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It's Story Time: A Ploy in the Presidential Suite
By Steve Cokkinias
The Presidential Suite in a hotel is typically the most un-sold room in the building. Sure, occasionally you get a high-roller or a VIP who is willing to pay the several thousand dollars per night for it, but most nights, the Presidential Suite is either given away as an upgrade, given for free to a celebrity (in exchange for the resulting publicity) or left vacant. But having the Presidential Suite occupied by a paying guest does wonders for the average room rate of a hotel, and thus, in Kansas City in 1999, our focus was trying to sell it.
Now here is a bit of insight into hotel operations: Front Desk Agents have a reputation for ignoring information put right in front of them. No matter what notation is typed into a reservation, no matter what color-coded highlighter is used to call attention to a specific critical piece of information on a registration card, and even if you tape a note to their computer screen, the Front Desk Agents find a way to somehow overlook it. How do I know this? Because I was a Front Desk Agent once, and I also ignored everything.
On this particular afternoon, one of my Front Desk Agents, thrilled by the opportunity to sell the Presidential Suite to a wealthy guest who had walked in off the street, disregarded a very important notation in the computer. It said: "Presidential Suite Out of Order this Evening for Cocktail Reception." So naturally they ignored the message, un-blocked the room, sold it to the guest, and proudly marched into my office just after lunch-time to proudly announce their achievement. I was mortified.
"What do you mean you ‘sold' the Presidential Suite?" I asked. "That's impossible! It's blocked as an Out of Order room for a 30 person VIP cocktail reception from 5 to 7pm tonight!" Victory quickly became defeat, the Front Desk Agent was sent back to work with a lesson learned (I hoped), and we had a new problem on our hands: how to tell the guest that was paying USD$3,000 that they had to move.
We called the suite. No answer. Reports were that the guest checked in, and after unpacking, went out for the day. We checked the computers for a phone number or email for the guest. Nothing. Somehow we had to contact the guest and tell him that there was a 30-person cocktail reception that was going to be held in his suite from 5pm-7pm, and that it could not be moved as the invitations had been sent out weeks ago. But the guest was nowhere to be found. The best we could do was leave a voice message on the phone in the suite, asking him to call the Front Office Manager (me) immediately upon his return.
By 4:30pm we were all in a panic. The cocktail reception was due to start in 30 minutes. So I made an executive decision: we were going to pack up all the guest's belongings and move him out of the suite without his permission. And that's exactly what we did, carefully noting the location of all the unpacked items. As soon as the suite was clear, the Food and Beverage team rolled in the portable bars and the canapés and set the suite for the reception. We were ready by 5pm. The 30 customers arrived for their reception just after 5pm, and the event began as scheduled.
We had posted look-outs at every entrance of the hotel, whose job it was to spot the guest who was occupying the suite, so if he came back, we could stop him from going upstairs. We printed the photo of the guest from the security cameras, and everyone had a copy. If he showed up, they were to call me, so I could explain our terrible mistake and escort him to the alternative, lesser room that we had prepared. But he didn't come back.
By 6:30pm, our strategy began to shift, and take on new possibilities. What if he didn't come back until after the cocktail reception ended at 7pm? Could we clean up the Presidential Suite, move all of his items back in, and pretend it never happened? My team gathered outside the suite, all sweating and watching the clock. At 7pm, the customers from the reception began to filter out from the suite, and the event had ended. And still, our paying guest had not returned. We still had a chance to pull-off a miracle.
So as soon as the last person left the cocktail reception, which was about 7:15pm, we again sprang into action. The portable bars were whisked out, the canapés were yanked, and a team of about 20 buzzed around the suite, vacuuming, cleaning, and carefully re-setting the room back to exactly the way we found it at 4:30pm. By 7:30pm we were done, and we all ran out of the room. We did it. We had achieved the impossible and averted disaster. We could stop running.
And we would have completely gotten away with it too, if not for one detail we overlooked. You see, the guest eventually did return to his Presidential Suite later that evening, and when he entered the room, he noticed the blinking red light on his phone. He called at about 10 pm and asked to speak to me as requested on the message, but I told him it was all a miscommunication and that actually the cocktail reception was the following day, after he checks-out.
Our mistake. It was as if it never happened.
About Steve Cokkinias
Steve Cokkinias is the Founder & CEO of InnSense Leadership (www.innsense.com) which he established in 2012 after a successful 17-year career in the hospitality industry that included senior positions with Ritz-Carlton, Westin, and Sheraton in the U.S.A, Caribbean, and Asia. An inspiring and sought-after speaker and executive coach, Steve has delivered energizing programs on service, leadership, and talent management to a wide range of international companies. During his 9 years as General Manager in Kuala Lumpur, his hotel was named "Best Employer in Malaysia" 4 times consecutively by Hewitt & Associates, earning him a place on Human Capital Asia's "Hot 40 - Asia's H.R. Superstars". In 2010, Steve was named Malaysia's "General Manager of the Year" by the Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards. His new book, "InnSanity - Leadership Lessons from a Lifetime in Luxury Lodging", is due for release in early 2013. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow Steve on Twitter: @stevecokkinias.
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