Hotel Myths and Truths

In 30-plus years of writing about the hotel industry, I've come across many rules of thumb, aphorisms and supposedly immutable truisms about the lodging business. Some stand the test of time; some were never correct at all; many have some kernel of truth. Here's a look at a few of the most-often-quoted industry rules and my analysis of their veracity:

Nobody wakes up in the morning with a desire to buy a timeshare. That's been true since the vacation ownership business gave itself a black eye in the 1970s and ‘80s with sometimes-questionable marketing practices. The lingering shady image makes many people inherently leery about timeshare in any form. Yet, as ARDA CEO and chief timeshare cheerleader Howard Nusbaum says, “No one may wake up and want to buy a timeshare, but everyone wakes up in the morning and wants to go on vacation. It's up to us as an industry to connect those dots.”

Location, location, location. This has always been one of the golden rules of all real estate categories. The hotel, restaurant or condo development on the best corner of the street always commands the highest prices and generates the most demand. Yet back in the 1970s, Bob Woolley proved he could build very successful all-suite properties (then Granada Royale Hometels, now Embassy Suites) in class B locations. If you build a better mousetrap, the customer will find you, even if the location is a little bit off the beaten path.

Amenities are easy; service is hard. Until someone figures out how robots can clean rooms, check-in guests and wait tables, service will be the core operating principle of the hotel business. Of course, how to provide consistent, honest and meaningful service will always be the biggest challenge for hotel owners and operators.

General managers don't understand technology. No they don't, if you mean the bits and bytes, the hardware and the software that make the modern hotel hum with efficiency. But the truth is, GMs shouldn't be wasting their time with those aspects of technology. Rather, they should focus — and many of them do, particularly younger managers — on how technology can be a strategic tool to help them provide better service (see above) in a more cost-efficient way.

The Internet will drive travel agents out of business. This was the travel industry mantra of the late 1990s, as everyone became enamored with the efficiency and sex appeal of the Internet. While it's true that travel agents have had to step up their game and most likely become specialists in one or more areas of the travel industry, they are as valuable to both travelers and hotels as they ever were. Take a travel agent to lunch soon and learn how he or she can really help your business.

Gen X travelers want a different kind of lodging experience than do Baby Boomers. The jury is still out on this notion, which has only become an issue in the last few years as those people born in the 1980s began to travel on their own. One side of me believes all guests — whether they're 20, 30 or 80 — above all want to be treated like they're someone special when they check in to a hotel. That's true, and I don't think it will ever change; yet, Gen Xers, and a lot of Baby Boomers, appreciate the subtleties of good design, even funky design, as well as the latest in hotel gadgets and technologies.

The hotels that will win will be those that combine up-to-the-minute design with superb creature comforts (plush bedding, luxury bathrooms) and efficient but not cloying or patronizing service. It's a recipe for failure to focus on just one of these three crucial items.

I'd like to hear from you on what hotel truisms you believe still have merit and which ones don't.

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