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.
posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 8:54 AM
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?
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.
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
“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
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!