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.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
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".
Friday, April 2, 2010
Recently, two news reports of gay travellers being refused accommodation by bed and breakfast owners, got me thinking about the subject of gay friendliness in the hospitality industry.
Years ago, a new B & B owner in Vancouver contacted me in order to introduce herself and her business and ask me for some tips on successful innkeeping. Over coffee and reciprocal visits to each other's guesthouses, she told me that she did not understand why I mentioned the word "gay" in describing Nelson House B & B. She said that Canadian society was moving beyond such labels. Surely no one had to worry over outright prejudice and wasn't one's sexual orientation just a private thing?
I hesitated as I didn't know her very well but I figured an honest question deserved an honest answer. First, I said that like most people(meaning the majority of heterosexuals) in the world, I would prefer that my sexual orientation remained a private and personal matter. However, now that I had opened my home to the public as a hospitality and accommodation business, I saw the need to flag sexual orientation to potential customers who might, for their own reasons, prefer to stay elsewhere. And also, I wanted to indicate to gay(and read lesbian too) travellers that no one at Nelson House B & B would blink an eye at an adult, same-sex couple wishing to share a bed.
My new innkeeper friend was too new in the business then to realize that gays form a loyal and highly desirable portion of the travel industry's client base. Even though she was a Jewish woman and probably knew something about prejudice and discrimination, she still found it very difficult to put herself in the shoes of someone suffering discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
All of this came to mind this week when the UK press gave national prominence on the BBC, newspapers and the internet to the denial of accommodation to a gay male couple once the innkeeper realized that the guests were actually a same sex couple. Simultaneously, here in Canada, an almost identical denial of service occurred in Kelowna, BC. The difference in the Canadian case is that the innkeepers defended their actions based on their evangelical Christian beliefs. In both England and Canada(and 50 other countries), national laws are in place to protect all citizens against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Incidentally, the United States is NOT one of those countries. Police in England decided not to press criminal charges and it is up to the English gay couple to pursue possible civil damages. According to media reports of the Canadian case, the couple chose to file a complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. This interesting clash of rights will be decided by early next month.
Now lawsuits and heavily reported civil rights cases are not the reason anyone goes into the bed and breakfast business. In the ten years since I advised my new innkeeper friend, much of the mainstream hotel industry has discovered the reportedly lucrative "pink dollar" and most now trumpet their gay friendliness. Tourism Vancouver and many other cities, states and provinces now dedicate portions of their websites and other marketing campaigns to bragging on their non-discriminatory practices. A go-getter, gay-owned marketing company out of San Francisco has made a bundle by certifying the gay friendliness of corporate hotel chains with little icons of gay approval in the form of luggage tags. Many other PR executives have cleverly inserted a rainbow flag somewhere on their website to reassure and attract gay customers.
I now look back on twenty years of successful innkeeping and look forward to many more ahead. To me, even though times have changed, I know not everyone has changed with the times. As the gay owner of Nelson House B & B, of course I understand and genuinely welcome gay and lesbian travellers. As a man who believes in treating everyone with dignity, fairness and respect, I have long since dubbed our brand of hospitality as people-friendly!