I approach the front desk of the hotel I’m checking into. I’m fumbling to grab everything I need. Not understanding why, I feel that same tension most people feel when standing in line at airport security. Passport in my right hand, bags in my left, and a nervous grin on my face, I ask to check in.
It’s an unpleasant feeling, and reminds me of the security line at a busy airport. But in a hotel? At least at an airport everyone has good reason to feel a little on edge. Airports are places where a lot of valuable things (airplanes, jewelry, travel documents) and people (particularly wealthy and potentially powerful people at times) congregate.
Everyone is on a tight schedule while hoping and praying for no delays. The people we see keeping the airport functioning all look very official and authoritative. And nearly everyone has a badge of some sort while many carry weapons. Hairstyles are typically military-esque, wrapped in a tight bun for females or shortly cropped for the men. We passengers, unless we’re on business or just enjoy being uncomfortable, are usually dressed for comfort.
The contrast is stark. But let’s get back to the hotel. Hotels are supposed to be places of relaxation and escape. A holiday from life’s everyday stresses, right? And airports, well, they’re designed to make you nervous. Governments everywhere have an interest in keeping everyone (especially bad guys) on their toes at a sensitive target such as an airport.
Hotels go to great lengths to make us feel welcome and comfortable. They choose supposedly scientifically-proven soothing tones for the colors of the walls and the carpets. Employees are even trained to use gentle yet professional gestures.
So what gives? Why do we sometimes feel pre-flight stress when checking into or out of a hotel?
Back to me at the front desk of my hotel. As I begin talking to the hotel employee handling my check-in, I notice my nervousness subsiding. Wondering why, I begin to look around at my surroundings.
Comfort begets comfort
The front desk is in the form of a circle with a few employees inside. It has a distinctly different feel than the chest-high countertops in front of a row of check-in agents that exists at most hotels. In the latter version, I’m cruelly reminded of my local post office, where customers wait impatiently for the next available postal worker to yell, “Next!”, before shuffling forward.
Finally, I notice how hotel staff are dressed. They look like me, except less dirty and haggard from a long day of travel. They’re sporting dark blue jeans and collared shirts. They look comfortable. Most of the females are wearing their hair down. Their smiles look natural.
My stress level abates to a natural equilibrium. I realize, this is a vacation!
This unusual hotel experience is emblematic of a larger trend in corporate offices. Increasingly, companies are allowing employees at desk jobs to dress more casually. In corporate offices, its mostly a strategy to retain valuable employees in an increasingly competitive marketplace where companies like Google and Facebook have made t-shirts and jeans look like the business suits of yesteryear.
Hospitality for the 21st century
In hotels, and likely other industries that attempt it, this “blue jean dress code” serves a second, perhaps more profitable purpose: it puts customers at ease. Generally speaking, in this day and age, people (indeed, customers), prefer to be treated as equals. Treated as less than equal (the airport example of being surrounded by workers with badges and weapons), or being treated as more than equal (the traditional hotel example of subservient bellhops and check-in agents dressed to the nines in service of laid-back swimsuit-wearing guests) is less appealing than it perhaps once was.
In the company of equals, we let our guard down and, generally speaking, the grip on our wallets. In the case of this hotel, I’m now $6 lighter thanks to a cup of average coffee (cream, no sugar), that I normally would refrain from purchasing had I been in high-stress, low-comfort mode. It’s that type of smart strategy that represents a win-win for the customer and the company. Everyone is happier, profits are up, and I don’t feel so bad about splurging on my coffee
Now, it’s time for a swim in the rooftop pool.