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

Celebrity Guests: Courting Divas

People often think that being a general manager is a glamorous life. It certainly has its moments, but sometimes it’s like having your dream job at Disneyland – in the accounting office. You know you work for Disney because you see the logo on every bill you send out. And you can tell people you work for Disney. But you never actually get to see Tinkerbell, ride Space Mountain or shake hands with Goofy.

That’s Opus to the upper right. My office is located three floors below ground level, which is great if you’re anticipating a bombing, but not so great if you want to have your finger on the pulse of hotel operations. Our guest services staff get to see all the action. They got to see Gwen Stefani come and go and got to chat with Lenny Kravitz. Neither ventured down to P3. Even the minibar attendant knows more about what’s going on in the hotel than I do. But if I ever really want to know what a guest is up to, I ask the housekeeping staff.

Years ago, when I worked at the Sutton Place in Toronto, it was a celebrity magnet. I had the more glamorous role of front desk agent back then, so I got to meet all of them. I stopped being starstruck after a while. Our general manager was so desperate to hobknob with stars it was embarrassing. The second he caught wind of a celebrity he was out sniffing around the lobby. He insisted on meeting all of them. The hotel bar had an entire wall of signed publicity photos of stars.

These days, stars are simply not interested in meeting the hotel manager. They never actually were. At Opus we give star treatment to all guests. Celebrities are treated with extra care, of course, but in a subtle, non-intrusive manner. There’s no giddy general manager waiting in the wings to waste their time. I simply leave an amenity and welcome note in their room inviting them to contact me directly for assistance. But they never call. And I’m not hurt.

I’ve done my share of “meet-and-greets” for stars, and my encounters with “divas” are the most memorable. I waited until 3:30am to greet a certain A-list diva at Opus after her concert. She sailed past me in a post-concert delirium, swarmed by handlers, a pack of yappy little dogs running circles around us. I followed her to the elevator to escort her up to her suite. But she screamed at me to “Close the f**king door!” before I got in. That was the last I saw of her.

Another time I waited until 4:00am to greet Cher. I was nodding off at the front door of Opus when a convoy of tour busses rolled in. Dozens of people spilled out, but no Cher. She decided to forfeit her luxury penthouse suite for the bus.When I greeted Janet Jackson at the Metropolitan Hotel I was pretty nervous. Sources had warned me that she doesn’t like anyone touching her or looking into her eyes. I wasn’t sure how I’d pull off a meet-and-greet given those limitations. But she climbed from her SUV and marched right up to me, shaking my hand. “Hi! I’m Janet,” she said with a bright smile. She stayed with us for a month and was delightful.

I’m a fan for life.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 9:32 AM

Mason said…
Your stories are great…matched only by the fantastic hospitality you provide at OPUS.
12:17 AM

Unusual Guest Requests: Does that room come with a midwife?

People often ask me about the strangest request I’ve had as a hotel manager. Having been in the business for over 12 years, I’ve encountered my share. The one that comes to mind happened recently, here at Opus.

A woman – a seemingly rational, articulate, sane woman – contacted me to ask if it would be possible for her to check into a room and, um, give birth in it. She explained that she wanted to have a “natural” childbirth, but needed to be close to a hospital in case something went wrong. She identified every conceivable objection I might have, which she outlined in an email as:

1. Liability
2. Mess
3. Noise/Chaos
4. What if something went wrong?

She addressed each issue in turn, promising to keep screaming down to a minimum and, very considerately I thought, offering to bring her own sheets and towels. She assured me that she had no problem with being rushed to the hospital by ambulance if necessary. “Admittedly,” she said, “that might cause a few stares in the lobby, but this is only the worst case scenario.” She also promised not to wander the halls or public areas. I envisioned her going door to door with her newborn baby, telling guests, “Oh yes, I just had her down the hall in #503.”

She also urged me to think of the great publicity we could get. We could issue a media release like a birth announcement! Now I’m not one to shy away from publicity, but what our sweet, thoughtful mother-to-be hadn’t considered was how the guest who checks into the room after her might feel.

Many couples have told us their babies were conceived at Opus. Some send us baby pictures. One couple even named their daughter after us. That’s Stella May Opus Broom pictured above, daughter of the guitarist with Jann Arden. (Note the logo on her shirt.) But so far, no one (as far as we know) has ever given birth at Opus. We’re a hotel, not a maternity ward, and we’d like to keep it that way.

So, I politely declined, inviting her to stay at Opus for a birthday or anniversary instead.

posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 8:41 AM

mama said…
You should totally have let her stay! 🙂 Lots of women have really peaceful births – I did. I made more noise than I would have if I’d been in a hotel, but I was in my own home so it was okay. We stayed at Opus before we had our baby, and we loved being able to bring our dog. Next time we come we’ll bring the baby! (I assume you allow babies that have already been born somewhere else?) 🙂
11:50 AM
Daniel Craig said…
Yes, mama, you are most welcome to come stay with us and to bring the baby! Thanks for writing.
5:46 PM
Maryam in Marrakesh said…
This is really the most fun blog I have read in a long, long time. Bravo!
2:19 PM
Shannon Norberg said…
As a midwife in Vancouver, I have to say that some of the most beautiful births I’ve attended have been in hotels! For some out of town clients this is their only way of having an out-of-hospital birth.For more information, see
6:19 PM

Hotel Management: Never a dull moment

So. A hotel manager’s blog. Maybe a first in the industry, likely not the last. This blog is inspired by a series of columns I wrote in the National Post about the daily life of a hotel manager. There is an enormous amount of interest in the behind-the-scenes workings of luxury hotels. Or so I like to think. Truth is, I’m not sure if anyone actually read my columns. Even friends and family are a bit vague when asked.

Without a doubt, hotels can be fascinating places. Things are rarely as calm and dignified in the “back of the house” as they are in the “front of the house”. It’s an ideal setting for a reality TV show. In fact, Opus participated in one a while back called Crash Test Mommy. The premise: harried mother with lots of bratty kids switches lives with childless friend. Mom checks into luxury hotel for weekend of pampering while “friend” checks into her home for weekend of Kids Gone Wild.

I made a cameo appearance as the obsequious hotel manager in one episode, and my entire belief system was shattered when I discovered that “reality” TV involves a lot more acting than reality. A scene in which I toured the ecstatic mother through her penthouse suite had to be reshot repeatedly because I kept flubbing my lines. After the suite scene, we went back and staged the arrival scene. Due to a staff shortage I had to sub in as the chauffeur. Mom played it up for the camera as we pulled up, oohing and aahing as though it were her first look at Opus and we hadn’t just spent hours filming inside. I accidentally drove the hotel car onto the sidewalk, almost taking out a bellman. That was the end of my reality TV career.

I’d like to say there’s never a dull moment when you’re in charge of a luxury hotel. But, sadly, there are lots of dull moments. But not to worry, in this blog I’ll take Stephen King’s advice to writers: I’ll leave out the boring parts. I’ll focus on daily challenges and rewards of running a hotel, on some of the more unusual situations I’ve encountered, and, yes, on some of my most humiliating experiences. Who knows, I might even dish some dirt. But I’ll always protect the privacy of our guests, which is paramount. Oh, and I promise to be a blogger, not a flogger – I’ll keep Opus propaganda to a minimum. The hotel’s track record speaks for itself.

I hope you enjoy.
posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 8:06 AM

Cathy said…
The premise: harried mother with lots of bratty kids switches lives with childless friend. Hi there! I was on Crash Test Mommy. Season 1, Episode 4. I think my kids were far from bratty, but they were a handful! I got to stay at a different hotel than yours.
1:01 AM