Hotels Score Points for Problem-Solving

It's often said that in the wake of a meeting mishap—hot food served cold, a room slated to be a classroom looks just like a theater-style arrangement—a venue is judged not for the mistake itself but by how it recovers from the snafu.

If that's true, a new survey conducted by Successful Meetings' sister publication, MeetingNews, is promising for hoteliers: It seems they do a good job of fixing problems that do arise. Further, planners aren't an extremely demanding bunch; many would be satisfied with an apology.

The sorest spot for groups, the inability to control the temperature of meeting rooms, is a blight already known to hoteliers and one that likely will continue to leave groups cold (or warm). But excessive noise in meeting rooms and poorly staffed front desks at check-in—the problems respondents pointed to next most often—are more easily preventable, some planners said in interviews.

More than 75 percent of 341 planners said they are almost always, or often, satisfied with hotels' responses when something goes awry. And about 60 percent said hotels are improving in this area, compared with less than 15 percent who see them as getting worse at handling meeting problems.

"Things go wrong all the time," acknowledges independent planner Sandy Biback, principal of Imagination + Meeting Planners in Toronto. "How it is managed makes the difference."

Adds Steve Schultz, convention and exposition executive director at the National Electrical Contractors Association in Bethesda, MD, "Hotels usually do have an effective mechanism in place for dealing with problems. We've always been very pleased."

An often-critical step in the process is the hotelier simply issuing a mea culpa. Almost 50 percent of those surveyed said an apology from management is among the two most desired responses to a meeting mishap.

"Most customers are not looking for you to dole out some sort of compensation, nor do you have to say, 'We're wrong, you're right,' " says Joyce Inderbitzin, vice president of meeting and convention services at Beverly Hills, CA-based Hilton Hotels, in explaining why she expects those on property to apologize when appropriate. "What they do want is an acknowledgement that something went wrong and assurance that it's not going to happen again," she adds.

Receiving a discount on the meeting room cost was desired by almost as many planners who preferred an apology, while discounting catering costs was a solid third choice.