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Auditing hotel employee performance.

Hotels are more than just a place to sleep; they offer their guests a multi-faceted experience that places unique demands on both customers and employees.

Managing this guest experience is a difficult task, made even more complicated with the oversupply of rooms, sagging occupancy levels, stagnant average daily room rates, and forecasted poor performance levels for the hotel industry (Figure 1). These facts, combined with increasingly sophisticated and demanding guests in all market segments, make the hotel management task even more complex.
Forecast of Hotel Performance
 Actual Forcast
 1990 1991 1992 1993
Occupancy (%) 63.4 62.3 62.9 63.5
Daily rate ($) 55.12 55.78 56.05 56.24
Room demand
(000s per day) 1,840 1,863 1,922 1,977
Room supply
(000s per day) 2,905 2,989 3,057 3,116
Source: Actual - Smith Travel Research;
Forecast - Coopers Lybrand

In order remain competitive and generate profits, hoteliers are being forced back to old-fashioned principles of innkeeping-service, service, and service. Just one slip in service standards can send unhappy hotel guests to a plethora of alternatives and create negative word-of mouth that seriously damages a property. After all, it is the interactions with hotel personnel that guests remember most and tell their friends and colleagues about after check-out.

How then, does the operator go about ensuring consistently high service in an extremely labor-intensive industry, where most of the guest contact is conducted by the least educated, lowest paid, and highest turnover employees?

Hoteliers realize that the human factor is the weak link in the service delivery chain and that this needs to be regularly monitored, evaluated, and measured in order to achieve consistently high levels of service delivery.

During the thousands of transactions that take place each day, management is relying on hotel employees to make the guest feel good about their "purchase." Unlike our colleagues in the manufacturing industry, where substandard output can be rejected before it reaches the end user, hotel staffs must perform in the presence of their guests.

Operators can go a long way toward maintaining superior service delivery through development of an integrated quality assurance program. Such a program should involve hotel employees as well as qualified, outside observers. The role of these "outsiders" is to cast a fresh set of eyes upon the hotel's operations: to experience the hotel as a guest and report back to owners and managers in the form of a guest perception audit (GPA). It is vitally important to view quality from the guest's perspective because quality really exists only to the extent that it meets guest requirements.

As with all quality assurance programs, the GPA should be designed to provide a comprehensive analysis of the hotel's performance in terms of its quality, efficiency, and integrity. The program should focus on problem areas as well as provide positive feedback in areas of service excellence.

In addition, the GPA should provide recommendations for improvement, follow-up, training, and internal programming.

The primary targets of the GPA should include the following areas.

* food and beverage department,

* rooms department

* front office

* guest relations,

* safety and guest protection,

* physical plant,

* marketing and merchandising, and

* internal controls.

Within each of these areas, the auditor must measure specific criteria, such as courtesy, promptness, service, and cleanliness.

These criteria are based on the performance standards of the management company and franchisor, combined with the experience of the auditor. The auditor also must evaluate the human elements - the intangibles - such as warmth, friendliness, and judgment.

The primary purpose of the GPA is to identify potential problem areas before they develop into major expense items. This is achieved by breaking down each employee/guest interaction into its components of correct operational procedure and hospitality. By regularly conducting GPA's, hotels can:

* Target training budgets to the most needed areas.

* Save on potential liability by improving guest security measures and eliminating safety hazards.

* Improve bottom-line results by increasing return business.

Conducting the GPA

For the GPA to be effective, it must be conducted anonymously. If employees know they are being observed, their performance may be altered. Moreover, a fresh set eyes can often see problems that the management has been unable to recognize because of its constant involvement with the operation.

Typically, a GPA consultant checks into a hotel for a period of one to two nights, as it is essential for the consultant to experience at least one full daily cycle of operations. The auditor works from an exhaustive list of factors to be evaluated and photographs existing conditions such as bathrooms and room service set-ups. During the course of a single stay, the consultant endeavors to utilize as many of the property's service, facilities, and amenities as possible.

The consultant's work begins well in advance of the check-in date through contact with the hotel's telephone, reservations, and sales and marketing departments. For example, a consultant will contact the reservations department to determine room availability on designated evenings.

During the course of the contact, the consultant will evaluate the reservationist's knowledge of the hotel's facilities and amenities, as well as the clerk's ability to subtly upsell a potential guest and "close the deal." Our experience has been that clerks often do not have the necessary knowledge or ability to maximize revenues at this critical sales point, thus reducing potential average-daily-room-rate levels.

Upon check-in, the auditor will again give the front desk the opportunity to maximize hotel revenues through subtle upselling techniques. During the course of the visit, the consultant will pose as a potential client in the hotel's catering department and conduct a thorough review of the internal marketing and merchandising techniques at the various points of sale.

Internal control procedures also will be carefully monitored, particularly in food and beverage outlets. This is an area in which hotels can lose a great deal of potential revenue through incorrect verification procedures, improperly itemized checks, underpouring, and inappropriate separation of tasks. The integrity of the hotel's internal control system also is checked by tracking all of the cash payments, checks, and charges incurred during the consultant's visit (Figure 2).


The consultant also reviews the staff's overall professionalism, appearance, and attitude. Careful attention is paid to the cleanliness of uniforms and the presence of name tags for all personnel.

The hotel's physical plant is inspected to determine its functional and aesthetic value and to identify potential hazards and areas of liability. This review is wide-ranging and covers areas as varied as the hotel's fire and life-safety systems to the general condition of the building facade (Figure 3).


As the data is gathered, it is loaded into a laptop computer, eliminating the risk of losing sight of valuable information. This method also allows the final report to be delivered to the client within five days of check-out, providing accurate and timely management information for immediate follow-up.

The result

By identifying unsatisfactory areas, the GPA enables management to address problems and develop solutions. Ideally, the GPA procedure should be completed on a regular basis to permit management action in problem areas and to focus on other potential operating problems.

No hotel can afford to lose, guests, if only because it costs more to replace a guest than it does to retain one - five times more, according to industry experts. Hotel owners and operators can spend thousands of dollars on image-enhancing advertising and marketing strategies. But if the promised product is not consistently delivered, the hotel will lose guests. A GPA program conducted by a qualified auditor can help develop the level of service necessary to remain competitive and generate profits.

Andrew Fay is vice president of The Gettys Group, Inc., of Chicago. The Gettys Group is a management consulting and design firm specializing in professional services for the hospitality industry.
COPYRIGHT 1991 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fay, Andrew
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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