It's Great To Be a Hotelier

The hotel industry has had a lot to crow about lately: high rates and occupancies, rising profits and lots of money for acquisitions and development. But an even greater source of pride in the industry should be how guests feel about its product. Particularly when compared to airlines, consumers love hotels. Travelers, especially harried and hurried business travelers, view hotels as oases of predictable calm, comfort and hospitality.

Recent data released about hotel and airline industry performance prove the point. A PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis showed that customer satisfaction levels in the lodging industry are at the highest levels since the mid-1990s, even though the number of employees per available and occupied room has declined by 10 percent in the past decade. The industry has wisely found ways — everything from new designs and amenities to check-in kiosks and ubiquitous high-speed Internet access — to satisfy guests while enabling employees to be more productive.

On the other hand, it seems to be all bad news for the airline business. At cocktail parties everywhere, people swap horror stories of the latest indignities they had to suffer at the hands of the hapless airline system. Overcrowding, delays, lack of amenities, security hassles and rude employees are just some of the most common complaints.

In June, for example, nearly a third of all domestic flights were late and, not surprisingly, passenger complaints rose a hefty 43 percent. Through June, the industry has had its worst six-month on-time performance since 1995.

There was a time not that long ago when air travel was exotic, even fun. Now, hardly anyone looks forward to the air travel experience. What consumers do anticipate is arriving at a hotel at the end of their journeys. There, they know they'll be welcomed, entertained, wined, dined and have accommodations that are clean, spacious and equipped with the toys and gadgets they need to have fun or do work.

It's a great time to be in the hotel business. If you don't believe it, ask your accountant; more importantly, ask your guests.

In memory of John Buttolph

Hotel franchising veteran John Buttolph died last month at age 78. After more than three decades in the business, the tall, gruff Buttolph retired in 2003. At retirement, he was vice president of franchising and development for the Shoney's Inn and GuestHouse International brands. Before joining the company in the mid-1990s, John held a variety of senior franchising and development positions with Prime Motor Inns, Howard Johnson and Hospitality Franchise Systems.

John started his professional life in the rough-and-tumble world of commercial real estate development in New Jersey. To survive in that environment, he developed a tough demeanor that covered a softer side. I remember seeing him years ago at the funeral of New York hotel real estate legend Steve Brener. John talked very emotionally about the influence Steve had on his career and personal life. He wasn't afraid to shed a tear in mourning for his friend and mentor.

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