Equipment and No Plan Is Worse Than No Equipment At All ...
June, 2004I was called in to help with the "bring-up" of a new revenue control system at a major hotel in the Southeast. Before I went down, I called the property and spoke to the people who were "in charge" of the parking facility. After a three-hour telephone conversation, I knew trouble was brewing.
Not only did the parking manager have no idea what he had bought, he had no idea how to run a parking operation. His job included security, parking and housekeeping. He came from the hotel business, not the parking business. My work was cut out for me.
When I arrived, I discovered that it was worse than I had thought. They were installing a full-fledged automated system where a cigar box had existed before. A thousand decisions had to be made.
How was the system going to handle the police that cruised through the parking facility two or three times each evening? In the large, unmanned lot used for employees and long-term guests, the attendant in the booth was replaced with a ticket acceptor and a card reader.
"We'll just have the front desk open the gate [through the use of an intercom]," I was told. My response was quick: How will you know that the vehicle at the exit is really a police car? How will you prevent the front desk clerk from letting his friends in and out? (This lot is very near a favorite beach on a very famous lake.)
"Well ... OK ... we will have the security guard go out and let them in and out." I repeated my second concern and added: "Just how happy will the police be if they are forced to wait while you run down a security guard and get them out to the lane?"
They were stopped dead. These police drive-throughs were important, but they didn't want to compromise the system. So I asked another question: Just how many police cars are there in town? The answer: six. Why not just give each police car an access card? That way the hotel would also have a record of when the cars came in and how long they stayed. Problem solved.
What about the pizza delivery guy? Some guests ordered pizza delivered to their rooms. In the past, the pizza driver had been let out for free by the attendant in the booth. Now there was a record. The pizza driver wasn't exactly happy having to pay a third of the cost of the pizza just to deliver it.
The parking manager didn't know what to do. He didn't want to charge the delivery driver the full rate, but didn't know how to track a different rate for him.
I had an idea. I asked the food/catering manager what he thought about pizza deliveries to the hotel in general. There was no question there. He didn't like them at all. The hotel sold pizza through its room service and didn't like the idea of "helping" one of its competitors. The answer came down quick. If they wanted to deliver pizza, they paid the full rate. Isn't competition wonderful?
Same problem with the Fedex and UPS delivery. However, in this case the hotel didn't want to penalize the delivery companies. They came at the behest of guests. The question was the same as above; the answer, a bit more complicated.
Why not put a validation machine at the desk where deliveries are accepted by the hotel? They are logged in and a validation (online and trackable) could be made at the same time. The driver would then simply put the ticket in an acceptor in the lane and exit normally. If there were more validations than deliveries made in a day, the offending party could be dealt with.
And the questions went on and on. How to deal with hotel guests, visitors, people attending weddings or other special events? Delivery vans, laundry trucks, tour buses, taxi cabs, airport limos? And even legitimate visitors to the beach (a big money generator in the summer)?
The next problem dealt with staffing. When should they close the booths and "open the gates," as they had been doing nightly at 10 for the past 40 years? They didn't want to pay overtime to the attendant.
The first night I was there, I went out at 10 and counted the cars in the daily lot. There were 120. If one assumes that most of them left after 10 p.m. and before 8 a.m. when the gates went back down, the money lost was $1,200 a day. Seemed to me like you could pay a lot of overtime at that rate. Plus, opening the gates made auditing impossible.
I found that the hotel bar closed at 2 a.m. So I counted the lot at 2:15. There were only 10 cars in the lot then. So I suggested they close the booth at 2:15 a.m. or so and put up a sign at the lot that people leaving between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. would have to go to the front desk and pay and have their ticket validated. They could then exit by the use of a ticket acceptor. Again, problem solved, and revenues up.
This is the one thing I find most intriguing in dealing with parking facilities that are open late and support bars and restaurants. They always close before the business they support. It makes no sense. If you want to check on when to close your booth, leave it open progressively an hour later each night. When you reach the point that the money you collect in the last hour is less than you pay the attendant, you have your closing time. (Naturally, it may be different on weekends or when there are special events.)
The hotel had hoped to increase its revenue about 10%. In that way, it could pay for the system in two years. We are now a month into the new system. Revenues are up 40%. But it was a fight to the finish. Had they just called me a few weeks earlier, I could have helped them through all the issues and made the "bring-up" of the new system much easier.
People unfamiliar with parking think it's sooo easy. Those of us in the business know different.