Dateline: 12th-century Europe. That’s the likely origin of the word hospitality, defined as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers; the quality of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way." The word is derived from Latin’s hospes, meaning “guest.”
So what happened in the last 800 years to redefine the word and the treatment of guests and strangers? We work in this business of hospitality—and perhaps I’ve just answered the question—but does doing business too often get in the way of hospitality?
After more than 25 years in this industry, I’m keenly aware of how hospitality is shown. Granted, I’m often treated in a warm, friendly, generous way. But is that because of my title, position, and the potential business I represent? Or is it because I’m a fellow human being with value and personality, worthy of fair treatment as an honored guest?
I struggle with this issue and wonder how my attendees are treated as strangers in an unfamiliar hotel or city. While most of my experiences have been positive, even great, there are occasions when I wonder how the person behind the front desk got the job and keeps it.
In an effort to produce a profit, which I’m certainly not against, organization’s often put into place cost-saving measures and procedures resulting in poor employee performance that get in the way of common sense. Just ask Spirit Airlines about the public relations nightmare that resulted when the airline refused to refund a dying veteran’s airfare after he was advised by his doctor not to fly. This was one of those teachable moments that illustrates the frustration of hospitality vs. business.
On the other hand, recently I read a newspaper account of a different airline’s stand on policy, which boiled down to: “We will not let our rules stand in the way of common sense.” If that airline is able to operate by that motto, no doubt it will become an airline of choice.
My faith in hospitality was restored (at least temporarily) during a recent trip to the Bahamas. Upon arrival our party was greeted with enthusiasm and genuine concern, and I felt like an honored guest. Sure, I was a bit skeptical, because we were there to explore bringing business to the islands, and I’m often greeted with similar responses when I travel to other destinations. I wondered if it was a façade.
However, after meeting others during our visit—hotel employees, restaurant servers, airline personnel, and total strangers—I realized hospitality is their way of life. They really cared about me—not because I was a piece of business or carried an influential title, but because I was a valued stranger and ultimately a guest.
Whether planner or supplier, I hope you’ll review your attitudes, policies, and purpose and commit to restoring hospitality to the hospitality world. There’s no downside to treating people with respect—it’s just common sense.
Be careful out there!