Will TripAdvisor Kill the Planning Committee? (Or Has It Spurred Technological Innovation?)

I remember the first time I was invited to an “Executive Planning Committee Meeting” in the early 1980’s. The property was the Four Seasons (Toronto), and Klaus Tenter was the General Manager. Being unfamiliar with the hotel business at the time (my role was the ad agency account executive) and new to the business, I was told this was quite an honor! I also learned that out of respect, you addressed the GM as “Mr.” which seemed quite old-fashioned, even back then.

Fast-forward 25-30 years: remarkably planning committee meetings have not really changed. The same management positions meet to review the same issues that their predecessors discussed. Yet, look at the world of hospitality and the changes that we have experienced: the Internet with online booking engines, advanced property management systems (PMS), revenue management, automated meeting RFP’s, online travel agencies (OTA), and a myriad of systems designed to improve management decision making.

But, perhaps the greatest influencer by far, has nothing to do with the systems that have been created to enhance the hotelier’s success. Rather, it is one that evaluates performance: TripAdvisor. Single handedly, this online tool has quickly become the “bane of existence” for any hotel GM. Many of our agency hotel clients have repeatedly asked us, “How do we address our TripAdvisor ratings?” And we have a solution.

Independent research that we have conducted amongst upscale leisure travelers indicates that TripAdvisor now represents the second most important influencer on buying decisions (the first being referral by a friend). We regularly review our client’s TripAdvisor ratings. By and large, they provide an honest, accurate assessment of a property. The rating system’s easy to use format encourages a high participation rate amongst guests.

We expanded our analysis beyond our customer base, to over 1,000 different TripAdvisor comments for properties rated in the 4 or 5 Diamond level by AAA. In doing so, we concluded that over 90% of all commentary, either positive or negative, relates to service issues. This makes sense, as most properties in the luxury segment have their physical product in great shape.

Thus, if we know that TripAdvisor ratings are important (and relatively honest/accurate) and we also know that the bulk of reviews/commentary is service related, why can’t hoteliers easily address negativity in their reviews? This gets us back to the hotel planning committee meeting: why has this meeting failed to adequately address the service issues that are so critical to the property’s success?

Let’s examine the objectives of the property planning committee. As far as we can tell, at the core is a sharing of information amongst the most senior managers, with the goal of improving guest service. Secondarily, the meeting provides an opportunity for the GM to identify long-term issues… the critical vision for the property. And thirdly, the CFO can provide financial analysis. The issues of vision and finance are important, but without a solid program of hospitality management addressing service issues, the property is in peril; so let’s examine the primary meeting directive.

Senior hotel managers, at least those in the planning committee, are few and far between. For example, the Rooms Division Manager, typically a planning committee position, might have under his/her direction: an Executive Housekeeper, Engineering and Maintenance Manager, Front Desk Manager, and Reservations Manager. Each of these team leaders might have line managers reporting to them. It often gets down to how information is transmitted from these line managers to the planning committee members so that decisions can be impacted by this data.

Don’t we all wish it were that simple? But, alas, every hotel manager I know is totally overloaded with work. Throughout North America, the Great Recession has reduced the ranks of middle management. Hospitality was not immune from this trend. There are fewer assistant managers, and more work for everyone else. Schedules are often staggered; further hampering communications with associates. The result is that those attending planning committee meetings often have limited information as to how their own teams are functioning, let alone knowledge of the action steps that need to be addressed to enhance guest service.

But now, there is a technological solution: Inn at a Glance software was designed to address these critical communications issues. On a single screen, all managers can see everything they need to address issues that impact guest satisfaction in real time. By empowering line managers to contribute data, there are considerable benefits. All managers now share in the collection of the information and all are made aware of the issues, whether in their own department, or anywhere else on property. Blended with this input is numerical data that normally is available in printed reports: room occupancy as well as check in/out requirements. Inn at a Glance also provides MOD schedules, VIPs and groups in house, rooms out of order, quick links to social media (including TripAdvisor) and management travel schedules, all in one handy interface.

So, rather than the once-a-week planning committee meeting, Inn at a Glance provides instantaneous information on any device, anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. You no longer have to be on property to get the facts you need. With knowledge, comes responsibility. Instead of waiting to review an issue, managers can immediately identify the challenges and rectify the situation to meet guest service needs.

Using Inn at a Glance ultimately changes the planning committee meeting dynamic. The meeting becomes less about executing the plan, and more about the vision. Just maybe, we can all now applaud TripAdvisor rather than complain: after all, it helped eliminate (or perhaps modify) one last hospitality management dinosaur. Mr. Tenter, one of my hotel heroes, would certainly concur!

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotel Interactive on March 10, 2011)

Larry MogelonskyWill TripAdvisor Kill the Planning Committee? (Or Has It Spurred Technological Innovation?)