PART 1: PRE-WALK, WHAT IS GOING ON AT THE HOTEL
Hotels have a unique business model. Because they work with perishable products, (once the room night is not sold, the hotel never gets back that revenue) hotelís must capitalize on every possible revenue option from discounted rates to hedging their bets by locking in some reservations with a "no-show" charge.
For any hotel, their daily or monthly seasonality clearly shows them the days they will be busy and which days will be light. On the days that are busy, hotels try to ensure the "perfect sell" (A night when every single guest room is booked and every guest has been checked into a guest room with no walks and no "no-shows." While this does not happen very often, hotels try to achieve this by creating a buffer with their reservations.
In most hotels, there is almost always an attrition rate where out of 100 reservations, maybe 10, where guests donít show up or they cancel. In order to make up for these "expected" losses in reservations, hotels allow for more reservations (often in line with the typical attrition rate) to be made than they have guest rooms. This, in some sense, allows protection from unsold rooms, a definite no-no at most hotels.
Most of the time, the hotelís revenue management team has more than enough experience to know what that attrition percentage is even down to the rate type i.e. ABC Group has an attrition rate of 5% while bookings under a corporate rate typically have a 15% attrition rate. Depending on the profile of reservations coming in, revenue management teams bank on allowing more bookings than the room inventory can withstand, with the hope that the attrition will kick in and the hotel, by the last night audit, hits the magic formula i.e. reservations checking in = number of guest rooms at the hotel.
It is when this formula gets out of whack, i.e. the confirmed reservations checking in are greater than the number of guest rooms at the hotel, when there is a potential "walk" situation which leads us to Part 2.
PART 2: THE WALK--HOW DOES A HOTEL DEAL WITH GUESTS?
On the day a hotel is fully sold out, the property ensures that all guest rooms are fully suitable for occupation and tries to make sure that all reservations are confirmed and if not, are immediately canceled. Additional steps are also made to check the status of the hotels nearby to identify whether the sell-out is hotel specific or citywide. This helps when trying to identify suitable alternative accommodation in order to make the guest experience as smooth as possible.
As the evening goes on, the hotel develops a better sense of the reservation situation and the potential for an over-booked day. When this situation becomes a reality, the hotel makes arrangements with sister properties to accommodate guests whose reservations cannot be honored. If the hotel is part of a large chain like Marriott or Starwood, arrangements are typically made with properties within the same group because logically, the guest and the revenue should stay within the group. If the property is an individual property, ideally arrangements are made for equal, if not slightly higher quality hotels for the guest.
There are two juxtaposing reasons for hotels carefully choosing an alternative property for their guests. First, because the hotel has not honored the reservation, they must look after the guest by making their transfer and overall experience as seamless as possible. One way to do it is to make guests feel that they have been upgraded to a slightly better hotel for the inconvenience caused. But at the same time, a hotel does not necessarily want a guest to experience a much better hotel because not only is the product not comparable, but also there is a possibility that the guest may not come back because they now have experienced another (better) property at the hotelís expense.
Once the alternative properties have been selected, the hotel identifies the reservations that would typically be walked. Priority (do not walk status) is given to VIPs, reward members, key corporate accounts and groups.
When a guest checks-in and they are to be walked, the hotel should clearly and empathetically explain the situation and identify all the steps that have been taken to guarantee a smooth transition to the alternate property. Most importantly, the hotel must communicate to the guest what they have done to compensate the guest for the inconvenience.
PART 3: WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE WALK
There are three main compensatory items a hotel should address and you, as a guest, should expect as minimum.
1) Room: With the room not available, hotels should absorb the cost of your hotel room at the alternative property. This is key as it is the primary product or service that the hotel failed at providing a paying guest.
2) Transportation: Most hotels understand that if you are being relocated against your will, they should pay for the transportation to take you to the new hotel. Guests should make it a point to ask for this.
3) Communication: Unless you live in a bubble, there are friends, family and colleagues who expect that you be at the hotel you said you would be at. With the hotel relocating you, they should also spring for reasonable phone charges so that you may call all the concerned parties and inform them of the change in hotel.
While these are the three main ways hotels compensate their guests, some guests feel that it is not enough (and rightfully so) because oftentimes corporate guests already have their rooms covered and the actually inconvenience to the guest is not adequately compensated by just covering the room charges. In this situation, guests should clearly communicate this to the front desk and negotiate alternative compensation, which could include a complimentary breakfast, dinner or another amenity.
While rewards members are rarely ever walked, if this were to happen, members could ask for greater compensation including free points equaling a future free night or something similar (While the hotel may not necessarily agree to this, these could be negotiated and smart hotels would understand compensation today vs. long term loyalty).
PART 4: POST WALK--HOW TO ENSURE YOU NEVER GET WALKED AGAIN?
So, you have been walked, itís the morning after and you're still upset. What do you do now? And the next time you book?
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Write a constructive letter or make a phone call to hotel management addressing your experience with them. You paid for a room at their hotel and you were relocated. You should not only address your dissatisfaction but also, if the staff that looked after you showed the right amount of empathy and care, you should highlight that too. This gives the hotel an opportunity to make it up to you once again, which could result in further compensation, flagging your reservations as a VIP, and potential long-term loyalty. It just does not hurt to communicate.
Also, book your hotel room the right way. (See my earlier article about how to book a hotel room.) When you book a hotel room, make sure that you go through the actual hotel website, call to ensure the hotel understands all your room requirements, clearly provide contact addresses and numbers, and provide your rewards information no matter how basic the membership. These will not only serve to highlight your loyalty to the hotel, but also provide the hotel with the right information with which to protect your booking and ensure the perfect stay.
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