How to be a successful guest relations executive

Guest Relations Manager Roles and Responsibilities

India has two unique and distinctive traditions of religiously following the sacrosanct phrases, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava‘ and ‘Vasudaivam Kutumbakam‘. Both are Sanskrit phrases which are essentially very similar in meaning – while the former means ‘guests are divine’, the latter can be loosely translated as ‘the whole wide world is indeed my extended family’!

As a guest relations executive at any of the sprawling three, five and seven star hotels that criss-cross the entire length and breadth of our great and vast country, you’ll do very well to adapt the above two phrases as your personal motto while dealing with guests and clients in your day-to-day lives.

This is so because guest relations is predominantly a people-facing job that requires a lot in terms of communication skills, soft skills and yes, the most-often neglected people skills that the two Sanskrit phrases which were evoked at the very outset of our conversation sought to invoke!

The first phrase – ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ – might ring a bell instantly as it is constantly being played out on our television sets as the hugely popular television commercial campaign of Indian tourism endorsed by Bollywood heavyweight Aamir Khan!

Let’s delve into some mythology now. Legend has it that Lord Krishna’s impoverished childhood friend Sudama’s wife, fed up with the family’s unending poverty kept goading him to seek help from Krishna. But, he refused to budge. Ultimately, after a lot more goading and pestering, Sudama went to meet Krishna, now the grand King of Dwarka. Krishna received him as befits a dear childhood friend, with rare state honours and ordered a grand feast and gave elaborate instructions for his pleasant stay too. However, even when it was time to leave, the self-righteous Sudama couldn’t bring himself to ask anything from Krishna. Krishna, however, presented him a little bundle of rice that’d keep him full throughout the journey.

Once Sudama left Dwarka, he decided to keep the bundle of rice for his family and instead manage on wild berries and fruits. As he was entering the narrow lane that led to his house, he was stunned to see a palatial palace looking out from the very place where his humble house had hitherto stood. Almost simultaneously, his wife and children ran out to greet him amid peals of laughter and thankful gazes. Moreover, He was surprised to see them dressed in clothes that were well beyond their means. It so turned out that Krishna had already guessed the purport of his friend’s visit and immediately went about ameliorating their sufferings. What was even more surprising was that Sudama felt that his bag had suddenly grown heavier and as he reached for the bundle of rice so that he could hand it out to his wife, he was stunned to find that the entire clothes bag had nothing but gold coins. Without so much as a word uttered, a friend had done his deed by helping another friend in need!

The point of the above story is that you need to go out of your way to make guests feel comfortable given that as first-time guests at your hotel, they are in an alien setting and among people they don’t know yet. This is truer in case of patrons (or guests who patronise your hotel) as you’ll be expected to know their quirks, follies & foibles like the back of your hand. In both cases, it is a very good idea to take & maintain notes about the guest to give them such personalised service that they award that birthday party contract that your boss has been pestering you for so long. Maintain a separate MS Excel spreadsheet and the physically taken notes too and be doubly sure to cross check details like anniversaries & birthdays. Also, if your hotel is pet and child family, please remember that all dogs aren’t named Tommy & all boys do not play football!

As regards the second phrase, ‘Vasudaivam Kutumbakam’, it goes on to induce the very essential quality of treating people as you would your family members. Just like we all have our roles to play in our unique families and have demands from family members to cater to, remember that guests of a myriad hues will pour out into the lobby and not everyone will be good to you. Please allow for the fact that everyone has their bad days, their tipsy days and their flirty days. Be calm & composed when dealing with all of them. And remember, personalisation is the key here too. If Ms Bannerjee likes her vodka with coconut water, offer her that, rather than decide on a tall glass of iced tea. If she’s paying for the service, she’s got the right to have her way.

So, all you guest relations rockstars, please remember to adopt the above two Sanskrit phrases so that you can be the girl Mr Batra looks for every time he flies down on business from Los Angeles to Mumbai!

How to be a good Housekeeping specialist at five star hotels

Housekeeping Specialists Course - Home Cleaning - Mumbai, India

It’s campus placement season at your prestigious Blue Whale Academy and you’ve landed your share of offers too. After very carefully scrutinising each and every offer and aligning it with your personal interests and career goals, you have decided to take up the offer that’s closest to your heart – housekeeping specialist at the city’s most famous five star. Apart from being the closest to your dream job, this offer comes with a host of advantages like – proximity (in other words, the hotel is close to your home) and the freedom to opt for a shift of your choice and most importantly good work incentives.

However, when you actually commence work there, things might not exactly be the cakewalk you imagined they would. But worry not, we’ll get you sorted.

First things first – you’d do well to remember that all that your textbooks told you were meant to be used in conjunct with on-ground realities. So to say, on the job, your absolute and lone focus should be in doing things in the quickest and easiest possible manner rather than try to align it to some theory you’ve learnt as a student. In other words, your textual learning must provide only a broad framework that you must refer to only if you absolutely must, and definitely in the spirit, not in the letter or verbatim!

Since managing the semi-literate housekeeping staff can be quite a challenging staff as one often has to negotiate language barriers too, please remember that it’s never a good idea to shout at people or boss around. Be a firm, not a nasty boss by treating every person who’s not in as fortunate a position as you as you’d like your higher-ups to treat you.

Also, housekeeping is often an extremely challenging and thankless job which you can turn around by being meticulous and stringent to details like very quick turnaround times to clear, for instance, stinky rooms after a wild party given that there’s usually only around two hours between check out and check in times. Or reacting to weather-infused or natural situations like damp smells in monsoons or termite/bedbug attacks in summers especially if the room hasn’t really been in circulation for a long-ish time.

As housekeeping is both an internal and guest-facing role, you’ll have to juggle a lot of hats and pacify a lot of frayed nerves. In other words, please remember that you will be responsible for ensuring the routine upkeep and maintenance of the hotel’s property including lobbies, conference halls, restaurants, kitchens, washrooms, internal offices and most importantly, guest rooms.

And just in case you assumed that managing housekeeping is a back-end job, please wake up! You just cannot expect to be done after your staff has done their daily wiping and cleaning job. For, there’ll be boisterous kids out on a mission to ruin all food in sight, their mom’s who’ll spill wine and daintily trip over the mop to accuse the hotel staff of hiring untrained staff and the kids’ dads will most surely join in their football, smashing a few vases on the way to the goalpost, which FYI happens to be the layered glass giant teak side table, a favourite with the promoters of the hotel. So, despite the fact that the hotel management will surely have some rules in place, guests usually don’t think twice before flouting them. So, if the kids are running around, politely but firmly ask the parents to take charge of them.

The worst guests are mostly those who come on one offs like office conferences, weddings, parties and the like. Since they do not have any intention to strike up a long-term relationship with this particular hotel, they’ll most-often not care before spilling, smashing and indulging in unacceptable behaviour in public.

Also, please remember that the bar area is the most-susceptible to damages as it’s a universal human tendency to drink far beyond one’s capacity and then get garrulous, boisterous, quarrelsome and destructive – in that order. Also, people tend to drink till tipping point and then usually throw up.

Yes, don’t cringe, though not you, but your staff will have to clear that up too. But rest assured, it’s nothing too grossly close for comfort – after all, starred hotels are so priced because they employ the latest in cleaning technology and manual scavenging is just not an option!

Again, please note that you can never get away with the excuse that your uniform is stained thanks to the nature of your job. At a seven star, right from the usher to the valet, everyone is expected to be prim and proper, no matter what time of the twenty-four hour day it is. You’ll usually have a lot of spare uniforms – use them rather than turn up in smelly wrinkled clothes that are so very revolting to the human senses. So, please be a little OCD about hygiene as no-one like to be referred to as ‘the stinky unkempt guy’!

And please remember, you’re never fully dressed unless you’ve worn a smile!

Managing the Concierge desk at a Seven-Star hotel

Indian Institute of Hospitality and Management

Have you always been fascinated by the bespectacled young lady sitting pretty right at the hotel’s lobby and forever smiling and making small talk to guests? Have you ever wondered if she never gets tired taking those incessant calls? Or how come she never loses her cool even when guests demand the sun, moon and earth for all their hard-earned money’s worth?

Well, in common parlance, we call hers a receptionist’s job. In the hospitality industry, however, she’s technically managing the concierge desk. So to say, the concierge desk performs the entire paraphernalia of tasks that are beyond the ambit of the services offered by the hotel. In other words, the lady behind the concierge desk is responsible for providing comfort that lies beyond the scope of the hotel staff’s work like arranging for sightseeing tours, organising surprise parties at another hotel etc.

However, you’ll need to keep in mind that appearances are deceptive. For behind all those firm handshakes, effervescent smiles, immaculate make-up and immaculate dressing sense lies a girl just like you! So, to cut a long story short, you really can be managing the concierge desk at any reputed Seven-Star hotel.

But, please remember that it’s indeed a challenging role and demands truckloads of multitasking skills. For, your duties at the concierge desk will include, but not be limited to, seemingly doable stuff like making reservations (at restaurants, other hotels, spas etc.), arranging transportation, currency exchange, procuring tickets (for activities such as sightseeing, pub crawling etc.) arranging porter and courier services as also any other assistance that the guest might require from time to time. And, this time knows no sacrosanct limits or curfews especially when it comes to guests on vacation. So, please don’t get hassled if you get a call at 4am requesting a cab at 430am just so that they can experience the cityscape awash in the supple glow of the rising sun.

For, corporate or business travellers who are presumably in the company of their colleagues will usually stick to company guidelines on appropriate hotel behaviour. Also, considering that these business travellers might have an early morning flight to catch or a late-night conference call to make, it’s a good idea for you, as a concierge desk manager, to enquire after their needs.

So, if you’re wondering what skill sets go into the making of a good concierge desk manager, a quick check list would be – oodles of patience (required to keep your cool with eccentric guests), excellent leadership & coordination skills to get things done from an entire entourage including both internal and external parties, multi-tasking skills to ensure you can handle several requests at a time, the ability to say ‘no’ to absurd requests (like exotic or banned meats) and most importantly, great communication skills to ensure that you don’t mess up the tasks at hand. Also, taking notes or using the voice recorder is a good idea to avoid unnecessary complications.

In other words, you need to be extremely well-networked so as to be able to procure anything that the guest might require. And this will, in all likelihood, include a pregnant guest’s weird late night cravings or a drunk guest’s antics too!

Don’t baulk! Things aren’t that ugly too and the above two examples, though just invoked in jest, are possibilities many people who manage concierge desks have reported! The most common requests however are provision of room service, extension of check-out times and keeping luggage in cloak rooms after check out. This might be because the honeymooning couple wants to indulge in some last minute retail therapy or selfie sessions, before taking the cab to the airport.

And while it’s all well that they’ve checked out, your role doesn’t end until after they’ve plonked themselves on their leather sofas back home! Yes, you guessed it right – you’ll have to arrange the transportation to take them to the market, selfie spots and to the airport too. And just before you say ‘phew’, let’s tell you that your duty is far from over. In fact, as a good concierge desk person, you’ll have to call the couple intermittently to check their progress on the journey to ask whether – they’re missing any item of their luggage, they’re done with their check-in, are comfortably seated, have de-planed, and, finally, have reached home – which is when you must thank them and invite them back too!

So, if you’ve decided to pick the job of a trainee concierge desk manager, over the various options you had during the campus placements at your prestigious Blue Whale Academy, go right ahead and take it up! It’ll surely keep you on your nimble feet and be a great learning curve too!