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Meeting the Hotel Challenge in the New Year
By Alan Campbell
You will face many challenges in the hotel/hospitality industry that will test the strength and the mettle of your character. You will be called on to do extraordinary things under trying circumstances with little to no additional resources with which to do them. You will be challenged. You will challenge. You will win. You may fail. You will be on call 24/7. Your boss, your peers, and all those that work with and for you will expect YOU to know ALL the correct answers to any given course of action to take concerning the property you manage. You will listen. You will advise. You will demand. You will cajole. You will threaten. You will twist arms. You will get angry. You may cry. You will hire. You will fire. You will be hated. You may hate. You will get frustrated. You will have joy. You will have sorrow. You will be the all-knowing, all-seeing guru to many. You will be a complete idiot and ass to others. You will be a charming host. You will mingle with all, no matter their station in life. You will comfort. You will disappoint. You will make a profit. You may get fired. You will be responsible for the well being of perhaps hundreds of employees that depend on your actions for their livelihood, wile at the same time your actions and decisions--all of them--will be under microscopic scrutiny by YOUR boss-the owner. You will, if you love the profession, have one of the most wonderful roller-coaster rides of your life. Sound exciting? Are you up to the challenge of what exceptional hotel general managers may be called on to do day in and day out?
The above listing can be applied to almost any industry or profession, but it is especially typical of service industries, with the hotel/hospitality industry being one of the largest in size and number of personnel, and perhaps the most visible one, as well. It is not a profession for the faint of heart, the main office desk general, the business theorist, the profiteer, the calculator, the banker, or the insecure. Bluntly speaking, to be a successful hotelier, you have to have guts, chutzpah, gall, panache, along with all the character accouterments that go with those expressions. You have to wear and show your sincerity at all times. You must have the Patience of a Job, the Fortitude of a Paul, and the Humility of a St. Francis. Perhaps Eliseo, a fictional character in la vita è Bella, a 1997 Italian film, said it best:
You're here serving, you're not a servant. Serving is the supreme art. God is the first of servants. God serves men, but he's not a servant to men.
Hospitality, true hospitality, if you are not aware of it yet, carries with it the force of religious zeal. You must believe in the worthiness of your profession and in yourself and your abilities with all your heart and soul, and today, right now, in this moment, you have the opportunity to learn lessons of a lifetime NOW-if you know what to look for! Lessons that will benefit you. Lessons that, if you heed them, may well help make you the next Mister Hotel.
Are you up to the challenge?
If you are one of the more fortunate of the invaluable middle management individuals still employed within the hotel/hospitality business as I write, then this advice is for you primarily. And, if you happen to be a struggling general manager weighed down by seemingly impossible demands from above and ever mounting concerns from below, then it's time to straighten your spine and perform the Admiral David Farragut Maneuver: "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead." Or the Admiral "Bull" Halsey equivalent: "The Third Fleet's sunken and damaged ships have been salvaged and are retiring at high speed toward the enemy." The enemy, in this case, being apathy, inaction, low morale, lack of vision, dispiritedness; in other words, guts to do what is necessary to stay not only afloat, but to navigate successfully through dangerous shoals and channels to the port of success; the guts to rise above yourself.
Will you take the challenge?
Lionel, a fictional character in Maid in Manhattan, a 2002 film, perhaps stated what the essence of service is all about after quitting his job as head valet for a prestigious Manhattan hotel because of how Miss Ventura, his trainee, a maid, was treated and fired:
To serve people takes dignity and intelligence. But remember, they are only people with money. And although we serve them, we are not their servants. What we do, Miss Ventura, does not define who we are. What defines us is how well we rise after falling.
But I digress-you middle managers, and others coming up the hospitality ladder, have the unique, perhaps enviable, position within the hospitality hierarchy to learn firsthand from all those above you what specific actions they are doing to either succeed or fail. The hotel/hospitality industry, worldwide, is going through some unusually long-term trying times, with no near future imminent cure in sight. For you that survive downsizing, layoffs, bankruptcy, and closures, this is your opportunity to learn what works, what doesn't, as well as your time to voice and push forth your own well thought-out ideas.
However, in order to accomplish any of this, you have to know what you are talking about; you have to have ALL your ducks in a row and accounted for. In order to be believable, you have to have done your homework, the kind of homework-research-that would put to shame a PhD's. dissertation. More importantly, though, you have to hone your people skills to a fine pitch. Theory and knowledge alone-without the human touch, the people skills, the hospitality skills, if you will-is useless. If I may be permitted to coin a phrase, what you need is Hospitality Holism.
So, if you read, learned, and heeded the reasons, whys, and wherefores for what is happening in the hotel/hospitality industry, and you now not only believe but know how to survive these times unscathed if only you were the general manager. You are full of hot air. You are delusional and should immediately consider going into a different line of business as far away from the service industry as possible. You will not succeed with that mentality. Book learning and theory, along with the basic people skills you learned growing up and exercise currently at your job are but basic stepping stones to what is really needed to succeed. Hospitality Holism, if you will, is the essence of Don Quixote's "Impossible Dream" in Man of La Mancha, when he sings he's "willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause," or the essence of "You've Got to Have Heart" from Damn Yankees. You don't learn things like that from a book, you learn it through walking daily through the fires of hell with your head held high expecting full well that at the other end is your success, your life; a life molded, formed, and burnished by the crucible of experience.
Again, I ask, are you up to the challenge?
For the sake of argument, let's say you've walked the walk and talked the talk, and you've won. You are at the top. You are King of the Mountain. Congratulations. You have made it to Mister Hotel! Now, of course, most of your time is going to be spent in maintaining that kingship. After all, there are many other want to be kings that want your position, your crown, and even though you may share your kingdom, you don't want to give up your kingship-that would be a no-no.
Your ideas got you to the top, but in order to stay at the top, you need a stream of original ideas or modifications of older ideas to stay at the top, and that requires constant hard work. The kind of hard work that many who are now or have achieved that top can no longer maintain it because they did the unforgivable; they sat or are sitting on their laurels. Laurels that, sooner than you think, will wither and die. Unfortunately, too many in the industry, at all levels, think and act this way. They have given in to creeping complacency. And complacency is the most insidious killer of all, no matter the industry, organization, or society-it killed every empire that ever existed, and then some.
Just look at what has gone on before in our immediate past and ask yourself while you are at it if the powers that be learned from it: all the government induced recessions (my opinion), the oil/gas debacle of the 1970s and, of course, and the recession (depression-my opinion) we are currently in. Were any of us prepared for it? Not many, I would venture. How are we coping with it? Some better than others, I am sure. What this all boils down to, is that history repeats itself, and if you don't want to end up on history's dung heap, then you best have a rose garden full of ideas, thorns and all, to keep yourself permeated with the smell of success.
The challenge is yours.
Remember, and never forget, that you will be responsible for the properties that you will manage, either for yourself or for others. You must keep up with and be aware of all of the economic trends and hospitality industry indicators around you. Use those indicators, not as your sole guide, but as a basic guide to keep you on the correct path. To quote Shakespeare, "What's past is prologue" (The Tempest)-in other words, pay attention to what you have learned from the past, for it is the setting for your present, and the harbinger of your future-learn from it! In today's technical world you have access to information I never had. My technical formative hotel/hospitality experience was computer less: Reservation Racks was then the only game in town as the guest management system, and all other operations were done manually-handwritten or on a manual typewriter. Can you even cite a time when you saw any salesperson total up your bill or someone else's bill and calculate the tax, all by hand? Do you feel confident enough in your calculating abilities right now to do the same?
Today, of course, you have at your disposal a myriad of computer programs to help you in the decision-making process of running a hotel: STAR Reports, RateTiger, TravelCLICK, IDeaS, etc., as well as a host of others, all promising you the moon and competing for your dollars. But no matter what program(s) you use, I implore you to know them inside and out, know what they can do for you, know what they cannot do for you, know their limitations, and never ever rely on them totally. No program or machine can, as yet, take the place of a human being. The problem for many, especially in today's technology infested world, is that they rely so much on that technology that they no longer know how to use or feel "gut feeling technology", which, as many of you know, is accurate more times than not.
I have been in this "people business" for over 40 years and the truth be known, I would not trade a moment of it for anything else. It has been and continues to be a fascinating experience with rewards equal to but a few other professions. It is a feel good industry, in which both the giver and the receiver feel like winners. In some, maybe many, aspects, you are a purveyor of dreams. Spin them wisely, and you too may well be the next Mister Hotel.
You are most welcome to the challenge.
The hotel Guy
About the Author
Alan Campbell has been in Las Vegas for over 30 years and has worked for the major strip hotels. He has spent some time in California, Los Angeles where he worked for the Radisson and Sheraton hotels. Alan considers the hospitality industry the best job in the world - it is the only place that both king's and Paupers will visit you.
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