Is Your Hotel A Mess?

We've assumed management or done operational reviews of many hotels. So we’ve had the opportunity for an intimate look at the workings of all types of hotels. We’ve noticed some commonalities we think are symptomatic—and, therefore, instructive
Kirby D. Payne

Over the years, our company has assumed management or conducted operational reviews of hundreds of hotels. Obviously, many—but not all—of them had big problems, so we’ve had the opportunity to have an intimate look at the workings of all types of hotels, both good and bad, and we’ve noticed some commonalities we think are symptomatic—and, therefore, instructive.

In virtually all the hotels we’ve served—the good and the bad—these commonalities are almost corporate-culture issues. If we find two or three of the good (or bad) aspects, we usually will find more—again, good or bad. Don’t get confused: There are profitable hotels that have a few shortcomings, but they may be the ones to keep your eye on when things get tough. Conversely, some of the most beautifully groomed hotels that feature all the amenities and perfect guest service are, quite simply, losers—and that’s because no one in management is aggressively focused on the bottom line.

What are some of the positive commonalities—the good signs—that a hotel offers? To begin with, well-groomed, uniformed, name-tagged employees who greet guests with a smile make an excellent first impression, both on guests and new management companies. Sharp curb appeal and public-space cleanliness are usually signs of good things to come. Once you get more “into” a hotel’s behind-the-scenes areas, things become clearer: Orderly offices, storage spaces and housekeeping areas are examples of the good signs that usually follow good first impressions.

On the other hand, we always seem to find a messy front desk—not necessarily on the working surface but in drawers, cabinets and storage closets—when we take over a troubled hotel. Clutter, disorganization and years of dust and trash appear in virtually every problem property. We inevitably find old furniture, out-of-date supplies and never-to-be-used “spare maintenance parts” left in storerooms and maintenance shops. This usually happens in hotels where management claims to lack sufficient storage space—another sign of rampant disorganization.

Now, I’m not saying these shortcomings are the cause of mediocre profitability—but I am saying they’re signs of management’s poor organizational skills and lack of focus on orderliness and cleanliness. And here’s another thing: Management’s lackadaisical attitude toward keeping things organized and clean most certainly influences employees’ attitudes about their own work habits. Unkempt employee restrooms, for example, not only are a sign of management’s lack of concern for staff, but set a poor standard for what management expects of those same employees in keeping guest areas clean.

Some time ago, our company assumed management of—and subsequently closed (yes, closed)—a 160-room hotel. In the process of cleaning up the property, we filled 10 dumpsters, each of which held eight cubic yards of trash. This trash didn’t include old, unused furniture, guestroom trash or kitchen garbage—it was just stuff that had cluttered offices, housekeeping areas, the front office, storerooms and the maintenance shop. Imagine 80 cubic yards of “stuff”—talk about disorganization (maybe chaos is a better description). More recently upon assuming management of a 140-room hotel in the Florida Panhandle we had 23 construction dumpsters of clutter removed.

Here’s another sign of a poorly run hotel: low linen pars. They’re not the result of poor profitability—they’re a cause. If we see housekeepers stripping rooms to get linen back to the laundry, washed and used again immediately, that’s a sure sign that there are more things wrong than insufficient linen supplies. (Undoubtedly, the stripping process includes placing the linen on the floor, which is an unsanitary and unsightly bad habit which ads to linen wear.) For example, it means there are undoubtedly days where not all the rooms get made up—and therefore occupancy may suffer due to unavailability of rooms. As absurd as it may sound, linen wears out more than twice as fast if it is washed and used daily rather than every other day or so. Circulating linen daily by stripping beds and running it back and forth also takes more labor. In the end, minimal linen supplies turns out to be pennywise and pound foolish—keeping an adequate supply of linen, about 2.15 to 2.5 par, saves money.

Likewise, if printed and other collateral materials are poor in quality, it’s a sign that the hotel is too. In full-service hotels, menus are threadbare—good hotels get new ones, poor hotels don’t. Raggedy in-room telephone books are another example of things poorly run hotels pay no attention to—and phone books cost nothing to replace. Are phone books in guest rooms even necessary in the age of the internet?
Finally (and perhaps most important), a hotel’s accounting methods also are reliable indicators of what’s really going on—after all, if you can’t keep score, you can’t win the game. There are really three issues involved in good accounting: gathering all data on a timely basis from all areas of the hotel (payroll, revenues, statistics and accounts payable); compiling it quickly and accurately in the form of financial statements; and interpreting and acting on the information once it’s gathered. If this isn’t being done, it’s another symptom of poor organization and lack of attention to detail. Without this information, management cannot effect changes for the better in a timely manner. Of course, management must know what the data means and what they can do to make the numbers improve—sadly, this business basic is too often missing in hotel management.

In well over half the problem hotels we’ve been retained to manage, financial statements do not conform to the Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to compare a hotel’s operating results to similar hotels. Most of the owners and managers of these properties were aware of the Uniform System but didn’t consider it worthwhile to change their accounting system—in other words, they thought had a better way of looking at their accounting data than more 80 percent of the other hoteliers in the world. Now that’s arrogance—it reminds me of the soldier who was marching to a different cadence, then had the gall to tell his sergeant, “Everybody’s out of step but me.”

If you don’t make sure every last detail of your hotel is well attended to, you’re out of step and marching rapidly toward big trouble. Make lists of what needs to be done to make your property as immaculate as can be—not only in terms of cleanliness and orderliness, but operationally as well. Maybe a good place to start is organizing and cleaning the front-desk area and working your way through the back-of-the-house areas that your guests don’t see.

Look your hotel over carefully and critically. If negative symptoms like those I’ve described exist, you need to ask yourself where your priorities really lie.

Kirby D. Payne, CHA, President of HVS Hotel Management and HVS Asset Management - Newport, has over 40 years of hotel operations, consulting, and development experience. He was the 2002 Chair of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) and a former Director of the National Restaurant Association. He is a frequent speaker and author. His hotel experience began as a four-year-old living in a hotel on the Amazon River in Brazil, which was managed by his father for InterContinental Hotels. He never lived in a house until he was 13. Payne previously served on the Certification Commission of the AH&LA's Educational Institute. HVS Hotel Management has operated hotels throughout the United States and has served a multiplicity of clients, including lenders, airports and other government entities, and individual investors. HVS Asset Management - Newport oversees upscale and luxury hotels on behalf of clients who use branded management and major independent management companies. Both companies undertake various consulting assignments including, but not limited to, development consulting, brand and management company selections and contract negotiations, Hotel Performance Analysis and litigation support (expert witness). Mr. Payne is frequently appointed as a Receiver for hotels and resorts. Contact Kirby at +1 (401) 625-5016 or [email protected].


  1. Erwin LosekootJuly 30, 2010

    Wow - a great and very practical wake-up call to all managers and supervisors. I will start my Rooms Division Management lecture with it on Monday morning and challenge students to go into their workplaces across Auckland and look at them with fresh eyes! Thanks, Erwin

  2. Dale at Hospitality Re-DefinedJuly 30, 2010

    I couldn't agree more, on all the aspects of your article, but especially as it relates to an orderly and well organized work place and timely and accurate financial results. I've gone into properties and had to argue w Controllers about the value of a daily sales & labour report. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.

  3. Bonnie BuckhiesterJuly 30, 2010

    Good article Kirby. Back to basics, common sense measures so often neglected in poorly managed hotels.

  4. Shekhar MukherjeeJuly 31, 2010

    Very Apt and very well timed article.... reminds me of the basic principles of 5 S - Sort / Straighten / Simplify / Standardize & Sustain. Thanks Mr. Payne. Shekhar Mukherjee.

  5. Norman SchofieldJuly 31, 2010

    Your observations are very good for managers and supervisors...i appreciate your article and aspects i also appreciate the comment by Mr. Erwin he going to start his lecture with it. yes it all should start from the management institute level. They (institute) should have a separate class on it. Management,accounts,sales,accuracy,housekeeping all are fine...but you have rightly said if you don’t make sure every last detail of your hotel is well attended to, you’re out of step and marching rapidly toward big trouble. How many General managers/managers/Hod's are aware of other departments...and they end up in poor organized work place...They are so busy achieving the target...they forget the aspects in your article...i dont know whether this is a wake-up call for the managers/supervisors...but seriously if they understand your article...they can put basic's right....and improve..........Thanks, Norman

  6. Peter Christensen. MIHJuly 31, 2010

    I must agree that scarcity economics becomes impractical and that shortage of operatonal items leads to poor service and rapid wear and tear. There is always a fine line in hotels being run by accountants or marketing people! Looking at the basic operational issues is the foundation stone for all operations. Solid foundations make for good long term opportunities.

  7. Ajay KhannaAugust 1, 2010

    The points mentioned above are correct and you have done a great service to all management companies who are in the process of or plan to take over properties. These are exactly the kind of signs that we find in well managed / poorly managed hotels. I have had personal experiences of the same and one more thing which you may like to add to this list is to check the filing system of the Front Desk (or any other departments as well). The total no of "dead" files is directly proportional to the extent of poor management practices.

    • Excellent observation about files. Of course what may appear to be dead files may just be files that need to be kept due to data retention and tax laws. If that is the case, they should be relocated to a proper and secure storage place after being inventoried. Any file that is unlikely to really have a future use should be properly disposed of.

  8. Excellent article Mr. Payne. Thank you.

  9. Alan SchlaiferAugust 1, 2010

    Hi, Kirby (hope first name is okay) - I'm working on article for Resort Trades on Building a Winning Corporate Culture for Customer Servoce. Would like to interview you, maybe incorporate some of these excellent points, if of interest to you. Want to adapt to vacation ownership, as our readers are mainly in timeshare and fractionals. Some properties are, of course, mixed-use, too. If that interests you, could speak tomorrow or Tuesday. I can see from you bio that lodging is definitely in your blood, and that passion really comes through. Cheers, Alan N. Schlaifer 301-365-8999

  10. Val KnudsenAugust 2, 2010

    Great article, Kirby! Val Knudsen Grand View Lodge, Nisswa, MN

  11. Weldon Mather Hotel ConsultantAugust 3, 2010

    Hard hitting and to the point commentary on reasons why so many hotels fail. Business is simple - its people that complicate it. Well done!

  12. para compartir (To be shared.)

  13. ADEMOLA AROWOLOOctober 20, 2010

    What are the challengese of hotel laundrty management?

    • You might find this article, "Manage Your Laundry Carefully" helpfull. (

  14. Lawrence Okechukwu(Msc.)January 17, 2012

    Your article was a great insight for me in understanding the root causes of the less-than optimal performances of at least 3 prominent (but inproperly run) hotels in one of the states in Nigeria. I will need further information about your operations especially outside the United States.

    • Thank you for reading articles in the HVS Library. I did receive your inquiry this morning and have responded to you. Again, thank you for your interest in HVS and our services.

  15. I was recently promoted to General Manager in a full service hotel that IS a mess. I appreciate that you have shared your knowledge with anyone who may find it helpful. Our management company has not provided me with any of the training I was promised when promoted. I spend hours trying to learn proper completion of the financial reports and also the routine day-to-day operations in each department . I can only imagine what great levels of success this property could reach, if only I had a mentor, like yourself, to learn from. Thank you!

    • I am sorry you find yourself in this situation with your management company. While I am always happy to share information, as is all of HVS, I have trouble seeing myself mentoring a General Manager who works for another management company. I suggest you consider two things: 1. Are you happy and fulfilled in your work, or are you being held back from your full potential?; and, 2. Is your hotel's owner note getting what s/he is entitled to under the management agreement? What are you going to do about each of those and in the latter case will it be ethical? Do you personally owe more allegiance to the hotel's owner or to the management company?

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