Chapter 5 Working with hotels.
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
* Explain the impact hotels have on tour conductors, clients, and companies.
* Enumerate the six characteristics that mark a successful tour hotel.
* Explain how best to negotiate with a hotel.
* Identify information that must be given to tour members about a hotel.
* Compare the advantages and disadvantages of three methods of group check-in.
* Specify seven typical problems that arise for hotel-lodged groups and suggest solutions.
* Chronicle the specific steps a tour manager must take while staying in a hotel.
* Describe the pitfalls to be avoided during hotel checkout.
Next to the destination, perhaps the most important element of any tour is the hotel," maintains Edward Camara, president of Camara Tours. As you begin escorting groups, you may soon decide that Camara has understated the situation. At times, tour members will seem more preoccupied with their lodging than with the destination itself, even though they'll spend only a few waking hours in their hotel rooms.
The reasons for this are subtle. In the most basic sense, a hotel or motel becomes a second home. Your tour members see it as a calming refuge from the trip's stimulating but stressful pace. Indeed, modern marketing strategy plays directly to this yearning for homelike environments. Bed-and-breakfast inns, condo resorts, all-suite hotels, living room-like lobbies, and extra-amenity floors have succeeded grandly for this very reason.
You'll also discover that tour members view a hotel not just as a second home but as an idealized, perfect one. Air-conditioning, maid service, a swimming pool, a phone in the bathroom--if any of these hotel luxuries aren't in proper working order, your tour members will surely let you know about it. Be tolerant of such seemingly overcritical behavior. Part of your job is to assure clients that their home-away-from-home dreams will be fulfilled.
A hotel (often called a property in travel industry terminology) is equally important from the more down-to-earth perspective of a tour operator. Lodging usually accounts for the single greatest outlay in a tour's budget. Therefore, hotel value and service take on considerable fiscal importance for tour planners.
Hotel personnel--at least those in upper-echelon management--understand that tours inject enormous profits into their hotel's operation. (Unfortunately, others sometimes view tours as cut-rate and troublesome.)
An intriguing study by Southeastern Advertising (SEA) underscores the dramatic impact a tour can have on a hotel's balance sheets. SEA analyzed one single tour, Tauck's six-day motorcoach trip to New England. They estimated that forty-five passengers would travel on each tour and that all forty-three scheduled departure dates would operate. (This may have been an overly optimistic projection. On the other hand, SEA did not factor in the probability that on many peak-season departure dates, one or more motorcoach groups might be added.)
The study's results are striking. This single tour, over only one tourist season, would be worth $238,165 in accommodations alone. It would also probably generate another $100,000 for the hotels, as the groups would take many of their meals in the hotels' dining facilities. To get an idea of how significant the packaged tour is to the lodging industry, consider that the New England tour was but one of the over eighty tours that Tauck advertised in its brochures, and Tauck is only one of hundreds of tour companies that operate worldwide.
At peak times tour members, whose rooms are substantially discounted, displace regular, full-paying customers and therefore cut into hotel profits. However, this imbalance is more than offset by tour arrivals at times of low occupancy. From a hotel's perspective, therefore, the tour operator, tour director, and clients should be in the foreground, not the background, of attention and service.
Researching a Hotel in Advance
A tour company's staff can't possibly visit all the lodging choices available. To narrow the options, the tour planner consults several industry reference books. Most of these research tools publish the hotel's official rates (rack rates), location, facilities descriptions, address, phone and fax numbers, and the name of the hotel manager. Some feature photographs of the property, locator maps (which show where the property is located and what is nearby), and rating evaluations.
Below are listed the most commonly used reference industry sources.
The Star Service. The most opinionated of all lodging research sources, this book gives detailed analyses and ratings of thousands of hotels worldwide (no photos, maps, or ads).
The Hotel & Travel Index. This reference work doesn't rate hotels, but it does cover a multitude of hotels (especially in North America). It gives all the basics on each and features both maps and ads with photos (often in color).
The Official Hotel Guide. A multi-volumed work, the Official Hotel Guide has a worldwide perspective. It has ads, maps, photos, and ratings--all presented in an easy-to-read graphics style.
The OAG Business Travel Planner. This reference tool, updated quarterly, covers over 29,000 North American hotels. It also includes amenities, prices, ratings, destination information, maps, airport diagrams, climate charts, ground transportation, and an events calendar.
Computer Programs. Electronic versions of the above guides are growing in popularity as reference tools.
The Internet. The Internet is a powerful tool for researching hotels. Virtually every major hotel chain has a Web site where you can look up its individual properties. Remember, though, that these sites are promotional and sales-oriented: the information and photos are biased to make each hotel look as splendid as possible. Several "objective" lodging information sites also exist; these portray all hotels, not just those of one brand. Hotel information is also sometimes available through tour operator and travel agency sites.
Note that many consumer books--like those in the Fodor, Frommer, and Fielding series--also provide extensive and usually reliable reviews of hotels.
Having narrowed the lodging choices, a tour planner will visit the properties that seem most interesting. The tour planner may also be so confident in the above research tools that he or she will simply contact the hotel and try to work out a deal, sight unseen. If the company is thinking about changing hotels on an existing tour, the tour manager may instead conduct the inspection and perhaps negotiate as well.
The Ideal Tour Hotel
It would be wonderful if every hotel used by a tour operator were an ideal one, assuming that such a property existed. In reality, each overnight stop is a compromise. It's often a tour conductor's job to play up the hotel's strengths and discover ways to offset or minimize its weaknesses. Even if the ideal hotel did exist, the perception of its strengths could easily shift according to the nature of the group. A great resort hotel such as the Acapulco Princess impresses young groups with its pool waterfalls, indoor tennis courts, and broad beaches. But would all these amenities contribute to an older adults group's enjoyment of Acapulco? Such tour members might instead complain about the hotel's isolated location (a factor that's often seen as an asset by others). If these clients were on a budget tour, would they admire the remarkable value they were getting by staying at one of the world's great resort hotels, or would the relatively high cost of its restaurants, room service, and laundry inconvenience them?
* Tour planners must seriously analyze lodging choices when planning a tour. So, too, must tour managers, for three reasons:
* Tour operators often ask tour conductors to evaluate hotels for them. It's far cheaper and more direct than sending someone from the office (see Figure 5-1).
* Upon arrival, a tour leader must identify (or, ideally, find out through a pre-tour company briefing) those factors that may make his or her clients' stay pleasant or difficult. To be forewarned, at least when it comes to hotels, is to be forearmed.
* Some tour companies will ask a trusted tour manager to evaluate competing properties and even negotiate with them, with an eye to improving overnights for the next tour season.
Characteristics of a Successful Tour Hotel
If you've been assigned to evaluate a hotel, what should you look for? Below are a few guidelines.
The Ideal Tour Hotel Is Well Managed and Well Staffed. Mark Twain once said, "All saints can do miracles, but few of them can keep a hotel." Innkeeping, as the Holiday Inn chain quaintly calls hotel management, is a difficult and demanding profession. As a tour director, you'll interact with all levels of management and staff: front-desk clerks, bellhops, restaurant personnel, maitre d's, concierges, and doormen. An efficient bell captain and helpful front-desk manager, as you'll soon discover, are critical to a tour's success.
You'll also quickly discover that behind the controlled, stolid surface of a hotel sometimes lurks inefficiency, understaffing, or indifference. Communication lines occasionally break down between the sales office and the front desk (the hotel check-in area), between housekeeping and the front-desk manager, or between accounting and the cashier. The ideal hotel ensures efficient communication among its various departments, staffs each department fully, pays close attention to the security of its guests, and hires personnel who are genuinely concerned about the welfare of the guests. After only a few stays at a property, a perceptive tour director will sense how well a hotel fulfills these criteria and in what manner its strengths and weaknesses should be played.
[FIGURE 5-1 OMITTED]
The Ideal Tour Hotel Values Group Business. Hotel management that directs its sales staff to court tour business should also communicate the importance of that business throughout all its departments. If the front desk hasn't prepared your clients' keys for arrival, if your passengers tend to get rooms with poor views or locations, or especially if you get an inferior room, you can conclude that somewhere along the chain of command a decision has been made, consciously or not, to treat group business as secondhand business. This situation must be dealt with immediately. You or your company must communicate your displeasure to the front-desk manager, sales manager, or perhaps the general manager. Prompt action should result.
Don't assume when scouting new hotels that they'll automatically want your business. Even if you could meet its price, the Ritz in Paris is not likely to want buses pulling up to its front door. Conversely, there are hotels that seem to support themselves entirely through group business. Though they'll be quite accustomed to dealing with your needs, their overall quality level will probably be lower than average. The ideal tour hotel mixes group business with regular business and applies equally high standards to both. It reminds staffers that group check-in will be relatively simple, that problems will be funneled through tour managers, and that there's little chance that tour members will hold wild, guest-disturbing parties all night long. It may even build a separate check-in entrance for tour groups, as several hotels in Las Vegas have done.
The Ideal Tour Hotel Is Strategically Located. People on tours tend to be less adventuresome in their free time than those who travel independently. To tell them that they're two miles from the nearest shopping, restaurant, or tourist centers but right next to a convenient subway station will do no good at all. Many will end up shopping only in the hotel's souvenir shop, dining in its coffee shop, and sitting idly in the lobby--all the while cursing their predicament.
The Tokyo Hilton discovered this not too long ago. Located a fairly short walk from the Shinjuku shopping area, it found out that its guests (many of them tour members) didn't wish to brave the exotically named streets that led there. For this reason, the hotel set up a regular shuttle bus service to and from Shinjuku.
Ideally, your group will be lodged in a safe, strategic location. You should carefully stress to the group how easy it is to get around, identify nearby places they may wish to visit, and discuss whether it's safe to walk around at night. If your hotel isn't well situated, it may be necessary to use your motorcoach to take them almost everywhere or to organize group expeditions on the hotel shuttle bus or on public transportation. Be aware, however, that such makeshift alternatives can become logistical nightmares with a large group. Guides in Russia regularly take visitors down into Moscow's splendid subways and because of the crowds, regularly lose them there.
In some cases, tour planners have no choice. A destination may have no strategically located hotels. This is often true of overnight, isolated motorcoach stops between distant destinations, where lodging next to highway exits may be the best you can do. It can also apply to large cities. Los Angeles is a case in point. Once described as seventy suburbs in search of a city, Los Angeles was designed around freeways, not pedestrians. It's somewhat difficult to find a hotel within walking distance of shopping centers, restaurants, and attractions. Tour operators, therefore, tend to situate their groups in lodgings that are close to the freeway. A tour leader may have difficulty explaining this subtlety to hotel-bound clients and will almost certainly have to sugarcoat the situation in some way.
In two other situations, centrally located hotels aren't necessary to a tour: when staying at airport hotels (especially if the group arrives on a late flight and will be moving on the next day); and at resort properties, which are designed to be "away from it all" and usually offer all the amenities the client wants.
The Ideal Tour Hotel Is Relatively New or Extremely Well Maintained. New hotels are a favorite with tour operators. They often represent extraordinary value. Still relatively unknown to the public, such hotels are usually quite willing to bargain with tour companies. Furthermore, everything is sparkling new: the paint is fresh, the beds firm, the staff unjaded, the rooms spacious and of equal size. (There's nothing worse than having some tour members get large rooms and others get tiny ones, as often happens in older hotels. Those clients with the roomy accommodations are sure to invite the others over to envy their good fortune.)
Tour managers soon learn, however, that there's a downside to recently opened properties. Inexperienced staff, untested routines, and architectural surprises can blunt a hotel's mint-condition charm. A tour director should tactfully forewarn his or her group members that they may have to put up with some minor inconveniences in order to stay at what will surely become a popular vacation favorite.
On the other hand, tour conductors may find that well-maintained older hotels please their clients the most. A 1,400-room giant like Toronto's Royal York Hotel, which courts group business, has managed to remain competitive against dozens of gleaming new challengers. Its twelve fine restaurants and lounges, a uniquely dramatic lobby, an unbeatable location, and meticulous upkeep make it an enjoyable place to stay. (Most hotels are fully renovated every five to seven years; resort hotels need renovation every three to five years.) The Royal York's one drawback, common to many older North American properties and most European ones, is its small rooms, many with single beds. (Newer hotels almost always have rooms spacious enough to accommodate two double beds.) Hotels like the Royal York also cater to convention groups, which can lead to some noisy nights.
However, the quality of a hotel can slide downhill in a matter of months. Tour leaders should be vigilant and report any such trend to their company when it becomes obvious.
The Ideal Tour Hotel Has Great Ambience and Interesting Views. Some hotels are like boxes stacked next to other boxes. The rooms may be pretty, but what kind of feeling do they evoke?
A good tour hotel often has a pleasing, unique "personality." Maybe it's cultured in an Old World sort of way, like New York City's Tudor Hotel. Perhaps it's playful, like many of Disney's Orlando properties. Or it may seem straight out of the future, like Los Angeles's Bonaventure Hotel.
Another plus is a room with a view. Which would you prefer, a room that opens onto Waikiki Beach or one that looks out on a parking lot? This is why tour operators are willing to pay a little extra to ensure that clients get a hotel's "view" rooms or why they seek out properties where all the rooms face something lovely.
The Ideal Tour Hotel Is of at Least Medium Size. It would be wonderful if tour managers could bring groups to that thirty-room Victorian bed-and-breakfast in San Francisco or reconverted castle in Limerick--such ambience! As picturesque as they may be, though, such lodgings pose distinct problems for tour operators. What if a few regular guests stay over and there are not enough rooms for the group? Can the dining facilities handle forty or fifty people at once? Can the motorcoach access the facility easily? In truth, small hotels, motels, and inns rarely consider groups. From their point of view, one canceled tour (for which rooms have been set aside for months) could spell economic disaster.
Generally, hotels and motels with about 300 rooms or more welcome tours. (Surprisingly, less than 6 percent of all United States hotels have over 300 rooms, and a similar pattern prevails worldwide.) The choice, then, can be limited, especially at less-populated destinations. Yet staying at a large hotel has many advantages for tour groups. It's likely that the hotel will feature restaurants at several different price levels, that a client dissatisfied with a room will be able to get a better one, that there will be enough clerks at the front desk to attend to the tour manager's needs, that several bellhops will be available when the motorcoach arrives to take luggage promptly up to the rooms, and that there will be in-house entertainment lounges. Larger hotels also tend to have spacious lobbies, a real advantage when your group gathers for a departure.
Negotiating with Hotels
Negotiating with a hotel is a little like playing cards. You want to know as much as you can about the sales manager's hand, but you don't want to reveal your cards until you are well into the game. To do this, consider the following tactics:
* Do plenty of advance research. Find out before your meeting at your preferred hotel what the rack rate is, if there is an "official" tour or group rate (a discounted rate offered to tours), when the "slow slots" occur, either weekly or yearly, and what the usual deposit requirements are, etc. Sometimes it's as easy as asking. Just call in advance when you make your preliminary inquiry. You might also try to find out from your research sources if the property has certain weaknesses, such as a mediocre location, considerable competition (some areas are overbuilt) or, in the case of newer hotels, unfamiliarity.
* Begin negotiations as far in advance as possible. Most hotels have a "group ceiling," a maximum number of rooms that can be allocated to groups. To get best rates and availability, you may have to negotiate as much as a year in advance. Hotels usually will grant bigger concessions six months or more out, since it reduces unpredictability. It also helps the tour operator, since rooms at the preferred hotel may not be available later. Be prepared, though, to have a deposit payable sixty days before departure.
* Negotiate in person. It's much too easy for a sales manager to say no on the phone.
* Make a list of everything you really want and a separate list of what you could live without. These lists will become your game plan as the negotiation unfolds. They'll ensure that you don't leave out anything.
* Always have a backup hotel in case you can't get what you want from your preferred one. Indeed, having several choices to negotiate with is wise. Alternatives make you feel more confident as you negotiate. It's even acceptable to mention what a competing (but second-choice) property has offered you. Be careful, though. The person you're negotiating with knows what the competition is likely to offer, so don't try to bluff.
* Ask more questions than you answer. By taking control of the conversation with your questions, you'll find out more about the sales manager's "cards" sooner than he or she will find out about yours.
* Assume almost everything is negotiable. Sales managers often counter your requests by saying that certain things are non-negotiable because of hotel "policy." All this means is that this particular item, which is often merely a hotel guideline, may be more difficult for him or her to negotiate.
* Be assertive, not aggressive. An assertive person makes his or her needs known clearly, emphatically, but diplomatically; the negotiation becomes a cooperative activity where both sides are working toward a common goal. An aggressive person views a negotiation as a battle and the opponent as an enemy to be defeated. Such an approach creates ill-will and rarely brings positive results.
* Personalize your requirements. As you negotiate, say, "Here's what we need," or "Can you help me with this?" This draws the sales manager away from being the extension of an impersonal hotel and toward a team-like cooperation.
* Reveal your principal need, for a discounted room rate, first. What kind of tour discount can you expect? Fifty percent off rack rate is common, especially for mid-priced chains like Sheraton or Hilton. Top-rated luxury hotels, like those of Ritz-Carlton, rarely give better than 10 to 20 percent, since they rarely court tour business. Budget properties like Days Inn or Hampton Inn also rarely give better than 20 percent, since their rates are so low in the first place. Here, too, is the time to ascertain room taxes and if the rate is commissionable (usually 10 percent back after the trip) or net (no commission).
* Try to have the hotel representative quote you a rate first, rather than ask you what rate you're seeking. There's an old saying in hotel negotiations: Whoever gives a price first loses.
* Never assume that the first rate quoted is the best rate. Sales managers will often quote you a rate that's 10 to 20 percent higher than what their real final offer would be, just to see what will happen.
* Next, play your other cards. Now is the time to offer other things that will motivate the hotel to bargain further: taking meals in the hotel, holding special catered functions (e.g., a welcome party), guaranteeing a very large number of tours, or perhaps accepting less desirable rooms. (Expect the sales manager to try to find this out before quoting a rate.) The sales manager will also favor requests for dates when the hotel is less full, such as weekends (for airport hotel properties, but not for resorts) or seasonal slumps. As another saying in the lodging industry goes: "Put them in the valleys, not on the mountains."
* As negotiations draw to a close, ask for a few small concessions. Here's when you should ask for a complimentary room for the tour leader and for the driver, if there is one. If meals are included, these too should be provided free of charge to the tour leader and driver.
* Request a written confirmation of the agreed-upon conditions and prices. Be sure that the letter, when received, spells out exactly what was agreed upon. Also check to see when the hotel expects to receive a rooming list (usually seven to thirty days out). Any minor adjustments to the rooming list can be phoned or faxed in by the tour company within a few days of arrival. Such last-minute changes, however, sometimes never make it from the sales office to the front desk. The tour conductor, therefore, should carefully review the list upon arrival at the hotel.
Hotel brands come at virtually every quality and price level imaginable. Here's a quick review of the primary North American hotel chains: Luxury High End Mid-Range Budget Four Seasons Crowne Plaza Clarion Baymont Peninsula Fairmont Crown Sterling Best Western Regent Suites Ritz-Carlton Hilton Doubletree Comfort Inns International Hyatt Regency Embassy Suites Days Inn Inter-Continental Hilton Econo Lodge Marriott Holiday Inn Hampton Inns Meridien Hyatt Howard Johnson Omni Radisson La Quinta Renaissance Ramada Quality Inn Sheraton Resorts Sheraton Red Roof Sofitel Rodeway Inn Westin Travelodge
Preparing for the Hotel
Group voyagers arrive at a hotel with a peculiar mix of anticipation and exhaustion. They've probably traveled for some time by plane, motorcoach, train, or ship. Gritty and cranky, they can't wait to freshen up, unpack, or take a nap. At the same time, they want to get out and see the sights. A tour conductor must be sensitive to these conflicting needs, as well as to his or her own condition, for one of the most potentially taxing parts of the tour-managing job is about to begin.
As a tour manager, you would do well to prepare your passengers in advance for the arrival. You should first look over your notes to see whether any clients have made special requests, such as a room on a lower floor, adjoining rooms, non-smoking rooms, or a queen-size bed. (Unless told otherwise, hotels almost always try to assign two-bedded rooms to tour guests.) Before getting on the transfer bus at the airport or station (or at an earlier rest stop on a motorcoach tour), call ahead to the hotel's front-desk staff and alert them to the probable arrival time. Very often this call will serve to nudge a busy or procrastinating staff.
On the motorcoach, you should brief tour members on the hotel's location and amenities. Suggest that they pick up a hotel-embossed matchbook in case they get lost and can't remember the hotel's name and address. This is especially critical in foreign countries. Remind them to write their room number on that matchbook: card keys don't list the room number. With the multiple hotel stays of a tour, it's easy to forget one's room number. Briefly review with them the itinerary for the remainder of the day and, if appropriate, for the following morning. Be clear and precise, and repeat vital information several times.
Also discuss hotel tipping practices with the group. Usually a tour company pays baggage charges--the client doesn't have to tip the bellhop when he or she arrives with the luggage. Some countries officially forbid tipping, but clients should be warned that a small gift of cigarettes, candy, or gum to the bellhop, floor concierge, and housekeepers is expected.
Indeed, culture-specific information must always be underscored. Your clients need to know that German corridor lights may be on timer switches, that Tahitian hotel rooms sometimes have no locks, what French bidets are used for (this could be a tricky one), that in-the-room tea service is often standard upon arrival in Hong Kong, and that in some foreign hotels, you're supposed to check your room key with the front desk or concierge whenever you leave. (Most larger hotels have replaced real keys with card keys, which you don't drop off.) This would also be a good time to discuss whether the hotel has an in-room pay movie system (and how it works); where to buy stamps; whether money exchange rates are most favorable at the hotel, bank, or exchange bureau; and that phone calls made from their hotel room and charged to the room bill are far more expensive than those made via a charge or calling card from the room or from a lobby phone booth.
You might also put your group at ease about some of their anxieties. Is the area around the hotel safe? Does the hotel have good fire procedures? (These subjects should be mentioned with great tact so you won't aggravate clients' fears.) You should certainly emphasize the need to lock rooms and to place valuables in the hotel safe or in-room safe, if one is available. If you know the hotel will have in-room mini-bars or refrigerators, do warn clients that anything consumed will be billed to them and probably at a high price. If you're not sure about any of these considerations before you get to the hotel, ask when you arrive and tell the group then.
Arriving at the Hotel
The arrival itself presents a dilemma. Should passengers remain on the motorcoach while the tour leader obtains the keys, or should they disembark, gather in the lobby, and receive their room assignments there? There's no perfect answer. Each choice has certain advantages and drawbacks. If the group stays on the motorcoach, the tour manager can work out potential problems with the front desk calmly and without distractions. You won't need to herd the group together in the lobby to call out names and pass out keys--an undignified practice often associated with everything that's wrong with touring. The controlled environment of the motorcoach is certainly a more suitable place to announce room assignments.
The disadvantages, though, are several. The motorcoach may be monopolizing important parking space, its engine spewing exhaust in order to keep the passengers air-conditioned. Clients may become anxious watching their luggage being unloaded, no matter what precautions are taken. Most of all, they'll be immensely restless and want to move.
The alternative, to disembark immediately upon arrival, must be handled just right. The tour manager gets off first (presumably the driver will assist exiting passengers) and leads the clients directly into the hotel lobby. He or she must then gather them together in one area before going alone to the front desk. That area must be well away from the front desk so passengers won't be able to look over the tour conductor's shoulder. Then the tour manager must carefully review the hotel copy of the rooming list and correct all oversights. Have all special requests been honored (for example, for adjoining rooms)? Were any last-minute changes made to the rooming list that weren't reflected on the hotel's copy? Has the hotel prepared a photocopy of the rooming list for the tour manager? (The front desk usually does this as a matter of course and distributes additional copies to all its divisions.)
The tour director is now ready to distribute the keys or room access cards, which hotel staff usually place in envelopes marked with the clients' names. If it's a card key, explain to the group how it functions. Make sure to hand the keys out randomly, so the persons listed on the top of the rooming list don't get called first at each hotel. Before handing out the keys, you should point out the locations of in-house restaurants, elevators, and the tour bulletin board, if any. Then explain that you'll be in the lobby for a half hour in case problems arise. You may also choose to announce your own room number. (As indicated in Chapter 4, there is great controversy about this last point.)
Collect passports if the hotel and host country require it. Hand out any mail that may be waiting for passengers. In the meantime, the bellhops will already be offloading and checking off luggage. Their fee (usually about $2 per bag) will automatically be billed to your account.
A clever way around the on-coach off-coach dilemma is possible if you arrive at your destination in the late afternoon or early evening. If practical, you and the driver can take the group to dinner before going to the hotel. After ordering your meals, you and the driver leave the group, drop off luggage at the hotel, pick up keys, sort out problems, then return to the restaurant. Have your own dinner, then circulate among your clients and distribute their keys. When you return to the hotel, all luggage will have been delivered, tour members won't have to wait, and most problems will have been solved already by the hotel staff. You'll have to explain the advantages of this procedure to the group, though, for they'll be anxious to get to their night's lodging.
Morning arrivals at a distant destination, often after a long overnight flight, present an even greater problem. In such a situation you must drop off luggage and take the group sightseeing, shopping, or whatever, since the hotel, unless it's in the midst of a low-occupancy period, will not have the rooms ready. This situation, while unavoidable, is certainly vexing. The tour members will be in no mood to buzz around sightseeing after hours of traveling. You'll have to tactfully explain to your group why this inconvenience is necessary.
Potential Arrival Problems
The thirty minutes of "lobby duty" that follow hotel check-in are critical. You should be ready for anything. When possible you should solve problems by delegating to front-desk and bell personnel, so you can remain in the lobby area. Other clients may come down looking for you. What are the most common problems?
An Occupied Room. "My room is occupied." This happens more often than you would think. A guest may note a 1 P.M. check-out time, settle his account through video check-out or at the cashier, indicate that he is leaving, and then stay in his room. The hotel believes the room is unoccupied. Presumably housekeeping will find out, but sometimes the cross-check system doesn't work. Your tour member walks in on the guest, walks out very quickly, and comes to you. Ask the front desk to assign a new room to your client.
An Inoperative Television. "My television doesn't work." TVs have become our home companions. When the hotel television doesn't work, it's distressing. If the set is broken, the hotel will fix it or bring up another one. More often the maid has accidently pulled the TV plug from the outlet while vacuuming. It often happens. Have the client check and phone down to you if that is not the problem.
Too Few Beds in the Room. "There are three of us in the room but only two beds." In some parts of the world, a "triple" will be assigned a room with three single beds. In North America they'll be given one with two double beds (called a double double). Almost no hotels in the United States or Canada have rooms with three beds. (Sometimes the third bed is a convertible sofa.) The tour manager must phone housekeeping and have a rollaway bed delivered or the sofa opened up.
No Towels. "There are no towels in the bathroom." Laundry service often lags behind the rest of the hotel's operations. Stolen towels strain the system even further. All you can do is make a list of the rooms involved, phone housekeeping, and assure tour members that the towels are on their way. This problem is more likely to occur if you arrive early. Many itinerary planners think that a tour ideally should arrive between 4 and 7 P.M. During this time period, all hotel services have finished their work, but a strain has not yet been put on the number of hotel rooms available. You and the hotel will have flexibility in the event of an emergency.
Unsatisfactory Room. "I don't like my room." A few clients are unreasonable, but there are valid and typical complaints. They generally result from the front desk's passing off an "ah-ha" room to a client. (Arthur Hailey, in his novel Hotel, calls an "ah-ha" room any room that elicits an "ah-ha..." when you walk in and look around.) There are distinct subcategories of "ah-ha" rooms: ones that the architect shoved into a weird angle of the building; ones near a noisy ice machine or laundry chute; ones that have poor views (if the brochure promised "a panoramic view of Waikiki's surf" and the client has a panoramic view of a parking structure, you're in trouble); and ones that are in fact suite sitting-rooms, with only a convertible sofa for a bed.
Whichever of these problems confronts you, be firm with the front desk. If they can assign a new room, they should. If they absolutely can't, you'll have to exercise all the diplomacy you can muster to persuade the client to accept the "ah-ha" room. You might offer to ask the front desk at your next hotel stop to assign a special room to your unhappy customer. (In a pinch, you might have to sacrifice your own room for the client.) Remember that older hotels and foreign hotels tend not to have full-sized double-double rooms; their rooms are relatively small by current U.S. standards.
Undelivered Luggage. "My luggage wasn't delivered to the room." No complaint strikes greater fear in the heart of a tour conductor than this one. If you've carefully followed the luggage-tracking procedures outlined in Chapter 3, you should be relatively certain that the baggage was offloaded from the motorcoach into the hotel. You might check with the bell captain. He or she often keeps a list of the number of pieces delivered to each room. It may be necessary to back-track to the airport, the airline, or even the tour departure point.
In all probability, however, the luggage was delivered to the wrong room in the hotel. Hopefully, the persons occupying that room will report the presence of this unexplained luggage when they return. But what if the room is unoccupied? The bellhops may have to institute a comprehensive hotel search. If the building is large, the task could be formidable.
There's a shortcut, however, that many veteran tour managers use. In almost all cases the mistake occurs because the bellhop who writes the room numbers on the luggage tag transposes numbers. Thus, you should first look at rooms with numbers that resemble the intended room number. If the actual room number is 2332, try 2323, 3232, and 3223. Also, check to see what the client's room number was at the last hotel visited. The bellhop may have failed to cross that figure out. If the bellhop left luggage in the corridor in front of the room's door, do a corridor search to see if stray luggage remains. In the meantime, you must remain confident and composed, if only to reassure a client depressed by the thought of wearing the same clothes for days.
Wrong Kind of Room. "We were supposed to have connecting rooms." Couples or families traveling together often wish to have rooms next to each other. When two rooms are next to each other, they're called adjoining rooms. When a door connects them, they are called connecting rooms.
Unfortunately, for logistical reasons, hotels can't always arrange for connecting rooms. They can, however, ensure that the rooms are relatively close to each other. If they've forgotten to do so, ask them to reassign the rooms.
At least half the time, absolutely no complaints or problems at all will filter down during your lobby duty. In that case, use your thirty minutes in the lobby to catch up on all the little things that need to be done. Set up the next day's wake-up call, through either the front desk or the hotel operator. (As a precaution, you should bring your own travel alarm clock in case the hotel operator forgets to call you.) Remind the bell captain of your luggage pickup and departure times. Contact each attraction you'll be visiting and each restaurant where you'll be eating to remind them of the time your group will arrive. If a welcome or farewell reception is planned, check the arrangements. Post a daily itinerary, with precise times, on the tour bulletin board. Reconfirm your group's departure flight. If there's time and they're not too busy, chat with the front-desk and bell staff. They're important allies who will appreciate a friendly, sociable tour manager.
The Hotel Stay
Once lobby duty is over, a tour director's dealings with the hotel are minimal until checkout. You yourself will certainly want to freshen up. If you and your company are on good terms with the hotel, you might even find yourself assigned to a suite (which may serve double duty as the host area for any planned group receptions).
After relaxing, reconfirm everything that you didn't have time for during lobby duty. Make sure throughout the stay to arrive a little early in the lobby, outside for departures, or at in-house restaurants. The example you set will be important to the group. If you have to leave the hotel for an extended amount of time and leave your clients on their own, let the front desk know where you will be. While on the road, a tour director may have time off but is never really free from responsibility.
Checking out is perhaps more frantic than checking in, since a departure deadline is involved. Meticulous time management is a must.
The day before departure, the tour conductor should carefully go over departure-morning procedures with tour members. Review with them what time the group wake-up call will take place (do not trust clients to use in-room alarm clocks); at what hour luggage must be ready for pickup; how breakfast will be handled; where and when the motorcoach will pick them up; and what documents (such as passports) will be needed. Also remind them to pay all incidentals that night; in the morning the cashier will be too frantic to take care of such things efficiently. (Incidentals are the small extra charges, such as those for telephone calls and movies, that are added to a client's bill.)
That evening before retiring, the tour manager should reconfirm everything necessary with the bell staff, front desk, and hotel operator. At this time, it might be wise to remember that hotel personnel generally work, with some overlap, on a 7-A.M.-to-3 P.M., 3 P.M.-to-11 P.M., 11 P.M.-to-7 A.M. schedule. It's best to discuss the next morning's details with those individuals who will handle your departure. Set up a separate, earlier wake-up call for yourself and finish packing.
The next morning, have breakfast a few minutes before the group, if possible. During breakfast, check out the dining area. Are any clients noticeably absent? You may have to call their rooms. Then you must go to the lobby to carry out several critical tasks.
Examine the Group's Financial Record
Examination of the group's financial record is essential. Hotels use two systems to track tour expenditures. The first puts all expenses on one bill. The second has one folio for group charges (room, tax, and group functions) and another for incidentals incurred by individuals on the tour, including the escort. In either case, the tour conductor must review the charges carefully. Uncontested billings will travel on to the home office, where they'll become a nightmare to unravel.
Was the tour billed for the proper number of rooms? Sometimes accounting uses the original rooming list as a working document; last-minute additions or deletions are not reflected in the room count. If part of the company-hotel deal was to have free rooms for the tour manager and the driver, was this arrangement honored by accounting, or did they mistakenly bill the company for those rooms? Your copy of company-hotel correspondence should indicate all agreements. Are all dining charges accurate? Again, food and beverage services may have been working from an obsolete rooming list; if dining prices were fixed, there could be an error. Have all incidentals been paid? If not, talk to the clients in question as soon as possible. Are there some peculiar incidentals outstanding? Erroneous phone, bar, and movie charges are common.
Any billing questions should be discussed with the front-desk manager, who is usually quite amenable to clearing up the matter quickly. If not, alert the home office; you can't stand around arguing when your motorcoach is leaving. Do set aside about a half-hour for the cashier checkout procedure. Some tour companies prefer that the tour manager not examine the master billing, since they want the hotel-tour operator agreement to remain confidential. In this case, incidental billings are all the tour conductor sees.
Luggage pickup should be scheduled for about forty-five minutes to an hour before departure. Two bellhops will usually handle the job. They can deal with the baggage of a single group in about twenty to thirty minutes. The bell captain or concierge will oversee the job. The bell captain may even handle the pickup: a group departure is generally a quick, lucrative enterprise for bellhops.
Bellhops almost always insist that tour guests place their luggage in the corridor outside their room doors. It's more efficient for the bell staff (no need to use passkeys) and also protects bellhops against accusations that they've stolen things from unoccupied rooms. On the other hand, tour managers and group members may feel uneasy about this procedure. A thief could simply walk down a hotel corridor at 7 A.M., grab unattended luggage, and walk right out the front door with it. A real danger exists here, and it's usually completely impractical for a tour director, busy with so many other departure activities, to watch over several corridors. A tour manager should try to talk bell captains into an in-room, luggage-by-the-door system. They may reluctantly agree, though pushing too hard could be counterproductive. One minor consolation: the incidence of thieves carrying off group luggage from hotel corridors is quite low.
As soon as the bell staff has delivered the luggage to the motorcoach, the bell captain informs the tour director of the number of pieces picked up. He or she will generally assume that if the count matches that of the first day, if forty-five pieces came in and forty-five are going out, then all is well. Yet, an efficient tour manager knows this is not enough. As outlined in Chapter 3, you must cross-check names, rooms, and baggage. One person may have added a piece and another forgotten to put his or her own out, rendering the total count meaningless. Once you're sure that all baggage is accounted for, the individual pieces can be loaded onto the coach.
On the Motorcoach
About fifteen minutes before departure, you may open the motorcoach for passenger seating. About five minutes before leaving, check to see if anyone is missing. If so, look around in the lobby or coffee shop. If the clients aren't there, call their room immediately. If there's no answer, don't panic; they're probably on their way down.
When everyone arrives, do a last-minute check over the microphone. Have your clients dropped off their hotel keys? Has anything been forgotten in the hotel safe or security boxes? If needed, do they have their passports with them? Assure them that their luggage has been carefully checked onto the motorcoach. You can be pleased that one more chapter of your tour conductor career has been handled gracefully and well. (Figure 5-2 is a checklist of items to remember at each stage of your hotel stay.)
Lodging is a critical component of any tour. The ideal tour hotel is well managed and staffed, values group business, is strategically located, is new or well maintained, has interesting features, and is sizable. When negotiating with the hotel, several tactics may be used to create the best possible deal. Tour directors must carefully plot out their responsibilities at each stage of the hotel experience: pre-arrival, arrival, the stay itself, and departure.
Figure 5-2 Sample escort's hotel reminder list ESCORT'S HOTEL REMINDER LIST Before arriving, have you:  Checked to see whether any clients made special lodging requests?  Called to tell the hotel that you're on the way and ask necessary questions?  Briefed tour members on the hotel?  Discussed tipping at the hotel?  Discussed where to exchange money and buy stamps?  Explained that calls made from a hotel room are expensive?  Warned clients to place valuables in a safe?  Discussed in-room mini-bars and pay-per-view TV?  Mentioned any miscellaneous cultural details?  Sketched out immediate schedule plans? Upon arrival, have you:  Checked the room list for the accuracy of clients' names and special requests?  Pointed out the hotel bulletin board?  Explained that you'll be in the lobby for a half hour?  Announced your room number?  Set up tomorrow's wake-up call?  Arranged your luggage pickup and departure times with the bell captain?  Reconfirmed reservations at restaurants to be used in the next 24 hours?  Cross-checked welcome or farewell reception reservations?  Posted a daily itinerary on the bulletin board?  Reconfirmed your group's departure flight? Each day, have you:  Setup tomorrow's wake-up call?  Reconfirmed reservations at restaurants and attractions to be visited in the next 24 hours?  Left word at the front desk as to where you'll be, in case of emergencies? On the day before check-out, have you:  Reminded clients to pay all incidentals before leaving?  Told clients to carry their passports with them the next day?  Reviewed departure times and procedures with your clients?  Set up your own wake-up call and that of the group?  Reconfirmed luggage pickup times with the bell captain?  Reconfirmed breakfast arrangements at the hotel? On the departure day, have you:  Checked whether any clients are noticeably absent from breakfast?  Examined carefully the group financial record?  Cross-checked to make sure luggage is being picked up as arranged?  Checked off luggage carefully?  Opened the motorcoach for seating?  Asked clients on the coach if they've handed in their keys?  Asked clients whether they've forgotten any valuables in the hotel safe?  Asked clients if they have their passports with them?
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Why do tour members place such importance on their hotel? Why is a hotel important to the tour operator? Why is tour business important to a hotel?
2. Describe the six characteristics that mark a successful tour hotel.
3. Discuss at least ten steps to maximize negotiations with a hotel.
4. What tips should be given to a group just before arrival at a hotel?
5. What are three general ways to handle a group at hotel check-in?
6. Identify seven typical problems that may confront a tour manager during his or her arrival lobby duty. How can each be solved?
7. What cross-checks and short activities should be carried out during lobby duty or shortly afterwards?
8. What checkout items should be discussed with a group the day before departure? What checkout procedures should the tour conductor carry out the evening before leaving?
9. List four mistakes to watch for on a hotel group financial record.
10. Describe each step of luggage pickup and how pitfalls may be avoided.
11. What safeguards must be taken and reminders issued just before the group departs from the hotel?
Marc Mancini, Ph.D.
Department of Travel
West Los Angeles College
ACTIVITY 1 Study the following rooming list and then fill in the information requested below. ACME TOURS: Eight-Day Florida Circle Tour (Series #1000) ESCORT: Ed Norton DRIVER: Ralph Kramden DATE IN: 3/5 DATE OUT: 3/9 # NTS: 4 Room No. Tag No. Name Special Instructions 1001 Mr. Ernest Rollo VIP clients 1002 Mrs. Anna Rollo 1003 German Ruiz room close to 1005, 6 1004 Leah Ruiz 1005 Mark Aston room close to 1003, 4 1006 Nancy Aston 1007 Nancy Herr 1008 Judi Salmond 1009 Mary Kaun 1010 Thomas Brazie 1011 Jeannie Brazie 1012 Ramon lacovelli request firm bed 1013 Carol lacovelli 1014 Thomas Girvin 1015 Trace Gelgood 1016 Monica McLaughlin 1017 Geri Harding request low floor 1018 Chris Harding 1019 Cathy Harding 1020 L. Minkoff request smoking room 1021 V. Minkoff 1022 Gerald St. Amand room close to 1024, 5 1023 Frances St. Amand 1024 Roland Masse room close to 1022, 3 1025 Mrs. Roland Masse 1026 Robyn Keith 1027 Mr. Gordon Hayford 1028 Mrs. Gordon Hayford 1029 Larry Olson 1030 Adrienne Olson 1031 Robert Perry 1032 Frank Serafine 1033 Sharon Sterling 1034 Robyn Sterling 1035 Mr. Jeff Wootan 1036 Mrs. Michele Wootan 1037 Michael Kelly 1038 Jan Wetrick Kelly 1. Number of singles: -- 2. Number of doubles: -- 3. Number of triples: -- 4. Rooms close together -- 5. Special requests: -- ACTIVITY 2 You are checking out from a hotel. Your group, which required twenty-one rooms (tour manager and driver were comp), stayed for four nights. Examine the bill below. THE GRAND HOTEL 35 Picturesque Lane East Overshoe, Florida Date Reference Description Amount 3/5 00912 Room serv--Keith 18.75 3/5 00678 Luggage handling 90.00 3/5 00715 Tel--Kaun 8.50 3/5 00850 Room bar--Girvin .75 3/5 00264 Reception meal 978.00 3/5 00265 Reception A/V charges 165.00 3/5 00654 Tel--Hayford 14.85 3/5 00915 Rollaway cot--Harding 16.00 3/6 00913 Room serv--Ladner 10.50 3/6 00944 Tennis courts--Olson 20.00 3/6 00962 Group breakfast 684.00 3/7 00963 Group breakfast 684.00 3/7 00974 Health club--Bonomo 10.00 3/7 00971 Movie--Minkoff 8.00 3/8 01100 Group breakfast 684.00 3/8 00990 Tel--Wootan 2.00 3/8 01423 Group dinner 1,525.00 3/8 01260 Mini-bar--Masse 4.00 3/9 01120 Rooms 16 D; 3 S; 17,250.00 4 T x 5 nights + tax TOTAL: 1. Circle the room charges (billing for singles, doubles, and triples) with a red pen. If they are correct, place a checkmark next to them. If not, correct the mistakes in red. (Consult the rooming list from Activity 1.) 2. Circle all group dining charges in green. 3. Circle the luggage charges in blue. 4. Draw a blue rectangle around all client incidentals. 5. Indicate any omissions or mistakes at the bottom. (Again, consult the Activity 1 rooming list.)
Using the form below, evaluate a local hotel that would be appropriate for tours. You should do your evaluation, preferably, as part of a class "field trip" group. If this isn't feasible, you might be able to inspect public areas of a hotel on your own and address at least a few of the items below. Do not go into guestrooms on your own.
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|Publication:||Conducting Tours, A Practical Guide, 3rd ed.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
|Previous Article:||Chapter 4 Client and escort psychology.|
|Next Article:||Chapter 6 Air travel and tours.|