Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter
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Monday, November 05, 2012

One of the interesting things we do at meetings of the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys is to occasionally go on a back of the house tour. This past week we met at a world-famous resort in a southern swing state and did just that, and it was absolutely fascinating. Now, I'm the kind of guy that would have been thrilled with just getting to see the massive central laundry facility at this place, and we did get to do that, but we also got a glimpse of the backstage operations of the theme park, and I must say that I have never seen anything like it.

I should mention that even though A and I have been blessed with three daughters, none of us have ever been in one of these theme parks before. (A and I stayed at one of the hotels once, on a visit to Japan, but that's a different story, for a different time.) The resort prides itself on its delivery of a family friendly experience, and one of the chief ways it does this is by fostering a culture that furthers this goal. That culture is pretty pervasive, and manifests itself in a number of ways, some subtle and some overt. As part of the backstage look we were given, for example, we were told, in no uncertain terms, and as nicely as possible, that photography was forbidden. ("We want to keep this experience as magical as possible for our guests, and so we ask that you put your cameras and phones away when we are backstage. We have age restrictions on these tours, and only our special friends get to see what you are about to see. We know that you don't want to spoil the experience for our other guests and their families.") Fair enough. Although the experience of the resort is not something that my family and I ever sought, you would have to be made of more curmudgeonly cloth than I am to be unmoved by the excitement and happiness of the children I saw at this place -- at least until the end of the day, or the end of the stay, when they became cranky, and my curmudgeonly demeanor was restored.

So what can I tell you? Well, I can tell you that this place has developed a special vocabulary. Souvenirs, for example, are called "tangible memories". It is pretty well-known that it refers to employees as "cast members". The people in the laundry, the housekeepers, the lifeguards and the food service people are all cast members. Supervisors are "team leaders". The human resources department is the "casting department", and they hire with a specific focus on finding people who embody the disarming cheer that pervades the overall guest experience at the resort. To its credit there are a number of services on premises that are designated explicitly and exclusively for the use and convenience of the cast members-- a full service medical clinic, banking, hair salons, dry cleaning, daycare, pet care-- a lot of the mundane errands that consume ones' outside activities can be accommodated on premises. It is pretty clear that they want to hire people who are really into working at this resort, and are not just happy to have a job. A perk that people really like, for example, is a free pass to the park. We saw more than a few cast members who were there on their day off. There are plenty of places in town where housekeepers can work-- these people want housekeepers who feel like working here makes them part of something like being in a show. There seems to be a great emphasis on employee moral-- bulletin boards, and flatscreen televisions and a multilingual newsletter are full of cast member photographs and quotes, and there are a number of awards-- a big one is called, I think, the Founder's Award, although it may actually be named for the Founder. You can recognize recipients of this award because their name badges are blue instead of white. When one cast member encounters another a smile and a sincere 'Hello" is the norm, but when you run into someone with a blue badge you say, "Congratulations!".

There are a lot of peculiar things that go on with guest interaction. There are no prices on anything, for example, except on the paper menus in the high-end eating places. When they want to show you the room rate you are being charged they punch it into a calculator. They sell the place hard: There is a bus and bag service from the airport, and the video that is played on the way in shows the various attractions, then hypes packages for return visits, then shows a cartoon short featuring a beloved character. (Mine was about a irascible waterfowl on a camping trip.) Likewise on the way back. Cruises, parks in other countries-- as the parents around me on the bus tried to decompress in an atmosphere so charged with juvenile overload fatigue that I felt I needed a nap myself we were treated to a video about the things we could do on our next visit-- including, three days after the announcement appeared in the news, new features involving characters from a galaxy far, far away.

It was also apparent that the resort is used to accommodating the quirks of its clientele. As I was checking out the cast member who was handling the transaction asked me if I'd like to have my room keycard recycled, or if I'd rather keep it "as a souvenir". "It's called a 'tangible memory'," I replied, and tucked it into my pocket.

| Comments:
So, maybe not Lego Land . . .
 

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