Anthony Melchiorri knows hotels. He managed the Plaza New York and oversaw major changes (and clever marketing campaigns) while running the Algonquin. He’s also gained huge amounts of insight while shooting his TV show, Hotel Impossible. As Anthony ramped up for the sixth season of Hotel Impossible — premiering tonight on the Travel Channel — we spoke to him about how he defines value, his particular brand of “tough love” and his demand for free WiFi.
Have the six seasons of Hotel Impossible taught you a lot about about how to find value when booking a hotel?
I evaluate value based on service. I’m the kind of guy that wants everything taken care of. If I go to the Holiday Inn Express, okay, I don’t expect them to take my luggage to the room, but I expect the guest clerk to be friendly and I expect the room to be clean and I expect a free breakfast, and hot water, and water pressure that’s strong.
To me that’s a big value.
I go to a 5-star hotel, and what I expect, is anything I want, you can give me. If I want an elephant tap dancing in the middle of the lobby, and I paid you to get it, I expect to be given one. But I think value is driven by not rate or size of room but by sensibility. By “are you going to take care of me?” and “are you going to treat me with respect?”
Do you have pet peeves that you’ve developed seeing all of these luxury properties?
On thing I never understood — I just can’t wrap my head around — is that when I go to a 4-star hotel and I can’t get basic free Wi-Fi and a bottle of water. I’ve been yelling about it for 20 years and I just can’t understand it, that to this day. That really offends me.
Having written about a lot of hotel properties, especially 5-star properties, my feeling has always been that good service could cover up a lot of other mistakes. Is that something you’ve found in your career?
100%, but to kind of dig a little bit on that, it’s not so much covering up mistakes — no one is perfect, we all make mistakes — so what we’re looking for is that someone to really cover up or even lie to us and tell us no mistakes happened. What we’re looking for is the truth. We’re looking for someone to look us in the eye and say, “Hey, this is what happened, this won’t happen again, it’s done, it’s taken care of, and if it happens again, please give me a call.”
What we’re looking for is we’re looking for — especially when you’re on vacations, especially when you’re on business away from your family — is for someone to take control. Whether you’re in a 3-star hotel or 5-star hotel, you’re not so much looking for excuses or “I’m sorry’s,” you’re looking for someone to take control and fix it.
The difference between a 3-star hotel and a 5-star hotel isn’t so much the people or the rooms but the levels of control. At a 3-star hotel, I don’t want you to take control. Let me take my own bags, let me get my own breakfast, and I’ll get my own cart. Thank you very much. But I’m going to Vegas next week to a 5-star hotel, as soon as I show up, I want them to pick me up, carry me into bed, tuck me in, get me milk and cookies.
[Here’s a video from tonight’s premiere of Hotel Impossible shot along Route 66]
Do you find that hotel properties are more accountable these days in a way because of social media?
There are two types of people — there’s no middle road with this — there are the owners and managers that hide from social media and do it badly (whether it be reviews and response to reviews, or responding to tweets); then there are the ones that are ultra sensitive and are very in tune. Hotels ignoring social media is like if you would have ignored Trip Advisor or decided never to take credit cards.
When I was a younger manager, I used to train the the reservation starts when you pick up the phone. Now a reservation starts when the person looks for you online. That’s the first impression. Then the door opens when they open your website and check out your social media. Now, social media can be two things, it can be trying to sell, or it can be trying to impress. What I like to do with social media is try to set the tone for service standards you’re going to find. It’s not really selling you, it’s more trying to set a tone, it’s trying to say hey, “Thanks for liking us and we look forward to seeing you. I see you have a reservation on September 26th, does anybody have a birthday, is anybody having an anniversary?”
When TripAdvisor first came out, 18 years ago, however long it came out, I grabbed my entire staff and brought them into a meeting. I got all the comment cards, and I took one comment card and I ripped it up.
I said, “This is what you do to bad comment cards.” Then I talked about Trip Advisor and said, “You’re not able to hide bad comment cards from anyone anymore.”
As a manager, I couldn’t wait for people to start talking about us online, because that gave me a true sense for how good I really was or how good my staff was. I was never afraid to show our mistakes, I was never afraid to say I was sorry, so I think it’s … in our business, sometimes it’s better to make a mistake. If everything goes well, you’re taken for granted, when things go badly, and then you recover from that, you typically talk about the recovery more than you talk about when things go right.
People like to have what I would almost call like a celebrity experience, and I would imagine a lot of what you’re doing at the 5-star level is almost mimicking that celebrity experience. Saying, “You’re important to us. It costs you more to be that important to us, but if you can afford it you’re going to feel like Jay-Z.”
It’s interesting you said that, because I teach something when I’m training my team. I’m not a big trainer, I teach them not to say, “You’re not important to us” but rather, “You’re important to me.” That’s the difference.
Even when I was a young manager with my employees, I always held the corporate mind but I always spoke for myself. My motto was, “I don’t give a sh*t if I get fired; I don’t care about getting fired, I care about doing my job.” I would say get fired doing your job, don’t get fired not doing your job.
[Here’s another video from tonight’s Hotel Impossible premier in which Anthony invents the $66 slice of apple pie.]
You seem like a guy has fused the down-to-earth New Yorker thing with this ability to also have heart and say really I care about people, I care about business owners, I care about customers, I care about experiences.
This is what I tell my children. I say, “Stay in your lane. Don’t bother with anybody else, stay in your lane, mind your own business, be respectful, when somebody wants to merge into your lane, let them merge, use your blinker, and be respectful. When someone gets in your lane, and they’re in your way, get them out of your way.”
In life, I will stay in my lane, I’m going to show you respect, and I’m going to cry with you and laugh with you and I am not going to be the one to throw the first punch and I’m not going to be the first one to get angry. I’m not that guy. But when you start causing me to have a long day and you start disrespecting me, I’m going to crush you.
What you sense on the show is I’m here to help you, I’m here to respect you. I’m away from my kids, I’m away from my family, I’m away from my business. I’m not becoming a billionaire. This isn’t about me taking more than I should, this is about giving back to you, and you give me something because you allowed me a platform. Okay? I get that, so I’m going to show you the proper respect, and I’m going to care about you, and I’m going to get you on the right track. The second you take that heart and that respect and that sensitivity as weakness, you’re going to probably get my Brooklyn-side.
Everything you see on TV is the way I run my life. I’m very sensitive and caring but I also don’t let people take advantage of me.
Are there things that you either look for, are there things that have really impressed you as far as just small amenities? Are there small touches where you’ve just gone, “Wow, these are the things that inspire loyalty!”
If you’re looking for little things, yeah there are a couple things. But this is what gets my loyalty: do you care about me? That’s the first thing that gets my loyalty. Second thing that gets my loyalty, odd little touches. If I go to a hotel and they have that little linen cloth next to the sink where I put my toothbrush, because the first thing I do is put my toothpaste, my toothbrush, and my razor on it. I don’t put it on the counter. When they’ve already done that for me, they put the linen cloth down, that’s where I put my razor and my toothpaste, that just tells me you’re thinking about me.
There’s this hotel called the Roxbury Motel in Roxbury, New York, and I was there with my kids, two of my daughters, and I just read the reviews and the reviews were ridiculously positive, and they won every award New York state had to give to cheap hotels. So I said, “I’ll go.” It was 500 bucks a night in the middle of nowhere in Roxbury, New York, and I pull up, and it’s a regular motel. I was like, “Oh my God, are you kidding me?” I got there and every room is cleaned, the breakfast was phenomenal, and the service was ridiculous. They couldn’t do enough for you. Every time I turned around there was a different amenity, a different type of service. Every morning was a different kind of croissant or breakfast item and I would pay 600-dollars a night next time I go back.
Because I didn’t know what to expect, but I wanted to be surprised and when you get to a certain price point, you want to be surprised. You want to experience something.
**SCROLL DOWN FOR A FEW OF OUR FAVORITE HOTEL PROPERTIES AROUND THE WORLD**