Loss of a Leader

January 26th, 2015

The industry lost an outstanding hotelier when James Simkins died of cancer last week. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because despite his influence he was never one to seek the limelight. A strong champion of using hospitality technology as an essential component of management, he made a profound impression on everyone he met and worked with.
Most recently COO of Benchmark’s Personal Luxury Resorts and Hotels division, James had a long and highly-regarded career. He served in several Westin hotels worldwide, eventually becoming MD and VP Operations for Westin’s Asia region. Later, he helped grow Seattle-based MTM Luxury Lodging into a successful boutique chain before its acquisition by Benchmark.
When I first met him while planning systems for the Westin Tokyo, his immediate grasp of the technology involved in every area, and of its potential for improved operations and guest service, was remarkable, and is still unique among GMs of my experience. As one example, while at MTM he personally brought a disparate group of vendors into a cooperative team to integrate guestroom technology with the front office and energy management systems, well before HTNG had really found its feet. His oft-stated belief was that technology must serve three audiences: the owners, the managers and the guests, contributing to excellent guest service, efficient management operations and cost-effective ownership.
James was remarkably well-rounded. In addition to his comfort level with technology he could go head-to-head with any owner in his thorough and detailed understanding of hotel operations and finance, and had outstanding people skills. Utterly tireless, energetic, generous and perpetually optimistic, in 25 years I never once heard him say a bad word about anybody (despite occasional provocations that would try the patience of a saint) and his staff would follow him anywhere. It would be hard to find a better example of what GMs should strive for, of what hospitality leadership is all about.
After watching Wes Anderson’s wonderfully whimsical movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, a friend asked if the close-knit network that rallied to the aid of the beleaguered hero really existed in the hotel industry. The way people immediately jumped in to help James and his family when he fell ill is a perfect example that yes, this is that kind of industry. There’ll be a party to celebrate James’ life this Saturday. It’s going to be packed.

2014 Year-End Review of Hotel Technology

January 14th, 2015

An intriguing year. While many of us expected some vendor consolidation or possible outside acquisitions, who would have guessed that the biggest vendor in the industry would be purchased? The implications of Oracle’s acquisition of Micros have yet to make themselves felt – at least outside the companies – but are likely to be significant. Mobility and WiFi continued to dominate the rest of the news, with an even stronger focus Read the rest of this entry »

Choosing replacement hotel systems: aim high, but remember the essential need for compromise

December 10th, 2014

Defining requirements for a replacement system is a tricky exercise for any property. Usually the process is triggered by a bad experience, or a series of them, and this inevitably Read the rest of this entry »

Tech vs. Touch re-visited in Guest Service

November 21st, 2014

Another aspect of the tech vs. touch debate on guest service comes via a new study from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research (CHR), “Cyborg Service: The Unexpected Effect of Technology in the Employee-Guest Exchange.” Narrowly focused on the use of check-in kiosks, the study determined that guests were more willing to use kiosks when they were Read the rest of this entry »

High tech vs. high touch in hotel guest service

November 11th, 2014

The high tech/high touch debate never ends when launching a new guest service initiative. I was just at a short and very informative conference in Las Vegas, and as it happened the hotel had just launched a very promising healthy-stay initiative. It was fascinating to see, feel and smell the benefits of this. Yes, it involved aromatherapy.

Promoting and improving guests’ health is an admirable approach to standing out these days – Westin has done particularly well with this for some years – and extending the concept to healthy meetings is an excellent thing. How many conference sessions have you attended where Read the rest of this entry »

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