Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, President

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watching a bad era end

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08 November 2007

12 Tips to Success: Guest-Contacts' Behaviour


12 Tips to Success: Guest-Contacts' Behaviour
By Hoda Nassef

In the ‘job description’ within the hotelier (or called the “hospitality industry”) the term for personnel dealing directly with the guests, from hotel General Manager to Front Office (or Front Desk) to Maitre d’, waiters, housekeepers, recreation staff and others, are named the ‘Guest-Contacts’ staff.

To enlighten you a bit, here are some actual facts that happened right after the Kuwaiti-Iraqi War, and other crises with its consequent side effects to tourism in the Middle-East, including Egypt.

Tourism is one of the major sources of Egypt’s income, therefore I address this article to the General Managers and Human Resource Directors. Here are some inappropriate conducts that I witnessed, termed as ‘bad Guest-Contacts behaviour’, during or after each war or political crisis:

“The Tartars are coming!” Believe it or not, that is what a famous hotel’s General Manager quoted on the onset of the holiday season – mainly Egyptian and Arab vacationers. The General Manager? He’s Egyptian also! To have that attitude, and to convey it to the employees, whether directly or indirectly, is not conducive to good hotel “guest contacts’ atmosphere and consequent behaviour. Beware! We may be hearing this soon, or having this negative attitude in our five-star hotels, especially during the "off season" in tourism, when the influx of tourists are mainly Egyptian or Arab vacationers.

To begin with, in the hospitality industry, the term "Guest Contacts" means the staff that are in direct contact with the hotel's guests. They play a key role in the hotel's business and its related success or failure. Guest Contacts’ behaviour starts at the top. If the hotel’s General Manager has personal biases to any set of people, whether in nationality, gender, or religion, then he should not be the General Manager of a prestigious hotel, or any hotel.

After screening and employing the GM, he/she should also be tested on a psychological basis, which will eventually reveal his/her prejudices, if any. It is advisable to have a thorough background check of the selected General Managers, and their inter-personal relationships and previous hospitality experiences. After all, the General Manager is actually the main “host” of the owner’s “home” (or hotel). He should know how to receive, serve and entertain his Guests. He should be social and friendly, courteous and caring, polite and efficient, and available to all the Guests. He should treat all Guests equally (or at least make them feel equal) whether they are staying in wings, suites, rooms or cabins. The price differences in the Wings, Suites or Rooms should remain in the luxuries and extra facilities afforded, but never in the attitude or treatment from the General Manager or the Staff, towards the Guests.

For example, once during a ‘low season’ (when there are almost no tourists or there are mainly local vacationers), the General Manager had all the extra luxuries taken out of their allotted rooms, and even some basics; the number of soap bars and towels were diminished and the plants were taken out and hidden. The General Manager thought he was economizing in room supplies by saving a few plants and bars of soap. Unfortunately, some of the Guests were actually making surveys of the rooms and room rates, in accordance to the facilities, and in comparison to the surrounding hotels. Others were simple vacationers.

One Egyptian Guest, upon departure, said that he would never return to that particular hotel, nor advise local and international groups to come. Why? Because he felt cheated out of the Room Rate. The hotel acted ‘cheaply’ --- and consequently lost potential foreign and local groups. Even to have the same “tartars” returning is better than having no one.
Furthermore, that same General Manager also had the restaurants cordoned off at three-quarters, and a small buffet, with little choice, was daily set up instead. Some outlets were even closed, so the Guests were forced to have their meals in the same place. Remember, ‘word-of-mouth’ is your most important publicity press – even from a “tartar”! If you can’t open your hotel and keep its good standard, then close it, or lose your good reputation. Even if you have only ten guests for the whole season, why not give them a suite each, and the best food and service available? You won’t be losing money in selling space. But, you can be sure that the Guests will gratefully come again, bring more people with them, and pass the word around of the hotel’s excellence. If, for example, you can sell ten guestrooms at single or double room rates, what have you got to lose by upgrading their bookings (rooms) without charging more? Let them feel special. Tell them of the special privilege you are offering them. Also, let them know that it’s an individual and once-only surprise you are offering.
The first to meet the Guests (if not the Hotel’s Driver at the Airport) are the Front Office Staff. They are the most important “first impression” Guest-Contacts Personnel. They have to be previously very well trained and well groomed. Being bilingual or trilingual is necessary, yet courteous behaviour, a friendly smile, attentiveness, good manners, and good grooming, are more important than fluency in languages. A smart Front Office Staff will make a note of any significant date or event, such as a couple being at the hotel during an anniversary, or a birthday. They could check dates from passports to see if they coincide. They should then notify the Food & Beverage Manager and Executive Housekeeper, in order to arrange for flowers, cocktails, fruit baskets, birthday cakes, or whatever policy the hotel has for VIP treatment.
Computerized greeting notes, signed by the General Manager, are nice gestures also appreciated by the Guests. And, personally signed cards are far better than empty greeting cards affixed to the fruit baskets. In addition, the Front Office staff should be well aware of VIP visitors, even if they come to your hotel ‘incognito’, and instructions to staff for VIP visitors should be learnt in advance, according to each hotel’s individual policy.
Telephone Operators! Let’s face it – the majority of us have been often frustrated or aggravated by the 'telephonist' - the telephone operators. There is such a thing as “good telephone manners”! Most “first contacts” by Guests are made via the telephone. It isn’t always easy to “sell” the hotel, and keep the potential client interested, as well as to remember your P’s and Q’s! So, a first impression often comes faceless – by phone or fax. The Telephone Operators (Back Office Staff) often have to work under pressure, and still keep a courteous ‘smile’ in their voice. They should connect the parties as soon as possible, and return to them occasionally if the lines are busy, to see if they would rather leave a message or call back later, instead of keeping them on ‘hold’ forever. The operators should be trained to take correct and accurate messages, or pass the line to the Front Office (Reception Area) to take the messages instead. Messages, once taken, should be delivered immediately (by the Bellman) to the Guests’ Rooms, or left in the proper ‘pigeon holes’ in accordance to the urgency of the messages. Several hotels now have “voice machines”, which save a lot on manpower, and stress!
Guest Contact employees should always be courteous and attentive, without being inquisitive, or just plain nosy! They should know the difference in how to be friendly, without being personal or intimate. People cherish their privacy, so the Staff should learn how to respect that, and enhance it.
Housekeeping Staff are next in line in direct contact with the Guests. The Housekeeping Staff should be trained to knock loudly, before entering any room. It’s no use knocking loudly with the Housekeeper already halfway through the door! He/she must wait to hear an answer. If there is a “do not disturb” notice behind the door, it is extremely annoying (and rude) to knock and disturb the Guest anyhow. These placards are not made for decorations or souvenirs. Good timing for house-cleaning, and speedy work, demonstrates an efficient Housekeeping Department. Being a guest myself on several occasions, I often had male Housekeepers hanging around – longer than necessary. Some Housekeepers try to ingratiate themselves into getting more tips, such as by twisting all the towels and bed covers into funny “artistic” shapes (such as into swans, flowers, etc.) to please the Guests. That's nice to a certain degree, but should be done to only one set of towels, for example, before arrivals, and done only once.
Careful selection of the Room Service Staff (F&B) is mandatory. They are the personnel in direct and private contact with the Guests. I had real flirts coming to my room, believe it or not! This often happens to single female guests, and is something I noticed if travelling alone, or booking a Room or Suite– alone. Most “oriental” males cannot understand that a woman travelling alone does not mean that she is looking for company! Otherwise, she wouldn’t be travelling alone. F&B Room Service Staff should be better trained on protocol. Single women do not cross Oceans, Seas, the Suez Canal, or even just the Nile River, and spend thousands of Egyptian Pounds (or Dollars) in order to have flings or affairs with young strangers, who are self-proclaimed studs and think they are God’s gift to women! Upon entering her room, whether she’s clothed from head to foot, wearing a nun’s habit, wearing a bikini, or standing on her head stark naked, should be of no concern to the Room Service Staff. Focus should be on speedy service, clean rooms, hot meals, correct cutlery and silverware, etc., and not on what the Guest is wearing, or not wearing.

As for the Restaurants; if it is a Buffet, there are no problems with guest-related contacts. But “a la carte” restaurants are managed by the Maitre d’. He is the “maestro”, and conducts a symphony of agreeable service to the Guests, with the Waiters as the “musicians”. The only sour note you get is the vibration of someone who actually hates his job. His antipathy to his job is shown in his “body language”, his glum face, and even his hostile attitude and staccato replies. He is obviously in the wrong career. All hotel personnel, from dishwasher to General Manager, are there to serve people. If he persists in the wrong attitude, he’ll be miserable, and make everyone else miserable around him. The hotel industry is not all glamour and money. It is also hard work – sometimes self-effacing hard work. If a person can accept that to begin with, and remain happy and enthusiastic, then you have good “material” (potential growth) for improvement. Invest in him/her, with more training and more incentives.

By the way, it would be nice if Waiters were taught a few basic international phrases. If they can’t study a few phrases used at the proper time, then a phrase in Arabic, or a nice silent smile, would be preferable and appreciated. After all, a “smile” is international, and needs no translation. I’ve had several well-meaning waiters tell me, with generous smiles “Have a good eating!” Or, “Have a good eat!” If they can’t say “bon appétit”, then better to say nothing. After my meals were consumed, I had other well-meaning waiters try telling me the equivalent of “bil-hana-wa-shifa”, but ended up by saying “Bon appétit!”

On the negative side, there are also few cases where some employees (male and female alike) use their jobs to create liaisons with foreign Guests. Hotel careers are not matrimonial launching pads, and employees should be aware of behaviour protocol and ethics with the Guests.

On the other hand, some tourists complain that everywhere they go, in any direction, whether in the elevator, on the beach, or even the W.C., they had well-meaning employees say “Welcome to Egypt!” One Guest said: “If I hear this one more time, I’ll scream!” One “Welcome to Egypt” – (or, “Welcome to our Hotel”) – per Guest, is sufficient. Try other phrases throughout the Guest’s stay – if only to avoid the monotony, and to prove that your vocabulary is not limited!

Most of the Animator Groups (Recreation personnel) in Sinai are native Italians. It would be nice if they use other languages as well as their native Italian during their shows, recreations or daily activities, so that other Guests of different nationalities would feel just as welcomed, and won’t feel left out.

Animators, Recreation Personnel, PR’s and Guest Relations are pre-trained on how to conduct themselves with Guests, while at the same time endeavour to give all Guests a good time. They are instructed on how to entertain the Guests, give full consideration and care, and leave them with happy memories and the earnest wish to return to your hotel, for more. Train the rest of your staff to make your guests’ wishes a fact and not a fantasy. It’s up to you!



H.N.

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