Room Assignment and Operations – Unlocking the Mystery

Room Assignment and Operations – Unlocking the Mystery


NB: This is a featured article by Pierre Boettner, founder and CEO, hospitalityPulse

The relationship between room assignment and hotel operations is multi-pronged, complex, and in many respects a “black box” for hotel managers.

Hotel reservations are too varied, and inventory too complex, to determine  how room assignment should function optimally in the broader workings of a hotel, but this much we do know: Many guests are unsatisfied with the rooms they receive, and that translates into lower guest satisfaction and less repeat business. Room assignment is a complex task that is easy to “mess up,” and requires training of front desk personnel and integration into the broader operation of a hotel. This takes time, and resources. And without a doubt, most hotels are leaving “money on the table” by not optimally assigning guests the right room at check in.

In what follows, we aim to spark some thought and reflection on your own operation – and help you gain some perspective on this important subject.

Understanding the Impact of Room Assignment – Beginning at the Beginning

In a previous article [add link], we established the booked room as the core product of a hotel, and suggested how important it is to reduce the number of room categories offered in the booking process.

But do you realize how exponentially difficult it is, under currently room assignment constraints,  to fulfill each guest’s request to the maximum extent possible, producing that elusive “happy customer?”

Take a quick look at the below room categories, picked at random from a brand’s website. In both cases, and in almost all cases of base room categories, the bed type choice is unclear.

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Continue in the booking process (on this particular site), and you can specify your preference

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Notice that on this particular site, the brand gave itself the ability to more closely track a guest’s preferences. On most booking sites, only a generic comment can be added, making tracking of room related requests even more difficult.

Adding to the complexity, the agent performing room assignment needs to also consider the impact of different overlapping stay lengths, number of adults, children, loyalty based upgrade requirements, impact of this and previous room assignment decisions on other reservations current and future, and not least, the ‘style’ of the individuals responsible for the process on that day.With a booking completed, the available inventory for ‘Coral Rooms’ is decremented by 1 for the date booked. There is however no guarantee that the hotel will be able to fulfill my request for a King bed. Had I picked a category with a distinct bed type, my chances of fulfillment would be significantly higher, but since no one can actually say how many KING beds are available in CORAL rooms and for the date(s), it is basically a gamble. It is even a bigger gamble of you add in the functions, combination CORAL + KING + HIGH, and ELEVATOR.

At the moment of check-in, the front desk agent also needs to make sure the room is clean and inspected, may have to swap rooms with other reservations, sell the guest on not having the high floor or having to wait an undetermined amount of time…  and ideally, to produce revenue, they should try to upsell the guest to the better, but less popular suites, ensure that all documents are in order, the reservation accurate, the deposit paid or a credit card swiped, guests understand the various fees charged, and on and on and on. All that becomes the responsibility of your front desk staff. Because they are the only ones that are certain to meet the guest, they are naturally asked all kinds of additional things, sell a table reservation, spa, and explain the resort… – not only from management, but also from the guests.

So when we unpack it, it’s a very complicated picture, with lots of moving parts, at least the parts that are left to the desk agent.

Is it any wonder errors happen, revenue is left on the table, and check in is often a stressful time for guests and agents?

There are additional factors. Member services pushes check in personnel to ensure that loyalty members all get the upgrades they should be entitled to; marketing seeks to improve guest reviews; overall, Revenue management to increase ADR via upselling, reservations to reduce the fragmentation of the inventory, and the GM to reduce the unsightly wait lines to check in or out – sometimes, the GM criticizes supervisors because they failed to go through the full scripted welcome procedure and rooms control, or because they made assignment decisions “on the fly,” which  produced additional work for the next days.

As a result of all this complexity, a typical front desk operation today has often as much staff in the back of the house, as there are agents facing customers. It is only natural that the task of room assignment is gradually being moved to specialized staff in the back office. And it is increasingly clear, that the front desk has not kept up with the times. Some of it is due to antiquated systems, some due to the industry’s characteristic attachment to legacy systems  – particularly in all things having a direct impact on guests. Most commonly, the rooms division will ask for more staff to improve guest satisfaction, while management will ask to reduce cost.

How Do We Solve The Problem?

It is not easy.

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A 100 room hotel with stay lengths typically between 1 and 4 nights and an occupancy slightly above 80% will produce a number of theoretical placement possibilities that a single processor core at 4 GHz would need longer to compute than the Cosmos is estimated to last.

Even if one presumes a strong correlation between booked and assigned room category, there are still tens of millions theoretical placement combinations. Nowadays, the task is often assigned to specialized employees with very detailed knowledge of the hotel and a high degree of intuition – exactly the staff that you would rather have available at the desk to deal with difficult situations.

So here are some moves to consider:Adding more staff will yield limited results, as each pair of eyes can really only consider a partial problem at a time. The more you distribute the work, the more incoherent the overall result.

  1. Start by measuring certain key indicators. Have your teams define what is the most important data to keep track of, and then identify the reports and data sources that will allow keeping track of these. Which are the most important feature requests to pursue? How many availability-based upgrade promises are kept? How many key feature requests could be fulfilled and how many early check in or late check out requests couldn’t and why?

Add the number of total up and downgrades due to balancing and the movements by room type. This will provide you with an objective base line against which to improve.

  1. Today’s operations are much more complex than they were 20 or even just 10 years ago, and you need to effectively manage that complexity. You need to become more analytical and ruthless in identifying areas of concern and developing necessary changes to the operation. You need to become change agents and establish a culture where transformation is welcome, rather than viewed with suspicion. The operation of the future needs to be nimble, and systems must be able to adapt more easily and quickly.

Systems are more connected, but also more disjointed than ever – and functional improvements to hotel’s core systems have been limited. Suggesting that Front Desk staff ‘…just have to do a better job…’ is disingenuous and only reveals that the complexity of this task is not well understood.

The degree to which revenue is directly impacted by better fulfillment of the core contract depends on the individual operation, but I would like to invite you to track the following values:

Average incremental spend per day/adult and per day of week for:

  • Guests assigned to a room not fulfilling requested key features (i.e. VIEW & BED) and up to the value of the booked category
  • Guests assigned to a room fulfilling requested key features of at least the value of the booked category

Bringing it All Together

Today’s hotel operations are being squeezed – on the one hand, between an increasingly demanding guest, and on the other, by technological limitations that hold back the potential for understanding the complexity of the new operating environment in order to fully satisfy that guest, and generate higher revenues.

We must embrace the complexity, not turn away from it. And continue to search for innovative solutions.