The general manager of a luxury hotel once explained to me the uncompromising ethos that allowed the company to be successful: always get to “Yes.” As an example, he described a guest that wanted an elephant brought to his room (this story may be apocryphal). In lieu of an actual pachyderm, there was an intricately-folded towel elephant in the room when the man returned from his day on the hill. At first blush, I was impressed by the ingenuity of the hotel’s response. But, the more I thought about it, the more flustered I became at the audacity and entitlement that would lead to such ludicrous demand. There is a point at which hospitality veers into absurdity. We may be past that point.
As the Vail Valley grew into a cosmopolitan community, the principles of hospitality and service served as bedrocks and benchmarks. Soon becoming one of the world’s top destinations for families, the privileged, and privileged families, Vail and Beaver Creek and the towns that serve them now play constant host to a litany of folks from all corners and walks. People come to visit knowing that they will be ensconced in comfort and treated with grace. The sanctity of the experience is taken for granted, with little heed paid to the efforts of the many who made the vacation so pleasurable. In adhering to these impossible standards, the service industry has become servile.
Expectations need to be recalibrated. Currently, our overindulgent hospitality allows guests to feel comfortable acting on their more base impulses without fear of offense. Nary a day passes without a cashier or ticket scanner or server being berated. We have all borne witness to treatment that is subhuman, but is excused as normal behavior. Workers expect to be belittled, just as those they serve expect them to be at beck and call, expect to escape retribution for rudeness. It needs to be made clear that everyone in this Valley is worthy of respect, from the youngest bellperson to the oldest ski tuner, from the small business owner to the corporate overlord.
We stand on the precipice of becoming more than just a resort town. As we forge our new identity as a mountain metropolis, we need to have the confidence to impose a new code of conduct; to be protective of our Valley and our neighbors. We can be proud without being hostile, we can be welcoming without being subservient. When we treat each other well, that example will guide our visitors. And, if subtlety does not work, then we should not be afraid to step in on behalf of a fellow resident. Public shaming may be distasteful, but it is nonetheless effective.
Guests come and go, but we have chosen to make this slice of the high country our homes. It is an enviable life in many facets, yet not without its hardships. Those are compounded when we become the scapegoat for the stresses that our visitors import with them. Our hospitality is intended alleviate the burdens that guests seek to escape. It requires a deft, warm touch, but not an abdication of dignity.
Please do not use this column as an excuse to start dumping guest’s bags in the snow or spitting in their food or setting their DINs to 18. The shift that I urge is an evolution, not a revolution. I want you all to keep your jobs so that we continue to build this Valley together.