No one is perfect. That statement provides me no small amount of comfort, because recently, I made a doozy of a mistake. Get comfortable because this one is a little long.
We had a client that was facing deep budget cuts in their program, and a hotel made an offer on pricing that couldn’t be beat. Sounds great, right? Keep reading.
Overriding my gut instincts, I booked a hotel that was undergoing a renovation and had been taken over by new ownership. For some reason, which I cannot presently, or sanely fathom, it didn’t faze me. I willingly waded into a pool of quicksand that ultimately could have cost me an amazing client, and left my business upside down.
Why am I confessing this to you? Refer to the first sentence. No one is perfect and if but one person is reminded that some things are just not good decisions, then it will provide some sense of self forgiveness for ignoring my good sense.
Welcome to my nightmare. I think we can all agree as event professionals that we shy away from brand new properties or ones that have not had time to work out the operational kinks due to new management or ownership. Rather than being a criticism of the properties themselves, it is a wise choice to make if you want a smooth experience for your client. In general, it’s a risky choice. Okay, a REALLY risky choice.
I rationalized to myself that perhaps this time the odds would play in our favor, and this would be the time that a property under new ownership and new operations would prove my gut wrong and perform like a well-oiled machine. With an optimistic attitude, my fingers crossed (the fact that they crossed on their own should have stopped me), and a check list full of questions and details to take care of, we set to work to put together a great program for a first time client.
Let me also preface the following with the fact that the hotel, without telling us, had booked out a large portion of their rooms a group of college aid kids that were leaving on a party cruise. To put it mildly, the two groups are not exactly compatible. With those facts in mind, here’s how it all added up to the perfect recipe for disaster.
Challenge One: Just prior to guest arrival we found out that not all the rooms had been refurbished as promised. Undaunted, we viewed each and every room and approved room assignments to ensure that guests were placed in the “new rooms” that the client had signed off on. We thought we’d avoided disaster, and the hotel promised us that it would be fine. Yet upon check-in, many old rooms were assigned to our guests (picture train derailing here). What should have been a simple process took hours to straighten out as we insisted that the newer rooms be provided to our guests as agreed and each had to be vacated, then cleaned before we finally got everyone settled in.
Challenge Two: When I went down to check in on breakfast set up very early the next morning, they had one person on duty to set the room. Yes, one. Emergency dialing my staff at the crack of dawn, we were able to get bodies on site to help set the room just in time for the first guests to arrive.
Next, we were dumbfounded to learn that internal communications were nonexistent and that sales had not communicated with the kitchen about the group breakfast. They were set up for individual orders. Pushing down the feelings of panic, my staff and I did absolutely everything short of cooking breakfast ourselves to get through the ordeal. It became our goal to get the clients and their guests off on their adventures for the day. What else could go wrong? Additional tip: NEVER, NEVER ask that question.
Challenge Three: The hotel forgot to mention that they had booked out the pool area for a private party on one of the days our group was there and our guests could not access the pool. Try telling your guests they can’t get in the pool at 4PM on a hot and humid day after they’ve been out and about and are ready to relax. A red level of high irritation should be noted here.
Challenge Four: Remember the college kids we mentioned earlier? Riddle me this. What do you get when you add college students and a lot of alcohol? Fights. Yes, as in fist fights. I cannot even accurately tell you how many complaints there were during the evenings due to fighting, security pounding on doors and the coup de grace with the police showing up. Suffice it to say that it was not a restful night of sleep for my guests and cranky didn’t even begin to describe my state of mind.
I was furious both at myself, and the property, and I stormed over to talk to upper management and find out exactly how every single detail that we’d gone over and over had never made it off anyone’s desk. Drum roll…there was no upper management available and they could not be reached. SHOCKER! It appeared that anyone short of the overwhelmed and harried front desk staff had disappeared to parts unknown and would not be returning anytime soon.
Challenge Five: The icing AND cherry on the cake was on departure morning, when my guests were checking out to make their international flights, the other group was checking out at the same time. It was CHAOS. I physically had to block off one of the agents to get my guests checked out in time to catch their flights. Again, no internal communication between departments in the hotel, let alone with me, left us in a serious lurch. Two dedicated checkout stations and simple signage would have easily alleviated the problem.
With a sigh of relief as the hotel faded in the rearview mirror, we got our group to the airport and on their way home.
When hotel management returned from parts unknown, we worked to secure reparations. Does financial compensation replace the lost experience? No. Does it endear your client to you? No. But the one thing that I believe created a stronger relationship with my client is the fact that I was accountable. I accepted full responsibility. I did everything in my power to make it better and to create situations throughout the program that would help overshadow the terrible mistake I’d made in choice of hotel.
Does it feel good to share my mistakes with you? No, no and NO! The situation still makes my stomach hurt. What it does do is help me realize is that in spite of my dance with a nightmare that I can be proud of the way that my staff and I handled the situation. I can also tell you that it will never happen again. I am a true believe in learning from a mistake and not repeating it. While we proudly profess to be problem solvers, sometimes it’s OUR OWN self-inflicted problems that we have to solve.
If I can stop you from overriding your better sense of judgment and save you from a Nightmare on Event Street, then it makes this writing worthwhile. I’m not perfect. I will make mistakes again (but not THIS one). Was it my fault that the hotel didn’t follow through on their end? No. Nonetheless, it was my professional judgment that had led us down the rocky path.
It doesn’t all end badly. Even with the hotel fiasco we gained a loyal client – one that truly valued all that we brought to the table even in knowing we weren’t perfect.
The bottom line is, never compromise the quality of a program for a cheaper price. In the end, it’s a reflection on our companies, and the quality and value of the experience we offer.
Listen to your gut (and experience). It’s usually never wrong for a reason.