Late September 2001, and the world was still on-edge during the weeks after the infamous Twin Tower attacks. What better time to open a new hotel in the Middle East! I was working in Montego Bay, Jamaica at the time, and since very few wanted to travel to the Gulf Region during that time, I volunteered and was accepted to go for 2 weeks to assist as a "pre-opening trainer" at the soon-to-open hotel on the West Bay of Doha, Qatar.
As part of our pre-opening procedures, in the days leading up to the opening, we conducted a "mock-fire drill", which allows the new staff to practice the routes of evacuation should the need ever arise. The time for the fire drill on my 4th day in sweltering hot Doha was set for 11am, and I received a piece of advice from one of the local Qatari's that, looking back, I should have listened to: he said "Mr. Steve, during the fire drill today, make sure you keep moving, don't stand in one spot, it's going to be hot". You see, the evacuation point was the open parking lot outside the hotel, where we would gather our teams, do ‘head-counts' and make sure everyone was accounted for.
Now excuse me... but first of all, I was living in Jamaica at the time. The sun was hot, and we worked outside all the time. And excuse me, but I was a cocky 27 year-old, and naturally I thought I was not only tough, but I knew everything there was to know. So of course, I ignored the advice. "Thanks, my friend" I thought to myself "but a little heat is not going to make me faint or pass out". Plus, I figured, we would only be outside for a total of about 10 minutes.
11am came, and the fire alarms sounded as planned. Out we went, hundreds of Ladies and Gentlemen streaming from all doors of the hotel, to the designated parking lot. Temperature: 45 degrees Celsius, 113 degrees Fahrenheit. As my team lined up, and were accounted for, I remember thinking "I am going to just stand here and not move." I chuckled as I began to sweat, and watched the others pace back and forth, or shift their weight from one foot to the other. "I'll be fine" I thought to myself. And despite the extreme heat which blurred the air rising from the black-top parking lot, I WAS fine. Nothing happened. So I waited for the notification that all were accounted for, and as the teams started to re-enter the building, I suddenly realized: I had a BIG problem.
As I tried to turn to go back into the hotel, I COULD NOT MOVE MY FEET. The soles of my shoes had MELTED into the asphalt parking lot, locking me into place right where I stood. The bottom of my shoes had liquefied into a molten black-chewing gum, and as I slowly pulled, the shoes rose from the ground like black mozzarella cheese. As it turns out, the advice I received to "keep moving" was NOT to prevent me from passing out under the hot sun, but rather so that my shoes didn't melt into the pavement! Somehow I managed to dislodge both shoes and squish my way back into the building... the shoes were ruined. What an embarrassment!
So, a bit of wisdom my friends: when travelling abroad, if you get a piece of advice from a local, PAY ATTENTION, they just may have your best interests in mind!
About the author
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 email@example.com or you can follow Steve on Twitter: @stevecokkinias.