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The Darwinian Theory of... Hospitality?
By Alan Campbell
We have come a long way since the earliest inns for weary travelers sparsely, very sparsely, dotted what would become the American landscape.
More times than not, America's early weary traveler, mostly men, slept "under the stars", taking advantage of the Good Lord's hospitality, or in this or that barn—probably free of charge, if at a farm; most likely for a price, if a town stable.
As the population increased and people ventured West for cattle and farmland, towns formed to take care of the people.
A General Store, a Stable, and a Saloons were the first buildings to go up, followed by an all-grade Schoolhouse and a Church.
Many towns never got past that stage, but for those that did, the weary traveler, rather than staying at the only lodging available, a spare room at the Saloon, with all the noise and carousing cacophony that went with that type of environment, now had the choice of either an hotel or a boarding house; sometimes both.
Competition, except between saloons, was almost never a problem; at least not until many of those towns grew into either larger towns or cities.
Customer service, in those early days, was not something that many hotel owners knew about, cared about, or even thought about; after all, there was no competition.
Profit was at a maximum, cleanliness and health concerns were at a minimum—due primarily through people, doctors included, not understanding germs, nor understanding how diseases were propagated.
I bring this up because the evolving hospitality concepts of yore—if you'll permit the archaic usage—will not be anything like tomorrow's offerings.
For example, we have seen the ubiquitous box-style buildings give way to ultra modern designs that, in some cases, seem to defy logic and gravity, but nonetheless appeal to our visual and emotional senses; also, we have seen, especially here in Las Vegas, visual representations/reproductions of well-known international icons: Paris' Eiffel Tower, Cairo's Great Pyramid of Cheops guarded by the Sphinx, Venice's Piazza San Marco, the New York City Skyline, etc.; all turned into hotels.
I stayed at Chicago's Palmer House (now the Palmer Hilton) a year prior to its 100th year of existence (1954), and it still used the same old rickety, hand-cranked elevators in vogue since the early 1900s; elevators that could only handle about 4 people plus the elevator operator at any given haul.
The rooms, though, were top-notch, clean, and fairly large, with decorated walls and other visually appealing paraphernalia, such as a writing desk, nightstands with lamps, and chairs, etc.
Also, I stayed for a week at an hotel (its name no longer registered in my brain cells), but a pretty nice-looking hotel at that, located but a couple of blocks behind the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court buildings, in which individual room bathrooms did not yet exist—and this was in the early sixties!
How times have changed, and keep on changing in the hospitality industry!
I say this because we are about to see a major change that is rapidly becoming the norm in more and more hotels—total automation.
It seems as if it were just yesterday that you could take care of checking in to your hotel via the hotel's shuttle transportation, but now also we have automated self check-in, and, tomorrow, or perhaps already in some places, you can check-in to your room via your smartphone, that may well include the code to open your door!
No more having to stand in line at the front desk to check in or check out!
Are we seeing the demise of the front desk? I doubt it, for human contact is still essential to the proper running of any given enterprise; but let's face it, computerization of all facets of any business is happening, and happening sometimes in the blink of an eye.
Why, just a couple of days ago I read where the New York Stock Exchange may soon be all computerized and no longer will we see the mad scramble of floor stock/bond brokers/bidders/sellers strewing the floor with paper.
And with that in mind, I can envision one day placing all my luggage on a dumbwaiter-type contraption, punching in my room number, which will deliver said luggage to my room!
Obviously, if you don't have a smartphone, there probably will be a personal greeting manager with a tablet that will be able to assist you with your check-in, or help you with some other problem, or, as those now ubiquitous computerized airline ticket computers that take the place of counter personnel, will have a person to guide you through the technology.
Almost total computerization could well be the future of the hospitality industry.
But as with all innovations, technical or otherwise, they will bring with them new headaches for both the customer/guest and the hotelier.
And what you don't want is a frustrated guest; hence, human beings at the ready still will be needed.
It would be a great disservice to the guest, whether tech-savvy or not, young or old, to lose the "Front Desk".
Will it come to pass?
In one aspect or another, I'm sure it will; though not now.
Technological advances permeate every facet of society speeding up actions that used to take months into weeks, weeks into days, days into hours, hours into minutes, minutes into seconds, seconds into… well, you get my drift.
We have become so accustomed to information being at our fingertips, we no longer seem to look at or notice or take stock of our surroundings.
Even the all-knowing concierge can be replaced by a computerized version of it.
Why Just Ask Jeeves.com, or Ask.com, as it is now known!
Maybe a live concierge will still be around, though the times also have changed that position; for now even the concierge has and uses a tablet to better service and provide what guests want.
Personally, I happen to enjoy talking with a live staff person, so I will seek those properties that still have people to assist with my needs and who are able to talk.
I’m all for technology, but not at the expense of human communication.
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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