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Crusader or what?
Mayor of Toledo, Ohio audits city hotels and issues report card to the public. Is the destination sullied?
Should we applaud or cringe? This surely goes beyond the errant hair in the soup or the shower. Personally, I am appalled for two reasons: one, that the Mayor, Carty Finkbeiner, was driven to this public action, and two, that it was aired in the public domain as a Destination "story". The situation must have been quite extraordinary to prompt this outrage in the media. The counter side is that there was a perception gone awry, affecting a city's reputation, and a Public official took action. Let's start with some preliminary information, as reported in two articles (5/2/07 and 8/3/07) by the local newspaper, The Blade.
The Mayor felt, through personal observation and complaints from Visitors, that downtown hotels were not performing well in terms of "...attitude, conduct and cleanliness". He noted that Hotels are "...where many people get their first impression of the city." If the Experience is poor, they will not return. "We have been trying to get the large and small hotels to raise their standards. I don't want our city to be seen as an unclean city," Mr. Finkbeiner said. If Hotels do not cooperate, "we're going to close them down," he said. Holy smokes!
He hired a Secret Shopper to evaluate six hotels, with the company to consider "phone inquiry, curb appeal, check-in, public areas, guest room appearance, room service and checkout". As reported, the final scores ranged from 28-85. The lowest scoring property responded that Guests expected a higher level of luxury not matched by room rate and that the hotel was old and outdated, leading to expectations not met. However, they immediately began to address operation shortcomings, before they were to be closed as a "Public Nuisance". Great Zot!
We in Hospitality certainly cannot question the Mayor's grasp of the importance of First Impressions as they relate to the Visitor Experience, and we also recognize the import of a Mayor's Position as Lead Destination Ambassador. But, from a Destination marketing perspective, this type of news and coverage creates a unique Public Relations opportunity. What was not in place or acted upon accordingly to fix the problem(s) in a private fashion, rather that using the public "stockade" of shame and guilt?
Normally, if a Visitor has a complaint, it is registered with the Chamber of Commerce, perhaps the Convention and Visitor's Bureau and/or the Office of the Mayor. Sometimes, the offending business is not even alerted, as the Customer thinks they will not answer the complaint. The complaint is then typically "routed" to the business in question, requesting a suitable response within a specific time frame. Sadly, this is where the process typically ends. It is off my desk and now it is your problem. Hopefully, the complaint will be answered. Major disconnect potential!
Most of our Associations, Professional, Trade, Chambers, and CVB's, have language regarding the proper performance accorded membership. They talk about ethics, customer service, the value of unity, how they all complement the whole. Most even have language about how to address those members who are not up to snuff, usually chasing those non-dues compliant. But, they have a process, their intended clout to keep the Association shipshape, for they protect the integrity and reputation of their community, and miscreants will be dealt with post haste.
What happened in Toledo? Surely other community and hospitality leaders must have been aware of the "problems", knowing that a poor Experience at Hotel "X" would impact a Visitor's perception of the entire Destination. And, certainly a timely response to complaints would ameliorate "bad news", which only further tarnishes a city's reputation. Perhaps, private pressure failed.
The Mayor may have been courageous. The Public likes an audacious leader, someone who tackles a situation and seeks solutions, not through the old smoke-filled backroom deal making but right upfront in the public domain. The other take might be that those who should have acted, did not, and the Mayor's recourse was one of exasperation.
There always is more than meets the eye in these situations, particularly within the political contours, but the bottom line is what was promised was not delivered. A Destination city such as Toledo should represent an integrated Customer Service attitude and approach, from the Taxi cab driver, to the Front Desk, to the restaurant server, to the policeman. Success rests with everyone. Toledo is a very public demonstration about delivery, meeting expectations, and, I might add, the benefit of some standards of performance with product, service and facility. The Mayor got my attention. What does your Downtown area, your Destination core, look like?
Was the Mayor correct with the action taken? I do not know, but consider the ramifications. It is all about recovery at this point. Our Hollywood folks check into rehab. Aruba is still reeling from a poorly handled, unfortunate situation, yet tourism is booming. New Orleans still languishes. Damage Control is the usual response. Perhaps, a different DMO twist could be: we have addressed a Destination problem, and our rebound will be better than ever. Come to Toledo and see! Here is a bar of soap for your "goodie bag". Humor helps.
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