By: Sophie Talbo, Sr. Director, HGBU Hotel Presales
Ok, today we are going to talk about a controversial subject: ‘walking’ guests, or the common practice of overbooking in the hotel industry.
Before we talk about some strategies for managing this, let me admit – both as a young front desk clerk, manager and eventual director of revenue, I have had to walk guests. In fact, in one very unfortunate circumstance, the nearest available hotel to walk to was 60 miles away from London where I was working.
For those unfamiliar with the practice, hotels overbook because we always expect some level of no show or last minute cancellation, and it is the hoteliers job to fill the hotel to maximize RevPAR (revenue per available room). Walking comes about when the overbooking exceeds the number of cancellations or washed rooms. Many years ago when I was in hotels, a day where you were heavily in the minus column was a stressful day with A LOT of refreshing the availability page in the hopes that you would have some magical cancellations or early departures.
Back then I soon found out that the early practice of trying to fake a last minute maintenance problem with the room was not going to cut it. Too many people got wise to that and would ask to see the ‘flooded’ room or say they could live without air conditioning. So honesty quickly became the best policy.
A few days ago, one of our team members brought to my attention a great article by Software Advice, a web-based consultancy for hotel management software, about how guests react to overbooking and this makes for excellent reading. What is clear from the research presented is that guests expect more than just an equal alternative accommodation elsewhere when they are walked, and that there is a science to controlling the guest's reaction to your oversell.
The best action to take is to manage this issue in advance (if possible) before the guest arrives at the hotel and to do so gracefully with an additional gesture to apologize for the inconvenience. If it is genuinely not possible to do so in advance (and that is very common), the key seems to be to make sure you give the guest a stay in a hotel and room type that is better than their original room, make sure you organize and offer transportation, and give the guest an additional gesture of some kind to take the sting out of it.
However you slice it, it is very clear from the article that the appropriate follow up to overbooking a guest is key to reputation management and mitigating negative feelings and reviews. If all else fails, you can try the practice of giving people roll away beds in conference rooms -- which I have experienced before! -- but that one is not really recommended…
On the flip side, I know of one hotel chain that takes advantage of this practice and actually has a policy of upgrading and giving free food and drink to any guest that was walked to them from another hotel. The justification is simple: the overbooked hotel spent all that money getting the reservation in the first place from marketing, advertising, reservation costs - and here they are giving me the customer for free! Let's make sure they come back to us after this experience.
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