1. A Hotel Consultant's Eclectic Opinions
For the past 25 years, I have written hundreds of articles, columns, essays, editorials and blogs. They have appeared in many different formats. Before the Internet, I was published in the following print outlets: Cornell Quarterly, Lodging Hospitality, Hotel & Motel Management, National Real Estate Investor, The Bottomline, The Info Franchise Newsletter, Lodging, The Franchisee Voice, AAHOA Lodging Business, Arizona Hospitality Trends, Successful Hotel Marketer, the New York Times, the Wall St. Journal, etc.
My most recent published articles have appeared under the title "Nobody Asked Me, But..." (NAMB). This title was created by the late, legendary New York sportswriter Jimmy Cannon whose best columns (from the Daily News, New York Post and Newsday) were selected and edited by his two brothers Jack and Tom Cannon: "Nobody Asked Me, But... The World of Jimmy Cannon." (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York 1978) Jimmy Cannon was an ace sportswriter: well-known and well-liked with a special quality of personality in print and in life. He thrived in a world of color and excitement, the intermingling arena of sports and Broadway society.
My world of color and excitement is the hotel industry which has instructed, nourished and excited me for many years. From 2004 through 2012, I wrote 100 "Nobody Asked Me, But..." columns which appeared mostly on the Hotel-Online and Hotel Interactive websites and were often reproduced on the BlueMauMau, HotelNewsResource, e-hospitality, hsyndicate websites. They cover a wide variety of hotel subjects: feasibility studies, fair franchising, Cuba, exterior corridor controversy, franchise advisory councils, franchise fiduciary duty, arbitration, great American hoteliers, AAHOAs origin, various hotel histories, landmark litigation cases, and many more. I asked impertinent questions in search of pertinent answers. NAMB No. 1 asked the following questions (among 14 others):
- Does anyone take a bath in a hotel bathroom?
- Did you know that in 1900: the average life expectancy in the United States was 47; only 14% of the homes had a bathtub; there were only 8000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads; Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California; more than 95% of all births took place at home; the population of Las Vegas, Nevada was only 30 people?
- Why do hotel blackout drapes close to all except the last half inch- which provides exactly the angle at which the very first 6:05 sunrise beam slants right into your eyes?
2. Hotel History: The Hermitage Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee
When the Hermitage opened in 1910, it advertised its rooms as "fireproof, noise proof and dustproof, $2.00 and up". It was designed by the Tennessee-born architect J.E.R. Carpenter and named for President Andrew Jackson's estate, "The Hermitage". J.E.R. Carpenter was one of the most highly-regarded architects in the U.S. who specialized in the design of upper-class apartment buildings in New York City. Many won Gold Medals from the American Institute of Architects from 1916 through 1928. Carpenter was educated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Commissioned by 250 Nashvillians in 1908, the Hermitage Hotel provided hot and cold circulating water which was distilled to avoid typhoid fever. Each guestroom had a private bath, telephone, electric fan and a device which indicated the arrival of mail. The Hermitage was a symbol of Nashville's emergence as a major Southern city. As Nashville's first million-dollar hotel, no expense was spared in its furnishings: sienna marble in the entrance; wall panels of Russian walnut; a stained glass ceiling in the vaulted lobby; Persian rugs and massive overstuffed furniture. Downstairs, adjoining the Oak Bar, was the Grille Room (now the Capitol Grille) which was built by German craftsmen and became a private mens-only club.
The Hermitage has enjoyed a long relationship with the music industry as Nashville became known as Music City and home of the historic Grand Ole Opry. The hotel was the headquarters for the suffragette movement in 1920 as the state of Tennessee cast the deciding ballot in passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. The Hermitage was also the home for eight years of legendary pool player Minnesota "Fats" where the hotel management installed a $3200 Steepleton billiards table on the mezzanine above the lobby.
One of the longest-serving general managers of the Hermitage was Howard E. Baughman who was highly energetic and able. He managed the hotel from 1929 to 1946 and was remembered by W.D. Brown who ran the hotel barbershop for forty-seven years:
He was really a hotel man. He was always busy. I would open shop at eight o'clock. At 8:05 every morning he would walk in my door. He had already started at the top and inspected everything hiking all the way down to the basement. There were always a lot of bellboys around in those days. If he started talking to someone in the lobby, he might motion to one of the boys. The bellboy know what to do. He went to the desk and got the man's name and slipped it to Mr. Baughman, who always liked to call a guest by his name. He was as straight as he could be. He would do anything for a guest. If the hotel was full and a regular guest came in he would take him to his apartment. Baughman had an apartment on the sixth floor.
For many years, the Hermitage was the center of Nashville's social and political life hosting everything from formal functions in its grand ballroom to pep rallies for Vanderbilt University's football team. The Meyer Hotel Company leased the hotel from 1918 to 1956. In 1969, the Hermitage was sold to the Alsonett Hotels Company who, after years of difficulty and deterioration finally shut it down 1979. The Brock Hotel Corporation, the nation's largest independent operator of Holiday Inns, acquired the hotel and, after an extensive renovation reopened it in 1981. But Brock was not successful and in 2000 sold the Hermitage to Historic Hotels of Nashville whose stated business goal was to gain the AAA Five-Diamond rating. During a multi-year $17 million renovation and restoration project, architect Ron Gobbell used historic photographs as a guide for the faithful and interpretive restoration.
In the ballroom, where the burled walnut paneling had dulled thanks to years of deterioration and grime, crews worked tirelessly to remove the dirt and old varnish by hand. Once the wood had been stripped they hand-applied three new coats of varnish to restore the paneling's lustrous gleam. Throughout the various renovations, there's one part of the hotel that has remained virtually untouched: the green and black Art Deco-style men's room in the basement which was installed in 1910. After renovation and restoration of its original shoeshine stand, the bathroom has become a landmark in its own right, even winning the title of "America's Best Restroom" in an online contest.
The Hermitage Hotel is one of the great hotels in the United States for many reasons, not the least of which are:
- the owners recently bought a 245-acre farm where the property's staff will help raise beef that will be served in the hotel's Capital Grille. The Double H Farm is expected to yield fresh produce and corn that will be turned into Hermitage Hotel-brand grits. The hotel staff has helped tend a vegetable garden at a nearby farm since 2008.
- Controller of the Hermitage Hotel is Tom Vickstrom who is also a talented and impassioned hotel historian. His indefatigable research has resulted in a series of newsletters, "Reflections from the Past" which are written for the ever-growing circle of friends and associates who enjoy history and have a special sentimental connection with the Hermitage Hotel. The newsletters are chock-full of vintage photographs; stories about Hermitage guests, famous and infamous; family recollections; great memories; old menus; nostalgic wedding pictures; former employees; and Hermitage Hotel memorabilia.
3. Turning Gray Into Gold
There are now more Americans age 65 and older than at any other time in U.S. history. According to a new Census Bureau report, there were 40.3 million people age 65 and older on April 1, 2010, up 5.3 percent from 35 million in 2000 (and just 3.1 million in 1900).
The 65-and-older population jumped 15.1 percent between 2000 and 2010, compared with a 9.7 percent increase for the total U.S. population. People age 65 and older now make up 13 percent of the total population, compared with 12.4 percent in 2000 and 4.1 percent in 1900.
All regions of the country have seen growth in their 65-and-older population since the 2000 Census. The older population is growing most rapidly in the West, where the number of senior citizens increased 23.5 percent, from 6.9 million in 2000 to 8.5 million in 2010. The Northeast is home to the largest percentage of people 65 years and older (14.1 percent), followed by the Midwest (13.5 percent), the South (13.0 percent), and the West (11.9 percent).
What does all this mean for the hospitality industry? Simply that there is a largely untapped market out there that is growing at a phenomenal rate. This mature market is generally willing to travel in the shoulder seasons if there is enough incentive. Since many are retired, they can travel midweek and arrange their travel plans in accordance with rooms availability. Many pay in full on departure by personal check (reducing credit-card commissions) and many are willing to give large deposits, providing a cash-flow benefit.
Older Traveler's Needs And Preferences
Prejudice against seniors, which is characterized by rude behavior toward older persons is fairly widespread. Direct-contact hotel personnel must be trained to work with the older traveler. The hotel staff must be taught how to communicate with guests who may have weak eyesight or poor hearing. Many prefer rooms with two beds and locations on the lower floors near an elevator. Safety and security are concerns, so room sprinklers and smoke detectors can be strong selling points. More than other travelers, older guests enjoy public areas where they can gather to talk and socialize. Such rooms should be separate from the cocktail lounge.
Groups of senior travelers usually enjoy attending some kind of welcoming reception. You might meet them upon arrival to explain meal times, hotel amenities and community facilities and then offer coffee, lemonade and home-baked goods. Most older persons also like to participate in organized entertainment after dinner, such as a trip to a local theatre, a sing-along, or a shopping excursion. Guide services for these activities and for day trips are a plus.
Older Travelers Physical Requirements
Interior design for senior citizens must take into account the elements of hearing loss, diminished vision, lessened color perception, poorer short-term memory and weakened upper body strength. While experts agree that hotel facilities for seniors should be designed to offset these difficulties, I believe that, in fact, all hotel guests would benefit from the following improvements:
In Guest Rooms
- Better lighting at room entry, writing table, at bedside, in closet, at TV set.
- Master electrical switch at bedside to control all room lights.
- TV operating instructions and docking connections that are easy to read, clear in direction, simple to operate and well lit.
- Blackout drapes and/or shades that actually keep light out.
- Clear instructions on how to connect to the Internet and free WiFi.
- An alarm clock that is easy to program and read at night.
- Lamp switches at the base of the lamp where they can be easily seen and reached.
- Real clothes hangers in the closet along with irons and ironing boards.
- Descriptive printed materials that are well-written, clearly printed, and large enough to read easily.
- Provide a refrigerator and a microwave oven.
- Apply non-skid material to both the bathtub floor and bathroom floor.
- Install well-placed and secure hand holds and grab bars in bathtub and shower area.
- Make sure the adjustable shower head is easy to adjust and does the job.
- Eliminate hot water surges and provide scald-proof hot water.
- Provide good lighting over the mirror.
- Install night lights which won't disturb sleeping but will provide safe night trips to bathroom.
- Install a magnifying mirror on an accordion bracket.
- Provide a UL approved hair dryer with a wall-hung bracket.
- Supply better-quality, more absorbent towels in color.
- Make sure all shower curtains are long enough to reach well below the bathtub top.
- Provide bathroom amenities (shampoo, lotion, etc.) in containers which are easy to identify (with large print) and which have raised surfaces on the cap for easy turning when hands are wet.
- Make certain that corridors are well illuminated, especially over guestroom doors to expedite the use of electronic door lock cards.
- Corridor exit signs should be installed close to the floor so that they won't be hidden by rising smoke in case of fire.
- Elevators should have clear and well-lit floors button with "Door Open" button easily located.
- Elevator door bumpers should retract readily when touched.
- Elevator signs describing restaurant facilities should be colorful, simple in design with clear directions.
- Voice-activated fire emergency alert systems.
- Smoke detectors.
- Guestroom sprinklers.
- Medical service availability in the event of an emergency illness.
- Valet parking.
- Well-lit parking areas with shuttle to and from the front of the hotel.
- Uniformed security guards on duty at critical times.
On April 30, 1990, the late Anthony Marshall, dean of the School of Hospitality Management at Florida International University, wrote in one of his "At Your Risk" columns:
Gear Hotel Operations to Capture Gray Market
The senior population is increasing; they're on the go, and they're spending a lot of money. Some 63 million Americans are over 50 years old and hold 50 percent of the nation's discretionary income. According to a recent article in The Miami Herald, about 83 percent of seniors (people age 50 and older) list travel as their strongest interest. To go after this market makes sense.
To bid for "older" dollars requires more than simply offering senior-citizen discounts through the American Association of Retired Persons. Turning gray into gold requires a comprehensive program that identifies the needs of senior guests and satisfies those needs. Much can be accomplished by establishing an employee task force to inspect all physical and operational aspects of the hotel from the stand-point of senior service.
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