Monday, December 31, 2012

Vancouver's Roof-Top Tree

Do you like trees? For the first-time, the roof-top tree overlooking Vancouver's English Bay is stunningly trimmed in lights. The 40 foot Pin Oak is perched above the 19th floor penthouse at Eugenia Place, directly behind First Beach, and is visible through much of the West End.

As imagined by the architects, the oak has now reached the 250 ft. height of the old-growth forest of cedar and fir that originally stood on this spot. Vancouver's highest tree has become a local landmark and now a living all-season wonder.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Memories of a B & B

Our guests (God love 'em) say the darndest things. Recently, two of them surpassed all expectations and wrote two poems about their experience of Nelson House B & B and the Shangri-La suite.
Since it is Christmastime, I would like to share their gifts with you. Both poets have kindly extended their permissions but please accept my apologies for any damage done in selecting from the whole. For those of you who have stayed with us, these poems may stir some memories.
The following is an excerpt from a piece entitled The House by Don MacLean.
" Confidently sitting like a pampered prince, The grey-blue wood frame home, shoulder to shoulder with the towering high-rises, three stories of Victorian splendor, our writing retreat in town for the weekend, on the top floor....
We passed through
a black wrought-iron double gate.
Wide steps rose
to a carved oak door,
and a protective
grey and white cat
challenging us to come forward.
...Second floor, a thousand miles
away from the first,
water chimes by a vine-adorned window,
captivating to my partner,
who stops for three minutes meditation, I watch her watch the floating chimes, and
feel warm at her stillness.
Old photos of old people,
sepia images in one dimensional poses,
stories of the past imagined for a minute, there on the second floor, carpets everywhere
to absorb the city noises.
Third floor is though a smaller attic door, steeper stairs, narrower staircase, slightly mysterious, very quiet."
And by Lisa Shatzky, a small portion of her beautiful poem, The Room at Nelson House.
"But for a moment there was nothing else
but the memory of the room where we stayed, walking up the long narrow staircase to an open attic hideaway, a chamber extraordinaire burgundy walls and east Indian books and a bamboo sofa and two paper dragons hanging from the ceiling facing us with their fire eyes and wild tongues.
We spent the day writing...
And the room became an inner journey
to a sacred place
revealing the hidden labyrinths of being and we stayed by the fire sharing the poems over wine and chocolate...
The room then gathered us in her arms
and danced us into the night
and the poems grew wings
and joined the dragons
My best wishes for the holidays and may the new year bring you all much peace and happiness.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Opposite of "people-friendly"

After twenty-two years as an Innkeeper, I still have lots to learn. Let me share what I learned this week. It's about a kick in the gut from a TA review and how to recover from it.

My last post here concerned my notion of being "people-friendly'. In essence, our B & B  tries very hard to meet the dictionary definition of hospitality - to be welcoming to strangers or guests. To me, that means ALL strangers.

This week, we had a one night stay by a fiftyish married couple, from the blue-collar, oil sands town of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Albertans, perhaps because they have elected the same right wing political party to power for over 40 years, are sometimes stereotyped as rednecks. Anyways, this couple drove up in a large truck with a covered camper van over the back. Most of their luggage was carried in a dozen or more plastic shopping bags. In hindsight, I should have noticed that neither husband nor wife offered a handshake in introduction.

The wife had quizzed us by phone:"Is it clean?" Mildly concerned, I invited them upstairs to view the room before they signed in or committed to their one night stay. I engaged in relatively easy banter with the husband while the wife decided on things. She disappeared into the guest-room's bathroom for a full minute or more. Husband finally called: "Honey - are you coming?" When she did, I ventured a little joke: "Did we pass inspection?" There was no reply but wife gave hubby the nod to start bringing the shopping bags to the room. Check-in was uneventful and the couple asked for and received the usual tourist orientation and map and off they went.

The next morning, they did not appear at breakfast and the key was simply left in the room. Later that day my housekeeper phoned me to say that she had never seen a room left in the condition that this one was left in. Again, after twenty-two years in the biz, I shrugged off her remark.

The next day, the one star or "Terrible" TA review appeared. Reading it, I felt my stomach muscles contract and a slow ache begin. It began: "Not impressed with pictures of naked men for one..." Well, yes, we do have an original signed and framed art photo on the way upstairs. It does have one naked man in it but the overall effect is of a softly sleeping fairy. Besides it's "art", isn't it? No one has ever complained about it before. And even more besides, our B & B's website does proclaim us to be "Vancouver's favourite gay and lesbian accommodation." And yes, it's in bold font too.

But then my eyes drifted over the rest of the review:"...and blood on my suite door and the comforter was well worn. My husband and I cringed sleeping in that room. The hot memory foam was uncomfortable as well as the old musty smell in the house. Not recommended at all. Gross!!!!"

My goodness - blood on the door and four exclamation marks!!!! I cringed. That phrase - blood on the door - was bound to be a sure-fire hit online. After pacing and breathing deep, I raced upstairs to the same guest-room. A charming Seattle couple were staying there and had just mentioned a good night's sleep between laughs and compliments over my quiche. I prayed that there would be no sign of foul play on the suite door. There was not! Maybe just a little smudge by the lock but certainly no gross bodily fluids.

I began to calm down. I went back to the reviewer's other reviews and sure enough, three out of four were "Terrible". One of them even started with the same catchphrase - "not impressed". Not very original either.

I began to think about these strangers that I had welcomed into my home. I went to my housekeeper, a Mom, a sweetie and an almost compulsive cleaner and she described the way she found our guest-room. The folders, in which we enclose a Welcome letter encouraging our guests to let us know if they need anything, as well as our recommendations for nearby restaurants, had been emptied onto the floor. The two home-baked oatmeal cookie teddy bears that we leave in sealed plastic envelopes had been taken out and ground under foot into our carpet. Other oddities amongst the general chaos of towels and linens on the floor was a table-cloth removed and rolled into a ball in a corner.

I began to think that the review's initial focus on "naked men" was the clue. This woman simply hated us. Not for the memory foam mattress or the smell of a century-old house, but simply for who we are. Gay.

Well that made me feel better. This was a customer who could not be pleased. My Management Reply on TA had to be sufficiently innocuous to get by the TA censors. It did. I checked the reviews of other fine Bed and Breakfasts in Vancouver that I know and respect. Sure enough, every B & B that had operated for more than a few years, had gathered at least one of these "Terrible" reviews.

Do people ever stop to think that a mean-spirited online review, aimed at a small business like a guesthouse or restaurant, is likely to financially damage a family business? Sure, maybe a multinational hotel chain can shrug off slanderous and distorted reviews as the price of doing business, but for a sole proprietor, those kind of remarks, delivered anonymously over the internet, are truly hurtful. Anyone who is self-employed will understand how much of yourself you put into your business. It is your baby.

Just because online review sites enable people to anonymously hurt other people, does not make it OK. In person, a legitimate complaint will always be addressed by a caring proprietor. After all, in a small business, a customer can almost always discuss things with the Boss and Owner. Reasonable people should always be able to sort out small issues like a comfortable mattress or cold soup. Don't be a TA hater. Don't be a hater at all. Life is way too short to have death-bed regrets.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What does "people-friendly" mean?

Back in 2010, I commented on the meaning of the term "gay-friendly" in the hospitality industry. Although the majority of folks will never encounter it in their own lives and therefore not give it much thought, discrimination against the GLBT community is still with us!

I recounted the news story of a B.C. bed and breakfast that refused to accommodate a gay couple and were taken to the BC Human Rights Tribunal on grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms(a crucial part of Canada's Constititution). It promised to be an interesting case as the B & B owners defended their action on the basis of their Christian beliefs.

At last, the decision came down today and as reported on CBC and Huffington Post, the B & B owners were found to have illegally discriminated against the gay couple. They were fined $4400 for the "indignity and humiliation" suffered by their prospective customers. In the judgement, it is clear that even though the B & B owners were free to hold certain religious-based beliefs in their own home, the fact that they opened their home as a public business required them to comply with laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. I have read elsewhere that they decided to close their business soon after the discrimination suit was filed.

I say hooray! Yes, this case was a sad, drawn-out legal mess that neither party probably wanted in their lives. However, if hospitality businesses want to live up to the very definition of "hospitality", they cannot discriminate against anyone just for who they are!

We have always described Nelson House B & B as "people-friendly". We think it meets the dictionary definition and underlines the kind of religious beliefs that we share: practice "kindness in welcoming strangers or guests".

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Boating in Vancouver

One of my favourite recommendations to our guests is to see Vancouver from the water. First-time visitors quickly discover that Vancouver's downtown is an arrowhead-shaped peninsula with water on three sides!

To get out on a boat and look back at the city's face gives one a whole new perspective. This is true on any of Canada's waterways but in Vancouver, BC, it is especially easy and especially pleasurable. Why drive to Granville Island Market when the colourful Aquabus will deliver you to it's dockside for as little as $3.25?

If you want to check out North Shore attractions like Capilano Canyon's suspension bridge or nearby Grouse Mountain, the scenic route is not by car but by taking public transit's SeaBus across Burrard Inlet. When looking back on downtown Vancouver from the SeaBus terminal or taking a tourist cruise on the paddle-wheeler Constitution, you might think that you were gazing at the Manhattan skyline.

If being Captain of your own "ship" is more your style, Vancouver offers easy rentals of anything from kayaks to sail and motorcraft of every description. Be responsible, obtain a boat licence. It's easy and it's the law.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vancouver Marathon

Vancouver loves to run. And running in Vancouver is a beautiful thing. It's like spring. It gets your juices flowing.

First up is The Vancouver Sun Run on Sunday, April 15. It is the run for absolutely anyone at any level of fitness. Last year, it attracted over 49,000 happy runners, walkers and strollers. Vancouver's cherry blossoms will be in full bloom and along with the endorphins, sure to put a smile on every face!

Next is the Vancouver Marathon and Half-Marathon on Sunday, May 6.  Last year was it's 40th anniversary run. It is your chance to test your mettle against the world's running elite. Many out of towners are already in training for this one and the runs attract many thousands of foreign visitors. Quite an experience - book early!

Last of the really big runs is Scotiabank's Half-Marathon and 5K Run on Sunday, June 24. This popular run benefits some fine local charities and attracts the best of the amateur running community.

All three runs are laid out along some of the world's most scenic shorelines. Vancouver's fresh spring air is just one more reason to breathe deep.

Stay with us in our downtown West End location and you will be within easy walking distance of all three runs' Start and Finish lines. If you miss out on our jacuzzi-equipped Shangri-La Suite, be sure to let us know if we can help to arrange an after-run professional massage. No kidding!