A Question Of Lodging

I was planning to post a link back to a “Best Of” segment today as I’m still en route to Chicago but a hotel stay that went from mediocre to lousy has inspired me to put up something new…

Many smaller and medium size budget orchestras do not maintain a full size core of musicians. As such, they have to constantly work with the reality that they must import a portion of out-of-town players in order to adequately fill out their ensemble. In an effort to attract as high of a quality player as possible, some of those organizations in this scenario provide a hotel room to these substitute and/or per-service musicians in addition to their base pay.

I’m always curious to know how each organization in this situation selects the hotels they use for this purpose. Is there an overriding factor in determining which hotel to use; such as location, cost, relationship with the ensemble, etc.?

Among the managers I talk to about this issue, cost is the primary factor in determining which hotel they use. At the same time, I do run across a manager or two that realizes that a few extra dollars and/or some sweat equity in investigating the quality of hotels first-hand may end up saving the organization much more throughout the season than the static figures a spreadsheet might dictate.

My recent hotel received good ratings via an online hotel review service and was moderately priced. All things being equal, it looked like a good deal. The reality is that the hotel was, at best, mediocre to poor in every respect and it would have likely been much better for me to spend a few more dollars and stay at a better location in town. Live and learn.

As my shower refused to drain this morning, I remembered a conversation I had with an operations manager that worked at one of the above mentioned organizations. They were telling me about the $500 per concert series they saved by switching to a different hotel they provided to out-of-town musicians. The new hotel was in the same general location, offered similar features, and had an identical star rating to the unit they currently used via a popular online booking service.

Later in the same season, I bumped into the orchestra’s personnel manager (who was also a member of the orchestra) and I asked them about the new hotel. They just rolled their eyes and said that the new hotel might have been in the same location but was right up against the interstate so the rooms were noisy and prevented players from getting a good night’s sleep. They also said that many of the players complained that the breakfast served at the hotel upset their stomachs, and that the cleanliness of the rooms was routinely suspect.

Because of these issues, the personnel manager said that a number of the orchestra’s regular substitute and per-service musicians began to turn down work offers because they refused to stay at the hotel. As a result, the personnel manager had to spend considerably more time tracking down acceptable players and the ensemble suffered artistically due to lost cohesion from the loss of long-time players. The situation was becoming so frustrating to the personnel manager they were thinking about quitting.

I asked him if he ever mentioned this to the operations manager and he said yes, he spoke with the ops manager many times about changing the hotel and scouting it out the new location before they forge an agreement. According to the personnel manager, he said the ops manager refused to look into a new hotel because they didn’t have time to go looking for a new provider and the executive managers were still praising them for the savings the organization incurred from the switch.

Two weeks later, the personnel manager sent me a note to say they just quit in the middle of a service week after a long-time substitute player called him at 2:00a.m. to say she was not coming back because her hotel room had a bed-bug infestation.

All of this makes me wonder how much money, if any, the organization really saved after compared to the expense of finding and training a new personnel manager, lost ticket sales and donations due to a drop in artistic output, and the associated costs of having to spend more time finding acceptable musicians.

The above situation goes to show that some good dynamic analysis can prove that the old adage of “a penny saved, is a penny earned” isn’t always true.

I do know of a few orchestras out there that have come up with some unique solutions to this particular problem, but what does your organization do and how do you gauge the success of your policy?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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