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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Superficial Hospitality in Hospitality Management

Staying at a motel or in a hotel can involve being at close quarters with people coming with various backgrounds and cultures, and with different lifestyles. A group of teenagers may be in one room, while an elderly couple is trying to sleep next door. It seems to me that hospitality management should take a look at Crowne Plaza, which has instituted “snore monitors” to patrol corridors in the designated quiet zones in the hotels in the cities of London, Leeds and Manchester in the E.U. While the monitors are apparently particularly oriented to detecting particularly loud snorers and only in the quiet zones, I contend that Crowne Plaza would better manage its use of the monitors by having them cover every floor and be on guard for excessive noise in general—whether in the hallways or the rooms—as per the time of night. What is fine at 9pm might be highly disruptive at 2am. Hotels (and especially motels) should not simply assume that assigning or reassigning customers to particular “zones” is the optimal way of handling the situation of noise.

Sometimes the problem with overnight noise can stem from the building itself. The building types built by Extended Stay and Studio Plus, for example, have virtually no insulation between floors so customers might get to hear stomping late at night and even into the morning. I once tried to move rooms because of an "all nighter" in the room above mine, but the front desk employee decided to ignore my reserved room change, telling me it had been cancelled and the other room had been given to another customer, or “guest.” Another employee remarked in a matter-of-fact tone, "People can walk in their rooms." Trying to correct for that situation involved even more headaches in dealing with the corporate "customer service" people, who also made promises and went back on them with impunity. Meanwhile, I discovered the local “area” manager had a penchant for eves-dropping on customers, or “guests.”

The true colors of the management mentality at the company really came out after I stopped a huge water-leak from the room above mine from flooding my room and the room below mine (a toilet overflow, which the customer failed to report). Essentially, I began and headed the multiple-pan and towel operation, with the able (and friendly) assistance of the young woman working at the front desk. In spite of the fact that I saved the company thousands of dollars, however, the management was unwilling to compensate me in any way, such as by offering me a discount on my bill (or even promising the same rate should I have extended, which I did not, or potentially stay again at an Extended Stay or Studio Plus—which I would not recommend to anyone). Even the front desk person who had assisted me was astonished that her company’s management had been so niggardly in its response to my generous efforts, which, by the way, had been spontaneous and unconditional even given the noise issue). It feels good to spontaneously react on the basis of agape seu benevolentia universalis, though I must admit that the ingratitude of others can mitigate the joy.

The lesson is perhaps the following: When a sordid (i.e., unreliable) management imbedded in a company as its very culture is combined with a cheap building model, the question is perhaps how such a company could survive bankruptcy and continue operating. This is not to say that the company operating Studio Plus and Extended Stay is the only culprit from which we can assess how far down the hospitality industry goes.

I also had to contend with noise while staying once at a Red Roof Inn. I complained about late night noise (a drunken party) in the room next door only to have the front desk person give up because he "got a busy signal" when he tried to call the room. Couldn't he have knocked on the room's door or at least have called security? One would think that the report of a party going on at 1am on a weeknight would trigger something more than giving up because of a busy signal. Part of the problem, I later learned from a front desk employee, was that the management had instructed the employees to accept virtually anyone of age who wanted a room. “We can’t anticipate what someone might do from how they act when they arrive at the front desk,” the employees were apparently told. The manager of the particular motel was also retaining rather than refunding the accumulated room tax owed by law to customers, or “guests,” staying more than thirty days. Ironically, both the manager and her desk employees were self-described Christians, and had no qualms in expressing their views of sinful “orientations.” Out of the blue, one front desk employee told me that another employee only seems gay, but is actually a “wholesome Bible brotha.” I was still back on how tax fraud jives with being Christian. What stood out for me most during my stay at that motel was that none of the employees seemed capable of recognizing that they could be mistaken, even as they were incompetent (and unethical) in many ways. This fault applies to the management of Extended Stay as well.

Convenient excuses, abuse of discretion, and lack of follow-through may be ubiquitous at badly-managed motels and hotels. It astonishes me that one industry can have such a breadth of quality within it. I'm glad that a hotel chain is instituting hall monitors. Doubtless not every motel and hotel will do so.

It seems to me that hospitality management may ironically be at the bottom end of management practice. Perhaps the existence of bad practice in at least part of the industry has given the entire industry a sense of (or tacit invitation to) shallowness, for even at the best hotels the hospitality is only skin-deep, being conditioned on money and thus utterly contingent and shallow. Indeed, using the word “guest” and conditioning it on paying money not only misuses the term itself, but also renders “hospitality” rather superficial and may even belie its very meaning. This can manifest even as "higher end" hotels, whose employees can be very rude indeed to real guests.

I remember, for example, being invited to the weekday late-afternoon reception at a Staybridge hotel by a "guest" staying at the hotel on business. He told me it was not uncommon for "guests" there on business to invite a friend or coworker from time to time--a practice that the hotel management went along with to please its business "guests." However, because I was not a "real" guest, but, rather, a guest more in keeping with the meaning of the term, the employees involved in the reception (and at the front desk) made it rather obvious to me that they were ignoring me while being nice to my host--their "guest." It occurred to me that the employees had no idea how to treat a real guest--one not conditioned on having paid money for the "privilege." The fraud of the "hospitality" at Staybridge was thus made transparent to me as well as to their "guest." In short, hotels use "guests" too conditionally, as well as in a way contrary to the term's meaning, for no real host would charge a guest. The hospitality industry seems to have decided to use a term at odds with that term's meaning, so as to reap the benefits nonetheless. Such hypocracy, which people can readily sense, is ultimately as counter-productive as it is self-serving, and yet hotel managers are utterly unrepentant in their usurption--as if they have done nothing of the sort.

Considering the hospitality industry's "mindset," or default, it is perhaps not completely unexpected that even some of the companies reputed to be among the best are actually rather superficial with respect to hospitality, while some motels, such as Extended Stay and Red Roof Inn, continue to operate without any hint of salubriousness and yet somehow manage to remain in the industry. Perhaps the industry itself is problematic, at least relative to the standards of management in other industries. The hospitality industry itself may simply be rather inhospitable, or low, as in base, under the subterfuge of hospitality itself.

In such a context, unethical conduct can spread unchecked. For example, while staying at a Best Western hotel, I negotiated with the general manager on a rate on which I would extend my stay. He gave me a counter-offer and a day or two to decide. On the second day, I accepted his rate in deciding to extend, but his assistant told me, "The manager changed his mind. He wants quite a bit more."  I called Best Western's "customer service," but to no avail as there was no accountability. I did not extend my stay. I subsequently heard that the manager was part of a class action lawsuit alleging that he improperly conducted himself with waitresses in the hotel's bar. Hospitality management, it would seem, may be an inferior sort of management under the facade of hospitality.


Msnbc.com, “Light Sleepers Rejoice: Hotel Chain Drafts ‘Snore Patrols’ as Shuteye Sentries,” July 21, 2011. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43839450/ns/world_news-weird_news/