Open Letter to Hotel GMs: Mistakes your employees make that will cost you money

The travel industry suffered its own setbacks over the past few years, but thankfully, it’s rebounding and more U.S. travelers are finally packing their bags and heading out of town for a much-needed vacation. They’ve saved their money, planned carefully and are ready for a few days of rest and relaxation in their destination of choice. They’ve chosen your hotel as a place to call home for the duration of their vacation – don’t you want to make a good impression?

Over the past six months I’ve reviewed dozens of hotels and witnessed endless customer service strategies – both bad and good. Recently, however, I’ve witnessed some strange behavior from hotel employees that have lead me to question the employee competency of some otherwise wonderful hotels. Sure, I understand there is a learning curve, but at the end of the day it’s essential that hotel employees are educated to answer even the most common questions. So, I think it’s time for a quick review (from one hotel aficionado to another).

I’ve worked for years in and out of hotels on reviews and inspections, and with every hotel I’ve walked into one thing remains constant: first impressions are key to a successful stay. The following five points are common sense, but they can make the difference between a happy guest and a loss in revenue.

  1. Security is sacred: We’re taught at an early age to protect our investments. In the hotel industry, your guests are your investments and it’s your responsibility to protect them. During a recent hotel stay in Santa Monica, a friend came to visit me at the hotel where I was staying for one night. She went the front desk and asked the associate to ring my room. Instead, the front desk associate gave her my room number and sent her up the elevator – no call, no questions. Security fail! After the incidents surrounding the Erin Andrews stalking case, hotels should be even more protective of their guests and employees. Unfortunately, this hotel didn’t see the problem (even after I pointed it out) but the problem is now the hotel’s: they just lost two very valuable would-be clients.
  2. Obey the rules: Just as hotel guests are expected to obey rules, hotels are expected to enforce the rules. Guests pay for more than a place to sleep – they pay for comfort, amenities and ambiance. So, when a hotel allows the rules to be broken, everyone loses. Case in point: At a recent hotel in the Bahamas the hotel posted various signs telling guests it’s required to cover up when entering the lobby from the pool/beach area, and children under the age of 16 are not allowed in the spa area. Unfortunately, guests have a habit of making themselves at home when they check into hotels, but it’s the hotel’s responsibility to enforce the house rules. This means telling guests who are standing in their thong bikinis in the lobby to cover up, and reminding guests who make spa appointments that children are not allowed. While I can appreciate a buff man in a swimsuit, I also appreciate the atmosphere of a beautiful hotel lobby, and I certainly don’t want a teenager texting on her cell phone (complete with built-in camera) in the spa dressing room.
  3. Keep it clean: There’s nothing worse than finding a used bar of soap in the shower or a half-eaten tray of food in the room when your guest first arrives. Hotels: do your part to ensure the rooms are clean before giving out a key. While a guest might be annoyed that their room isn’t ready upon arrival, they’ll be more annoyed that their room isn’t clean when they walk in. The same theory holds true for hotel restaurants and bar areas. I recently stayed at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, which means all meals were part of the price. The breakfasts and lunches were buffet style, which would have been fine if the restaurant staff had kept an eye on the food and try tables. Unfortunately, cheese was congealing in front of me and empty trays of grease were left to harden on the buffet. Food should be presentable and appealing – this isn’t camp, this is a vacation, and your guests deserve more than leftovers and scraps at the table.
  4. A little help goes a long way. It’s unrealistic to assume one person at the hotel can solve all problems, but a simple acknowledgment of the problem and a call to the right person will keep your customers at peace until the issue is being resolved. I was sadly without hot water during a recent hotel stay. I called down to the front desk to ask for someone to look into the problem, and was told I had to call another extension. I called that other extension and no one answered. When I called the front desk back, I was told to call back later because maybe ‘he’s out running errands.’ A simple “We’ll put a call into maintenance for you” would have sufficed. Remind your employees of the typical customer service responses which, while standard and won’t produce an immediate fix, will at least provide your guest with some assurance that the problem will be taken care of in an appropriate amount of time.
  5. Honesty really is the best policy. Things can go wrong. It happens. No one is perfect, not even a 5-star resort, but when things do go wrong there’s only one way to immediately remedy the problem: honesty. From something as simple as a room not being ready on time to solving problems on a larger scale, when employees lie in an effort to appease a guest, it simply makes matters worse. Give guests the benefit of the doubt — when you’re honest with them, it’s likely they’ll be more accepting of the change, however big or small.

Let’s state the obvious: some people will never be satisfied, and it’s likely you’ve had a few of those people waltz through your hotel over time. I’m sure your employees did everything they could do to please those demanding guests, and on behalf of the less-demanding crowd, we thank you (and we know it’s not easy). Just remember: while mistakes will happen, there are ways to fix the problem without losing a loyal customer.

Escape the ordinary Dallas hotel at The Joule

Dallas is not a city known for boutique hotels, but that’s been changing thanks to properties like The Joule, a unique 129-room upscale hotel that first opened in 2008. Constructed in a former 1920’s Neo-Gothic bank building, this sophisticated retreat combines contemporary design with the unique architectural touches, world-class artwork by the likes of Andy Warhol and on-site fine dining and nightlife. Cookie cutter business hotel this is not. Earlier this month, Gadling stopped by The Joule to take a closer look at this intriguing boutique property. Want a peek at one of Dallas’ most unique hotels? Let’s take a look.

Check-in and The Lobby
The minute you step inside The Joule’s front door, the property’s slick design is on display. Luxurious wood-paneled walls hung with artwork by Andy Warhol and Richard Phillips frame an understated lobby of low-slung couches and chairs. A collection of artsy coffee-table books is scattered about for browsing. We felt as if we had entered the living room of a high-class penthouse – comfortable yet intriguing.

Anchoring the back of the two-story lobby are two massive rotating gears, a play on the hotel’s energy-focused theme (a joule is a unit of energy). The cogs are so huge in fact, they manage to hide the check-in desk. We wandered around for a few minutes before locating the desk and beginning our check-in. The hotel had our reservation on file and we were on our way to our room in no time.

Keep reading below to find out about The Joule’s one-of-a-kind pool and the in-room experience.

%Gallery-92690%The Rooms
In keeping with the unique decor of The Joule, guest rooms follow a similar high-end design motif. Our Deluxe Room’s interior was slick and modern, yet still inviting, set off by the same hardwood touches found in the lobby. Though the room was small, it managed to be well-organized. A stack of intriguing music and art books lined a table and custom Dallas-themed photography on the walls lent the room a personalized yet sophisticated air.

The toilet and shower are laid out in self-contained spaces on opposite sides of the room’s entrance. The “Rainforest” shower head was a joy to use and gets our thumbs up. The sink and vanity area (right) was also tiny but arranged to maximize space. All rooms come with Gilchrist & Soames toiletries and a small unit under the sink with additional amenities like tissues and cotton swabs.

The bed in our room was more than comfortable. With 300-thread count sheets, Down pillows/comforters and chrome reading lamps above each side that flip out, the sleeping area made for an excellent sleeping and late-night reading experience.

Other in-room amenities include a 42″ flatscreen television, an iPod docking station and Bose Wave Radio, and a full Martini station for cocktail fans.

As much as we liked the room’s sophistication and stylish elements, sometimes they can come at the expense of ease of use. When we tried to plug in our large-size Apple laptop charger at the outlets over the desk, it didn’t fit thanks to a curiously placed ledge. Many of the room’s other electrical outlets seemed to be hidden or occupied – a curious move considering the number of gadgets travelers carry these days.

Infinity Pool, Charlie Palmer and PM Nightclub

Not only does The Joule excel with unique in-room design, the property’s intriguing on-site amenities are also worth a visit. First is the hotel’s 39-foot Infinity Pool, one of the The Joule’s most stunning architectural features. Located on the 10th Floor, the pool juts several feet off the building’s edge, creating a dramatic visual effect. We were able to swim underwater up to its edge, gazing down at bewildered street-level pedestrians staring from up at us from below. A Fitness Center and range of Spa Suite services like in-room massage complement the offerings.

Just off The Joule’s lobby is Charlie Palmer at The Joule – a modern take on classic American cuisine that pairs nicely with the hotel’s upscale design interior. In addition to an artisanal and locally-sourced menu, Charlie Palmer features a lineup of signature cocktails and fully-stocked bottle shop at the in-house Next Vintage Wine Shop. Next Vintage is a particularly nice touch for wine-lovers and thrifty customers looking to pick up a convenient bottle for their night out. Just across the lobby from Charlie Palmer is PM Nightlife Lounge, an upscale high-design nightspot for those who want to continue the fun.

The Bottom Line
The Joule isn’t a hotel for everyone – those looking for a simple no-nonsense spot to rest their head should look elsewhere. But for the discerning hotel customer, The Joule’s attention to detail, understated design and top-notch amenities can’t be beat. High-concept boutique hotels can easily be over the top and silly, but The Joule managed to win us over with its combination of understated luxury and cutting edge style. Give it a try the next time you’re in Dallas and you’re in the mood for something different.

Travelers turn to seller sites for info

Where do you go to get information on destinations and travel? Well, you obviously come here – at least you did this time. And, we appreciate it. Despite the value of independent sources of travel news and deals, it’s the seller sites that are attracting all the action. Social media is moving the travel market, according to the latest research from industry research firm PhoCusWright, with user-generated content on online travel agencies (OTAs) leading the charge.

In 2008, hotel reviews on OTA sites accounted for only 52 percent of traveler-written reviews, with traveler review sites (not associated with an OTA), such as TripAdvisor, accounting for 46 percent of reviews written. Last year, the OTA sites were good for 74 percent of the hotel reviews that showed up on the web.

“Traveler review sites – led by TripAdvisor – created and drove the growth of the traveler hotel review category, demonstrating the potential role of user-generated reviews in the trip-planning process,” said Douglas Quinby, senior director, research at PhoCusWright. “The travel industry obviously took notice, and the major OTAs have remarkably stepped up their game in capturing reviews from their customers and incorporating the content into their hotel shopping path. Travel companies must keep a close eye not only on review sites such as TripAdvisor, but the growing volume of review content on OTAs as well.”

Inside the $33 million makeover of the Four Seasons Los Angeles, Beverly Hills

Los Angeles is no stranger to facelifts, nip-tucks and makeovers, but when a luxury hotel decides to go under the knife the finished product is worthy of a red carpet debut. The Four Seasons Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, finished its $33 million makeover this year and on a recent visit to Los Angeles, I got an inside look at the renovations, and learned why this hotel is so special to Hollywood’s elite.

The renovations spanned two and half years and in the end, all 285 guestrooms and suites, the ballroom, lounge, restaurants and pool and cabana areas were renovated. I met with General Manager Mehdi Eftekari to learn how the hotel managed the makeover while still operating at full capacity, and hosting celeb-studded parties, including some Academy Awards parties, with ease.


Walking into the foyer of the Four Seasons Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, is like walking into a zen garden. Fresh floral bouquets greet guests and you’re suddenly overwhelmed by varying scents of freesia, lilies, roses and more as you make your way to the check-in desk. The lobby is draped in soothing yellow, golds and deep brown tones, and the same hues extend through the entire hotel, providing an inviting entrance no matter what floor you’re on.


The new design of the guest rooms pays homage to old Hollywood glamour. King-sized beds are positioned against white-gold headboards and each bedroom features a modern floral motif on the wall. New tan carpet infuses a splash of coral, plum or aqua into the mix and according to hotel staff, the carpets were custom designed to play off the owners’ love of flowers and gardens.

My favorite part of the rooms were the French doors that open to private balconies overlooking Beverly Hills, downtown Los Angeles or the Hollywood Hills, depending on which side you face. One-bedroom suites come complete with a living room area, pull-out sofa and desk space. Internet access comes at a fee, the only downside to staying at the hotel.

If you’re so inclined to stay in one of the hotel’s suites, you won’t be disappointed. Cashmere throws, grand pianos and Swarovski crystal are just a few of the perks that come with the suites. The rooms can be transformed from upbeat and inspiring to romantic and indulgent with the turn of a light switch. Walk-in closets in the suites are the size of some small apartments, so prepare to be envious (and start planning the renovations of your own closet back home).THE BATHROOMS

Each guest room’s bathroom has a stand-up shower and a bathtub, and comes furnished with all the proper amenities including robes and slippers, which I highly recommend you lounge around in. Truth be told, I spent a lot of time in the plush slippers and the best part is, you can take the slippers home for free (the robe will cost you $100). I’ll admit, the Four Seasons slippers are one of the best additions to my shoe closet.


Windows Lounge on the ground floor is the see-and-be-seen gathering spot for Los Angeles guests and Hollywood figures. At any given time you might see agents working deals, aspiring models looking for their next break, or you might catch a glimpse of your favorite celeb walking by. It’s important to point out the lounge isn’t a gawking spot for tourists. If you want to break out the camera, head down the street to Wilshire Boulevard and get your flashes ready. At Windows Lounge, order a glass of wine or relax with your favorite martini and you’ll feel like you’re part of the A-list crowd.

The lounge is a great spot to start before having dinner at the hotel’s new restaurant, Culina, Modern Italian. A blend of traditional Italian dishes with eclectic flavors make this restaurant worth the wait.


Ever wonder what it feels like to walk on a cloud? Step into the new pool and walk across the cushioned bottom, and you might get the sense of weightlessness you’ve been yearning for. Relax in one of the cabanas, which can be fitted with TVs, Internet access and food and beverages for the day for a fee. The restaurant on the third level offers poolside service amid gardens and orange trees, providing necessary shade for hot days.

The Four Seasons Spa features steam rooms, a sauna and a range treatments. For a truly relaxing experience, ask for your treatment from one of the poolside cabanas, where you can lounge in a chair and enjoy the fresh air while being pampered.

The hotel’s fitness center is the last piece of the puzzle to be renovated, but the current state of the center will get you pumped up to work out. Located poolside and set in an outside environment (with proper shades in the event of rain), the fitness center, while small in size, has treadmills, elliptical machines, stair-steppers, bicycles and a weight section. My perfect morning started off with a 5-mile run, followed by 20 minutes of elliptical training and ending with 20 minutes by the pool. Sometimes, a little ‘me time’ is necessary.


When you stay at a luxury hotel, you expect luxury service, and the Four Seasons didn’t disappoint. I asked Eftekari how he managed to keep the hotel moving during the renovations, and he praised his staff who he said, “They believe in what they do.” It couldn’t be more apparent that the hotel staff love their jobs. From the check-in desk to the concierge to the maid service, everyone said “hello” with a smile and was eager to help with any request. The waitstaff knew when I needed more coffee, and even suggested a little protein in my diet when I had ordered only vegetables for lunch one day. When the last raspberry danish was given to another guest one morning, they made sure to save me one for the next day.


Imagine a place where Frank Sinatra might have played the piano late-night, or Lauren Bacall might have flipped her hair when Humphrey Bogart walked in the room, and you have the essence of the Four Seasons Los Angeles, Beverly Hills. If you listen closely you can the secrets of Hollywood’s elite whispering through the walls.

The bottom line: If you’re going to spend the money to stay in Los Angeles, you might as well be treated like a star and the Four Seasons Los Angeles Beverly Hills will gladly roll out the red carpet for you.

How to spot fake (and real) hotel reviews

Two decades ago, hotel reviews came solely from travel brochures and word of mouth. You’d see the fantastic photo of the property, and a brief description. The actual hotel would usually remain a surprise until you arrived. More often than not, the place would look nothing like what you had expected.

The Internet has changed a lot of that, and hotel reviews are usually refreshingly honest. That said, hotel reviews are also an ever growing source of fake and misleading information.

When anyone can post a review, you’ll run into overly positive remarks, as well as an abundance of negativity, most likely because people only tend to voice their opinion when something was bad.

AOL Travel has compiled a list of 10 ways you can determine whether a review is fake. Some of the tips are pretty logical (reviewers with no track record), while others are things you’d not normally think of.

Sites like TripAdvisor are adding warning messages to reviews that may not be entirely honest, and newcomers to the review market like Oyster Hotel Reviews are building their entire business around professional reviews.

So, next time you are shopping for a hotel, pay close attention to the reviews, you’ll be amazed how much misinformation there is out there.