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The Benefits of Foreign Exchange in Hotel Industry

Read the following case and respond to the questions that follow it.

The Benefits of Foreign Exchange

The Athenaeum Hotel and Apartments in London's Piccadilly is a small privately owned hotel which has business travelers from the U.S. as the majority of its guests. Sally Bulloch, general manager, says one way of finding out if the hotel was giving customers what they wanted was to compare it with what they are offered in the U.S.

She suggested swapping jobs for a week with Valerie Ferguson, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, Georgia, and secretary of the American Hotel and Motel Association. Ferguson decided to take up Bulloch's offer and go ahead with the swap. She says: "I had no idea what I would get out of it but I saw it was an opportunity to gain an insight into how I could further develop my product. About 35 percent to 40 percent of our guests are international and I wanted to walk away with a better idea of how to service that business and how to build it up."

Business travel is increasingly based on the notion of servicing global travelers with similar wants and needs. Ms. Ferguson says, however, that there can be enormous differences. "One thing that has left an indelible impression is that European travelers are not as vocal as Americans-you have to take more time to pull the information out. In America, a guest might go to the front desk and say 'my breakfast was terrible' but the British are just not going to do that. We've got to find a way of getting that feedback, rather than make the assumption that everything is OK."

One way might be to contact visitors after they have left the hotel. "don't think they will speak to you unless something major happens but once they get home or to the office, they might;" she says.

Guests with limited English could be inhibited by language difficulties, and Ms. Ferguson believes one of her achievements over the past five years at the Ritz-Carlton is to ensure that staff speaking a number of languages are available at all times.

She is impressed by the efforts made at the Athenaeum to make guests feel at home. "There are all these reminders that you are at home-whether it's a bowl of apples or wonderful nick-knacks in the lobby. We like to think you can get a homey atmosphere in a Ritz-Carlton—we have afternoon teas and a special breakfast for Japanese guests-but customers don't want it so comfortable that it's like an old pair of shoes."

For her part, Sally Bulloch of the Athenaeum believes there is a difference in attention to detail. "It's higher over here. For instance, I've often found that if there is a bowl of fruit in an American hotel, it tends to stay there all week, whereas we change it every day:' but she admires the informality of U.S. hospitality, and would like to incorporate more of it in the hotel. "We can sometimes be too British;" says Ms. Bulloch. "It took me 10 years to get a hamburger on our room-service menu. I kept suggesting that was what our guests wanted but kept being told 'that is not what we do at the Athenaeum:"

She adds: "Many travelers want a quick tea or coffee but do not want to sit at a table. At the Ritz-Carlton outside the breakfast room they had this wonderful silver urn and attractive cups, not paper cups, so people could just have some coffee. It's very American but then why not give our American guests what they want rather than. ..What we think they should have?"

Despite the difference in size between the two hotels-the Ritz--Carlton has 457 rooms and the Athenaeum has 157--Ms. Ferguson says the day-to-day management is very similar. "It's the same, except for the British accent." But decisions can be made more quickly in a smaller hotel, she says. "Product development is managed quite differently in an independent hotel than from a chain. While our standards are very similar and our company is decentralized with a lot of decisions made at the hotel, the decision-making process here is faster-we're trying to regain that entrepreneurial spirit:'

Ms. Bulloch says she has been struck by the amount of time spent by senior staff in U.S. hotels on administration. "My impression has always been that senior staff tends to be in meetings or handling paperwork. But you don't know what's going on unless you are on the floor, and guests often want to meet the managers," she says.

M~. Ferguson says she is going back to Atlanta with "an increased awareness of the importance of face-to-face contact. Each employee here tries to establish a relationship with the guest; they try and remember the guest's name."

Both would like to extend the swap to other staff. "I would eventually like some of our housekeepers and reception staff to do the swap and to experience what it's like to travel as a guest-especially when you are jetlagged,' says Ms. Bulloch. "There's nothing worse than arriving at 7:30 A.M. and a smiling girl at reception says, 'Sorry, your room won't be ready till 11' and you want to kill her. Since lots of people leave early, we get the maids to start at 6 A.M. instead of at 8 A.M. With three maids, a room can be ready in eight minutes." She goes on: "We ought to be able to understand our guests' needs. For example, when you are in the U.S., you notice how people: will give detailed orders in a restaurant. I don't want our staff not to know what a guest is talking about if they ask for a low-sodium meal. "

Ms. Ferguson would like to use the idea of a swap as an incentive to staff by offering it to the hotel's employee of the year. "A lot of our people don't get to travel."

Case Questions
What lesson might an international manager learn from this case? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the method described in the case?

Solution Preview

What lesson might an international manager learn from this case? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the method described in the case?

The main lesson objective from the case study is understating cultural differences that allows for senior management to making effective decisions in matters of business activities. In the hotel business industry, the knowledge of guest's preferences provide key elements for management to relate and implement needed changes that impact everyone within the ...

Solution Summary

The review into foreign exchange for employees to report back the benefits in another company learning cultural difference to promote business objectives.