From Bad to Worse

When it comes to the pandemic, there are some good news and reasons to be hopeful. Several vaccines are either in their final development stage or about to get approved. Right on time for the end of the dreadful year of 2020. 2021 can only get better. Or can it?

We still have 5 weeks for 2020 to go, and no matter what happens until New Year’s Eve, this won’t be the end of the challenges. Challenges with the pandemic, and challenges with the economy. Production, distribution, and the re-opening of borders will take time. So will the recovery. And we are not talking about days or weeks. We are talking about months and years.

Why things might get worse

Markets tend to be optimistic, but corporations tend to be cruel – by perception. Despite the silver lining on the horizon, it is most likely that most companies will continue cutting costs, reducing payrolls, and doing whatever necessary not just to survive, but also to make-up for the lost revenue during the pandemic.

But not only that. Many companies see the current situation as an opportunity to push through decisions that may have not been possible without such a crisis.

Some of these decisions might be radical, and urgent. In fact, they might have been urgent for a while. Upgrades of IT systems. Reviews of procedures. Reorganizing teams and the abolishment of established structures. But there is also a downside to it, especially when it comes to the “reorganizing teams” part. People are and will continue losing jobs.

Same old or not?

Now don’t get me wrong. This is nothing new. Maximising revenues and minimising expenses is what every business does. That’s how you generate profits. This was the case before the pandemic. During the pandemic. And it will stay with us also after the pandemic. It’s simply how every business works.

So, while cutting expenses and especially payrolls is nothing new to us, the magnitude of the cuts in the current environment is immense. And many of these cuts are not just until this pandemic is over. Many of these lost jobs will disappear permanently.

I am working in hotels, and my industry is among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Many of my colleagues have lost their jobs. I personally had to cancel contracts with trusted contractors, shrink my teams to an absolute minimum level, and cut payrolls through unpaid leaves and other essential measures. It hurt. Almost everyone on my team was hand-picked by me since the opening of my hotel. But I had no choice. Still, some of my former colleagues are hoping to be able to return to their previous assignments once all this is over.

But this is where it gets tricky. Because when corporate number-crunchers tell you that things can be stream-lined, everyone is replaceable and that the balance sheets still don’t look good enough, then you might want to get creative in your response to minimize the damage.

Short-term requirements for a quick brush-up of the balance sheet might become costly in the long-run. As everybody “on the ground” knows well, some people are truly not replaceable, and with everything that’s happening we are loosing countless talents and professionals. Some of them possibly never to return to a business, that destroyed their dreams or didn’t get a grasp on the value that they brought to the workplace. Also, more than often, stream-lining procedures and getting “lean” can have just the opposite effect, creating processes that result in micro-management, bureaucracy, and slow response rates. In the hospitality sector in particular this can quickly lead to frustrations for the hotel teams and for hotel guests alike.

Things are not over for the service industry

The tough times are not over, and especially the service industry will continue to suffer. Hotels, bars, restaurants. People will vacation less abroad. Companies will continue keeping business travel at a minimum. Since so many people depleted their savings or borrowed money, they will eat out less and keep parties and events on the low.

As my readers know, I am managing a hotel. For the last 12 years in this industry I was never worried about my profession, and I never worried about my job (which includes finding a new one when I felt it was time to move on).

But this time it’s different. This is the first time that I am not confident in receiving the opportunity to extend my contract (which is due in May 2021). And it’s also the first time that I have doubts. In the case that it should not be renewed, finding an immediate new opportunity will be a serious challenge.

Many of my colleagues have already lost their jobs. Many of them are smarter and more experienced than I. It’s therefore only logical to assume that I might follow in their footsteps rather sooner than later.

One more reason to keep preaching financial independence, and the purpose of having multiple income streams. And practicing it.

6 things you shouldn’t say when complaining in a hotel or resort

All right, today something not related to financial freedom. Let me share with you today something from my place of work.

As some of my readers know, I am a hotel manager and thus regularly confronted with guest feedback. Most of the time it’s great, but occasionally it happens that I receive some unpleasant comments.

Complaints from guests are part of the job. You just can’t make everyone happy and it does happen occasionally that something goes wrong. But no matter what happened and how things turn out, do yourself and the manager a favor and try to avoid those phrases:

  1. I traveled all over the world and stayed in the BEST hotels. It NEVER happened before. This one is a classic and a sure way for a manager and any staff around to roll their eyes in their head. You might have traveled the world, but we worked there. And trust me, chances are that we heard the same comments in all those hotels. Also, be careful if you mention any other hotel by name, as there is a chance that the manager you talk to actually worked there – and heard there exactly the same comments.
  2. This is not a 5-star luxury hotel! A tricky one. First, be sure that you actually know what you are talking about. Holiday Inn, Ibis, Ramada, Sheraton, Hilton. That’s not 5-star luxury hotels!
    But even if it’s a Kempinski, Six Senses, Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton, you should bear in mind: Things in buildings or rooms break occasionally, no matter how many stars the hotel has. Services are still provided by human beings who tend to do mistakes. That’s how the world works. Do yourself a favor and relax. Tell us what happened and we will see to find a solution for you.
  3. I thought I will tell you this before writing on TripAdvisor. Ah, another classic. The blackmail approach. Yes, this is blackmail, especially when it’s followed by a request for compensation or additional benefit(s). You see, if you start a conversation and try to pressure a hotel manager by threatening him or her with negative online reviews, you are immediately losing all sympathy. And depending on the manager, you might lose much more. Because unless there is a really serious issue at hand, I for my part usually reject any further requests and won’t do anything more for you than absolutely necessary. A bad review is not good, but I rather accept it than allow myself to be blackmailed. And I will also point this out when I reply to your review or when I deal with your travel agent. In the worst case scenario, you might actually even get black-listed from an entire brand. Is it really necessary to go that way? Seriously, we are working in hotels to help our guests, not to fight with them. So why not have a normal conversation without trying to leverage anyone?
  4. I don’t want to complain, but… All right, to be clear: A complaint is not a bad thing. Just be straightforward and tell us what happened, and we will tell you what we can do for you. Our job is to help you, and we honestly want to do just that.
  5. How will you compensate me for this? It’s good to be straightforward, but unless there is a serious defect in your room or a service-incurred any kind of damage to you, there is actually usually no reason or entitlement to receive any kind of compensation.
    When there is a problem, then we will solve it. If you have an idea for an improvement, then we might consider it. But having a different perspective on something or simply not liking how something looks or is being done, it does not mean that you can get a room discount, a complimentary meal or a drink at the bar. I am actually constantly surprised how people do not feel embarrassed to request stuff. And no, compensation is not the equivalent to no service. Not taking care is.
  6. I paid A LOT of money for a luxury hotel. Well, this might be true – from your point of view. But in most cases, it’s not. Let me first clarify that luxury is a flicky term. Unless you are staying at a true boutique property with ultra-personalized service and with caviar and champagne on the breakfast buffet, then chances are high that it’s rather a glorified 5-star hotel. 5 stars don’t have anything to do with luxury. The stars barely give you an indication of the hotel facilities that you may expect.
    Trust me on that, if you can really afford to book a luxury property, then you would never bring up money as an argument. People who can afford luxury properties pay attention to get what they want, not how much they paid for it. One or two hundred dollars a night is NOT a lot of money and if you could barely scrap that together to get to the hotel you dreamed of, then you simply booked above your means. Even more so, if you booked a super promotion like a Groupon package or Luxury Escapes. Seriously. I understand everybody wants to get some feel of glamour from time to time, but it’s just not it. Luxury properties don’t participate in this kind of promotions.
    But back to the complaint… The right way to bring up a complaint here is to bring the magic word “value” into the conversation. Tell me that the value you receive is not matching your expectations and be sure that we will do our best to help you with that.

There are actually many more, but let me lead in on the hotel world with these five first. A book might follow once I finish my career.

Why a beautiful office matters

I have been working abroad, in developing countries, for a couple of years now. All the hotels I worked at were luxurious 5 star properties, and only my current hotel is in a slightly lower 4 star category. But almost all the hotels had (and still have) one thing in common. Their back-office areas tend to be disastrous.

As a matter of fact, this is valid not only for developing countries, but in general hotels tend to put a lower emphasise on their employee areas. While the situation is not super-bad in Europe, it certainly lacks behind the development of office cultures that young start-ups and established bigger players turned to in recent years.

My current hotel is probably the worst in those terms that I ever worked at. Constantly broken and clogged toilets, holes in walls, water-leaks whenever it rains, hell, I even got electrocuted by our copy-machine as it was not properly earthed. Luckily it was a low voltage. The canteen has plastic chairs, aluminium cutlery, and broken tables. It’s full of mosquitos that will fall upon me as soon as I take a seat. Not an amazing experience for an area that is regularly plagued by dengue fever. For the first few months, it was difficult to have paper towels and soap in all team toilets present at all times and you might guess it, there was not even one plant or picture anywhere in plain sight.

While during my first year here I tried to fix as many of those issues as possible, and was partly successful, for the majority of the problems I found only little understanding from the hotel owners, and surprisingly, not much appreciation from my employees as well. While this kind of experiences can be frustrating, I am trying to not get discouraged and fight for a better office culture.

A managers office is his home

It really is. I spend 6 days a week in my office and tend to be there from 8:30 am until 7:30 pm. I spend more time in my office than I spend with my family. I spend more time talking to my employees than I talk to my daughter, my wife, my parents and my best friends – combined. I stare at my laptop and work on excel sheets, websites, social media, guest requests, corporate systems, restaurant menus, budgets, cocktail recipes, event preparations, staff evaluations and permanent requests from hotel owners. I talk with suppliers, have normal meetings, skype meetings, webinars and got to visit occasional events to keep myself informed about the market and upcoming challenges that the world is constantly throwing at us from every corner of the world.

Doing all this and spending so much time at work, it really matters how you feel in your office. It is not your second home. You just have to admit to yourself that your office is your first home.

A new office culture

Just a few months back in July, I went back to Europe to visit my parents, and as I am planning to stop the rat race in a very foreseeable future (just reading the previous paragraph is actually giving me an energy blast to really keep working on my plan), I have visited a few co-working spaces in Berlin.

Why did I do that? Well, frankly, I am pretty sure that I can’t stop working. I love to work and I love to be kept busy. I love to meet people and I love to try to do my part to help improve this world for someone else a little bit every day. I am just pretty sure that I don’t want to do it with such a work-load as I am having now. Thus, escaping the rate race will mean for me to work on my own terms, far less and most probably on a freelance basis. But more on this another time.

So, I visited this co-working offices – and I was truly amazed. Beautiful offices with open plan spaces that looked rather like brushed up Starbucks shops than an office. Then, there were also neat and smart modular offices for small teams or individuals, fully equipped with everything one would need to get things done. And on top of that, they were all kept in warm earth-tones, in beautiful locations around parks or with amazing city views. To top the cake with a cherry, all the offices had free soft-drinks, coffee, daily fresh fruits, some were pet friendly, had showers for people who like to jogg or come on a bicycle to work AND many were accessible 24/7. Free high speed wi-fi, electric sockets with international plugs and electric / power protection were obviously standard.

That’s when it occurred to me. People are tired of ugly offices, and yes, I am not alone out there.

Spread the word

So, why am I writing all this? I would really like to encourage all the employees out there to spread the word. Don’t accept ugly offices. Don’t accept broken toilets and water leaks. Don’t accept lacks of hygiene, health and safety. I am going to leave my hotel in 7 months from now, as my contract is about to expire, and I will keep trying to fix and improve more of this until the last day. But it’s important that people really talk about this. Only then business owners and managers, such as myself, will receive not only the pressure but also the support that is necessary to drive change.

The whole world is talking about the next big disruption. Well, I don’t need a disruption. I just want a nice office.