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 Do Not Disturb

michael GET TO KNOW YOUR
GENERAL MANAGER


By Michael Matthews

February 12, 2004 -- In August, 1959, having exited the British army and failing to find what my father termed "meaningful employment," I found myself in the hotel business. Forty-five years later I find myself, as actors say, "resting."

I have learned some things in those 45 years and I want to pass along what I know to you 21st century road warriors. In this column, I will tell you my pet peeves, introduce you to some excellent hotels, bars and food finds, highlight some of the great personalities in the hotel business and explain how to maximize your hotel stay and make new friends. I believe I can offer some tidbits of advice on where to stay, how to stay and--most of all--get maximum comfort for your buck.

But first: a little about me. I started off at the newly opened Carlton Tower Hotel in London in 1959, the first five-star hotel in more than 50 years to be built in the city. I remember amazing black-and-white murals by a Polish artist called Felix Tolpolski adorning the lobby. (They're now, sadly, gone.) I remember the hotel housed London's first US-style steak house. (It's still alive.) I remember doormen who purchased their positions for the then-amazing sum of 10,000. And, of course, I remember a galaxy of glittering guests.

But, by 1961, I was bored, so I made my way to Canada on the QSS Arcadia. I shared a cabin with six other people and I won the fancy dress prize playing a drunken Archbishop of Canterbury. In Canada, there was a succession of hotel- and travel-related jobs with Canadian Pacific Hotels, a rep company handling Princess Hotels. Then hotels in Bermuda, Barbados and Jamaica--all leading to further migration to Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, where I ended up with Hilton International. Eventually, I was in charge of marketing Hilton International's Caribbean and Latin America hotels and resorts.

In 1979, the Far East called and I made my way to Hong Kong, where I spent the next 17 years. Fourteen of those years were spent building and marketing the world's finest hotel company, Regent International. It will never be duplicated and it sadly no longer exists, except in memory. One-time Regent gems in New York, Bangkok and Sydney are now a part of the superb Four Seasons group. The magnificent flagship, the Regent of Hong Kong, is now an InterContinental. The wonderful Regent of Fiji is a Sheraton and the Auckland Regent is a Stamford hotel, whatever that is. The Melbourne property is in the hands of Accor, the French hotel chain. All are shadows of their former selves.

Those 14 Regent years were followed by three years as general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. After that, I moved to Dallas as marketing honcho for the then-developing Rosewood Hotels group. I served in a similar capacity for St Regis Hotels until the first of this year.

In other words, like most people who find their way to the hotel business, I've moved around a bit and done quite a lot.

I've spent time in 136 countries, ridden elephants, been inside the pyramids, flown the Concorde, sat in the Captain's chair of the battleship Missouri, drunk snake bile, eaten dog and consumed a great many other delicacies that I won't mention here. I've paraded on a nude beach and been drunk in more taverns and whorehouses than the late Richard Harris. I've slept in $25,000-a-night suites and $5-a-night fleabags. I've married, divorced and been a father. But, above all, I have certainly made more friends across the world than I deserve.

Now that I have successfully bored you with my resume we should move to the meat of the matter.

This column's tip: The General Manager of any hotel at any star level is the King of His Castle. If you want to get maximum bang for your hotel buck, get to know him.

He, or now, increasingly, she, usually has an office on the mezzanine level. Look for some out-of-the-way offices with a sign that says Executive Offices. Go in and ask to see the general manger, but first determine his or her name by asking at the front desk.

When you're asked why you need to see him just say, "I'm a guest!" He'll greet you and invite you to his office--and he'll be terrified that you are there to establish ground rules for a lawsuit because your socks didn't come back from the laundry.

When you meet the general manager, expound on how nice your stay is and tactfully draw his attention to any faults you may have spotted. Thank him profusely, say you look forward to meeting him again on your next visit and leave your card and any giveaways your company might have.

What's the purpose of all these pleasantries? First off, I can guarantee that, at the least, a bottle of wine will be delivered to your room before you leave. Your "guest history" card--yes, we do keep track of you--will be marked "friend of GM" and, on subsequent visits, you will be very well cared for.

On your next visit, book your stay at the least expensive rate you can find. Then call the Executive Office and let the general manager know that you are coming back. There's no need to speak to him directly: Just call his secretary, who you have also treated to any corporate giveaways on your previous visit. She'll handle your upgrade--and, believe me, there will be an upgrade as well as a bottle of wine waiting in your room.

When I was a general manager, the best part of my job was getting to know my guests from all over the world and becoming friends with many of them. And what do friends do for each other? They help each other. So get to know your general manager and you'll have a friend for life. You'll get lots of upgrades. And, who knows? You might even sell your product to him!

A friend of mine, Ron Bailey, "collects" general managers. He has hundreds of them from all over the world. And he's never had a bad stay at a hotel anywhere in the world, either.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.