Do’s and don’ts for hotel site inspections
Monday, August 18, 2014
Personal hotel site inspections are quite valuable in learning about a hotel's attributes and limitations and what kinds of clients would fit perfectly in those properties.
Over the years I've performed hotel site inspections as part of a formal FAM group and also independently. There are benefits to each, but there are common denominators to the kinds of questions that need to be asked (or shouldn't be asked), the courtesies that should be mutually extended, and the physical properties that should be explored.
Let me start with the "don't" tips:
1. Do not waste your time or the hotelier's time doing a site inspection on a property or in a destination you have no intention of selling, in the hopes of merely getting a free night for yourself. Not only wasteful, it's abusive.
2. If you make an appointment for a private site inspection, don't be late or unprofessional.
3. If you stop in unannounced, and the sales execs drop what they're doing to show you around for an hour, don't be inattentive or dawdle. Appreciate the sacrifice they're making by dedicating an hour to you. I once witnessed a veteran travel agent ask for a spontaneous site inspection and then repaid this generosity by engaging in lengthy side conversations with guests while keeping his host waiting. Bad manners.
4. Don't waste precious time by asking questions that can be easily found on a hotel's fact sheet: how many rooms, how many suites, etc. I highly doubt anyone would remember that XYZ hotel has 391 rooms and 42 junior suites and 13 1BR suites. And does it matter? Does it tell you anything that you couldn't learn another way?
5. Don't be so focused on checking off physical attributes on a generic spreadsheet that you lose sight of the big picture: What kind of experience does this hotel offer and which of your clients would appreciate it?
6. Don't shoot photos in public spaces without the hotelier's express authorization. Some hotels zealously protect their guests' privacy and will not jeopardize dalliances (romantic, political or financial) by inadvertently publicizing who was with whom.
7. Don't start your hotel tour by asking about special TA rates. Really crass. Nothing like asking for a favor before you've earned it. For that matter, don't end your hotel tour asking about TA rates either.
And here are the "do" tips:
1. Be prepared with a clear agenda of what physical amenities are most important for you to view: lobbies, restaurants, pools, spas, children's play zones, particular room categories? If possible, I like to see three room categories: lead-in, the most popular, and an ultraluxurious to give me a feel for the ambience, sense of space, in-room amenities, whether décor is modern/chic/Old World or nondescript.
2. Walk around the hotel to get a feel for the demographics it serves: older couples, families with young children, young honeymooners, partying singles? Granted that whatever guests you see on that particular day might not be representative of the usual clientele, ask the hotelier to confirm that what you see is their usual guest.
3. Ask the hotelier what kinds of guests they actively solicit and why. What types of travelers are most satisfied with their hotel experiences? What unique services does the hotel provide that resonates with the desired clientele?
4. If your usual clients are families with young children, then you would be interested in maximum room occupancies, availability of connecting rooms, whether connecting rooms could be guaranteed, and if so, complimentary or at a cost? Is there a kids' camp or teen zone — what ages, what prices, what kinds of fun activities does the hotel provide, what training does their staff undergo, and what kind of security is offered. Can the hotel provide cribs, playsets or car seats?
5. If your usual clientele are honeymooners interested in intimacy and romance, then your questions should focus on their key needs. If the pools are abuzz with noise and splashing when you're on-site, is there an adults-only sanctuary for your honeymooners? Where would be the quietest wing for them to be accommodated? What special amenities are offered to honeymooners: dinners on the beach, couples massage, private in-room dining, butler-drawn bath with strewn rose petals?
6. What local sites and activities are available to this hotel's guests outside the hotel grounds? Do tours need to be booked, or is it safe for clients to rent a car and drive in unfamiliar territory? What is the array of activities available on-site for its guests? How often are these offered, and how often do they change? Do they need to be prebooked, and are they complimentary?
7. Visit the various restaurants on-site and note their differences in cuisine/gourmet experiences and price points.
8. How many lounges/bars are on-site? You can infer a lot from this question: If there are 13 bars and two restaurants, you can assume that its guests are more inclined to drink than eat. So, if your clients are foodies and interested in gourmet dining experiences, doubtful that this would be the best fit for them. Likewise, if there are 10 restaurants and no bars, probably not the place for partiers.
9. Ask your site inspection host what is the best way to communicate your clients' needs to management and reservations.
10. While you're touring the hotel, be thinking about your current client list and who among them would appreciate this property and how you would present this new hotel and destination to them? Let your site host know about the clients you think would be best served by their property, what their special hot buttons are and how the hotel could satisfy them.
11. The whole point of a personal site inspection is to confirm your initial impressions from ad collateral and to decide whether this hotel should be added to your inventory of hotels your clients might want.
When you're all done, thank your hotel sales exec for taking the time to showcase the property. Reiterate the kinds of clients you propose sending to them, and then follow up when you're back in the office with a written note reconfirming your thanks and future business.
On the rare occasion when a personal visit contradicts everything I'd read or heard about the property, and I know it's not a property that would appeal to my clients, I curtail the visit as soon as I can. I offer a polite explanation that while the property is nice, it doesn't fit my current clientele.
I see no sense in prolonging a visit — and wasting everyone's time — when it's clearly an ill fit. But no deprecating remarks, please. There may come a time when this property would serve your future clients well, and you don't want to burn any bridges to future partnerships.
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