24 August 2018

Incognito hotel visits

Hotel mystery checkers contribute to quality assurance in TUI hotels. In the interview, Elke C. Janssen from TUI Hotel Consulting & Quality Management outlines the background.

Elke C. Janssen, TUI Hotel Consulting & Quality Management

What are mystery checks in TUI hotels all about?
Elke C. Janssen: In the framework of our mystery checks, we check our holiday hotels based on a set of quality features. The checks are primarily carried out in hotels around the Mediterranean. We provide a list of around 2,500 questions to our checkers, covering any aspect of a hotel. We check ten categories, so-called outlets, from the hotel’s website via its reception all the way to the entertainment programme. Of course, most questions in the list relate to the rooms, restaurants and outdoor facilities, as these outlets are particularly important for the guests.

Are the checks carried out by “undercover” guests?
Janssen: The booking for the mystery checker is made as a regular TUI reservation. The checker therefore arrives incognito at the airport in the destination and is welcomed by the rep, just like any other guest. The checker then uses the same transfer services and is welcomed at the hotel like a regular guest, and the hotel staff have no clue as to who is checking in. What is special about our programme is that the checker will “lift the secret” at the end of the visit, and management will receive a presentation of the checker’s first impressions.

What are typical shortcomings frequently identified?
Janssen: Our mystery checkers pay a great deal of attention to the hotel staff’s behaviour and service orientation. They check how the staff solve problems and whether they also handle difficult cases in a sovereign manner, in particular in the event of complaints. Regarding markers such as paper tissues deliberately placed in hotel rooms, they accurately document whether and when these are removed by housekeeping staff. We also check direct contact with our guests. Check-out, for instance, may occasionally show some improvement potential. Although check-out is always friendly, it is quite common for staff not to ask the guests how they liked their stay and whether they would wish to provide some feedback.

Do mystery checks help improve quality?
Janssen: Mystery checks are part of our numerous quality measures and help the checked hotels work to remedy their shortcomings. We also offer local training programmes and detailed analyses. Thanks to our customer surveys, we know that our hotels deliver an average score of 8.6 on a scale from zero to ten, with ten being the highest grade “excellent”. We have a Net Promoter Score of more than 90 per cent for all TUI hotels around the world. This is a top result, and we can be very satisfied with this performance.

How do guests benefit from the mystery checks?
Janssen: Positive examples are quite common. Our guests’ expectations are high, for instance regarding dining and restaurant experiences. That is why we conduct thorough checks in our restaurants based on our checklist. Our mystery checkers frequently identify some room for improvement regarding food presentation and diversity. Seeing the great changes made to the buffet at the follow-up check is very rewarding for us! Since the launch of our mystery checks around ten years ago, they have become a successful method to increase quality, providing our guests with even better holiday experiences!

What else should hotels generally aim to improve?
Janssen: Hotels should always move with the times. Let me use a positive example to illustrate this point: Hotels have been slow to shift from television sets to flat screen TVs, but nearly all hotels have meanwhile completed the process. Moreover, many hotels already offer their own apps, e.g. to reserve a table in the restaurant or to obtain information on the entertainment programme – this was extremely rare ten years ago. However, in particular with regard to the staff’s friendliness and service-mindedness, we believe many hotels still have potential for improvement – despite occasional language problems, a simple smile may make the guest feel welcome. If you want to be successful in future, you also have to deal with the holiday expectations of Millennial travellers. Here, too, TUI Hotel Consulting may offer support.

How do you actually become a hotel mystery checker – and would you say it is a dream job?
Janssen: We need people with extensive professional experience in tourism, but very specifically related to holiday hotels. Our checkers are professionals who have already worked in holiday resorts or as tour reps in Mallorca or Crete. Of course, they also undergo intensive training offered by TUI Hotel Consulting.

During the checks, the mystery checkers spend three to four very intensive days working where other people spend their holidays: When checking, for instance, the aqua fitness course, they also have to check the safety of the pool and the service at the pool bar. Our checkers then spend around four to five days drawing up their reports with many pictures, and this is quite a challenge! It is a challenging but also exciting job.