Where has the integrity gone?

There’s a place for integrity in everything that we do.  In every workplace, in every family, in every industry.  So when we talk about the importance of integrity in the hospitality world, to many it may not be a provocative topic.  Unfortunately integrity can be challenging to find in our business, even when considering our most widely accepted practices and functions.

In a true service industry, it is understood by both parties (vendor and customer) that a higher level of service demands a higher price.  It is also understood by both parties that the customer must experience value for price paid, and the vendor must be able to make an actual profit.  When these are the expectations from those involved, the role of integrity in the relationship is also very important.  A guest who books their annual family vacation at our resort in the sun is literally investing their own blood, sweat, and tears with the expectation that we will provide a wonderful experience along with that ever-elusive value for price paid.  And how do we begin this partnership between customer and vendor?  In too many cases, one of the first bumps along the way comes at check-in, when our hotel’s “Resort or Activities Fee” is explained.  Hopefully the guest knew about this when they made their reservation at the outset, but we are responsible for explaining its existence when the guest actually arrives.  So, thinking back to our commitment to providing value, one of the guest’s first interactions with us comes in the form of our Front Desk Agent explaining why we are charging $25-$30 (or higher) for them to receive a daily newspaper, use the fitness center, or reserve an umbrella chair at the beach.  Whether spoken or not, the guest’s first reaction to this “policy” is one of being nickel and dimed, that is, being charged for something that they thought was already included in their accepted price. In this case, before the guest has even reached their accommodation, our integrity has been compromised in their eyes.

Following this same direction, the guest that has already been disappointed in our “fee” policy heads down with the family to enjoy some time by the pool.  It’s something that we handle very well; a comfortable chaise, perhaps an umbrella, and there have to be cocktails.  Later, when the check is presented, the guest may or may not be confused to note that on top of the charges for their food & drink, there is a mandatory gratuity, a.k.a. service charge.  Once again, the customer has been forced to accept a standard of our industry, taking the concept rewarding good service with an appropriate tip and physically removing it from the equation.  In this case, does the guest stop and say to themselves “I understand this, if the hotel didn’t mandate my gratuity, they’d have a hard time keeping their staff?”  No, the guest reacts differently, as another dart has been launched directly at our integrity in the eyes of the customer.

These are just a few examples of how we have become desensitized to certain practices that, because they are so commonplace, are no longer seen by hospitality professionals as potentially offensive to our customers.  By the same token, the customer has also become desensitized in that they really don’t complain very much about this type of treatment any more.  So, if no one’s complaining, maybe there really isn’t a problem, right? Wrong.

It’s our responsibility as the owners, managers, and LEADERS of this industry to set the standards for our business.  When we apply surcharges and fees and mandatory gratuities, we know that the guest may object, but we do it regardless.  The only way that this approach will stop is if we return to the basic concepts of hospitality that drew us all to the industry in the first place, namely that hospitality is about providing comfort and care for our guests, and for never losing site of the literal meaning of the word ‘guest.’ Our customers are staying in our ‘house;’ this demands that we treat them with the integrity and the respect that they deserve.