Barnett on Business Travel



October 5, 1992 -- When Tony Knorr hits the road, she can stay free at 160 hotels around the world. But the general manager of the posh Park Hyatt in San Francisco opts for tiny, out-of- the-way inns and hostelries where she can kick back and unwind. In truth, she never does.

The 16-year Hyatt veteran is always sweeping the surroundings with her personal radar dish. What does she look and ask for? The same things every woman traveler should demand - but few do.

Knorr, who loves the intimate Taos Inn in Taos, N.M., the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock, Vt., and the Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg, Va., says personal security is her hottest hot button regardless of where she stays.

"If I check in and the desk clerk yells out to the bellman, 'Ms. Knorr, you will be staying in room 508,' and everyone in the lobby knows where I am, I don't go back," she says.

Other turnoffs: being assigned a room "far away" from the elevators, getting stuck in a smoking room when she doesn't smoke, spotting fingerprints, stray hairs in a supposedly clean bathroom, room service menus "slathered with mustard." The list goes on.

In every case, Knorr acts fast. She immediately registers a complaint with the manager on duty rather than "fume" about the slight. Then she waits for an acknowledgement - and remedy - by the general manager. No mea culpa, no return visit.

Knorr also usually avoids the minibar, where the price markups are a hefty 35 percent.

"You're paying extra for the convenience, like a 7/Eleven."

Plus, as the boss of a hotel catering to a carriage-trade clientele, she practically times deliveries of incoming faxes and phone messages. Even the slightest delay and she'll never come back.

"People's hottest button today is delivering the personal message on time, and that includes the wake-up call."

In her book, there is no excuse for tardiness.

The "can do" attitude is an absolute "must" for Beverly Kinkade, director of sales and marketing for Sheraton Hotel on Harbor Island in San Diego. Kinkade, who makes 30 trips a year, wants to "see bellmen at the door, making eye contact, smiling and looking like they enjoy their job."

Kinkade, like Knorr, "hates someone ringing a bell and yelling out my room number."

She also resents having her luggage snatched out of a cab by a bellman.

"What makes him think that because I'm a woman, I can't carry my own bag? He should say, 'Would you like assistance with your luggage?' I've got a tongue in my mouth and I'll be glad to tell him when I need help."

Kinkade is also angered by a robotlike recital of a hotel's features while she is being escorted to her room.

"Instead of that brain-dead scenario, I would much prefer a bellman to ask me if I've ever been to the city or the hotel before and to explain some shortcuts and security and where the closest emergency exit is."

If Sheraton's Kinkade feels even the slightest bit uncomfortable about the safety of her visit at a hotel, she'll ask for a change and not feel the least bit ashamed. She wants peace of mind. A regional manager with Hilton Hotels who prefers anonymity asks the front desk clerk, "Do you have a lock system that can be changed if the previous guest walks off with the key?" She will "flat out refuse the table in front for one near the back of a dining room."

She expects skirt hangers and hair dryers in the room "so I don't have to order one from housekeeping and then have to step out of the shower to answer the door." She wants a health club on premises or a "discount" at a nearby fitness center or she'll stay elsewhere.

Another on-the-go woman hotel executive is just as selective and demanding.

To save money for her company, Cynthia Cohen, associate director of sales at the sleek 522-room Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, expects to be able to order an ironing board and "clean" iron so she can press her own skirts and save $10.

She wants removable clothes hangers, not those nettlesome "fixed" hangers she has to wrestle. She wants free shoeshine service, thick towels, a phone on the desk with two lines so a caller never gets a busy signal.

Cohen does not want to see her room number on her room key - "too risky," she contends. She likes "active, busy lobbies with people having coffee or drinks and watching the world go by" and picks hotels in nice neighborhoods so she can walk or jog. "Some things you do not cut corners on."

As a traveler on a tight schedule, she does take smart shortcuts. On a long stay, Cohen will ask for a copy of her bill midweek so she can work on her expense account. She'll have room service pack up coffee and Danish or muffins to go so she can take them to her client as a thoughtful gesture.

But if she has a beef where she bunks in for the night, Cohen doesn't mince words. Recently she drove up to the front door of a hotel in Minneapolis and there was no doorman. It was late so she parked and went in to "announce my arrival." A bellman retrieved her bags from her automobile.

Next morning, rushing to an appointment, nobody could find her car. Twenty minutes later it was located.

"There was no ticket stub, no communication, no valet parking at all. Why didn't someone say, 'Miss, you gotta park your own car.?

This column originally appeared in the Albany Times Union

Copyright 1990-2009 by Chris Barnett. All rights reserved.