Are Europeans Better Hoteliers Than Americans?

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Until perhaps the mid-1970s, it was widely accepted that Europeans set the benchmark for the art and science of hotelkeeping. Impeccably clad in morning coats and perpetual blank stares, they were masters of obsequious service. No request was too large or too small, and all were fulfilled with the utmost discretion. American hoteliers, on the other hand, are masters of friendly, hands-on service backed by the best-trained employees and the latest in guest-pleasing and efficiency-creating technology. Their approach to the business of hotels became the worldwide standard 30-plus-years ago.

And while Americans still lead the league in that pat-on-the-back style of service, it seems as though Europeans have caught up and perhaps surpassed their New World colleagues in some aspects of hotel management. That was the impression I got from a whirlwind six-day trip last week in Scotland, England and Germany. The journey was sponsored by Marriott as a showcase for their entrance into the European market with the segment-leading Residence Inn brand. (More on how Residence and other extended-stay brands are approaching the European market will be explored in subsequent stories.)

While staying at two Residence Inns (Edinburgh and Munich) and a JW Marriott (London), I observed a new style of European hotel management that blends American friendliness with new approaches to design, efficiency and sales and marketing. While the two Residence Inns were developed under different models, they share a sleek, modern but very comfortable design. The guest units are spacious by European standards and feature furnishings and fixtures that are homey and functional at the same time.

And perhaps it's mostly a matter of economics, but European hoteliers are much more conscious of sustainability issues than are their North American counterparts. In all three hotels, the guestroom HVAC system and some of the lighting wouldn't engage until the room key was inserted in a slot by the guest door. While some American hotels employ passive energy control systems, the European approach also serves to remind guests of the importance of energy saving. And in the Munich property, most corridor lighting was on motion sensors, remaining dark until someone walked down the hallway.

I was also impressed by the approach to sales taken by the Residence Inn GMs in Europe. I know for a fact some American managers are not interested or too shy (or too busy creating endless reports for owners and brand executives) to spend much time with their guests. The European GMs seem to relish their opportunities to chat informally with their customers. One Residence Inn GM told me he spends 40% of his time on sales and marketing, but most of that is simple, day-to-day interaction with guests.

It was probably provocative of me to suggest European hoteliers have actually surpassed Americans in their levels of competence. In fact, it's more likely they've adopted the American style and improved upon it. That should be a lesson to all GMs, both here and abroad.

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