In his job as general manager of a San Diego Residence Inn, Trent Selbrede noticed that many of his customers had something in common—they had been displaced from their homes. Though not the result of natural disasters, guests were booking hotel stays due to house fires and flooding. And attempting to put their lives and homes back together after experiencing such devastation often proved difficult.
“As I walked around and talked to our guests, I saw many extended-stay guests kind of dealing with the same issues over and over of trying to navigate their way through the insurance claim process with their homes,” he says.
At the time, Selbrede was enrolled at the San Diego State School of Hospitality and Tourism. Part of his coursework included a capstone project where he was tasked with making an impact on the organization he worked for, ideally in regard to efficiency or revenue. Initially, he came up with ideas that he says were generic. But Selbrede was soon challenged by the program’s directors to come up with a plan that was bigger. His thoughts turned to those displaced guests.
“I thought, If I could find a way to serve them better and help them understand better, and help them understand some of the lessons from previous guests, or direct from a number of sources, it would help them navigate their way through the process,” Selbrede says.
He called his project a Survival Resource Guide, and made it available to guests at the hotel. According to Selbrede, the guide provides information about water damage and restoration, along with questions to ask contractors and insurance adjusters. It addresses questions such as: If I had an inch of water in my house, why do I have to take four feet of drywall all around the house? “People really don’t understand how damaging it is,” he says.
The guide does not offer specific advice about issues, but is designed to get people on the path to solving their issues. “It’s strictly questions and prompts that might help you get through your project maybe a little bit quicker and maybe with less of a headache.”
Selbrede makes it clear that he’s not giving legal advice. He said he received feedback from about 25 guests about problems they had with insurance companies. As he heard similar stories, he started collecting ideas.
“I collected information from in-house guests, about 25 of them, and a few restoration companies that actually restore homes after a disaster, as well as insurance agents who were very customer-service oriented,” he says. “I used all of them as a resource to put together a collection of information for our guests.”
The program has helped the hotel bring in business, particularly through restoration companies that have referred customers to the franchise.
“The restoration companies are what we envision as our best referrers,” says Selbrede. “Just interviewing three restoration companies, we got another $25,000 bookings out of one of them.”
The guide’s first format was a tri-fold brochure of basic information. Now it’s a three-ring binder. Guests who check in through their insurance or restoration company are told about the guide.
Selbrede says he first started work on the guide about 10 months ago, and it’s been used in his hotel as well as the Residence Inn located in Carlsbad. Plans are underway to get it into all of the company’s franchises.