How to effectively walk guests
30 JUNE 2014 6:44 AM
Winning the loyalty of a walked guest is possible with a balance of communication, compassion, empathy and professionalism.
I am sure each of us at one time has found ourselves in the awkward situation of walking a guest. In our industry, guests are usually only walked (moved to alternate accommodations because no rooms are available) because of two scenarios. First, when an event reduces your room inventory unexpectedly on a sold-out night, leaving you overbooked. Second, when strategically overselling your hotel backfires and more guests show up than you have rooms for.
In either case, there is a proper way to handle the situation to reduce customer complaints.
First, you need to identify the guests you will walk. When choosing who to walk, take into consideration a few factors:
- Are the guests members of your brand’s loyalty program? (Try to avoid walking these guests whenever possible.)
- How many nights are they staying?
- What rate are they paying?
- What channel did they book through?
- What type of room did they book?
Begin this process as soon as you realize you will need to walk someone. The best-case scenario includes walking guests who are staying only one night. If you walk guests who have a reservation for multiple nights, try to bring them back to your hotel for as much of the remainder of their stay as possible.
Next, you will need to identify and contact the hotel you will walk the guests to. It is always best to walk guests to a property that is comparable to your own, and preferably close by. Remember, you want the guests to be happy with their accommodations, even if they aren't yours.
After arrangements have been made at another hotel, prepare an apology letter and any compensation you will offer the guests. Most brands have standards that include your hotel paying for the alternate accommodations, a free phone call, transportation reimbursement and even a certificate to come and stay again. Be sure to check with your brand for its individual requirements. Every walked guest should receive a personalized letter of apology. The letter does not need to go into details about why they were walked, just show sympathy and express your apologies.
Once the preparations are made, notify the guests prior to their arrival if at all possible. Although it can be an awkward conversation, it is better for guests to be directed to their new hotel so they can go directly there instead of coming to your hotel first.
If you are unable to contact guests before their arrival, try to be there to greet them personally when they arrive. Guests will appreciate your personal attention and will most likely have a less-negative impression. If the situation is such that you will not be able to be present, prepare your staff on the proper way of handling the situation. It is critical that they are brief, honest and empathetic. Guests need to know that you are sorry about the situation, that you want them to stay at your hotel and that you are anxious to get them back.
There will be some guests who are going to be upset and might even demand not to be walked. Remember, when dealing with a situation like this, that if you give in, you will just have to find someone else to walk, which will create additional problems and prolong the inevitable.
The final step is a critical one: You must follow up with the guests to make sure they are satisfied. If they were staying multiple nights and you were able to get them back to your hotel for the remainder of their stay, make sure you contact them or write them another note. Once again express your apologies and thank them for their patience. If the reservation was for only one night, or they do not return to your hotel for any reason, reach out to them anyway. Make sure everything went well at the alternate hotel and again express your apologies.
It is completely possible to win the loyalty of a walked guest, but it is done through a balance of communication, compassion, empathy and professionalism.
Ryan Sorensen has successfully managed several major branded and independent hotels over the last 11 years and is the author of “The INNside Story.” He is currently the president of Lodgistic Solutions, an online hospitality consulting firm on the cutting edge of service delivery and profitability. Lodgistic Solutions provides analytical and practical crisis-management services and training.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.