How Smart Business Travelers Get More from Hotels

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Many business travelers loathe business travel, and for the most part, the hotels they’re staying in are not helping. A 2012 Carlson Wagonlit Travel survey of 6,000 business travelers reported that hotels were responsible for four of the top 10 stress-producers among corporate road warriors.

However, hotels can do a lot to reduce your stress and make your trip more pleasant and productive — if you know how to get the most out of your stay.

Unfortunately, most business travelers haven’t a clue how to get a hotel to give them what they need. As someone responsible for two of the most iconic hotels in California, I do. Here are seven of the most effective strategies to improve your stay and reduce your stress:

1. Be more than a room number. Hotel staff will treat you better if they know who you are, so think old-school and pick up the phone. If possible, book directly with the hotel, and speak with the front desk or guest relations manager to request whatever is important to you: a quiet room, for example, or an upper floor. If your company requires that you book through a third party such as American Express, do that, but then call the hotel yourself. This will establish you as an individual, a potential repeat customer, not just a one-timer who chose the hotel for the rate or because your company obliged you to.

If you visit the same hotel for a series of stays — which can reduce travel stress by reducing the number of new variables you have to cope with and the new decisions you need to make — reach out to the staff who helped you last time and let them know when you’re coming back. Even at large hotels, few guests take the trouble to do this, so it’s not difficult to establish yourself as a valued guest. If the staff knows who you are, they will pay more attention to you. That’s common sense.

2. Tip — it works. Gratuities are crucial to the hospitality industry. In America, tips are how frontline hotel staff make up to 80% of their income, and tips are how clued-in guests ensure they’ll be catered to. Hotel management typically has no involvement in the collection, measurement, or distribution of gratuities. Tips are an intimate exchange between the guest and the people who serve them.

To indicate that you expect to be well looked-after, and that you will reward staff for their efforts, tip anyone who helps you with your luggage $5–$10 per bag when you arrive. A $20 bill to the person checking you in will likely get you a better room for your entire stay. It might not be a full upgrade, but maybe it’ll be a room in the same category with a better view or a sitting area that others don’t have.

Tips are sometimes pooled, such as among staff at the bar. You’ll still be appreciated, and better served, for contributing to a pool. But if you want your tip to go to a particular individual, give it to them personally with a handshake and a thank you.

In Europe, tipping is less common than in the U.S. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t tip there. Because tips are rarer, they’re often more appreciated, making it easier to get better attention; 10% is the norm in restaurants there, versus 15%–20% in the U.S. Asia is more complicated: in some countries tips may be expected for a given service, but in others they are not. If in doubt, remember that tips are always appreciated and differentiate you from guests who do not give them.

Most guests don’t know how to tip well or how to leverage their tips. In the U.S., about one in three guests will tip the doorman, and about one in 10 will tip when they arrive at the front desk. Many people don’t carry as much cash as they used to, and business travelers are often in the habit of putting everything on the company credit card (which makes tipping tough). But tipping is not only a key part of how the people serving you get paid, it’s also something that will really set you apart for better service. To avoid being caught empty-handed when it’s time to tip the maid or doorman, make taking cash out of the ATM part of your business travel routine.

3. Speak up. If you need something above and beyond — say you need to impress your boss or client at dinner — say so. Tell the maitre’d or general manager (GM). Then, when you enter the restaurant, the staff will know who you are and address you by name. (That’s pretty impressive.) You’ll get the best table, and the staff will help everything run smoothly. (That’s even more impressive.) In the hotel business, staff like to serve, they want to help, and they want your gratitude and loyalty. But they can’t read your mind.

4. Share how you feel. The service industry is full of people who empathize easily. Staff will often relate better and work harder to help you if they know you’re tired, anxious, or dejected. (But if you’re angry, take a deep breath and keep it to yourself. Anger does not inspire helpfulness.)  If you’ve just arrived from an overseas flight and you’re ahead of check-in time, explain that you are exhausted and you need a place to shower and rest. The clerk typically will work to get you a room. Don’t walk to the front desk, insist on special treatment, and then demand to see the manager if you don’t get it. Haughtiness doesn’t help; openness usually does.

5. Be generous with compliments… If you do have a good experience, compliment employees by name on the comment card or in online reviews and surveys. That puts them in good stead with their managers and establishes you as a person they want to help on your future visits. Even better, send an email to the GM. That puts your name on the GM’s radar, too, and assures special treatment next time you visit.

6. …and courteous with complaints. If a member of staff isn’t giving you the help you need at the front desk, don’t ask for a manager on the spot. That embarrasses the employee and puts the front desk manager under pressure to do something right away. Instead, step away and pick up a phone. Ask for the hotel manager or director of rooms, who can figure out the right thing to do. He will most likely give you more attention and ply you with freebies to make sure he’s put things right.

7.  Seek out perks that aren’t on the blackboard. Hotels can do many small things for guests that most travelers are not aware of. Here are things they often can do, and some they may do if you ask nicely:

  • Offer a smartphone or laptop charger if you forgot to bring yours.
  • Provide early or late dining options for client meetings.
  • Loan you gym clothing if you couldn’t fit yours in your carry-on.
  • Supply a better-quality hair dryer.
  • Make a quiet room available for a meeting. (Surprise: the restaurant is not your only option.)
  • Deliver a yoga mat to your room in case you don’t want to deal with the gym.
  • Waive Wi-Fi and breakfast charges.

Some hotels have more facilities and better service than others, of course. But the core values of the industry are relationships, service, and reciprocity. Play to those values, and business travel can become — if not a pleasure — a lot less stressful.

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Edward Mady

Edward A. Mady serves as general manager of The Beverly Hills Hotel and West Coast regional director, USA for the Dorchester Collection, which includes Southern California’s Hotel Bel-Air. He began his Dorchester Collection career in 2009, serving as general manager for The New York Palace. Previously, Mady spent two decades with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. His public speaking engagements focus on leadership, corporate culture and employee engagement.

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