In the thick of winter in the U.S., hoteliers managing airport hotels offer advice on how to serve guests whose flights have been canceled because of inclement weather.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The last thing a passenger of a canceled flight wants is another hassle when trying to find overnight accommodations until the next flight is available.
Hoteliers who operate airport hotels have found ways to make the best of situations that are at best an inconvenience to their guests. They do that by making their guests’ stays as comforting and stress-free as possible.
Watch the weather
It’s an obvious step, but watching the weather is a necessity for any airport hotel.
The Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas can experience heavy storms, tornados, high winds and ice storms—all of which are inherently unpredictable, said Michelle Strong, GM of the dual-branded Courtyard by Marriott and TownePlace Suites by Marriott Dallas DFW Airport North/Grapevine.
But, she said, being prepared takes more than monitoring the local forecasts.
“You have to watch the impact around the country with an international airport such as Dallas/Fort Worth,” she said.
Communication is key
Having a strong relationship with airports and planners when the weather is nice is a good way to be among the first hotels they call when the weather turns, said Matthew Woodruff, SVP of guest and brand excellence at Hospitality Ventures Management Group. Letting them know ahead of time about availability makes a difference, he said.
“That can separate your hotel from all the other ones,” he said.
Bad weather means constant communication and following up with airlines to learn what they are doing, what they are seeing and where the canceled flights are, Strong said.
“If we know we’re anticipating weather, the entire team knows everybody’s on call,” she said.
The right staff
When inclement weather is anticipated to cancel flights, Woodruff said, the GMs have people on call who can come in or extend their shifts to help with the surge in guests.
“If you hire the right associates, then the associates will understand the needs and what guests are going through, which makes it easier,” he said.
It’s about hiring the right people, Strong said. The first challenge is finding them, she said, and then training them on how to react to typical situations involving upset guests.
The training isn’t as much about how they act, she said, but it’s about how they react. Managers can’t train people to have a great attitude, she added.
“It goes back to hiring people with the right attitude,” she said. “If you don’t hire people with a willingness to serve, tensions can get high.”
Spirit of hospitality
In this instance, guests are already having a bad experience, Woodruff said, so it’s important to anticipate what they need to try and “wow” them.
“They’re coming in already with things, they’re bringing into the hotel negative experiences,” he said. “You have to work twice as hard to try to overcome those things to provide them with what they want.”
That requires empathizing with guests, understanding what they’re going through to serve them better and improve their experience, he said.
When the hotels get the call that guests with canceled flights are coming, the staff can then prepare, he said. As the guests come into the hotel, staff can pull them aside so they don’t have to wait in line behind other guests, he said, or staff can meet them on the shuttle bus.
When guests are stranded, the hotel staff creates a social environment in the lobby, setting up tables where they can sit, said Hicham Jaddoud, GM of Hotel Indigo Atlanta Airport College Park. The staff offers snacks, water and blankets as guests wait. In stormy weather, guests who fear there may be a blackout at the hotel have the reassurance of a flashlight, provided by the staff upon request, that they can take to their rooms.
“We require managers to be in the lobby to reassure the guests and interact,” he said. “Managers make sure they are in safe hands.”
The hotel also opened up its business center and computers to guests and provided free Wi-Fi in the lobby, he said. This allowed guests to get updates on the weather, contact family and check on flights, he said.
Supplies and capacity
With surges of guests at times, hoteliers need to make sure their properties have more than enough supplies, from linens to food in the kitchen.
“We’re always prepared for two-and-a-half times of what we need to have in the hotel,” Strong said.
A family of four came in after a canceled flight with nothing on them, she said, and the staff put together a collection of personal items including toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant.
There’s only a certain capacity a hotel can take, Jaddoud said. There needs to be enough staff working to serve the guests when they all come at once, he said, but that also means ordering enough food in advance to feed both the guests and all of the employees serving the guests.
The hotel takes in as many guests as it can before it’s sold out, he said, and then it calls its sister hotels. If another is sold it, he said, it’s time to move on to the next one.
“You want the person at the front desk knowing the occupancy of the hotels, to see who has capacity and see where we can walk a guest,” he said.