Gadling Q & A with Daniel Edward Craig, author and hotel consultant

Daniel Edward Craig shares a name with the current James Bond, and like 007, he’s a world traveler and a man of many hats. He’s taken a career in hotel management and a keen ear for storytelling and parlayed it into a murder mystery book series, an engaging industry blog, and a hotel and social media consultancy. Here he tells Gadling about his history in the travel world, who’s providing the best social media content for travelers, and what’s next in hotel trends.

Tell me about your history in the hotel and travel business.

I’ve worked in hotels off and on for about twenty years. I started on the front desk at the Delta Chelsea Inn in Toronto and went on to work for a range of hotels, from big-box to boutique, in positions ranging from duty manager to vice president. Most recently, I was vice president and general manager of Opus Hotels in Vancouver and Montreal.

What title do you think best captures your profession these days

These days I work as an author and hotel consultant. I left Opus at the end of 2007, shortly after my first novel was published, to complete the second and third novels in the Five-Star Mystery series. Now I am working on a fourth book as well as various consulting projects for the hotel industry, ranging from social media strategy to executive coaching. I also continue to write my blog and articles about the hotel industry. It’s been a rough few years for hotels, and I think we could all use some levity, so in my writing I try to take a lighthearted look at issues.

Do you think you’ll ever go back to managing a hotel?

I hope so. Hotels are my first love; writing is secondary. As a hotel manager, I feel fully engaged and at my best, whereas as a writer all my neurotic tendencies come out. Writing is a solitary profession, and I’m better as part of a team. Once I finish my current book at the end of this year, I’ll decide what’s next, and that could very well involve a return to hotels full-time. I’ll always write, but after a year of 4:00 AM mornings and late nights, I promised myself never to write books and manage a hotel at the same time.

What are you most critical of as a hotel guest?

I’m extremely service oriented. I’ll cut a property a lot of slack if it isn’t my style or if facilities are limited, but bad service can ruin my trip. In particular, I dislike overly scripted, apathetic service. I love a hotel with originality and a lot of life in the lobby. And I look for soul, a combination of design, culture, clientele and spirit, that intangible feeling that I’m in the right place. That’s why I prefer independent boutique hotels – it’s easier for them to do these things well.

What’s your favorite hotel?

Don’t make me choose! It depends on my mood and the nature of travel. I was just in Chicago and was blown away by the new Elysian Hotel. If I’m relaxing or working, I like the Four Seasons. I can’t always afford to stay in them, but I will splurge on a drink in the lounge and will hang around until I’m asked to leave. My favorite is the Four Seasons Georges V in Paris. But I also love contemporary boutique hotels. I’m a city boy, and when I feel like socializing I want to stay in a hotel with a scene, like the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York, the Mondrian in Los Angeles, and the Clift in San Francisco. XV Beacon in Boston is also one of my faves.

Given the many social media experts today, how do you stand apart?

I’d never call myself a social media expert. Who can keep up? I’m a hotelier first, who happens to know a lot about social media and reputation management. Social media allows me to combine my two professions as a hotelier and an author, because essentially it’s about storytelling. Social media touches every department in a hotel, and as a former general manager I understand the interplay and interdependence involved, and to rise above individual departmental interests to develop a strategy that benefits the hotel as a whole.

What hotels/travel companies do you think are doing social media “well”?

I think there are a number of hotel companies that do certain aspects of social media well, but nobody is doing anything particularly innovative. HKHotels in New York are doing a great job of reputation management. Best Western runs a good Facebook page. InterContinental Hotel Group makes great concierge videos. The Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee manages Twitter well. Red Carnation Hotels in London and Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver have good blogs. Joie de Vivre Hotels does great contests.

Hoteliers are great storytellers, and with all the comings and goings of guests we have a rich resource of content to draw from, and yet this isn’t translating to social media. A lot of hotel content is trite and uninspiring, and most of the voices sound the same: perky and vaguely annoying. Hotels can learn a lot from online reviewers, who spin the best stories, with strong points of view, hooks, humor, trivia and facts. I think there are huge opportunities for the hotel industry, and I’d love to help a hotel become the social media hotel in a given destination.

What made you start writing murder mysteries?

I always wanted to write, and naively thought that writing a mystery would be fun and easy. They say write what you know, and at the time I was working as a duty manager, so I set it in a hotel. Ten years later, Murder at the Universe was published. For me it was a one-off, but my publisher liked the idea of a hotel manager who writes mysteries set in hotels, so they contracted me to develop it into a series. Since then I’ve published Murder at Hotel Cinema and Murder at Graverly Manor.

After three novels, I started to get bored with my protagonist, the hapless hotelier Trevor Lambert, and all that whining. And there could only be so many murders in his hotels before people started suspecting him. The book I’m finishing up now is non-fiction, an irreverent insider’s look at hotels, written for travelers.

What do you see as the next big trends in hotels?

Mobile is huge. Increasingly, people are researching, booking and recommending travel via smart phones. Social media will grow as people continue to bypass travel journalists and hotels for travel information in favor of travelers, friends and social networks, all from the palm of the hand. When it comes down to it, however, above all hotel guests still want comfort, convenience and value. They just have much larger audiences to air their grievances to when they don’t get what they want.

What’s next for you?

After I finish the book, I’ll put book writing on hold for now and will continue to work on hotel projects, to blog, and to write articles. I’m starting to book quite a few speaking engagements in 2011. My platform as an author and hotelier is quite unique, and social media reputation management are hot topics. If I find a good job with a progressive hotel company, great, but until then I have no shortage of things to keep me occupied.

Read all about Daniel Edward Craig, his books, and his blog at his website,

Guests to stay in control of hotel industry until at least 2012

The light at the end of the tunnel is always cause for hope. When market conditions are at their worst, the promise of a recovery keeps morale from plummeting and gives a reason to keep pushing forward. For the hotel industry, however, there’s nothing but darkness for the next year. The latest research from PhoCusWright paints a pretty dismal picture, evident immediately from the title of its most recent announcement: “Why Hotels Are Not Recovering Any Time Soon.” But, it could just as easily have been called, “Why Travelers Can Get Dirt-Cheap Rooms in 2010 and Probably 2011.”


If you’re looking for a culprit, start with those two traditional factors — supply and demand.

Demand is off substantially. Conditions right now are worse than they were in the dismal 1990/1991 season and during the post-9/11 recession. Last year, demand fell between 5.5 percent and 6 percent. This is far worse than the 2 percent decline posted in 2002 and the 1 percent drop in 1991. This year, PhoCusWright expects demand to inch higher by 1 percent to 1.5 percent, but this is relative to the severely depressed baseline of 2009. So, we’ll likely reflect at this time in 2011 on a slow recovery that still has some road in front of it.
Fortunately, a 5 percent increase in demand is expected in 2011, followed by a few years of growth in the range of 3 percent to 4 percent. This means that we’ll get back to 2007 levels by the end of 2011 and start to see net hotel market growth in 2012.

Part of the problem that the hotels face is an increase in supply. So, while demand is down, the industry has more beds that need heads in them. The ill-timed increase in demand is the result of projects that began before the financial crisis and subsequent recession. Nobody saw the credit market collapse coming, let alone the downstream effects, as evidenced by the 3 percent increase in supply last year. From 2011 to 2013, supply growth will slow down, though, as bone-dry credit markets and general financial malaise have led many development projects to stall. In fact, PhoCusWright expects hotel supply falls next year and the two years after.

The increase in supply and decrease in demand has put incredible pressure on occupancy. In 2006, hotels were able to put 63 percent of their room-nights to work, but last year, that fell to 55 percent. PhoCusWright expects the increase in demand and decrease in supply over the next few years to support an industry-wide recovery to 60 percent occupancy by 2012. At this level, hotels can usually pick up some pricing power, which translates to an improvement in rates.

In 2009, hotel room rates were of course impacted by the disparity between supply and demand, not to mention the general squeeze on consumer spending. But, these factors weren’t exclusively responsible for the 9 percent drop in rates last year. The hotels themselves bear part of the blame, according to PhoCusWright’s study. In an effort to fill rooms, they engaged each other in a “race to the bottom,” in which they tried to undercut each other for market share at any price.

Given the anemic growth in demand expected in 2010, expect room rates to continue to fall until 2011. The return to pre-recession levels will take a while, particularly given the economic conditions that will be with us this year. The result is another year of depressed revenues for the hotel industry. Last year, revenue per available room-night (RevPAR), the primary metric by which the hotel industry is judged, plunged 17 percent last year and will continue to slide in 2010. PhoCusWright expects the bleeding to stop in 2011, with 2012 RevPAR reaching only 90 percent to 95 percent of the peak levels sustained in 2007.

So, what does all this mean? A full recovery is likely four years away for occupancy and room rates. In 2011, the situation will stop worsening, and it will pick up in 2012, but it’s two years past then than you’ll see the hotels regain their strength. Until then, it’s the consumers’ show. Travel often. Slap a few more nights onto each of your stays. You’re in the driver’s seat.

[Photo via MigrantBlogger]

Travel professionals: stop going the extra mile

It sounds counterintuitive, right? Normally, customers expect that extra effort, and we complain constantly that we don’t get it enough. What we sometimes don’t understand, though, is that the extra effort is at the root of many of the customer service problems we encounter. Going the extra mile at the wrong time can be a disaster.

I remember a case presented at a conference I attended back in 1999 (yeah, it made an impression), when I was a consultant in the hotel industry. Some customer service guru was teaching us how to better serve our clients – which was pretty important, since our clients, the hotels, were in the service business. She discussed with us a bank teller who spent extra time with a customer – going that extra mile” – even though there was a long line waiting. The guru couldn’t summon enough praise for this teller. Even though everybody else was waiting, this teller put forth more than was necessary to make a customer happy.

Almost as soon as the story was over, people in different parts of the audience barked almost in unison, “What about everyone else?” The service aficionado spent several minutes ducking and dodging as a growing number of attendees hurled the lines of “I’d be pissed,” “That’s not good service!” and “Do you really believe that stuff?” She eventually recovered and finished her session, but the discussion at the bar that night was all about whether to please the one at the expense of the many.

Just about everyone has seen this problem from the three perspectives involved. I know I’ve had to serve the idiot, wait in line behind the idiot … and, of course, been the idiot. The last time I was the cause, I inadvertently looked over my shoulder and noticed the line behind me. Immediately, it dawned on me. The person helping me – because of my stupidity – was screwing everybody else.

That’s what prompted me to dig into this issue. I realized that, on occasion, going the extra mile for one customer can alienate many others.

If you’re on the service side of the desk, instead of rushing to help, consider the following criteria before committing plenty of time:

1. Is the problem legitimate?
If the customer/passenger has been wronged somehow, do everything it takes to fix the problem. If this isn’t the case, go to #2.

2. Can the situation reasonably be resolved?
A problem with no solution isn’t worth everyone else’s time. At some point, the madness has to stop.

3. What was the customer’s role in all this?
Is this a situation of the customer’s own creation (e.g., late for a flight)? If so, take this into account. Personal responsibility should be considered.

Speaking of personal responsibility, we have some obligations as customers, too.

1. Admit when you screw up
Don’t try to shift the blame and extract the best outcome reasonably possible. Confess, make it as easy and fast as possible to remedy the problem (that you created) and accept whatever alternative can be supplied.

2. Know when it’s time to quit
Don’t push for the answer you want when it’s clear you won’t get it. When defeat is obvious, move on.

3. Use other resources
Complaining at the airport, for example, is a waste of time after a while. Instead, call customer service, write a letter to the CEO (they are read) or turn to social media. Facebook, Twitter and blogs can be great ways to spread the word. Many companies monitor these environments, and the good ones will respond quickly (props to OGIO and Babies “R” Us).

We all love the thought of doing everything possible to help a customer, but sometimes, it just doesn’t make sense. “Reasonable” can do a lot to keep the lines moving and make everyone much, much happier. The best customer service, from time to time, is as little as possible.

[Photo by Larry Myers via Flickr]