Sheraton flagship keeps 'promise'

NEW YORK -- Empowering employees to do right by each guest, tracking problems and learning from feedback are the hallmarks of the Sheraton Service Promise.

Under the promotion, guests who find something wrong with their room or with customer service are entitled to reparation in the form of a credit to their bill, points toward Sheraton's Preferred Guest loyalty program and even a free night, depending on the problem.

During a stay at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, located at 52nd Street and Seventh Avenue, Travel Weekly took a firsthand look at the service pledge.

Guests are informed of the policy at check-in, when a reservations agent describes the program and invites the guest to inform any staff member about problems. The agent also lists the award possibilities -- a move that has the guest half-hoping something goes wrong.

During this reporter's visit, however, nothing went wrong. Room service was timely and friendly, wake-up calls rang on schedule, facilities were clean and nicely maintained, and the room was without fault.

"The idea is to track problems, or potential problems, and eliminate them," said Joe Gelchion, general manager of the 1,750-room hotel.

"We have new software that will monitor the Service Prom-ise every day, recording any problems and any [awards] that are handed out," Gelchion said. "But, it's been a short time since we introduced this, so it's really too early to evaluate it."

Ask again in six months, he added.

So far, Gelchion said, guests at the midtown property -- the flagship in the Sheraton portfolio -- have been "blown away" by the notion that the hotel will make amends for any faux pas.

Guests at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers are informed of the Sheraton Service Promise upon check-in and are encouraged to share any problems with staff members. "The feedback has been great so far. Guests are becoming more and more aware of the promise, and we keep trying to educate them," he said, adding, "This new program will only be successful if we learn from it."

Gelchion said he hopes travel agents are mentioning the service promise to customers looking for hotel rooms.

"This isn't a promotional stunt," he said. "We want to give more than other hotels."

Meanwhile, Gelchion has his hands full with a busy hotel. Although occupancy "still isn't what we'd like it to be," he said, "there are definite signs of life."

The property's traditional guest mix is 70% business and 30% leisure. Right now, it's about 65% leisure and 35% business, he said.

Regardless of the current economy, the Sheraton New York is moving ahead with a $50 million renovation.

Guest rooms are being redesigned by what the hotel calls its Sheraton Design Elite Team, a group recruited from Ralph Lauren and Williams-Sonoma, among others.

One of the finished refit rooms in the Club Level had a traditional clubby style to it, with mahogany furnishings, upholstery in rich reds and browns and sharp-looking, dark wood blinds covering a wall of windows.

The bathroom had a white marble vanity accented with chrome mirrors and fixtures.

Gelchion said he's pleased with the way the upgrade is proceeding, but he said he believes service is as important as design and amenities.

"Any guest with a complaint is invited to notify any staff member about it -- the bellman, the waiter, the front desk agent -- they are all empowered to invoke the Service Promise," he said.

Room key: Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers
811 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019
Phone: (212) 841-6450
Fax: (212) 841-6730
Reservations: (800) 223-6550
Built: 1962
Number of rooms: 1,750
Reservations manager: Sharon Gilsenen
Meetings space: 55,000 square feet
Facilities: Business center, fitness center, three restaurants
Rates: Range from $179 to $299; add $40 for Club Level.
Noteworthy: Guests can order room service breakfast using the Hotel Services option on the TV remote.
Not worthy: No decaf for in-room coffeemaker.

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