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Where Are Today's Peter McDermotts in the Hotel Industry?
By Alan Campbell
It was at the St. Gregory Hotel in San Francisco where I first met Peter McDermott, the hotel’s general manager. Peter, Mr. McDermott, was the quintessential hotel manager: diplomatic, suave, intuitive, personable, easy-going, honest to a fault, direct, and smart; he was a troubleshooter and problem-solver par excellence; he exuded leadership, yet led by example—he wasn’t averse to rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty, or his shirt, for that matter. He knew every nook and cranny and everybody that worked at the hotel by name, and mingled freely with the hotel guests, learning their names, and talking and listening to them, no matter their social standing. He became my teacher and mentor, and I credit his character, his friendship, love of his profession and passion for his job, and his humanity and humility for many of my own successes. He took me under his wing and showed me what I needed to have in order to run a hotel, any hotel, successfully, and he demonstrated through his actions every day I was with him, the meaning of hospitality.
The St. Gregory Hotel, despite its deceptive aged brick exterior, exuded the best of “old world charm” and all that that entails in its interior, without skimping on modern essentials. It had a quiet, dignified elegance about it that gave guests a feeling of both security and familiarity. There was a palpable soul to the St. Gregory, and Peter McDermott knew how to keep its fire burning brightly.
Peter McDermott and the St. Gregory Hotel (Washington, DC excepted) no longer exist, except in the minds of those that read and remember Arthur Hailey’s novel, Hotel, or the movie by the same name, or the television series, also by the same name (both the novel and the movie’s setting were in New Orleans and San Francisco for the TV series). But, like all fiction, no matter the setting, the characters, with all their good and bad characteristics, are based on individual or composites of real people, even Peter McDermott.
Where are today’s Peter McDermotts?
Sitting behind a desk, no doubt, preparing, writing, and poring over reports, charts, budgets, and a myriad of other manager duties. Is this what being a hotel/hospitality host has come down to? Tied to a desk? Slave to paperwork? It pains me to say it, but too many of the general managers I have come across during my career prefer the desk to the guest. Guests ask questions, are emotional at times, interrupt routine, and want things. Desks, on the other hand, are solid, smooth, shiny, reliable, and commanding. Desks hear everything, but never talk back.
I spent four days recently at a five-star property doing business with the hotel’s director of operations. None of the meetings I had with him were overly long, so I had plenty of time to relax and look over the hotel and see how it operated. I suppose I was looking, perhaps expecting, a Peter McDermott encounter/experience, and maybe that was unfair to expect, even from a five-star hotel.
Or was it?
Towards evening time, I ended up in the hotel’s main lobby, which was very large and had a relaxing living room atmosphere to it, as a lobby in any five-star hotel should. In the lobby were many guests in formal and informal dress sitting and talking, others were groups of young and old standing about discussing the evenings events or waiting for someone, whilst others just seemed to be. In all this active and static milieu of humanity there was not a single hotel or hospitality presence. The following morning, the same lobby I was in the evening before, greeted me with the same lack of hotel or hospitality presence. And the more I toured the hotel, the more I came to realize that the hotel lacked a soul; there was a coldness to it, and even when I did come across hotel/hospitality personnel, their smiles, if they smiled, were pasted on, and their greetings were by rote. Everything you would expect of a luxury five-star hotel was present, except what was most important to many, if not all guests, the kind of warmth that only people who really care about their profession are able to give, day in and day out, a warm smile, a sincere greeting, an heartfelt interest in your wellbeing. However, in the case at hand, the host, or one of his or her representatives was nowhere to be seen or felt; too busy to bother with guests, I imagine.
I would like to see and experience the return of many of the lost hospitality souls to the Grand Hotels of the world—to all hotels that have lost them. I do believe that we as managers, especially the ones that have lost their way or strayed from the reason why they wanted to be an hotelier or be in the hospitality profession to start off with, can reeducate ourselves to do what we set out to do—to provide guests with an experience that consists, in part, of the best and most personal service possible consistent with the wishes of the guest, and then some.
I suspect strongly that all employees, from the owner on down, of most hotels throughout the world train their service personnel minimally. It shows. You might as well buy a fleet of robots to do all the salutations and other routine guest interactions.
In 1989 I attended the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA) convention in Nashville, Tennessee at the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. As I was walking down the hallway in the direction I assumed the center was, I stopped and asked a housekeeper for directions to make sure. To my surprise she told me, "just one moment," and picked up the wall phone close by and spoke to someone quickly, hung up the phone, and then came over and rather than telling me how to get to my destination, which is what I expected, she escorted me to the convention center. During the walk over to the center, she told me the history of the hotel and the Grand Old Opry. I found out later that all hotel personnel escort guests personally to hotel and convention center locations guests ask about; the phone call was to let her supervisor know she would be off station with a guest.
That is a McDermott moment.
These moments are too far and few between and they should be the norm, they should be, as the French would say, de règle and de rigueur. They are not. Sad.
So, again I ask, where are today’s Peter McDermotts?
About the Author
Alan Campbell has been in Las Vegas for over 30 years and has worked for the major strip hotels. He has spent some time in California, Los Angeles where he worked for the Radisson and Sheraton hotels. Alan considers the hospitality industry the best job in the world - it is the only place that both king's and Paupers will visit you.
The Hotel Guy
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