Lessons from America

The managing director and I recently returned from a cultural and accommodation research expedition to a very foreign land.

No, not Kazakhstan but the good old US of A. Five weeks traversing the greatest country on earth (just ask them) reveals much about the American psyche and not all of it good. We had no idea there were so many world famous businesses and world series events domiciled in the United States.

Upon further investigation we discovered that the definition of world famous in New York is if the people two streets over have heard of you and a world series is any event made up of four teams or more.

No matter, the people are friendly and the country is easy to navigate around. This is just as well because the obsession with guns in the states shows no sign of abating. While we were there one state legislated the legal possession of firearms in bars, schools and churches. Booze, religion and guns, what could possibly go wrong? We subsequently discovered that the cops had busted a gun running ring bringing hand guns into New York. The guns were not coming from some third world rouge state, they were coming from the aforementioned state where you take your gun to church.

The yanks are currently trying to deal with an emerging problem that seems to have a simple solution albeit no one there can see it. Within the space of a few weeks and in three separate incidents police officers who might have had a drink or two off duty chose to discharge their firearms in public places. A cop in Brooklyn shot up a random car with two people in it (no fatalities thank god); a disgruntled policewoman in New Jersey took a few pot shots at her ex-boyfriend; and in NY state a couple of off duty cops playing with a gun accidently ended up with one shot in the hand and the other not sure what happened. One would think that simply surrendering your firearm at the end of your shift might fix the problem but the authorities seem to believe that in the interest of public safety police officers should be armed at all times. Hmmmm.

We stayed at a variety of accommodation establishments from the truly spectacular Fairmont in San Francisco to a log cabin in Yosemite National Park. Some interesting trends emerge and when talking with hotel management it is clear that focus on top line revenues is matched by a focus on variable costs and bottom line. There is still some focus on occupancy but almost without exception the managers I spoke to are looking at and being judged on revenues per available room (RevPAR). For those of you who haven’t run into this measure before it’s simply the outcome of dividing total available room nights into gross accommodation revenue.

To this end we see innovative and at times inconvenient outcomes. Many hotels are now running much leaner housekeeping teams and the result is what I would refer to as check-in creep. By this I mean that check in times are slowly getting later to allow housekeeping time to prepare rooms for new guests. To some degree I suspect this is also being driven by later checkout times being offered although you pay for it. When you are travelling I think many guests would prefer an earlier check in and an earlier check out but so far that’s not the way the businesses are being managed.

We saw much evidence of mini bar facilities that were no longer in use and not stocked. Managers we spoke to confirmed that the risk of pilferage combined with consumption supervision and restocking costs made the service unprofitable. As most hotels and motels seem to have some form of food and beverage service on site this appears to be no great problem. The larger hotels and certainly the casino based properties in Las Vegas have moved to electronic tracking so once you take that beer out of the fridge it’s yours and the bill will say so. I’m told the system is really only viable once you have some serious scale and strong guest demand.

While on the subject of F and B we were surprised to note that the Australian habit of providing a jug and microwave in hotel rooms is simply not done in the States. Given the provision of onsite services I suspect this is a strategy to force guests to purchase their coffee and snacks rather than prepare their own in room. Managers we spoke to suggested that there is little demand for in room self-prepared coffee and tea or microwave snacks. I remain skeptical.

I have much more to report so stay tuned next month.

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