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Donn King


Observations of a midscale category hotel owned by a high-end chain

We decided to stay over at the hotel where we're taking a few days of downtime. Here are some observations of the overall experience. It's an interesting mix. The fact that we decided to stay an extra night tells you it is generally a good experience, but I'm seeing an interesting pattern that, I think, reveals something behind the scenes.

For context, we stayed at a Tru by Hilton hotel, billed as "a brand that is simplified, spirited and grounded in value.... Built from a belief that being cost conscious and having a great stay don’t have to be mutually exclusive, ... [t]he brand will appeal to a broad range of travelers who span generations but think alike; they are united by a millennial mindset – a youthful energy, a zest for life and a desire for human connection."

I want to emphasize that we enjoyed our stay. Though there are some observations on how to improve things, they are in the spirit of how to make a good experience even better. We will stay here again, though we may prepare a little differently.


    1. The people are unfailingly friendly and helpful.

    Everyone from the desk to the housekeeping folks have been friendly and helpful, and they always tried to accommodate whatever request we had. My wife uses a power wheelchair, so we stay in handicap-accessible rooms. The first one we entered had a small pool of water under the HVAC unit in the wall, and they immediately moved us to another room with no problem. When I needed to print something and the printer in the business section was nonfunctional (see #3), the desk clerk (Chelsea) without hesitation invited me to email the document for her to print for me. Housekeeping staff I talked to in the hall always sought to help, and a maintenance person (I think) gave me a tip on using the microwave in the lobby.

    I don't know if this is a product of good hiring or good training or both, but this was consistent.

    2. The tech is advertised as a perk.

    All sorts of things driven by the app, for instance, including using your cell phone as the room key, good Wi-Fi, work stations in a business center. They say they possess, "A technology-forward mentality featuring segment-leading complimentary Wi-Fi bandwidth allowing guests to download and stream content on their devices, plentiful power sources, and mobile check-in, room selection and Digital Key available through the Hilton HHonors mobile app." By the way, I agree about there being a lot more power sources than you see in most hotels in this midrange. But...

    3. Much of the tech either doesn't work or the staff doesn't know anything about it.

    Though the staff is unfailingly polite and helpful, none of them seemed to know anything about any of the tech stuff, and a lot of it didn't work.

    For instance, that Digital Key thing. I followed directions on the app to get my Digital Key, and it ultimately said, "Visit front desk!" I followed that prompt and got more detail: "Please stop by the front desk. We need to confirm a few details of your stay." The front desk said, "Everything on our screen looks fine. We don't see anything that needs confirming. It should be good to go. We don't know what to tell you."

    There is a sticker on the TV that says, "Tru.101. Turn on your TV and discover what makes us different." It's just went to whatever channel it was on last time it was turned off. No menu. I cycled through the channels and found only about 8 programmed into the remote. All the other 150 had to be entered manually. I asked at the front desk if there was a menu channel to at least show the content of the other channels. They didn't know. (It turned out to be channel 71.)


    When I went down to the use the printer, I found a laser jet with what looked like a control panel to one side. I tapped the screen, but nothing happened. I looked for some sort of on switch, but the panel was featureless. I asked the desk clerk (the helpful Chelsea) if she could help me with the printer. She said, "Sure!" She came over and tapped the screen. Nothing happened. She fiddled around with connections under the table, then said, "When this happens, we usually have to get maintenance to come over and work on it." This was at 11 PM. As I mentioned under #1, she immediately offered a human-based solution, i.e., she did what she could. Tech failure, knowledge failure, but human connection trumped.

    When we first hit the internet in our room, we got the usual hotel interface for logging in: last name and room number. It offered free Internet, or for $4.95 a day we could get high-speed. I took the free, but later realized that I needed to co-host a Zoom meeting. There was no indication of exactly how much of a boost $4.95 a day would get, and I didn't need it for the whole trip (this was supposed to mostly be a downtime, mental health trip), but I would have done the $4.95 for a day, or even every day if that were the only option. However, I could find no way to get back to the screen or to any other screen to get the upgrade. Neither was there anything for it on the app or the hotel's web site. I went to the front desk and asked. The helpful clerk (whose name I didn't get) said, "I didn't know we even had a high-speed option." She turned to someone else (a co-worker or manager type working on a laptop) and said, "Do you know anything about the high-speed option or how to get to it after you've already taken the free option?" She said, "I've never tried it from the rooms. I would try forgetting the network and starting over." That's a reasonable thing to try, and I had already tried it. But when I hit the network again, it said (in essence), "Hello again! You've already made a choice, so we're connecting you to the freebie again!" Beyond that, they had no idea.

    Note: this is not only a tech failure. It's also a lost revenue opportunity. There must be other people who change their minds and would like an upgrade.

    4. No ice buckets?

    It could have just been our room, but there was no ice bucket in the room, though there were ice machines. On the first floor there were a stack of what looked like ice bucket liners beside the ice machine—no insulation, no lids, no bag liner like we're used to seeing. I filled one of those, which held the ice just fine but it melted within a half hour or so. Do millennials just not expect to keep ice around?

    5. Lots of food and munchies.

    Instead of a front desk, they have a Command Center that is surrounded by a 24/7 food market. They truly have a lot of packaged, cold, and frozen foods available so you never have to leave the hotel when you get the munchies. They also have free coffee and tea available 24/7 (although my experience was the frequently the coffee is tepid at best). No need to wrestle with vending machines, either. For the frozen foods, they have a powerful microwave oven right there. On the other hand....

    6. Minimal in-room food support.

    There is one microwave for the entire hotel. None in the room. In a way, I have little quibble with that, since providing a microwave and coffee maker in every room must run expenses up. But they also had the smallest refrigerator I've ever seen. The dorm fridge I had in college in the 1970s was bigger—impossible to get the wine bottle in, which isn't necessarily unexpected, but we also couldn't get more than two 20-oz. soda bottles in upright. Do millennials not bring food with them? (Note: we got more bottles in by laying them down, but one leaked. Maybe their demographic just all use cans, or don't bring sodas at all, depending on the hotel provisions.)

    7. No electronic information.

    I can understand no in-room directories given the millennial focus, but then there should be an information channel on the TV or the app. We're used to something that says, "Ice machines available on the first and third floor. Check out time is 11 AM. Here are some places to order pizza delivery. The fitness room is located on the first floor. Here's how to connect to the Wi-Fi." Etc. Nothing. Maybe millennials are just naturally good at figuring stuff out. Maybe the designers know that people these days don't read anyway. But between the lack of self-searchable information and the lack of knowledge from the staff, it was a little frustrating. I would think it would be relatively easy to include something like that in the app, specific to each location.

    8. Minimal towels.

    Two. Just two. Two bath towels. Two hand towels. Two wash cloths. Even for just two people, we usually use more than that.

    9. Nice games area.

    Among other things implied by the millennial mindset (regardless of actual age), they're talking about folks who like to be around other folks. The layout of the place obviously targets this. They have TVs everywhere downstairs, a pool table, a bunch of board games, a big Connect 4 mounted on the wall, and lots of places for two to eight people to sit together and talk while plugging in their USB devices and other powered devices. I saw several people playing pool, and several more sitting down there to work on their laptops (rather than, I assume isolated in their rooms). A couple paced the area talking animatedly on cell phones with earbuds while gesticulating madly. So they're definitely feeding the need for social connection.

    10. Pretty good breakfast.

    They have a fun automated conveyor belt pancake maker. Cold cereal. Several kinds of bagels. The web site says something about hot oatmeal, but I didn't see any (maybe I just missed it). Some sort of eggs (the day I was there, a small omelet that was very good), and some form of breakfast meet (that day was link turkey sausage, also very good). I've seen better breakfast setups at midrange hotels, but I've seen far worse.

    11. Brightly colored pristine physical facilities.

    This hotel is not brand spanking new, but it's pretty new. But hotels can get worn down pretty quickly, and we've stayed at places of similar age that were already starting to show wear and tear. The way I would sum it up: this place looks as if the people who work here care about it. Clean and bright. In a facility of this size, there are always issues, of course (like the HVAC thing I mentioned in #1), but I see evidence that they get on things immediately.

    For instance, I got on an elevator and noticed on the floor that it looked as if someone had spit on it. Just a small, unpleasant glob right by the door. I mentioned it to the person at the Command Center and went back upstairs for something. When I came back down, it had already been taken care of, even though it was night time.

    12. BONUS: What I think this reveals.

    I see lots of evidence of good hiring practices and good training, at least as far as customer relations are concerned. The lack of tech knowledge shows a gap in the training, though. And some of the website/app disconnects from local staff suggest a concerning lack of communication. I don't know if this is more of a local ownership issue or a corporate issue, but it would enhance the experience if somebody got a little proactive and pushy on this.

    At other similar-level properties (affiliated with a different chain) I learned that local ownership/management were trying to address economic challenges by skimping on hiring. By that I mean they were simply not hiring enough people. One in particular had four floors and only two daily cleaners. The general manager confided in me (since I'm a consultant and know how to ask surfacing questions) that she knew they needed to address certain issues, but the owners refused to allow her to hire more workers. That boosts current quarter profits, but it hurts in the long run.

    I don't have that sense about this hotel. I saw plenty of people around, who all seemed busy and efficient but not overwhelmed, so I don't think they were short staffed. I think a little investment in some additional training (or even a dedicated tech person, given the demographic they're appealing to) would bring in more income than it would cost.

    I would suggest they least get more information in the app or on their web site. And at least give the Command Center a three-ring binder that tells them how to, for instance, help a guest upgrade to the high-speed option, and how to verify whatever is needed for the Digital Key to work. Every staff member doesn't have to know it everything, although the parent corporation built a reputation on such; they just need to know where to find the information.

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