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The Rotten Pineapple

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October 01, 2002
Hospitality Principles
Steve D’Erasmo - steve.derasmo@disney.com

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© 2002 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

How different would your day be if you extended your hospitable best to everyone and not just the paying guest?

The pineapple is regarded as the international symbol of hospitality.

We spend a great deal of time taking care of our guests and extending gracious hospitality. Yet, in the midst of all our efforts, we treat our colleagues, peers and business partners like dirt. In today’s world of innkeeping, we are working longer hours, attempting to do more with less, and going home angry, frustrated and demoralized as a result. Our golden pineapple has rotted and needs to be refreshed.

Why can’t we practice what we preach? The civility of our profession has evaporated into a shell of its former self. How we treat one another today in the boardroom and other back-of-house locations is anything but hospitable. The ethical concepts of partnership, cooperation and teamwork appear to have been replaced with a 2002 version of the corporate Civil War.

Nowhere is this more apparent to me than during the week of HITEC. Whether in Baltimore, Dallas, Atlanta or Chicago, I am always hopeful that the greatest assemblage of hospitality technology professionals will conduct themselves with dignity. Instead, I am usually treated to an annual display of the “me” generation at their self-centered worst.

Are we really that important? We think nothing of incurring the expenses to attend the conference, but can’t seem to be able to sit through a 45-minute educational seminar without a cell phone interruption. We can’t all be experiencing catastrophic fire drills back at the office, can we? A visit to the restroom off this year’s show floor provided a glimpse into the unexpected. The gentleman using the adjacent urinal thought nothing of continuing his cell phone dialogue throughout the process of answering nature. I’m sure whoever was on the other end really appreciated the enhanced acoustics and a chorus of non-stop flushing in the background.
How different would your day be if you extended your hospitable best to everyone and not just the paying guest? Under this hypothesis, let’s explore today’s customer/vendor relationship and contrast it with the potential of what it could be.

Vendor Wars
Your technology vendor has called three times this week and bombarded you with seven unsolicited e-mail messages. You know the drill. Choruses of “it’s in our next release” fill your head. Their RFP is a solid column of yes replies to each functional requirement you requested. They even said yes to the requirement that the escape key must produce cappuccino every morning. Clearly, you assume, their only goal is get invited to an onsite demo where they will wiggle and interpret your requirements into a half-baked display of how your operation could bend to match their software limitations. When you grant them an hour of your time, they automatically assume they can absorb two and a half. A portion of the presentation is spent taking cell phone calls from their next prospect. In short, their promises sound hollow.

Now what if the vendor and the customer engaged in a process of discovery? A conference call could be set up where the customer would walk through business needs, project objectives and answer any questions pertaining to specific language in the RFP document. Better yet, why couldn’t the vendor parachute into the customer location and conduct the equivalent of a pre-convention meeting to gain an understanding of the customer’s true needs or unique business model?

Sure this comes with a cost. Travel is not cheap and the customer has to make the time available. At the end of the day, however, this is a relationship both parties will be living with for a number of years. This investment is sound for many reasons. As the vendor, you’ll get a first-hand account of what the customer is truly shopping for. Here’s a great opportunity to decide whether or not your solution is a good fit. If not, you can graciously elect to not respond to the RFP. With a minor travel investment, your sales cycle costs are mitigated and you can move on to more promising efforts. As the customer, you’ll have a better feeling that what you see in an RFP can be believed. This should take some of the mystery out of the onsite vendor voodoo we all abhor.

Operational Agendas
How many agendas are floating through your operation? Are you supporting the company’s vision or pushing an agenda of your own?

When shopping for technology, it is so important your business objectives are known and clearly articulated. If you are not really in the market for a product, come clean with your vendor. If you know your capital budget won’t support the expenditure this year, don’t ask the vendor to zoom in for a demo. Our vendors must reciprocate in order for the relationship to thrive; when the customer says they’re not interested, they’re not interested.

When things go awry, why does damage control take precedence over finding an equitable solution? We spend too much energy making sure any blame is deflected onto a colleague, another department or another entity within the company. Face it. We’re all going to goof from time to time. An environment where your peers are constantly supportive and there to help you pick up the pieces when you stumble is an environment where employee retention and job satisfaction reign supreme. A work culture that emphasizes one agenda starts with an unselfish employee who is grounded in the tradition of teamwork. It seems that the golden rule has a place in our work lives after all.

Bottom line profit is important. It always has been. The REIT-crazed 1980s clearly shifted our industry away from the main focus of hospitality and into the business of managing our real estate investment. However, the pendulum may have swung too far to the side of the almighty balance sheet. Profit has been a motivational driver of the earliest innkeeper. But, I argue the drive for profit was never compromised through a complete ignorance of civility, ethics and principles extended toward our guests and one another.

Two thousand years ago a hotelier in Bethlehem found himself in an oversold situation during a city-wide convention. A late night walk-in couple was desperate for a room. Being as they had not guaranteed their room for late arrival, the hotelier was under no obligation to walk the pregnant woman and her companion. One less hassle to have to deal with – at least in a modern-day perspective. Luckily, the practice of hospitality and civility entered the equation. The MOD took that extra step and found the time to locate an alternative sleeping arrangement. The inn’s stable may not have met ADA and OSHA standards, but this simple extension of hospitality kept the couple from sleeping in the snow that night. The rest is history.

Our story’s innkeeper was a living example of the pineapple principle in action. It is within all of us to emulate a heartfelt display of hospitality toward our co-workers, customers and business associates. We all have the ability to polish our pineapple behaviors through our daily interactions and professional relationships. Make the effort. It will make your work life, and next year’s HITEC, more fun and rewarding.

Steve D’Erasmo is a manager of information technology for Walt Disney World Co. He can be reached at mailtsteve.derasmo@disney.com.

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