by Egi Gaisie

The hotel front desk is unlike front desks of many businesses normally referred to as the reception desk. Regardless of the class or type of the hotel, the front desk is the most visible and the focal point of a hotel’s activity. It is the communication center of the hotel with a great amount of guest contact.

The functions of the hotel front desk include the sale of hotel rooms, guest registration and room assignments; the handling of guest requests, maintenance of guest accounts, cashiering and providing information. The financial tasks usually handled by front desk personnel include receiving cash payments, handling guest folios, verifying cheques, handling foreign currency and credit cards.

During my time at the front desk, hotels in Ghana could generally be considered to be ‘manual.’  The front desk had a metal file system that consisted of pockets to hold rooming and reservations slips, called the room rack. It is from this system that the term ‘rack rate’, the undiscounted price a hotel will charge for a room, is derived.

Many mid-sized and small hotel operations in Ghana are still largely manual. Few are semi-automated and unsophisticated with very little controls, considering the computerization and other technological updates in the hotel world today. The consequences are leakages in hotel revenues.

When I first entered the hotel industry as a front desk clerk, my immediate supervisor said to me, ‘in this business there is plenty of money, plenty of males and plenty of food and drinks…’

I in turn, have over the years, amended  this warning to: ‘there is plenty of money, plenty of females and males and plenty of food and drinks.’ The temptations to ‘borrow’ money or give in to the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes are strong.

My supervisor was cautioning a then naïve young lady to be self disciplined and to uphold good morals. I am glad he did; for it is easy to get caught up in the schemes of unsuspected guests, even coworkers or even loose guard of one’s own values if those values are not deep rooted.

As a manager in the industry, I have met a few front desk personnel get themselves into trouble when they genuinely went out of their way to help or offer services requested for by guests; failure to follow procedures. Alas, there are too many stories, however, about theft and practices of fraud front desk personnel get themselves entangled in:

A potential guest walks in, requesting for a room. He claims he cannot afford the full rate of the room so the front desk personnel, whether or not empowered, agrees to slash the room rate and fails to formally register the guest. The guest comes in at a particular time of the day,and is expected to leave by a specific time least this scheme be discovered. Obviously, the money paid is not accounted for. Somehow, personnel find ways to ensure the room looks clean. Should the room be partially accounted for, be sure there will be no receipt to cover the transaction.
Front office personnel write paid outs to guests even there has been no transaction. This may never be discovered as this process involves withdrawal of cash from the front office float staff.
Services intended to be complimentary are charged to guests who may not be in-house without accounting for it.

When it comes to credit card fraud, a number of our small hotels seem to be immune to it since most of them do not accept credit cards.However personnel have ways of making money off hotels which operate forex bureau.

Inaccuracies in records may also lead to fraud. This may be prevalent in manual and semi-automated front offices where personnel post wrong charges to guest folios and the same individual does the night auditing function. Sometimes non-resident guests may make cash payments on outstanding account balances by cash and these are sometimes not accounted for.

These practices are heart breaking since the front desk position is one of  many positions in hotels where personnel can easily climb up to become hotel managers.

My research seems to suggest that eliminating employee theft entirely is almost impossible. The problem of employee theft in hotels is an age-old problem, they say. Hotels, by nature, present numerous opportunities for employee theft, from guests and the house. No employer hires an employee thinking that the employee is someday going to steal.

Perhaps an orientation addressing the above and educating personnel on developing their career goals in this industry may serve as caution signage from slipping.

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