To say that today’s hotel GM has had to evolve is an understatement. In part, the change in the GM can be attributed to technology, but it is also due to the growing needs and expectations of travelers, and the evolving influence of hotel owners on operations.
In the past, a GM typically earned the title by going through the ranks of the hotel, primarily through food and beverage, as development in that discipline typically yields a good cost control understanding. While this track still produces some strong leaders, the truth is the core competencies of a GM have evolved. Cost control is no longer the No. 1 most critical skill for the hotel’s leading role. Today’s strongest GMs are relationship-building experts and project managers—skills that often emerge from a sales or communication background. Below I have outlined some of the many hats that GMs wear.
Guest interaction and satisfaction are more scrutinized now than ever before. Today, if a guest is unhappy with something and the GM is not able to resolve the issue to the guest’s full satisfaction, the consequences can be dire. Twenty years ago, the worst-case scenario would be that that guest doesn’t return (to which some managers would say good riddance). Today, with the power of social media and the Internet, that one guest has the potential to do significant damage to the hotel’s reputation and revenue. Good GMs will empower their people to go to great lengths to resolve a guest problem the best that they can, but sometimes it’s just not enough. A great GM stays on top of these service issues and any fallout from discontented guests by actively engaging on TripAdvisor, Yelp and other review sites. These sites create a positive channel for guests to connect with the hotel, and a good GM recognizes the importance of not only monitoring but also being a part of these conversations.
There are a number of parties involved in the operation of a hotel: owners, investors, management companies, hotel staff, vendors, unions and more. An effective GM has a solid understanding of what each of these groups contributes to the hotel and can address their always-changing wants and needs.
In particular, managing owners can be a taxing job for the GM, as each one is different and each has their own hot-button priorities. A good GM gets to know these priorities and ensures they are always being addressed, even when the owner hasn’t asked. The key to anticipating needs is strong and open communication. GMs should speak with the owner and/or management company regularly and share with them not only the good news but also the bad and the ugly news, too.
GMs also shouldn’t be afraid to push back when they feel something will have an adverse impact on the hotel. We’re all in this together, and we can’t help each other tackle obstacles or learn from mistakes if we don’t talk about them. The GM has to facilitate this conversation while keeping the hotel moving forward.
Building goodwill and partnerships in the community has become critical for successful hotels. An average consumer may think only people from out of town have reason to give business to a hotel, but experienced hoteliers know even local residents make appointments at the spa or dine in the on-site restaurant. Local residents also influence hotel buying decisions, yet brands typically don’t promote or market their hotels at the local level. This is a task left to the property management. A successful GM creates and leverages personal relationships with people in the community, promoting local goodwill generated by sponsorship of events and charities as a means to connect locals and media with the hotel. For example, all of our Prism GMs go through a monthly two-day sales blitz with their teams every month to foster community and client relationship development.
I tell my GMs that when you identify a need anywhere in the hotel that is not being met, then roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. This not only helps operational efficiencies, it sends a strong message to the entire staff that every detail matters and no job or task is too small. In the midst of a huge marathon weekend at our DoubleTree by Hilton in Memphis, Tennessee, our GM was caught on camera elbow deep in a tub of dishes in the on-site T.G.I. Friday's restaurant. This is far from a unique scenario. Our GMs often make a point of cleaning hotel rooms, answering the reception phone line and even delivering bags to a guests’ room on occasion. We’ve found that hotel team members really look to these key scenarios to see how the GM responds. It can build a lot of mutual trust and respect. Of course, if any of these tasks become a regular part of the GM’s job, there’s an efficiency problem. But if GMs have few minutes to step out of their traditional roles to demonstrate commitment, responsibility and genuine interest in the work their team members do on a daily basis, that’s something we always encourage.
Above all else, the tell-tale sign of a strong GM is his or her ability to put together, train and retain a solid team. It has become a common misperception that the GM must know every detail about every line of service on the property. True, the leader needs to have enough of an understanding of each line of business to know what’s working and what’s not, but they rely heavily on their managers to master the daily ins and outs. Therefore, it’s critical that the GM has strong leaders in place who understand the long-term business goals and big-picture strategy for the hotel.
The life of a hotel GM is one where they rarely live the same day twice. Avoiding complacency is key because the moment you aren’t pushing forward, you are falling backward. Management companies need to do their best to support these ‘A’ players and work with them to deliver the results and experiences needed to stay competitive in today’s hospitality market.
Steve Van has 33 years of hospitality experience. He is President and CEO of Prism Hotels and Resorts which he founded in 1983. Prism manages all major brands including Marriott, Hilton, Doubletree, Westin, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Radisson and Preferred Hotels and Resorts. Mr. Van was Hilton DoubleTree Developer of the Year and serves on the DoubleTree Owner’s Advisory Council. For more information, please visit www.prismhotels.com.
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