Hotels, My Second Home

I have been traveling my whole life and the last twenty years intensively.  I stayed in camps, Bed & Breakfasts, Inns, Motels, Hotels and Resorts of all kinds.  Some were small, some were large.  Some were lousy and some were excellent.  Some barely made it to one star and some had five!  I spent in hotels summers, winters, springs and falls… and once, when our plane from Boston to Denver got cut in a blizzard, even the Christmas Eve.  Other hotels (Moskva in Zlin CR, The New England Center Hotel in Durham NH or Hilton in Prague CR)  became our only homes for a while, and in another hotels we became regular (Monte Carlo in Las Vegas).

 When we moved to New Hampshire we were far from both sets of grandparents, far from any family members, and from beginning, even far from all of our friends. We had no place to go to unwind and relax.  When your family lives close you can just drop by for the Sunday lunch or Friday coffee, let the kids play with grandma’s dog, or let them make a mess in her basement and have a little break from it all. Which is well needed on any occasion, but especially when your children are little and you are up and running with them around the clock.  Well, we didn’t have any of that.  But we had something else.  We traveled with Bruce to all of the conferences, presentations and seminars. While he was working the kids and I were taking advantage of the place we stayed in.  Therefore hotels became something special to us.  They became our rejuvenating oases.  Just like a “visit at nice relatives”.   And not only oases, but also safe heavens.

One winter the power went off in our town Durham, NH for several days.  It was after a severe storm and half of the state was without a power. Rescue crews from other states came help to fix it. The house was freezing, the water wasn’t running and the candles were burning fast.  Nobody knew how long it will take to fix the broken lines.  The darkness was setting in and I started picturing another night in freezing home, without warm food for the children. Some of our neighbors packed their cars and headed to the next county to stay with their relatives.  I packed the car and headed to the next town to stay in newly opened Motel 6.  Bruce decided to stay behind and watch the house in case the power comes back. He actually stayed at his close by university where the buildings kept running on generator. 
I walked in to the motel with two sleepy and hungry kids.  At the reception was working a young man.  The hotel was totally empty. I believe we were the only guests that night. He looked at us pitifully and asked how he may help. He set up nice, warm room for us, helped me heat up the milk bottle and brought bath bubbles for the kids, which normally Motel 6 does not provide.  We were in heaven!  After this episode I saw hotels (and especially its workers) in a different light.
No wonder our children fell in love with travels and especially hotels. They became experts on writing reviews and checking the quality within first steps.  

As a writer of travelogues I often mention the places we stay in, or the people we meet there.  I write reviews for Travelocity and Hotwire and have been studing the travel and hospitality industry for years.  By now I can honestly say I spent a lot of time in hotels and have seen it all.  But what is the secret of hotels?  Why are some better than others?  Why some bankrupt and some thrive?  Why in some hotels we feel like outcastes’ and in some we want to stay forever?   Is it the ranking, the brand name, or is it something else?
To find out, you have to know both sides. I never worked at hotel myself. I knew it from the guest’s side only.  It was about time to do something about it.
We have a friend who owns hotel.  I know the place, I stayed there couple of times with the family, and on occasion even with Bruce’s class.  It is wonderful place, in great location.  Always clean and friendly, opened for many years.  They must be doing something right, I wondered.
So, I asked our friend a huge favor.  Would they let me work at his Hotel & Resort ? I was more than excited when he said yes! How kind of him! I am not sure if I would be so brave and take on some “Orange County House Wife” to let her do her little experiment in my place?  I will be forever grateful for their trust!
For almost two weeks I worked the morning, afternoon, and late night shifts. I watched the receptionists to answer hundreds of phone calls, made hundreds of book ins, check ins and checked outs.  They also had to solve all the problems that came their way.  I worked with the house keeping crew, hotel accountants, marketing department, and management.  I watched the maintains guys fix broken toilets and much more!  I watched the hotel chef to cook and bake his tasty food, and went to shop with him for groceries.  I stayed until the hotel bar closed and admired the barman who hears many “interesting” stories every night. I saw the door men to take care of hundreds of cars. And because this Hotel & Resort has also nightly life entertainment I watched all the musicians, singers and artists, every night! 
I admit, I could not keep up with any of the workers.  It would take me much longer than two weeks to get their speed and experience.  I admired them all!  They worked hard and well.  They were upset when they could not satisfied impossible guests.  They were happy when guests came to praise them for a good job.  They were all very patient with me and extremely kind. It brings tears to my eyes every time I remember it.  In another words they cared about each other and they cared about the guests.

My new colleague Joseph, who works at the reception, asked me during one of our shifts a good question:  “What makes some hotels better than others?”  It was the very same question I was asking myself for years.   But only now I could answer it: “It is the people, Joseph,” I replied.  It is not the stars, not the brands, often not even the location…it is the people.”
It starts at the top with the boss and roles down like a snow ball throughout the whole place.  If the people are knowledgeable with good work ethics they like what they do.  They take pride in what they do too. When they are knowledgeable they are confident and if they are confident, they are professional.  But most important is to be able to add to all those qualities our humanity.  Our empathy for others.  Empathy makes us understand the needs of others.  And understanding the needs of others makes us flexible.  Flexibility is in business critical.
The young man in the Motel  6 during the snow storm did not have to help me with the milk bottle or bring bubble bath, but he did.  And same goes to the people I worked with the last two weeks.  They did not have to be so nice, kind and patience with me or others, but they were.  They had empathy and respect for others.  Humanity is what makes the place so special.
 In paradox we tend to think that success comes to those who our heartless.  Opposite is the truth.  Humanity is what makes us stronger.  Caring makes us better.  And that applies in a private life as much as in hospitality or any other honest business.  You care and you win, because good people will want to work for you.   And guests will want to come back to you.
And that’s the whole secret.