Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The human touch, 24 x 7

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Lobby managers in five-star hotels are on call all the time and learn to deal with crisis and celebrations, with equanimity

Shevlin Sebastian

Jayantika Gandhi breaks out into a laugh, as she remembers that particular night. It was 11 p.m. and, as the front desk manager of the J.W. Marriott hotel, she was in the lobby when a drunk Non-Resident Indian, in shorts and T-shirt and sandals, came up to her, looking upset. He told her he had been denied entry into the nightclub. The reason: he was wearing open-ended shoes. Jayantika told him this was the dress code. “He asked me why was there such a code,” she says, the laughter still suffusing her eyes. “I told him this was to protect him from women’s heels and broken glasses. He then said, ‘Why are only ladies allowed to wear open-ended shoes and stiletto heels?’
‘Well,’ I told him, ‘there are some global dress codes by which we abide by and one of them is that women are allowed to wear open-ended shoes and heels.’ But I was actually flummoxed by his question because he had a point.”
On the other side of town, Rahul Singh, assistant manager, front office, of the ITC Grand Central Sheraton tells the story of an Australian businessman, who was staying in one of the suites. One morning, he came down to the lobby and said he needed a car. So Singh organised a Skoda for him. “He sat in the back seat, shook his head and said, ‘I feel claustrophobic. I can’t sit in this car,’” says Singh. “Now, the Skoda is a fairly big car. So I got him a Camry. He went out for half a day and said, ‘I just can’t sit in a Camry. Can you get me a Mercedes?’ And for the next ten days, wherever he went, he used a Mercedes and, you know, it costs a whopping amount of money to hire one. I won’t say he was a show-off. It was just that he was used to a certain kind of lifestyle.”
These are some examples of what a front-desk or lobby or guest relations manager faces during the course of a day’s work. When you walk into any five-star lobby, these are the people who approach you and enquire politely about whether they could be of help. You are so used to their presence that you tend not to pay much attention to them even though they are the public face of the hotel. But unknown to you, they see and observe a lot.
Variety of life
“I meet all sorts of people,” says Coleen Lobo, the guest relations manager of the Grand Hyatt. “Some of the guests, especially the foreigners, love to chat and are eager to know about Indian culture. Because of their tight schedules, they are unable to explore the city. There are others who like to be left alone and they only come to you if they have some specific requests.”
Says Jaideep Malhotra (name changed), assistant manager, front office of a five-star hotel: “Most of the time I get high-end people. Which means, they are usually well-behaved.”
Most of them are, indeed, well behaved but there are those who pop in, to use the loo and pop out. “You can’t do anything about it because you cannot stop a guest from walking in,” says Brian Miranda, assistant manager, front office, Hyatt Regency.
Singh breaks into a smile as he tells me that some of the most famous people in Mumbai come in, just to use the loo of the Sheraton. “I don’t do anything about it because I don’t want to make any guest feel unwanted,” he says.
Other tricky situations occur when a ‘woman of questionable character’ enters the lobby.
“Of course, entry to the rooms is at the discretion of the hotel,” says Miranda. “If a guest comes in with a woman, our policy is that if the guest is registered on a double occupancy, he is free to take anyone up to his room. If he is on a single occupancy, we would request him to register his colleague as a friend.” Some hotels have a strict ‘no-no’ policy. Says Malhotra: “We stop the woman. We inform her of the hotel policy and she usually leaves. If a guest comes in with a woman, we check whether he has a single occupancy booking and if yes, we stop her.”
And, of course, there is the perennial problem of guests or visitors drinking too much and making a nuisance of themselves. Says Lobo: “I would repeatedly request the man to lower his voice if he is speaking loudly as I would not want the other guests to be disturbed. If he remains out of control, I will eventually call in security.”
On high alert
Clearly, this is not an easy job. On an average, a lobby manager deals with more than a hundred guests a day. So what exactly are the qualities he or she needs, to be good at the job? “You need to have lots of patience and a passion for the job,” says Gandhi. “You should enjoy talking with people. You need to be calm and level-headed. There are situations where, if you lose your cool, the situation will go out of control.”
To achieve control, it helps if you know how to anticipate things. “For example, if a guest is coming in very late and he is flying out early the next morning, he would like the check-in to be done very quickly,” says Malhotra. “I will also ask him immediately at what time he would need the car to go to the airport.”
Hard day’s night
When you view lobby managers from a distance, it would seem like a glamourous job. Here they are, working in a five-star hotel, getting salaries, which are not to be sneezed at, and meeting VIP’s, achievers and well-heeled professionals all the time. Yet, there are regrets.
“It is on public holidays, like Republic Day, when everything is shut, I would, sometimes, wish I was in another profession,” says Gandhi. “Because of the unpredictable nature of our work--a crisis can crop up any time--you can’t plan your social life in advance.”
Says Malhotra: “You are working when the world is asleep. On festival days, like Christmas and New Year’s Eve, people are partying and you are working. That can be tough.”
But all of them say, with a shining enthusiasm on their faces, that they love their jobs, be it Gandhi or Singh or Miranda or Lobo. “It is the variety of people that we meet that makes this job so fascinating,” says Lobo. As Gandhi describes it eloquently, “The hotel is like a theatre where you look your best and your dialogues have to be perfect.” Singh is not far behind in eloquence: “The lobby manager is the human touch between the walls of the hotel and the guests.”

No comments:

Post a Comment