable odor of fish. I sniffed my way down the hall, the odor growing stronger as I approached the ice machine room. I lifted the lid. Grinning up at me was a large salmon on a bed of ice. It seems a group of executives had just checked in after a fishing expedition, and one of them wanted to keep his catch fresh. We put the salmon in the hotel cooler for safe-keeping, and drained the ice machine.

At Opus we have a program called “A Day In The Life” that allows employees to experience another position in the hotel for a day. A front desk agent can shadow the director of sales. A reservations agent can shadow the catering manager. So far no one has signed up to be general manager, but I’m still hoping, because I could use a day off. I myself am contemplating a day in housekeeping. I like to clean, and I want to gain a better understanding of what makes this department so good at what they do. But I have to admit I fear I might not pass my room inspections.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 11:42 AM


Anonymous said…
Hi there! I think that your GM Blog is a great concept. I just came across it as I was checking out Opus’ site. I saw that in a previous post you were looking for people to hire. Have you filled all of the positions? Because I know a fab lady that would fit the bill!
3:52 PM

just call me jeff said…
It’s nice to get a glimpse of my beloved and sadly-left-behind Vancouver through your musings. Love your work, Daniel.
7:56 AM

Daniel Craig said…
To Anonymous: Yes, we are always looking for great people, so please have “fab lady” forward her resume to indicating which department she would like to work in.To Jeff: Glad to hear my musings put you in a Vancouver state of mind… But really now, how could you leave this city??
9:23 AM

Maryam in Marrakesh said…
What a great blog! With my husband, I am building a teensy guest house in Marrakesh. 6 acres of olive trees and 3 with incredible views of the mountains. My husband is an architect and the place is going to be amazing but it’s the management part of things that worries me. It’s so helpful to read your tips and sign me up as a regular reader. I am bookmarking, immediately!
2:13 PM

Anonymous said…
Bobby CDo you count the hangers? I recently checked out of a 5 star hotel in Beijing. Things seemed to be going fine until the process was interrupted by the front desk taking a call while processing my check out. This call seemed to be a catalyst for a flurry of people and activity (telephone calls, group consultations…) all in front of me and focused on the print out of my bill. Language was a barrier in that none of the 5-6 people new more that a few words of english (yes I said 5 star) and my Chinese is non-existent. I did not have a clue what was going on until the most senior person began to carefully draw something other than a chinese character – though it was very similar from my untrained eyes. She had drawn a picture of a hanger and presented it to me and my colleague. My colleague did not have a clue as to what it meant – he said “Is that a hanger”. I feigned ignorance but inside I was panicking and considered bolting. Under my breath I said to my colleague “I’ve got the hangar, prepare to bolt”. There was more activity but it slowly died down and they just let us leave. I realize that I sh
ould of taken the hanger out and returned it but things had progressed to far and I was waaay to embarrassed as it was.
4:19 PM

Miscellaneous thoughts of little consequence

How’s that for a gripping lead? A few months ago, when Katrina, our director of sales & marketing, came up with the idea of a general manager’s blog I thought it was brilliant. Back then I didn’t realize how hard it would be to come up with new material each week, and to find time to write it. I’m already looking forward to my two-week vacation in September, when I’ll be foisting this job on some unsuspecting colleague. (um, Katrina…?)

Truth is, I didn’t expect anyone to read my posts. But in just a couple of months these pages have been viewed by thousands. I’ve received lots of great comments, and would like to thank those who wrote for your encouraging words.

Interestingly, the only concerns about content came internally, from our LA-based publicists, who feared I had gone too far. What? they cried, you dished the name of the diva who used the F word on you? Eek! What, you admitted that Opus occasionally relocates guests? Double eek! What, you said the word “cleavage”? Triple eek! Their concerns compelled me to go back and soften some of my comments. Ironically, sanitizing my writing made me feel dirty, like I had compromised my artistic integrity. But our publicists are savvy, and they’ve done great things for Opus, so when they cry “Eek!” I listen.

Now, however, I find myself desperate for new content. It’s not that I don’t have a lot to say, the problem is that whenever I come up with an irreverent new idea I hear the publicists crying “Eek!” The pressure to perform within these parameters is daunting. I may have to start making things up.

One fairly innocuous subject I’m considering is chronicling the nine hotels I’ve worked for during my career. Sounds riveting, I know. But there have been interesting moments. For example, in 1996 I accepted, sight unseen, my “dream job” as director of sales & marketing at a resort in Micronesia. Where Micronesia is I’m still not entirely sure. It’s somewhere between Guam and the Philippines, a group of stunningly beautiful islands (pictured above). I signed a two-year contract, gave up my job and my apartment, held a going-away party that rivaled the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics, and got on the plane. It took me 36 hours to get there, and two hours to realize I had made a terrible mistake. A month later I was back in Vancouver, returning everyone’s going-away presents. I’ll explain why in a future post, but suffice it to say that as the plane took off from the island I had my middle finger planted firmly against the passenger window.

In another post I plan to shamelessly plug the mystery novel I wrote, called Murder at The Universe, which will be published in September ’07. It’s about a highly dedicated hotel manager whose universe is turned upside down when his colleagues become suspects in the hit-and-run death of the hotel’s beloved owner. The incident occurs after a boozy staff party, on the eve of the arrival of a militant anti-impaired driving conference. General chaos ensues as values clash among hotel staff, activists, guests and the media. It’s really fun, and I wrote it all by myself. You can pre-order it on Amazon now.

I should add a disclaimer that all characters in my novel – and the hotel itself – are purely fictional. Already I’ve had to reassure the owners of Opus that I came up with the premise long before I met them, and their lives are safe (for now). The great news is that the publisher has offered me a 3-book deal to develop the novel into a series. I won’t be giving up my day job, though, partly because I love it, and partly because I need new material. But mostly because I pretty much spent the advance celebrating a couple weeks ago.

Well, then, I’ve effectively completed this week’s post with mindless blather. I think that now makes me a bona fide blogger.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 4:38 PM


Anonymous said…
What happened in Micronesia, Daniel? Fill us in!
2:50 AM

Chris said…
Daniel, even your “inconsequential” thoughts are entertaining! Can’t wait to read the novel – of course your blog readers get access to an advance reading/purchase??? ;-)Interesting that your PR brass ixnayed some language – I’ll bet that the vast majority of your readers & guests were not put out at all, or even aware of any supposed faux-pas – I certainly was not. Of course, the “firm” is worried about the one, not the many.Looking forward to reading about the other nine!
12:01 PM

Anonymous said…
Um, you know you HAVE to tell us what happened in Micronesia. BTW – I have been somewhat taken back by your candor but that’s because I am a spin doctor as well. Personally, I love it.
12:45 PM

Caroline said…
Since I have never had any contact with your hotel, either personally or through work, it’s a wonder I ended up on Opus’ mailing list a while ago (maybe a year?). But am I ever glad – especially when I saw that the GM had a blog. Unique! (Although I fall behind on reading up.)I have enjoyed your blog. Who are these PR people? I did not think your language was inappropriate (cleavage?) alt
hough we can all appreciate their concern regarding being sued. But aren’t blogs supposed to be the blogger’s honest feelings and thoughts?Admitting that Opus relocates guests only shows that you honestly and genuinely care that your guests are taken care of to the best of your ability.Being an avid mystery reader (although I must admit that lately they have been based on or around cats), I look forward to your novel. Are you the next Agatha Christie (of the male persuasion, of course)? I, like all your other readers, can’t wait to hear about Micronesia. It is as greatly anticipated as your novel!
9:26 AM

Julia said…
I just found your blog today via GirlHacker’s Random Log and can’t wait to read future entries! I’m also a mystery lover and am anticipating your book. Sounds like an interesting setting for a murder.
10:24 AM

Anonymous said…
I am from the island of Palau, and I am also interested in knowing what happened when you were down in micronesia.
6:47 PM

Anonymous said…
what is micronesia
11:45 PM

Anonymous said…
cant wait to read the book!
12:47 AM

Boutique Hotels: We want our word back

Several years ago, the term “boutique hotel” arrived on the travel scene. Today, it seems like every second hotel is calling itself boutique, from 800-room properties to highway motels to mega chains. There are also boutique salons, ad agencies, law firms, hardware stores and pet stores. Everywhere, businesses are pilfering this precious term to distinguish themselves from the big-box-style retailers. And in the process, they’re ruining it for everyone.

We want our word back. It’s ours.

What exactly is a boutique hotel? Like the word “attractive” in personal ads, the term boutique is used loosely – and often generously – in the hotel industry. To me, a boutique hotel is defined by its size (200 rooms max), its ambience (intimate), its service (personalized), its independence (no chain affiliation) and its outlets (people actually use the restaurant and lounge). The design of a boutique hotel should reflect the city it’s in. And guests shouldn’t have to stumble through revolving doors to get in, or line up at the front desk behind hundreds of cruise ship passengers, or jostle with conventioneers wearing badges and silly hats. In a contemporary boutique hotel, brass and fussy floral arrangements should be banished, along with the music of Vivaldi and portraits of dead people.

When it comes to sullying the boutique name, there are no worse offenders than boutique hotels themselves. Many offer style or substance, but few provide both. Some are built around a hot lounge scene, but service is inconsistent and guestrooms feel like an afterthought (perhaps a deliberate ploy to keep guests out of rooms and in the lounge drinking). Others offer beautiful guestrooms and great service, but the lounge is about as lively as a public library. My favourite boutique hotels have style and substance. In the US they include Hotel Gansevoort and 60 Thompson in New York, The Mondrian and The Viceroy in LA, and Hotel Vitale and The Clift in San Francisco. While not technically boutiques, W hotels and a few of the Four Seasons also do this well.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that boutique hotels are more expensive. This is partly quality related, partly market related: fewer rooms + high demand = higher rates. But it also has to do with economies of scale. Boutiques don’t order 50,000 bottles of shampoo at one time or serve 1,200 dinner guests. Uniqueness is part of the appeal, of course, and many travellers are willing to pay a premium for it. In the 1970s, the Holiday Inn’s slogan was “The Best Surprise Is No Surprise”. These days, travellers want surprises, as long as they don’t involve lost reservations or rodents scurrying across the floor.

Of course, not every hotel wants to be a boutique, and not every traveller wants to stay in a boutique hotel. Larger hotels can offer more space, better facilities, a more consistent product, and guest loyalty and frequent flier programs. At Opus we maintain that a traveller who chooses a hotel based on how many points she’ll collect toward an upgrade on her next car rental is probably not the best fit for us. There are plenty of other options in Vancouver.

Sometimes it’s fun to stay in big, grand hotels, landmark hotels, historic hotels – as long as they don’t smell musty. The largest hotel in the world is the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, with between 5,690 and 5,034 rooms, depending on the source (I’m not convinced management even knows). It comes with a sports arena, entertainment dome and wedding chapel. In fact, Vegas is home to 17 of the world’s 20 largest hotels. I stayed at The Venetian once (pictured above), which, at 4,027 suites averaging 700 square feet, ranks #4. Upon returning to the hotel each night (okay, each morning) it felt like I had to walk past all 4,000 suites to get to mine. A shuttle bus would have been nice. In Dubai, the upcoming Asia Asia Hotel plans to dethrone the MGM, with a whopping 6,500 rooms – a small city.

All this talk about big hotels is humbling, what with Opus’s mere 96 rooms, no sister properties, and no wedding chapel. Maybe we should become a boutique chain? This term is an oxymoron in my opinion. But some companies, like Kimpton and Joie de Vivre, have succeeded in building a collection while preserving each property’s individual personality. Buoyed by its success with W Hotels, Starwood has introduced aloft hotels, claiming on its website to be “re-imagining the classic American ‘On The Road’ tradition and giving rise to a hotel of new heights. A hotel so far above anything in its class that it can only be called by one name: aloft.” My rough translation: tarted-up motels for thrifty-but-cool travellers, with advertising copy written by a guy who used to write superhero movie trailers.

Now that the chains have stolen the word “boutique”, along with some of our best ideas, we in the boutique business better keep innovating. Fortunately, this is easier for us because we don’t have to wait for approval from corporate office. Stay tuned for advances in in-room technology, entertainment, amenities and environmentally friendly practices, along with even greater personalization.

And we best be finding another word for boutique.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 9:39 AM


Chris said…
Point very well taken – and with all do respect to your competitor the Sutton Place Vancouver, I can’t figure out how the “Best N.American Boutique Category” award went to such a property, even if it is five diamonds! (ie/over 200 rms, [small] chain affiliation etc.) Not sure if they wear funny hats though! If you like the Kor Hotel Group’s Viceroy in L.A., I wonder how you feel about some upcoming competition in Vancouver Kor’s new project?
10:18 PM

Daniel Craig said…
I say bring it on!
8:10 AM

Anonymous said…
Really enjoying your blog. Keep it up.
1:51 AM

Jess said…
Hmm, Vancouver seems to be fascinating, but i want to say, i spent 2 weeks last autumn in Cyprus Four Seasons, it was really nice, also a lot of space im rooms. And by the way, Vivaldi is not so bad, but i prefer more Mozart and Bach, especially to relax after hard work…
2:40 AM

Hotel Employment: Must Love Smiling

Last week was a busy one at Opus, with 4 perfect fills in 7 days. We’re currently hiring for positions in reservations, guest services and housekeeping. So if you know anyone who is experienced, has a great attitude, is well mannered and exceptionally competent, we’d like to hear from them. I have friends who might want to marry them too.

Note, candidates must love smiling. Together with eye contact and guest name usage, smiles form the basics of great guest service. Of course, I’m talking about genuine smiles. Fake smiles, plastic smiles, vacant smiles and smiles that come across as obsequious, condescending or creepy don’t quite cut it in this business. It also helps to know when to turn a smile off, like when a guest is yelling at you. But one must never turn off the “can do” attitude. Just ask Corina, our ever-smiling Room Service & Banquets Captain, pictured above.

I once worked with a woman named Nancy who got frazzled frequently, but you never knew it because she hid behind her great smile. She was famous for malapropisms. Once, during a particularly hectic day on the front desk, she picked up the phone and said, “Thank you for helping, how may I hold you?” Another time, craving a cigarette, she picked up the phone and said, “Front desk, Nancy smoking.” She always had a smile on her face, so who could fault her? Another time I overheard a front desk agent, Lina, also infamous for malapropisms, on the phone with a guest. “Not to worry,” she was saying, “I’ll send an abductor up to your room immediately.” Alarmed, I imagined the terrified guest barricading herself in her room. I asked Lina what was going on. She smiled sweetly. “The guest is from Europe and her hairdryer won’t work in the power outlet.” Her eyes grew wide. “Did I say abductor? Oops. I meant adaptor!”

About 10 years ago I took a break from the hotel business and went to work for Vancouver Film School in marketing. It was a completely new environment for me: casual and creative, more concerned about ideas and stories than, say, appearances and feelings. The instructors had a profound distrust for my fancy clothes and sunny disposition. They labeled me “the suit”, which I discovered was akin to “the scab”. I soon found my kindred spirits in the Acting department, where everyone was always super upbeat and happy. Then I discovered they were only acting.

In the hotel business, a great smile tells guests that you’re here to help and you’re having a good time doing it. It’s a cliché, but smiles are contagious. After a while they become second nature, part of your uniform. Years ago, walking home after long shifts on the front desk, I’d find myself grinning like a halfwit at everyone I passed. But they smiled back, and it made me feel good. Much more effective than scowling. Or flipping the bird.

Smiley, experienced candidates are encouraged to send resumes to

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 10:28 AM


Christof said…
What a nice smile! I laughed, I laughed a lot.
3:10 PM

Lexx said…
What if you love to smile but the edge of your tooth is chipped…. or maybe it just needs to be filed a little????
3:10 PM

Ellie said…
Fantastic read!I’ve been in the hotel business for over 10 years, and I love, love, love your blog. Keep up the great work, if I ever get to your area, I will drop a resume!
8:17 AM

Chris said…
Terrific article, and a razor sharp blog Mr. Craig. A million times better than Starwood’s TheLobby.comI’ve hever neard the term ‘malapropism’ before today – thanks muchly! Now I even further regret not visiting your Hotel when the ‘Tourism Passport’ rates were available last month…we left it too late and your darn high occupancy screwed me.You can be sure that drinks at Elixir with friends are still on though. Thx.
4:20 PM

Maria said…
I loved your blog! I am a student at Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA. My major is Hospitality Administration and I am currently taking a class that required me to search blogs of people in my industry. I definently enjoyed reading your experiences.Good Luck!Maria
10:12 PM

Hotel Inspections: Mystery Shoppers

Once a year at Opus we recruit “mystery shoppers” to stay at the hotel anonymously and evaluate the experience. They book a room like a regular guest, pay full rate, have drinks in the lounge and dinner in the restaurant, order room service, and test the hotel’s facilities and services. To preserve anonymity, we rebate their charges after they’ve checked out. Tough job, I know. But it’s a great investment for the hotel because it provides a detailed, objective assessment of the guest experience.

Two silent shoppers stayed at Opus last month. Their silence is now over; the reports are in. I read through them yesterday, holding my breath, fearing something unusual and horrible might have happened. The shoppers were Susan, a respected industry veteran who has run some of Vancouver’s best hotels, including the Pan Pacific and the Metropolitan, and Tom, an executive with Morgan’s Hotel Group and formerly with Ritz Carlton.

Opus is a contemporary boutique hotel, but we seek a range of backgrounds in our shoppers. Contemporary or traditional, large or small, many of the same standards apply – luxury is luxury. To get a variety of perspectives, sometimes we bring in shoppers with no hotel background. Last year we recruited Chris, a partner with Rethink Advertising, avid traveller and boutique hotel aficionado. His assessment was so impressive we hired his firm to refresh our brand.

At chain hotels I’ve worked at we were always in fear of shoppers, whether from head office, ownership, the management company or a travel rating program like AAA. Our greatest dread was that we would appear in one of these reports as the indifferent employee, or the incompetent one, or the one who spilled hot coffee on the inspector. So we regarded each guest as a potential shopper.

The AAA evaluation process was always interesting. The inspector would arrive in town to check out a bunch of hotels, and by the time he got to ours we had been tipped off. We’d roll out the red carpet, so the inspector’s experience was never that of a typical guest. This was sometimes necessary in order to pass the inspection, however, for AAA criteria is strict and unforgiving, particularly for 5-Diamond hotels. One hotel I worked at had its rating downgraded from 5-Diamond to 4, which was devastating to morale. At the time I feared I was somehow responsible, that my name was highlighted repeatedly in that fateful report, even though I worked in sales and had no contact with the inspector.

Certain membership organizations have sales people they pass off as “inspectors”, dispatching them to hotels to evaluate the experience, then extending an “exclusive invitation” to join the club – for a substantial fee.One night when I was duty manager at the Pan Pacific we were expecting the chain’s president to check in. His suite had been inspected by virtually every manager, with a meticulousness and paranoia rivalling the Secret Service. Unfortunately, no one recognized him upon arrival. He was registered without ceremony and sent off unescorted to one of the smallest rooms in the hotel. When I found out I was mortified. I chased him down, but he waved me away, insisting on experiencing the hotel from a regular guest’s perspective. Things must have gone okay, because I didn’t get fired.

As for this month’s shoppers reports, I’m happy to say that Opus fared exceptionally well. There is always room for improvement, of course, and the feedback from Tom and Susan will help us to get better. This week I’ll be reviewing the report in detail with all department heads.And then we can focus our attention on the really important shoppers, our paying guests.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 4:29 PM


Bensen said…
Hi Mr. Craig, thank you for sharing your experience with us in your blog. As a student who wish to enter the hospitality industry, the information petains in your blog allows me to gain insights in some of the things that are involved in the day-to-day operation of a hotel. It’s ironic you mention mystery shopper in this article because one of my instructors work as a mystery shopper for hotel operations.
9:48 PM

Jess said…
Two years ago I was a witness of such “silent shoppers” “project” too!!! You know, almost every very luxurious hotel let this thing happen, because hardly anything unpleasant may happen with the anonymous visitors, which will damn the hotel’s reputation!!! It happened in the Emirates or rather in the Dubai hotel!!! It cannot leave anybody indifferent, because the service, rooms and entertainments are perfect!!! Consequently there were no complains!!! 😉
12:22 AM

Christopher Wood said…
Mr. Craig, Interesting post! As a Hospitality Professional I too have shared the same dread – “Our greatest dread was that we would appear in one of these reports as the indifferent employee, or the incompetent one, or the one who spilled hot coffee on the inspector”…and feel that the best approach (to provide memorable guest service and to avoid a quick termination), is to regard “each guest as a potential shopper.”I have been through a recent critique of Hotel amenities and service delivery by an agent of the chain I worked for the past 10 years (until moving here to Vancouver) and I can’t understand how the Hotel is better off having advance knowledge that a shopper is descending upon us?We knew his face, car, and room-type and dining preferences in advance and were able to stage the facility tour so just those areas prepared for inspection were highlighted. Our in-house guests, enjoyed the beefed-up attention to detail they received during his stay, but this wasn’t a realistic slice of daily life at already excellent property. I am a believer that an empowered team with pride in the property and in their abilities, coupled with an Executive staff that have all the tools and procedures in place – is enough to WOW the guest and make them feel special. I would rather hear about my failings and receive praise for a true job well done, than by unethically fabricating a shopper’s “experience”.
11:40 AM

Guest Relocates: A Precarious Balance

It’s been a busy week at Opus. The hotel has been sold out all week. Well, almost. The holy grail of the hotel business is the “perfect fill”, when every room is occupied and no guests are relocated. It’s proven elusive this week.

Relocating is the hotel industry’s equivalent of an airline bumping a passenger. But hotels do it less frequently and we’re nicer about it. Relocates, or “walks”, are also executed more discreetly by hotels; for starters, we don’t announce your name over the intercom. It usually happens late at night, often to a poor, unsuspecting traveler who stumbles in after a horrendous day of travel (which may or may not have included getting bumped from a flight). It’s a nasty way to treat a guest, and hotels try to compensate by paying for the room at another hotel. And being really, really nice when they return. If they return.

Like airlines, hotels overbook to maximize revenues, banking on no-shows. We have revenue managers whose responsibility is to eke every possible dollar out of each room. This is not the person you want to talk to when you’re looking for a deal. Understandably, a relocated guest can be a very nasty person. In overbooking situations managers pore over the arrivals list, trying to guess who will show and who won’t, and assign rooms accordingly. As guests arrive the available rooms diminish, and stress levels climb. It’s usually the poor, sleep-deprived night staff who have to deal with relocates, even though they are rarely responsible for overbookings.

As night manager at the Pan Pacific, I made a calculated risk that a family of eight from Dubai wasn’t going to show. So I gave their 3 suites to a group of businessmen who looked like they’d eat me alive if I relocated them. As I was handing them their keys, announcing to their applause that they had all been upgraded to suites, the Dubai family arrived. An altercation ensued in which the family demanded their rightful suites. Eventually, the businessmen prevailed, and the family was relocated. They were so abusive I had to call security for protection.

The trick with relocating is to send the guest to a hotel that is nice enough that she won’t be even further outraged, but not so nice that she will never return to your hotel. But sometimes the city is so booked you have little choice. In the past I’ve had to relocate people to distant suburbs. Try telling a guest he’s being relocated from a luxury downtown hotel to a remote highway motel.

Years ago, at the Harbour Castle Westin in Toronto a computer “glitch” resulted in an overbooking of 150 rooms. We set up tables at the hotel entrance so that guests couldn’t even get inside before they were relocated. The entire executive committee occupied these tables, which I thought was pretty impressive, particularly because that meant I didn’t have to do it.

Of course, at Opus we never relocate. Okay, almost never. Last week we relocated a guest due to a late-night plumbing problem, but he was very understanding, and came back the next day. Last year, a guest’s dog got sick all over a room just prior to checkout. The dog was just a tiny thing, but the stench was so overwhelming it could have been an elephant. Housekeeping steam-cleaned the carpet several times over, but the odor persisted. Colin, our guest services manager, furiously reassigned rooms as one by one our guests arrived. By 2:00am we were down to one arrival and one smelly room. Colin prayed this last guest would no-show. But in walked the happy couple – direct from their wedding reception. As a sidenote, the owner of this subversive little dog (pictured above, the chubby, guilty-looking one on the left) belonged to our former general manager, David Curell, who was back for a visit. He’s now at Hotel Vitale in San Francisco. Apparently they’re not pet-friendly at Vitale.

Normally we never relocate guests celebrating a special occasion, but they don’t always tell us this at time of reservation. A couple we relocated last year was celebrating the husband’s 50th birthday. They were enormously upset when we relocated them to the Four Seasons. I called the husband the following Monday to make amends, and was mortified when he accused us of relocating them because they were “too old”. There must have been a pretty young crowd in the lounge that night. I sent them a gift certificate for a return stay, but they haven’t come back yet.

Tonight looks promising for a perfect fill. We’re sitting at “0”: 58 rooms occupied and 38 arrivals. If there are no cancellations, no unexpected stayovers and no no-shows, we’ll have a perfect fill. Let’s hope no wedding couples arrive unexpected in the wee hours of the morning.

See also: Walking After Midnight: How to Avoid Being Relocated from Your Hotel

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 8:54 AM


Anonymous said…
Those dogs are so cute! You are right, the fat one does look guilty. Your posts are very funny and interesting, I will be sure to follow them. I cant wait for the next one, keep up the good work. Do you know if there are any other hotel GM’s writing blogs?
1:40 PM

Anonymous said…
Very interesting writing. I’ve been in the hotel industry almost as long as you have and it’s nice to see managers getting involved.
12:57 PM

John said…
Hi Dan,I love your blog! Its hilarious! Very entertaining and informative. Keep it up.
3:42 PM

Ramon Diaz said…
great read and an entertaining insight into hotel management
9:38 AM

Neil Wyles said…
Keep posting !I did not know your office was on the third parking level !I just have a cupboard and a drawer. CheersNeil WylesHamilton Street Grill
2:48 PM

Daniel Craig said…
In response to ‘anonymous’ at the top, no, I’m not aware of any other hotel GMs writing a blog. They’re far too busy : )If anyone comes across one I’d love to know!
5:48 PM

tcp said…
“But in walked the happy couple – direct from their wedding reception.”I just wanted to say that this story made me shudder just a bit… my wife and I came directly from our wedding/reception (in Chicago) last July and we were sooooo glad arrive at Opus, late in the evening. Thankfully our room was still there (and fresh smelling =) and it was the perfect end to what was the best day of our lives. Thank you for such a wonderful experience. I wouldn’t have changed a thing (except perhaps I would have booked a few more nights rather than jumping off to other adventures as quickly as we did!)-Ted
8:15 PM

LMK said…
i know exactly the feeling of false confidence, thinking you’re going to achieve that elusive perfect fill, only too fall just short, victimizing a tuxedo and Vera Wang clad couple!11pm: 3 arrivals, 3 vacant rooms. perfect. in comes in the happy wedding party, flowers and champagne flutes still in hand. i i check in the best man and maid of honor without incident. i pull up the bride’s name only to find her suite was booked for NEXT YEAR. a few heart palpitating moments later, i check her in to an out of order suite…maybe they’ll be too busy on their wedding night to notice a crack in the bathroom door?next morning, i get a comment card thanking me for making their wedding night so great. phew!
10:01 AM