By Gavin Landry
No matter whether I am working with client hotels or simply part of the traveling public, some hotels across the country have forgotten the fine art and science of yielding at the front desk. Appropriately, hotels are attuned to channel and revenue management, actively setting hurdle points and rate fences to manage demand on a daily basis. In my view, there are thousands of dollars being lost at the point-of-sale by Front Desk personnel who have not been properly trained to handle the walk-in and/or rate sensitive customer in person. No matter how good the PMS system is displaying rates to assist with yield management, many of the skills are dependent on effective "wetware", aka people, not hardware nor software.
Yielding Defined: Perhaps the best way for me to define yielding is by way of example. Recently, I was retained by a client to do an overall operation analysis and implement programs that would improve profits, reduce costs and improve guest satisfaction scores. As part of our agreement, I made him promise to allow me to arrive as a guest on property unannounced as a walk-in. The property staff was not to know who I was until after I had been able to shop the hotel both from afar and in person.
I drove to the hotel and walked up to the unsuspecting desk clerk without a reservation. Here is the exchange verbatim:
Me: "Got any rooms for tonight?"
Him: "Sure do. The rate is $97.90 plus tax per night."
Me: "That's too high." Thanks a lot. I start to walk away. "Can you give me directions to the XYZ hotel?"
Him: "Sure. Go out of the hotel and take a quick left and they are on the right-hand side."
Me: I walk to the outside entry doors and just as I am about to step out he says...
Him: "You don't want to go there. Their rooms aren't very nice. How about I give you the AAA rate?"
Me: Still standing in the doorway, "How much is that?"
Him: "$91.90 plus tax."
Me: I walk back in and go to the desk. "I saw you online for less. If you can do $85.00 I will stay here tonight."
Him: "It is only for one night, so sure."
There are lots of things wrong with this interaction including the fact that the clerk had no nametag, but we will get to that later. What's important is the amount of money the hotel lost in this exchange unnecessarily.
Here is the Wiki definition:
Yield management is the process of understanding, anticipating and influencing consumer behavior in order to maximize yield or profits from a fixed, perishable resource. As a specific, inventory-focused branch of revenue management, yield management involves strategic control of inventory to sell it to the right customer at the right time for the right price.
Yielding is one of the old-school methods taught to me in the early 1990's by seasoned hoteliers back in the day before the Internet and modern notions of software and system-driven revenue management existed. But it seems that some of the new methods have gotten so advanced that the basic interaction from GSR to Guest has been less-trained and trivialized.
Let's talk about what should have happened:
100% Capture: First, let me start by saying that at no point should any walk-in be allowed to leave the property without giving it every effort that we discuss below and if necessary dropping to a daily, Lowest Available Rate (LAR) that is determined on a daily basis by management. One-hundred percent capture of walk-ins is always the goal because at the end of the day a hotel's fixed costs will occur whether a guest stays there or not; the inventory is perishable; and the turn-cost or what is known as Variable Cost per Occupied Room (costs that occur as a direct result of a guest staying in the guest room, e.g. housekeeping labor to clean the room, wash the linens and terry, replace bathroom amenities etc.) runs anywhere from $15 per occupied room to $55-60 per occupied room if you are in a major metro like NYC. Most hotels turn cost is less than $40 per occupied room, so any dollar achieved in rate above that is helping pay fixed costs and helping to achieve profit.
What should he have done?
Build Rapport: Tony Hsieh, President of the world-famous service-oriented Zappos, spoke at a conference I attended and was asked what he likes or dislike about hotels. He said that he dislikes hotels where the Front Desk tries to "process him" as fast as possible. He discussed an encounter with a clerk who made him feel special and like an individual as one of his best hotel experiences. Not all situations allow it, but there is an old adage that says, "Every word you get the guest to say before quoting the rate is like pouring sand on his/her shoes".
The Art and Science of Yielding (cont.)
One "trick" you can use is to pull up the room inventory on the computer, tell the guest you are checking availability and ask "What brings you to town?"
Probe and Start High: Now that you have built rapport, start asking the guest important questions to qualify his/her business:
Are you with any special groups or conventions?
Are you an employee of one of our corporate preferred accounts?
How long are you staying?
Are you a member of BRAND X frequent traveler program?
Have you ever stayed with us at our hotel before?
Your GSR can now respond appropriately with a rate depending on the answers to those questions. If the guest is staying for 30 nights, will that influence the GSR's response and redouble his effort to capture the walk-in guest? It better! If the answer to all the questions is essentially no, have the GSR quote by room type a value-added room that is available like this:
"I am pleased to tell you we do have a room available tonight. I have a room that features a Jacuzzi tub and a full-size stand-up shower, king size bed, etc. Bear in mind that our hotel offers Complimentary WIFI, Complimentary Breakfast, Free Parking and features a terrific Fitness Center and Indoor Pool...again all at no additional charge. The rate for that room is $119 plus tax. Would you like me to reserve that for you now?"
If the guest resists, have the GSR drop down to the next room type and quote rack rate, say, "I do have a King Spacious Room available tonight for $109. That room comes with all of the same amenities as the one I just quoted but does not have a Jacuzzi. Would you like me to reserve that room for you?"
If the guest resists the rate, rinse and repeat with the next best room type rack rate. In this case perhaps you take away the King bed and drop into a two-bedded Queen. By taking away value adds from each room, like falling from one tree branch to another, the guest understands the value that was associated with drop. It is also easier for your GSR. Most GSR's upon resistance will go to a hip pocket discount, AAA, to make it easy. Give them something else. In this scenario, the guest might actually not want a non-king room and may yield to a rate to earn that room type.
The Art and Science of Yielding (cont.)
Worst Case: So your GSR has done their best, but this guest is one tough cookie. So let's make the best of it. Ask again if the guest has ever stayed at the hotel. The expected "No" response comes back and your GSR can say, "We would like you to be our guest. We think once you stay here and experience our staff and our fine hotel you will return. For this evening, I am able to offer you a rate that only our highest-volume accounts get, LAR."
In this case, let's say LAR is $89. This hotel would pick-up $4 per roomnight from this guest but there is a really good chance the guest will accept one of the rates in the process before the threat of walking out evokes our LAR.
Even the best hotels may be losing money at the point-of-sale. Does your hotel have walk-in traffic and are your capturing 100% of it? Do you have an LAR system in place for the moments when it is needed? Is your hotel "processing" guests at check-in as opposed to taking an interest in them and upselling the property in so-doing? Even $1 more in ADR-achievement can yield fabulous "found" revenue for your property. Good luck and happy yielding.
Gavin Landry is a 25-year veteran of the industry. He is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration and Principal of Landry Hospitality Consulting Services, L.L.C. (www.landryhospitality.com); a full-service hospitality consulting practice specializing in hotel development and existing hotel cost and revenue improvement programs. He is an Adjunct Professor at NYU's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management teaching graduate level courses on Tourism Policy Analysis, Tourism Planning and Tourism Principles and Planning.
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Hotel Operations Insight: The Lost Art And Science Of Front Desk Yielding ehotelier news February 08, 2012
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