Orlando Florida, August 1998, 8pm. It was a smooth, normal, and uneventful day at my 750-room Walt Disney World Resort, where I was the 2nd Shift Manager. And that's when it happened.
"Boss there's a guest who wants to see the Manager; he thinks there is someone locked in the trunk of a car in the parking lot". Sorry, WHAT?
So out I went to the lobby, and introduced myself to a visibly shaken guest, who informed me that after he parked his rental car in our large outdoor parking lot, and was walking in towards the lobby, he heard a banging noise which he thinks was coming from inside the trunk of another car.
A quick call to Loss Prevention (Security) and we were equipped with radios and flashlights and began making our way through the hundreds of cars in the giant lot. And sure enough, we soon heard a knocking. And then a clear banging. And then a cry for help.
We zeroed in on the car, an old rusted 1980's model sedan. The car was locked, but there was DEFINITELY someone (or something) locked in the trunk. We asked "are you ok, can you talk?"
And the reply came, "Yes, please help me get out". And before we could respond, we noticed a rusty hole near the latch of the trunk, and from out of that rusty hole appeared a key.
I gave instructions to Loss Prevention to immediately call an Ambulance AND call the Police. And with the "worst case scenario" in mind, I took the key and opened the trunk.
Inside the trunk we found a 9 year old boy, pale, sweating, dehydrated (it was at least one hundred degrees that night), and looking quite nearly dead. Additional members of my team ran to get water and orange juice. I asked him, "What happened?" The reply, I could not believe.
"My mother works for a contract babysitting company, and she was hired to babysit for a family at this hotel tonight. I didn't want to stay at home alone, so I snuck into the trunk of the car and shut the lid so that I could come along. That's why I brought the key".
And then I remembered: about an hour earlier, a babysitter had indeed come to the front desk to be escorted to a room to babysit, hired by a family staying in the hotel. So I ran inside and quickly called the room, hoping the parents had not yet left for the evening. Luckily, they were still getting ready for dinner in the room, with the babysitter, and their daughter.
It was an awkward conversation, as I had to explain that their babysitter would be unable to stay to watch their daughter tonight, as the babysitter was having some "issues" with her own child. And then I asked if I could speak to the babysitter. I introduced myself over the phone, and requested that she meet me in the lobby immediately. "Why?" she asked. "Is everything ok?"
"Yeah, not really", I replied, "we just pulled your son out of the trunk of your car." Silence. Click. And 1 minute later she was in the lobby. I escorted her out to her car in the parking lot. The ambulance and paramedics were on the scene, attending to the boy. The police had also just arrived on the scene. Both the son and the mother were led away that nights in vehicles with flashing lights; the boy went to the hospital in the ambulance, and mother was taken away in the police car for "further questioning". We never did find out what happened to either of them after that, but I had a sneaking suspicion that the babysitter could not find a babysitter of her own, and perhaps that was how the boy ended up in the trunk of the car. It was certainly one of the most disturbing nights of my hotel career.
About Steve Cokkinias
Steve Cokkinias is the Founder & CEO of InnSense Leadership (www.innsense.com) which he established in 2012 after a successful 17-year career in the hospitality industry that included senior positions with Ritz-Carlton, Westin, and Sheraton in the U.S.A, Caribbean, and Asia. An inspiring and sought-after speaker and executive coach, Steve has delivered energizing programs on service, leadership, and talent management to a wide range of international companies. During his 9 years as General Manager in Kuala Lumpur, his hotel was named "Best Employer in Malaysia" 4 times consecutively by Hewitt & Associates, earning him a place on Human Capital Asia's "Hot 40 - Asia's H.R. Superstars". In 2010, Steve was named Malaysia's "General Manager of the Year" by the Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards. His new book, "InnSanity - Leadership Lessons from a Lifetime in Luxury Lodging", is due for release in early 2013. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow Steve on Twitter: @stevecokkinias.