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Mentoring The Hotel Leaders of Tomorrow

Industry icon Steve Belmonte shares his thoughts on passing on the spirit of hospitality and success to younger generations.

Friday, December 16, 2011
Mr. Steven J Belmonte - CHA
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I’ve been in the hospitality industry for almost 40 years and in that time I have learned what is truly important. The real bottom line in any operation is the people; the customers on the buying end and the employees on the selling end. I have seen far too many companies build palaces only to board up the windows later because they forgot that their people are the most essential asset, not the building.

You know what a lot of owners take pride in? Lowering costs. This attitude reminds me of the old story about Count Basie. He told an owner that he would never play in his nightclub again because the piano was so badly out of tune. A month later, the owner called Basie and said, “Come back. It’s fixed.” Basie showed up, sat down, and played a few bars and slammed the key cover down in disgust. He said, “This is worse. What did you do to this piano?” “I had it fixed,” said the indignant club owner. “What do you mean you had it fixed? What did you do to it?” said the Count. “I had it painted” was the answer.

There is an old expression: “No matter which way you turn, your rear end is still behind you.” No matter how much paint you use, it doesn’t help if the piano is out of tune. If an owner is looking to really lower costs, I suggest that they close the hotel.

We are in the people business. Not the real estate business, not the construction business. The people business. Instead of automated conveyor belts, we have people. Instead of computers that hum and print stuff, we have people. We have not come to grips with this basic concept. And without doing so, all the efforts, all the expenditures, all the marketing and sales efforts will not perpetuate a full return on your investment.

You really want to know what I hear, in my travels around the countryside from hotel owners and general manager? Serious whining. Serious complaining and serious whining.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard owners tell me. “It’s hard to find good help these days. Nobody wants to work anymore. Turnover is through the roof. These people don’t care. Why bother talking or teaching anything? In two or three weeks they’ll quit. These kids are weird, with the earrings, the way they dress and the crazy hairdos. Just a bunch of losers come looking for jobs here. If they had any ability, they would find a job with career potential.”

Well, if there was any truth to the adage, “If you’re not part of the solution then you must be part of the problem,” then this is it! You think educating someone is expensive? Try ignorance! Why don’t you tell people about the career possibilities? To these kids, you appear confident, secure, rich and successful. They need help and direction. An adult friend.

We are in the most competitive job market of our lifetime and let me tell you that is great. Be happy the job market is so tight. We are sitting on a real opportunity to increase revenue, cut costs and bump profits. The hospitality industry is the last major industry where a formal education is not a requirement for professional advancement or financial success. In today’s marketplace, hotel companies had better get the message that training is not an unaffordable luxury. It should be used to create a reliable service culture in which employees are motivated and committed. Why? Well as I’ve already mentioned, the hotel business is ultimately about the people. Our business is personal. A desk clerk’s relationship with the customer is personal. The smile and greeting that the maintenance man gives the guest walking down the hall is personal. The housekeeper’s desire to make that guestroom look perfect is personal.

Whether you start out with a graduate degree from Cornell or as a young person off the street as a night desk clerk or housekeeper, hard work, persistence and long hours is the pathway to a fulfilling career. Lots of people in the business, from general managers to corporate vice presidents never graduated college, including me. That’s right. Steve Belmonte, CEO of Hospitality Ventures LLC, President & CEO of Hospitality Solutions LLC, and former President & CEO of Ramada hotels never graduated college. I started at 16 as a desk clerk at an airport hotel and became the youngest general manager in the history of Holiday Inn at the ripe old age of 18.

I got my first big break when I was hired to run the Holiday Inn O’Hare Airport in Chicago by a gentleman I will never forget, Jim Schwartz. He was the owner of that hotel as well as the owner of the first Holiday Inn ever built in the Midwest. I credit Jim for so much, like harnessing my raw ambition, massaging it, and giving it focus. He was a true mentor, as well as one of the movers and shakers in the hospitality industry. Jim passed away recently but there is seldom a day when I don’t think about him. It really is a small industry and it is important to remember that the snot-nosed kid you brushed off yesterday may end up across the conference room table from you 10 years down the road. Trust me, you may not remember his name, but he’ll remember yours.

Now is the time to implement change to build for the future. Begin at the beginning – the recruiting and hiring procedure. First of all, there are so many resources, material and assistance available. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Check out these tips that I recommend:

  • Read the trades. Every issue has at least one article outlining a workable plan of action.
  • Contact the Educational Institute. They have tons of material waiting to be mailed to your property.
  • Check out your local AH&MA Chapter
  • Contact a community college, public high school or trade school that offers courses in hospitality and start an intern program at your property.
  • You want to get creative? There are over 200 African American owned daily and weekly newspapers in this country and an equal number of Hispanic, Chinese, and Korean papers. Why not try a want ad?

Now you are ready for the interview. What are you offering? Minimum wage and an orientation that consists of “Here’s your uniform, report to work at 7am, your day off is Tuesday. Patty will teach you how to check people in and out…she’s leaving Thursday. Welcome aboard!?”

Great training program! What a sales pitch! What an opportunity! How does anyone resist? Henry Ford had a rule: Produce the highest quality goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible. If you’re paying whatever everybody else is paying then you’ll get the same poor results as everybody else. Pay someone less than what they are worth and very soon they will be worth less than you are paying them.

Touch the lives of your people. Take ownership of your employees and help your people make the most of themselves. Leadership is all about growing people and developing future leaders.

Remember, nobody is going to give great employees to you. Employees aren’t born with superior skills. They are nurtured, developed, trained, supported, encouraged, compensated, complimented and respected by you and by your general manager and your department heads. I’m asking you again. Have you made a total commitment to your customers by making a total commitment to your employees?

I challenge you to go back to your hotel and look at the people who ran your business while you are away. Look at the people who collected and deposited your money. Look at the people who cleaned your rooms and made your beds. Look at the people who bussed your tables in your restaurants. What are you doing to contribute to their success? You need to do more than just train and encourage; you need to incentivize.

Here’s something else you may never have thought about and that’s what these young people can teach YOU! Think about it. They are going to be so much more up to date on the latest technology, especially when we are talking about the Internet and social media. You can utilize these skills not only to help these people grow but to help your property grow as well.

We’ve gotten fancy with words in today’s world. No more used cars, they are “pre-owned.” Someone 5’2 isn’t called short, but rather “vertically challenged.” Now we don’t take a young person under our wing, we mentor them. I don’t care what word you use. Why don’t you help somebody out? Somebody was there for you.

And like the nightclub owner in the Count Basie story, it isn’t difficult to find a practical, cost effective and long-term solution to the single biggest problem that faces our industry for the future. A committed, trained, aggressive and knowledgeable work force that wants to build a career in the lodging industry.

About Vimana Franchise Systems LLC
Vimana Franchise Systems LLC is a hotel franchise company owned by CEO Steve Belmonte, President Neal Jackson and Vice President Cory Jackson Jr. In May 2011, Vimana Franchise Systems launched the Centerstone brand as a three-segment franchise designed to create a fair and cost effective model for the hospitality industry. In November 2011, Key West Inns was re-launched under the Vimana Franchise ownership umbrella as a fun and uniquely themed leisure brand. For more information on Vimana Franchise Systems LLC, contact Steve Belmonte at (407) 654-5540 steve@vimanafs.com. Visit Vimana Franchise Systems online at www.VimanaFS.com. Visit Centerstone online at www.centerstonehotels.com, on Twitter at @Centerstonehtls, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Centerstonehotels. Visit Key West Inns online at www.staykeywesthotels.com, on Twitter at @StayKeyWest, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/staykeywest.

Steven Belmonte CHA    Mr. Steven J Belmonte - CHA
Chief Executive Officer / Owner
Owners, Principals, or Partners
Vimana Franchise Systems, LLC

Bio: Belmonte served a decade as President and CEO of Ramada Franchise Systems and Executive Vice President of Cendant hotel division from 1991-2001. In 2001 Belmonte founded Hospitality Solutions, LLC. Hospitality Solutions primarily negotiates the reduction of liquidated damages/termination fees for hotel owners who have been terminated or desire to cancel their existing franchise agreement. The company also negotiates fair franchise agreements for owners for all major brands. ...
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