Hotel owner-operators must represent our brands collectively. That means when you have a bad experience at another hotel, speak up to address it.
As hoteliers, we know how often the carpet should be shampooed, door handles wiped down and pillows replaced. So how do we handle it when we have a bad hotel experience?
As the president of Helix Hospitality, a growing company with properties across the country, I travel a lot. I tend to stay at select-service properties like the ones that we own and manage ourselves, mostly because they’re predictable. And sometimes, I come across counter-examples of how to execute a good guest experience. After more than 10 years of spending about 50% of my time on the road, I recently had the worst hotel experience of my life.
How it started: Check-in was lackluster, with a name-tag-free guest representative whose blunt manner likely was a result of his TV watching being interrupted when I arrived. The guestroom itself had a decent layout but was in major disrepair, with the molding on the desk hanging by a thread. It was also flat-out dirty, with towels that had hair visibly embedded in them and a shower that took me back to the tub in my first college apartment. The familiar “splatters” of who knows what were prevalent throughout. When I asked for a dinner recommendation, I was told to go down the street, where I’d find “a bunch of fast food places.” I opted to buy a late-night candy bar from the gift shop before going back to my room to turn on my laptop and get some work done, only to discover the candy bar had expired. Three years earlier.
Clearly, the property failed on every aspect of guest service and experience, and as a hotelier, I couldn’t get over not only the awful condition of the property but the stale attitude and basic lack of care and attention.
Here I am, traveling for work, looking for a comfortable bed to sleep on and basic good service. What bothered me the most? The property is a brand that our company, Helix Hospitality, owns and operates as well.
I needed to make a decision about how to best handle the situation. I could freak out with my raw emotions, leverage my status as a “regular” guest or share my fellow owner/operator status and explain how poorly they were representing the brand. Another option? Slip out and leave it all behind. (Tempting, given my experience.)
Emotions aside, I chose to share that I’m a fellow owner/operator and explain how poorly the property was doing. In the morning, I spoke with the individual who claimed to be the manager (no name tag). He first questioned who I was and immediately asked if I was a rewards member, presumably to shove some points at my account to get me to go away. I explained the issues, showed him photos of the room and the expired candy (my would-be “dinner”). I gave the manager my business card and told him it would have been more painful to try to justify how bad my experience was to a “normal” guest, let alone a status member—and costly to make good on. Ultimately, I was trying to be helpful and give management a chance to fix things, considering we own and operate properties in the same brand. The manager assured me he would call and email, but not once did he apologize for my horrible guest experience. Months later, I still haven’t heard a thing.
My position is and has always been that as an industry, we should all pitch in to put our best foot forward to represent the brand. When we work collectively, we win collectively. It’s important to advocate for the industry and let a property know whenever you have a bad experience and what exactly went wrong. If you share who you are, sometimes your advice can carry more weight than the angry voice of a manager coming down directly on a team.
Shreyas “J.R.” Patel is the president and COO of Helix Hospitality, a hotel group based in Chicago with properties throughout the U.S. An alum of DePaul University, with a dual degree in finance and management, Patel founded Helix Hospitality after learning firsthand the ins and outs of running a hotel property. Over the last decade, Patel has overseen the expansion of Helix’s network of hotels and has grown the company’s investment portfolio from $10 million to over $100 million. Outside the office, Patel is committed to helping the next generation of hospitality professionals. In addition to mentoring undergraduate students, where he offers relatable, real-world advice and hands-on practical knowledge of the hospitality industry, Patel also serves as a board member for the DePaul University School of Hospitality Leadership and co-chairs the Academic Program subcommittee, further developing DePaul’s Hospitality program.
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