Executive Floors — the hotel within the hotel

When two employees of a skateboard shop were upgraded to executive floor rooms in their Montreal hotel a number of years ago, they weren’t anticipating an eventful stay.

By Marni Andrews

When two employees of a skateboard shop were upgraded to executive floor rooms in their Montreal hotel a number of years ago, they weren’t anticipating an eventful stay. That was before one of them discovered the honour bar and decided to bring eight bottles of liquor back to the room.

They were caught on video, and management was able to confirm their identity. They decided that appropriate restitution would consist of charging for the cost of individual shots from the bottles. The tab came to almost $900. It was an expensive trip.

Luckily for the Montreal hotel there was a video system in place and the guests were identified. The hotel was able to cover their losses. But in cases where video identification is not conclusive, electronic keycard access control can pinpoint who has entered a room and when. Many hotels have already turned to electronic systems to prevent security issues.

Saflok product manager Mike Lopes says that properties of all types are looking into electronic keycard access control such as that provided by the Quantum RFID series, especially for elevators and executive or VIP areas.

Executive floors commonly feature restricted access capabilities that befit their higher prices and their exclusivity. So do club lounges, exercise rooms, pools and general VIP areas. An electronic keycard allows or refuses entrance to either select doors or entire floors depending on the configuration. Additional access can be allowed for areas that feature complimentary food and beverage.

Messenger LENS, Saflok’s wireless online system, is designed to enhance security access control across a property. For an executive floor, the system’s RFID technology can track all events to a single access point.

Online locking systems can also be used to provide energy management (EMS) and smart room capabilities, adds Lopes.

Female and business travellers

Women travelling alone are a key demographic for security-enhanced hotels and hotels with executive floors because of their restrictions on general access. Ask a cross section of female travellers and they agree that comfort, convenience, cleanliness and safety rather than wanting to be spoiled is what they’re looking for. One female hotelier who travels across North America every few weeks says that an executive floor with coffee, breakfast, and a printer is “so important.” If she can’t have that, she wants a full executive suite with kitchen.

Another female executive noted recently that some of the best business networking anywhere happens on the executive floor. “Know this and you will get my business,” she declares.

Retaining guests is not easy in highly competitive markets so offering special floors and customizing services to individual preferences is one way to compete in an era of comparison shopping, says Dr. Gabor Forgacs, associate professor, Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Ryerson University in Toronto.

He says that certain hotels have done their homework and identified single female business travellers as a key market. In general, research shows that they are security and safety conscious, and they dislike the gym scene but like to work out. The executive floor concept with pre-programmed elevator stops for coded keys is perfect. For working out, equipment such as stationary bikes or elliptical trainers can even be brought into a guestroom on request, explains Dr. Forgacs.

It is important to justify both a discounted room rate for the no-frills guest and on the other hand the premium rate for those willing to pay for it (or expense it in the case of business travellers), says Dr. Forgacs. This may include such things as a separate check-in desk without lineups, upgraded features and amenities, more phone lines in the room, a hospitality lounge with refreshments, etc.

At the Club InterContinental at the Intercontinental Montreal, about 15 per cent of the hotel’s rooms are located on the Club floor. The majority of guests who stay on the Club floor are business travellers, says general manager Bernard Chenevert, who has a specific Business Travel sales team to market the Club floor.

The Asian Shangri-La experience

An executive floor gives larger properties a more manageable-sized section within the hotel from which to offer a higher level of service that is often difficult to achieve above a certain size. It helps large and mid-sized hotels to compete with the luxury boutiques in terms of creating intimacy and individualized attention, says Dr. Forgacs.

Tranquility is promised at the 688-room Kowloon Shangri-La Hong Kong that overlooks Victoria Harbour and the bustling city all around. On the three floors of the Horizon Club, even more so. Director of communications Patsy Chan says these rooms (priced at a premium of about C$90 and $127 for a single and double) represent about 20 per cent of the hotel’s inventory.

Private, effortless check-in and check-out, 6 p.m. late checkout, two-hour complimentary use of the conference room, and complimentary evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres between 6 and 8 p.m. enhance the experience.

Lobby ambassador Edward Wa, 64, has been with the hotel since it was built in 1981. He has been a personal butler to royal families, dignitaries and celebrities. Chan says that his warm professional service is a draw for guests.

The Horizon Club at the Makati Shangri-La in Manila is a preferred choice for business travellers with complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea and cocktails, as well as for leisure travellers on the weekend who look for pampering. Erica Sotto, director of communications, says that the current rates for a Horizon Deluxe room are about C$304 versus a superior rate of C$231.

Siriat Traisupa, communications manager for Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok, says the hotel’s Horizon Club comprises the top four floors of a separate wing with 90 guestrooms and suites. This is about 11 per cent of total room inventory. Rates are about C$214 for a single and C$230 for a double.

Horizon Club guests can access the lounge via a circular staircase or elevators. Guests can also send or receive faxes from their rooms. The Shangri-La Bangkok markets its Horizon Club to modern business travellers.

Entire hotels as executive floor

Another route to executive floor exclusivity is to dedicate an entire property to the experience. The soon-to-reopen 100-suite Oak Bay Beach Hotel in Victoria, BC will do just that. Hotel manager Michelle Le Sage says that all guests will enjoy five-star services such as valet, nightly turn down, upgraded linens and amenities. They can also customize their stay with additional benefits such as chauffeured Rolls-Royce transportation, and a range of butler services including a Bath Butler and Technology Butler.

The five hotels in Quebec-based Groupe Germain Inc. also forego executive floors for a range of luxurious suites and rooms. National director of communications Stacey Masson notes that Le Germain Maple Leaf Square in Toronto, for example, has apartment-style suites with separate bedroom, living room, kitchen and dining room, a 52-in. HD television, and a powder room for guests.

“This space is often reserved for business guests who like to entertain and/or hold private meetings,” says Masson, who adds that Le Germain believes in the “gtails” of unique, personalized service such as a chauffeured Audi, complimentary breakfast, WiFi and personalized concierge service prior to and after the guest’s departure.

Treat every guest like an executive

“Every guest is treated like an executive and it works! Our clients tell us that it is difficult to stay anywhere else once they have experienced Le Germain hospitality.”

Saskatoon’s first luxury boutique hotel, The James, also chose this model. The 59-room and suite property opened in March. Prior to its renovation as a hotel, the property housed apartment residences, which has given many of the rooms large floor plans. All of the suites have private furnished balconies.

“Our team has stayed on numerous executive floors. These experiences served as inspiration as we were planning our hotel,” says operations manager Corinne Lund. “The features that impressed me were the all-inclusive amenities such as breakfast.”

She says that The James Hotel is geared towards guests looking for a premium experience with staff that anticipates their needs. From Sunday to Thursday, this will be largely executive business travellers with luxury leisure travellers on the weekend.  Amenities include a chef-attended full breakfast; valet parking; turn down service; Internet; Keurig in-room brewers with coffee, tea and hot chocolate; L’Occitane bath amenities; bottled water; local calls and LCD televisions.

And then there are those executive floor guests who are so considerate that they go to exceptional lengths during their stay. Mike Lopes of Saflok mentions the musicians who reserved an entire executive floor. Their pianos and musical instruments were delivered directly to them so they could practice without worrying that they were bothering anyone.

“Sometimes it is not the premier guest who does not wish to be disturbed; it is the VIP who does not want to disturb anyone else,” says Lopes.

Going the extra mile at Fairmont

Of 63 Fairmont Hotels & Resorts worldwide, 32 have Fairmont Gold floors that use, on average, about 20 per cent of room inventory. With an average rate in 2011 of US$75 above the standard Fairmont room rate and occupancy of about 85 per cent for Fairmont Gold floors compared to about 75 per cent for the rest of the hotel, the benefits are clear. Hotels with Gold floors have higher average rates as well because of the “rate lift” that allows them to compete for a different market within the same property.

Fairmont Gold is marketed to professionals with an income of at least $150,000, according to Clarence McLeod, director of the Fairmont Gold program. But instead of selling a product, Fairmont understands that they are actually selling an experience — the “hotel within a hotel” experience. Thus, the visual advertising is lifestyle based, showing a man proposing or someone being served a cup of tea.

“You start with a host floor, the floor that houses the lounge. This is the focal point of the entire experience since it’s where you check in and where you have breakfast, chocolate fondue and tea. It’s a social space. The difference is in the arrival component. It takes it a step further than the rest of the hotel. It’s a distinct feeling when you step off the elevator that you’re in a special location,” explains McLeod.

Some Fairmont Gold hotels have individualized greeting protocols. At Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim, where Asian and West Coast influences are clear, guests are presented with a Thai fighting fish in a small goldfish bowl on their arrival. Guests arriving at The Fairmont Hamilton Princess in Bermuda receive a welcome card with directions on creating the island’s signature rum and ginger beer cocktail, a Dark and Stormy. The Fairmont Banff Springs welcomes with bear paw cookies.

Fairmont Gold lounges also offer privileges such as an honour bar, cocktail hour canapés and late night desserts as well as a complimentary, locally-influenced continental breakfast.

Of course, McLeod has many stories.“One of the most amazing things was being ordained as justice of the peace five or six years ago so two attorneys could get married. The couple and I just clicked and they asked, ‘Why can’t you marry us?’” says McLeod, who was Fairmont Gold manager of The Fairmont Washington DC at the time.

During his time at the DC hotel, McLeod and his assistant Nora volunteered to babysit a frequent guest’s children so that he could spend more time with his wife. They also made a CD of favourite songs for a couple who stayed with the hotel for their anniversary.

“We named them Romeo and Juliet, and every time they came back to the hotel they wanted to be called Romeo and Juliet,” he laughs.

At the recent opening of the Fairmont Grand Hotel in Kyiv, McLeod was impressed by the customer service shown by staff, who stayed up till 4 a.m. to paint a Faberge egg for a guest.

“You’d think that being a former Communist nation, they wouldn’t understand guest experience but they did,” says McLeod. “My going away gift was a bottle of vodka with my name on it. I was impressed and it’s hard to impress me.”