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August 22, 2006 - Why the Little Things Matter...


Last fall, after the visitor season was over, I took the family down to Florida for a week. I had never been to the Florida Keys, and I had always wanted to see them. We originally planned to camp at one of the state parks near Marathon, but Hurricane Wilma did quite a bit of damage, and the park was not available for camping.

Rather than cancel the trip, I decided to do some research and try to find a place for us to spend the week. I found an apartment with two bedrooms and a kitchen, and it actually fit our party of four very nicely.

When I arrived there, and it was time to check in, the first thing I noticed was the number of small signs that were posted everywhere. There was one on the door that said that said that vehicles that did not belong to a registered guest would be towed. There were a number of other ones, too, but I don't remember what they said.







I went into the office to register. The person was business-like, and had a contract for me to review and sign. Since I actually work in the hospitality industry, I read the contract thoroughly, both because it is a good idea, and because I wanted to see if there was anything that people in Florida were doing differently than what I had come to expect in Alaska.

The contract stated that they would charge my credit card for the entire stay at the time that I registered, and that if I left early, there would be no refund. This was acceptable for me, because this is one of the conditions that I require, too. However, it would have been good to have been advised of this in advance. There was a list of "Thou shalt nots..." having to do with damages and noise... nothing that I thought was unreasonable. I signed the contract, was given a couple of keys, and we went off to our apartment.

The apartment was very nice. There were two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a ceiling fan, air conditioning, cable television and a balcony with a view of the Gulf of Mexico. The kitchen was at least passably supplied, with a stove and microwave, dishes, pots and pans, glasses, etc. At this point, I noticed a sign  posted in several places in the kitchen. The sign said that if we left dirty dishes, we would be charged a $200 cleaning fee.

As you might imagine, after a flight across the continent and a drive from Miami to Marathon, it was time to visit the bathroom. When I walked in, I was greeted by a sign that said that if the bathroom towels were used for spills, or were otherwise stained, there would be a $50 replacement charge.

Now I am the first to admit that I pay attention to these kinds of details more than most. However, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable at the constant reminders that I should definitely not make myself at home. I don't think that any of the things on the signs were in any way unreasonable. In fact, they are completely reasonable. However, there are other ways to let your guests know about these conditions.

Every time I walked in the bathroom to take a shower, or washed dishes in the kitchen, there was that reminder, and it ate at me. I know that I am overly sensitive about such things, but I can't help but feel that other guests would be similarly uncomfortable, but just not know what they were uncomfortable about.

Now that I was sensitized to the little things, I noticed that the owner spent a lot of his day riding around on his golf cart. Admittedly there was still a lot of cleanup to be done after the hurricane (notice that some of the trees look dead or brown from being flooded with seawater). However, he was a lot more about riding in the cart and supervising than about cleaning up.

The place itself was very nice, and we did have a very good time while we were there. However, there are certainly ways that the owner could have presented his conditions that would have actually been a positive experience. Guests expect that there are conditions and penalties related to their stay. Informing the guests about the payment and cancellation policies in advance is a start. Taking the time to explain the damage penalties, rather than just putting a piece of paper in front of you and having you sign it is another. Having someone take a moment to walk you through your apartment and remind guests about washing the dishes and not staining the towels would be a third. Letting the guests enjoy their vacation rather than reading and re-reading every little condition is a fourth.

I am sure that there are some of you out there reading this thinking that I am just way too uptight about this. However, you can tell from my experience what this particular host is focused on. I never actually met the owner -- he never took the time to introduce himself to me, even though I was there for a week. This experience left an impression with me, in part because one of the criteria by which I choose vendors is the way they treat their guests. All of my vendors have very nice places, and they have their own policies and penalties. But they are also very focused on making sure that you have a great time. I have lots of opportunities to visit properties and speak with hosts. I am impressed when they talk about the guests experience, and put off when they focus on the money.

My vendors make their livings by making sure that their guests are not just satisfied, but have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The same is true for me. If that isn't the most important thing to a vendor, I don't use them.


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