Just-In-Time Amenities

The hotel industry got a lot of good press last month in the wake of the failed terrorist plot to blow up planes enroute from London to the U.S. The crisis moved Transportation Safety Administration authorities to ban most liquids and gels in carry-on baggage on all U.S. flights. A number of hotels and chains immediately stepped into the breach by offering complimentary amenities — everything from toothpaste to hand lotion to contact lens solution — to their guests who couldn't bring them on their trips.

Remarkably, Omni Hotels extended the offer on a chainwide basis within 24 hours of the ban. Wyndham Hotels, Extended Stay Deluxe and a number of individual hotels followed in quick order. For an industry that's never been known to move quickly, the hotel business was remarkably nimble in its ability to see both a guest service and marketing opportunity and act accordingly.

So, guests solve an issue of inconvenience. The press lavishes praise on the lodging industry. Everyone feels warm and cozy. End of story? Not exactly, since few of the chains or properties that adopted the free-amenity program probably looked at the long-term consequences of their actions.

What if the ban becomes permanent and competitive pressures spread the idea to all, or nearly all, other hotels in the U.S.? All of a sudden, the industry will have added a new and potentially substantial layer of expense without any likely return, except for the goodwill generated by the gesture. And, of course, once the practice becomes ubiquitous no one chain or hotel has a competitive advantage. Bathroom hairdryers are a prime example of this phenomenon. At one time, hairdryers were a true amenity, but now they're a standard in all hotels in the mid-market segment and above.

In another even more likely scenario, the free-amenity practice doesn't become universal. Then the potential exists to tick off customers who don't know whether they'll be able to get the toiletries they need when they check in to a particular hotel. This becomes a problem when an individual chain-affiliated hotel, but not the entire chain, offers the service. If, for example, just a few Hampton Inns provide the amenities, guests may become upset when they don't find them in all properties under the brand.

The lesson is that while a quick reaction to a crisis is an admirable thing for the industry, it also pays to understand all of the consequences of any new program, service or just-in-time amenity.

A sad note. I'm sad to report last month's death of George Justus, an industry pioneer and a personal friend. George, 67, had been president of Capital Hospitality Corp., a small hotel ownership firm based in Rochester, NY. He's best known, however, as the man who helped create the Microtel concept in the 1990s, a leading economy brand now owned by Global Hyatt Corp.

Beyond his considerable accomplishments in the hotel industry, George is best remembered as a man of honesty and integrity and one who chose to give back to the industry he loved. At the time of his death, he was chairman of the advisory board of the Niagara University College of Hospitality and Tourism Management. I've been proud to serve with George on this board for the past several years.

In 2002, the college honored George with its Rabbi Porrath Visionary Award for his leadership in the industry and his tireless advocacy on behalf of Niagara's hospitality and tourism program.

One fact about George many people in the industry didn't know: he was chairman of the board and co-founder of the International Guitar Institute.

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