Karen Baldwin is the owner-operator of Best Western Kennedy Drive Airport Motel, in Tweed Heads, NSW. We met at the Best Western Australasia conference, where Karen and her husband Steve won a ‘Quality and Service’ Award. The couple also proudly hold a number one in customer service award. In addition to these impressive accolades, they also boast the third cleanest hotel in the Best Western Australasia region. I was very eager to chat with Karen about overcoming challenges and find out the secrets behind her and Steve’s success.
Challenges within the Accommodation Industry
The Accommodation Industry can be a challenging sector to work in. Small inconveniences for guests are often hurdles that accommodation providers have to deal with, day in and day out. After chatting with Karen for a while, it’s easy to see that it’s Karen and Steve’s approach to such challenges that set them apart from other providers.
For example, Karen and I chat about the difficulties that come with living close to the NSW & QLD boarder during day light savings. It’s hard to believe how a one-hour time difference can cause so much havoc for guests and business owners. To ensure a positive experience, for six months of the year, Karen has in depth, daily conversations with guests about the time zone differences. Karen explains that by ensuring guests understand the time difference, she can help them enjoy their holiday. It’s one of many personal touches Karen offers guests. So much so, Steve has coined the term ‘Karenise’, to describe the way Karen assists guests and personalises their experience, to avoid challenges before they arise.
When Karen and Steve first took over the property, they slept in the hotel rooms. They did this to gain a better understanding of the product they would be offering, from a guest perspective. At first, they were a little critical of some of the services the previous owners offered. However, Karen and Steve soon realised that despite the challenges associated with additional upkeep, many of the added conveniences enhanced the guest experience. Karen shares how the simple act of considering a guest’s perspective, resulted in a long list of changes within the hotel. From removing noisy appliances like fridges and air-conditioners to a complete overhaul of the bedding in each room.
Karen explains that her and Steve hold a lot of value in guest reviews. Karen acknowledges that people sometimes use online platforms to vent. However, often behind the negativity is validity. Karen challenges operators to listen to what guests are really saying. By looking at the issue from a guest perspective, accommodation owners are given an opportunity to improve their business offering. In addition to this, Karen urges property owners to explore their surrounding regions. By recommending easily accessible, quality experiences, property owners will often exceed guest expectations.
Prioritising Staff Needs
Another factor that seems to set Karen and Steve apart from the crowd, is the way they prioritise the needs of their staff. Karen shares that when it’s a bit quiet, instead of putting the cleaning staff off she finds them other jobs to ensure they have consistent work. This is often a deep clean of the premises, which can be difficult during busy periods. This strategy has a positive effect on many facets of the business. Staff are happy and do not stress about having enough paid work during quiet periods. The stability this offers builds loyalty and a good work ethic in employees. In addition to this, the extra care taken in cleaning is what has led to the property being considered one of the cleanest within in the Best Western Australasian brand. A win the whole team can be very proud of.
Karen describes other ways in which her and Steve take special care of their employees. From lunches and dinners to bed lifters in every room, it’s no wonder the staff at Best Western Kennedy Drive enjoy going to work each day.
Other topics discussed in this week’s episode:
- Karen & Steve’s career in the accommodation industry
- Things to consider when taking over a business
- Online bookings verses booking direct
- The benefits of guest memberships
- Building a reliable guest repeat base
- Mobile check-in verses personalised experiences
- Technology and time saving apps
- Karen’s pet peeve
- Self-confidence, uniqueness & trying new things