December 1995, and I was working the 3pm-11pm shift at the Front Desk of my first hotel, an hotel built into the International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. On the way to work, it began to snow, and by the time my shift began, we had a full-on blizzard on our hands. And at an airport hotel, this means the one thing we all hated to hear: flight cancellations. When flights cancel and you are working at an airport hotel, it means that the guests who were supposed to check-out don't, because they have nowhere to go. And the guests who try to check-IN, typically locals who are arriving for their early flights the next day, have no rooms. Explaining the situation that day resulted in some very unhappy customers, but mostly, the guests understood the situation.
We explained to arriving guests that we were full, no one had checked out, there were no available rooms for them, and the roads were too treacherous to drive on. So onto the floor in the lobby they went. Luggage was partially unpacked, and little makeshift villages began popping up throughout the hotel, with guests sleeping on the floor, using their clothes and whatever blankets and pillows we could provide as temporary mattresses, and generally making the best of the situation.
Except for one guest. There is always one customer that just doesn't believe that we don't have any rooms. They say things like "you must have ONE room" or "I know you keep one room on standby for situations like this". The fact is, most hotels don't keep a few rooms vacant in case of snow storms. And as the conversation with one of my front desk colleagues became more heated and confrontational, I decided to quietly dial Airport Security from another phone.
The airport police in the USA, even the 1990's, were very well equipped. Bomb and metal detectors, extra cool tasers and guns, and my favourite accessory: a giant German Sheppard attack dog. Within a minute, all had arrived, and quietly stood a few meters behind the un-suspecting, raging guest.
And that's when it happened. The guest leaned over the desk and with a barrage of expletives, spit right into my colleagues face. That was all I could take, and even though I was not a manager I jumped to the rescue, shouted "that's about ENOUGH", pulled away my stunned co-worker and waved over the cop and the dog. The guest looked at me and said "what are YOU gonna do" and I replied "I'm not gonna do anything, but what you should be concerned about is what THEY are gonna do" and pointed at the giant cop and the even more giant attack dog which were now standing right behind him, both letting off nasty growls.
The cop calmly explained that this sort of behaviour was considered "assault", however as he was in the "Christmas Spirit", we would give the guest three choices. One, he could be kicked out onto the street, into the freezing cold snow storm. Two, he could keep fighting and the cop would release the dog, who had not yet eaten dinner, and whatever remained of the guest afterwards would be taken to jail. Or three, the guest could join the other campers in the lobby.
And so the guest wisely chose option three, quietly and apologetically found a comfortable spot on the carpet, unpacked a few shirts, and made the lobby floor his bed for the night.
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.