How to maintain guest happiness during busy season
 
How to maintain guest happiness during busy season
08 JUNE 2017 8:39 AM

Hotels are more likely to receive lower review scores during busy season. A recent webinar offered some best practices to keep guests happy when a property is at its busiest.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—A crowded hotel during peak season is a welcome sight to owners, but operational strains when business is booming can sometimes negatively affect guests, which might lead to bad reviews for the hotel.

A number of factors can contribute to a hotel’s review scores dropping during its peak season, according to Daniel Craig, founder of Reknown, who recently hosted a ReviewPro webinar titled “How to maintain guest satisfaction during high season.”

Increased demand drives up nightly rates, he said, and guests have different “perceptions of value” during their stays.

“During high season, hotel room rates go up significantly, and so do guest expectations,” Craig said. “Yet, with facilities and staff running at full capacity, it’s not always easy for hotels to meet the expectations of every guest.”

While a hotel’s low season is more than likely occupied by business travelers, the busy season is dominated by leisure guests, which Craig described as less loyal to specific properties or brands and more price-sensitive. These guests are also much more concerned about having a good time and making their vacations memorable. That makes a hotel’s reviews from past peak seasons “extremely important,” he said.

Neil James, VP of account management at ReviewPro, said common complaints, such as poor service quality and long waits, are consistent between low and peak occupancy.

“It is apparent that the areas of concern in a property during a low season are also where the most complaints are received during the high season, but the issue here is that they are accentuated through a much higher volume of reviews,” James said.

Preparing for peak months
There are steps hotel managers can take to prepare their properties and their staffs for a busy season. For example, upgrades to the property through renovations or technology improvements should be scheduled during the slower months.

“The off-season is the time to inspect all rooms and facilities and conduct repairs, maintenance and deep cleaning,” Craig said. “It’s also time to take inventory, and ensure there are ample supplies, equipment and Wi-Fi bandwidth to keep up with the volume when things get busy.”

A property’s reviews must also be addressed during the off-season, Craig said, but it’s just as important to keep up with reviews during peak occupancy periods.

“Strive to have at least two responses to your 10 most recent reviews, because that’s really all most travelers read before booking a hotel,” he said.

Staffing is even more important during busy season, which makes training and managing employee hours a priority.

“Train managers and employees to provide personalized and efficient service and empower them to resolve problems on-property to prevent them from escalating to online complaints,” Craig said. “Cross-train employees in other departments so they can help each other out when needed. Don’t be stingy when scheduling; ensure that there are enough staff on duty to take care of guests even if that means occasionally paying overtime.

“And managers should be on the floor supporting staff when it’s busy, not hiding in the back office.”

Nicholas Gandossi, GM of the Opus Hotel in Vancouver, said his property relies on shifting staffing levels during popular events around the city and in the hotel’s neighborhood. He agreed that cross-training is equally important to being nimble during periods of high occupancy.

“For us, it’s really about knowing our patterns with our groups,” Gandossi said. “As a 96-room hotel, the events that we have on-property and the events in our neighborhood really impact our service levels. We have focused a lot on cross-training, specifically getting departments like bell staff and room service to be able to cover (for) each other.”

Tools for success
Some useful strategies for keeping guest reviews high during peak season include improving operating efficiency and services like multiple check-in and check-out options, text communications with guests and pushing the envelope on personalizing guest stays.

Gandossi said Hotel Opus has received good feedback from guests on its use of technology to predict guest arrival times and allowing for late check-out requests.

“Easing arrival times and just trying to predict through a guest doing a pre-arrival (survey), we’re able to anticipate their check-in time and pre-block their rooms,” he said. “We all know how a guest enjoys or loves having their room in advance of that guaranteed time, and this software allows us to do that.”

Using text messaging to communicate with guests for room service requests has also improved the property’s review scores, Gandossi said.

James also suggested sending short email surveys, about two or three questions in length, to guests during their stays. This way, the hotel can try to correct any complaints before guests check out, he said.

“Send them a survey after the first or second night to identify how satisfied they are with their stay at the moment, thus ensuring that you have the opportunity to turn around any dissatisfied guests and make improvements,” he said. “The key here, however, is when using in-stay surveys, you must ensure that your team and your operation is ready to deal with this feedback and respond quickly and efficiently.”

Minor details are also important to keep in mind during busy season—for example, encouraging front-desk employees to engage in conversations with guests.

“We make each one of our staff understand how they can make a difference and make it more personalized so that … even though it’s crazy busy, (guests) feel like they weren’t rushed,” Gandossi said. “We’ve all been in those situations where we’re waiting in a lineup … then you get to the person that attends to you, and you get that great service, and you kind of forget about that time you’ve been waiting and wondering, ‘How long is this going to take?’ But it’s really crucial that every staff member is on board and working together as a team in that philosophy.”

James agreed that the human element of hospitality is one of the most critical during peak occupancy.

“Always remember, the person-to-person factor is the one area that can really make or break a guest stay, and one that you have the most control over,” he said.

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