Who's in Charge and Who Will Lead the Way?
By John Hendrie, CEO, Hospitality Performance, Inc.
Sunday, 8th January 2006
We continue to bemoan the obvious – the decline of Service and the devaluation of Product in the Hospitality Industry.  We do not hire for Talent – warm bodies will do.  We do not pay for that talent – minimum wage and tip credit promote ill-equipped "Ambassadors".  We do not develop our talent – training is seen merely as a cost, not an investment.  We do not have consistent Standards – we present an uneven delivery.  We do not collaborate to present that favorable Brand.

Turnover demonstrates our lack of success; visitor/guest satisfaction "feedback" broadcasts our lack of vigor.  We are driven by our numbers, but no Bean Counter has improved the level of service – efficiency, yes – excellence, no.  Let's grind those beans and smell the aromatic strains of our unique industry.

All parties could impact the change and create the groundswell of true Hospitality.  But, it may surprise you from where the impetus will come, so gird your loins, Hospitality, the ride will be rough, for you have acquiesced your role.  Buckle up!

Our Destination Leadership organizations– CVB's,  CVA's and even Chambers – are struggling.  They spend enormous monies on marketing to a new audience, and neglect the current visitors, who already may think they are great.  Budgets have dwindled, as States curb allotments and the Hotel Room Tax has decreased as a means to sustain the marketing of an area.  Stakeholders are increasingly demanding, "What have you done for me lately?"  The answers they receive are less than inspiring.

The Associations we join to promote our businesses are reeling from financial woes, as they chase membership dues. Their educational programs often are not well attended; time available becomes a convenient lament, ennui the climate. We are offered all sorts of meaningful support services and products, along with lobbying efforts at the local, state and federal level, but the emphasis is internal, rather than external to our market, our bread and butter – the Visitor, the Guest, and how we collaboratively, as an Industry, improve the experience and lead the way.  You would expect the essence of Best Practices, high levels of standards required, implacable influence and ambition on the Hospitality landscape.  Not so!

Corporations,  our "flag" hotels, restaurants, attractions and retail, which do represent varying levels of Standards, continue to remain myopic and insular, not grasping that all components of their community must perform, not just the major players.  And, the Independents try to scrape along, many times on the shirttails of the Corporations.  But, their products and services can be suspect, further dragging down the reputation of the community.  Yes, it is about reputation, standards, excellence, leadership and the Experience.

So, who fills this void we have allowed and demands change and enlightenment?  Firstly, the Consumer will.  They have not reached the high point of clamor about their experience, but it is coming.  They want value for their money, and they expect us to deliver on the experience we promise and frame for them.  They speak through a currency we all understand! 

We have done a pretty good job with lowering expectations, but that spiral can only descend so far. 

We will first see this new momentum and push for change through the efforts of the providers who provide us the most traffic – the meeting and convention planners.  They receive, first hand, the reports of our performance or lack there of, whether it be the hotels which house their constituents or the Destination businesses which support the Visitor, where they may also stay, dine, entertain themselves and shop.  These planners represent huge clout, and past history and current status will impact more so the decisions on where to hold meetings and conventions.  If audacious, they can change the face of Hospitality.  The casual, vacationing and business traveler has also had it, but, as these are individual voices, their angst is really measured business by business.  We, as an Industry, do such a poor job of capturing Visitor and Guest Satisfaction information that this tide of discontent is sometimes seen as an eddy, but the wave is forming and frothing.

The marketplace rules!  Almost all other industries have learned this; they "right-sized", realigned, the Consumer was king again, and service, delivery of a quality product and satisfaction were the watchwords.

The second agent of change will be our government through legislation.  They act when there is perceived injustice and inequality, and, if the Feds do not respond, our States will.  Numerous States have legislation pending to increase the Minimum Wage above the paltry Federal level.  The New York Times on January 5, reported that 30 States are looking at legislation, requiring large Corporations to increase Employee Health Insurance.  Admittedly, directed to the Walmarts of the world, just translate this move to States where Tourism is the major economic driver.  It is a matter of time for a certain level of benefits to be mandated!

These pending initiatives segue nicely into the third agent for change – Organized Labor – just salivating over our inability to grasp realities and act.  We talk about wages, health benefits, career development, and advancement.  We also know the profile of our majority employees:  primarily female, mostly immigrant, not highly educated.  Could the banner of serving the disenfranchised resonate for our Union brethren?  You bet.  And, they are very clever and dedicated. 

We have seen how labor disruption impacted major US cities, like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas.  Those of us in the second and third tier areas of the country believe we will not be touched.  A word of caution, by example.  In Providence, RI, UniteHERE has proposed an ordinance to a seemingly friendly City Council, requiring hotels and Convention Centers, experiencing labor problems, to inform prospective guests before they make reservations.  Meeting Planners would you take note?  The tentacles for Union activity and representation already appear in the Service Sector:  laundries, parking lots, janitorial, besides the historical types of companies.  We are surrounded!

We have a choice.  This is not a new challenge; sadly, it has been with us for decades.  We have Hospitality businesses which are superb, Associations which are responsive to the membership, and Destination areas which are sublime, yet the axis is out of whack. The Consumer will ultimately force us to "raise the Bar". It is far more difficult to run a business through legislation or in line with contractual language.  We have the choice to "roll over" or take the lead, because the realities are not on the horizon – they are here right now.  No excuse is warranted.

The author believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal for the Visitor Experience.  To learn more, please visit:   www.hospitalityperformance.com
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