What is the Portman Hotel business model and what was the personal valet arrangement trying to accomplish?
The business model of the hotel was setting new standards in the hotel industry from the very beginning. It was a niche product, a revolution in guest service and style of service. The management of the hotel got impressed by this approach in Asia where they stayed at fine hotels for a lower amount of money.
The hotel was relatively small – 348 rooms and 21 floors. Its rooms were elegant with natural furniture. The hotels are all niche, a revolution in guest service. This type of hotels is, as mentioned before, from Hong Kong, where Portman spent some time. The base challenge had been to build a company providing high quality at affordable rates and to do these quickly and against strong competition. The guests must be provided not just great service but an experience. The hotel aimed to overwhelm quests by the professionalism, cheerful and immediate repose to every request. There were to be “no rules” for guests. The hotel staff was expected to give each guest a memorable experience through service by satisfying guest’s intangible psychic needs.
The group of employees most central to the Asian philosophy of service were the personal valets. Personal valest were like butlers: they were expected to provide comprehensive personal services for guests. No other American hotel had anything similar: the personal valets were to be a key competitive difference for the hotel. The key to the business strategy was providing unparalleled service. The hotel wanted to become most fulfilling, fun work experience that anyone on the staff has ever had. They wanted to be the best employer in San Francisco, to show their trust and pride in each person on their staff and to work in ways that help each person to grow, both personally and professionally.
In Portman hotels an employee is called an associate. The associate contract spells out how the hotel would practice its human resources strategy. It covered both associates rights and obligations. If employee’s rights have been infringed, the employer can be sued in court. The philosophy was to put more employees into the front lines, dealing with customers. So they reduced the management part of the company. Valets would greet guests at registration, show them to their rooms, explain how service at the Portman wored and be on call (the whole group of five) 24 hours from the length oof the guests’ stay. Aside fromthese butler-like tasks the private valets also had to clean rooms, perform minor maintentace and restock the rooms’ minibar, paint, clean the hallways and move out the room service tray.
All of this complicated the tasks the valets had to fulfil, since in a normal hotel these tastks would be done by specialised people which in case of Portman reduced coordination and made talking to the Unions difficult.
Why wasn’t the original system working? What were the problems faced? Everything turned out to be very decentralised. In the first month, turnover among PVs was 16%. Some were fired, but many left because of the problems which remained to plague those who remained. In general all the employees were treated fairly, even too fairly. Every Portman employee was called an "associate" and, as an associate, signed a contract. The associate contract spelled out how the hotel would practice its human resource strategy. It covered both the associates' rights and responsibilities, making clear that the contract was binding, so that if any associate's rights had been violated, the associate could seek justice in court. The contract included a "bill of rights." A half of PVs’ time was meant to be dedicated towards cleaning services and the other half towards serving guests. In reality 70% of time was used for cleaning due to an inefficient coordination and lack of supervision. Working with other groups was a problem too. They tried to cut out areas not essential...
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