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Increasing Income by Dubious Marketing

by Barry Napier, June 2007

Good marketing and good service can bring in more revenue. No doubt about it. But what of ethics and morality? Can we justify doing any old thing to gain a few more dollars, or should we examine the elements of our markets a bit more closely? (Some issues quoted in this article are not necessarily my personal opinion, but are referred to as examples of problems).

The strap-line for the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) is ‘Doing business ethically makes for better business’. Do we go for ‘dog-eat-dog’, or do we retain what sense and niceness is left in the world? Yes, we can all do things just off the mark to earn a living, but the end result is a rather grotty life!

The IBE says that it wishes to help organisations by ‘strengthening their ethics culture and (by) encouraging high standards of business behaviour based on ethical values.’ This is done by looking at all sides of an argument, even if you don’t like the options that don’t coincide with your own thinking.

In his Hotel-Online article (May 2006), ‘Do You Have an Ethics Policy?’, Kirby Payne says “In my 30-plus years in this industry, I’ve occasionally seen the issue of unethical behaviour rear its ugly head.” He says that dishonesty in a corporation will finally consume it. And he includes something as small as the use of unlicensed software in a hotel, asking, “It may be easy to rationalise, but is it right?” referring to another article, Kirby suggests putting a policy in place to “Screen out people who have the wrong attitudes”. But, what if those wrong attitudes begin at the top?

In an ‘Ethics Checklist’ he includes “Is it balanced? Is it fair to all concerned?” Today, some hotels and tourism chiefs are betraying an ethical stance by what seem to be ‘small’ issues to them, but which can be devastating to many others. The aim is to bring in short-term extra income, but the reality is, their choices can introduce a Trojan horse that can make the whole organisation murky and unethical in the long term.

In my own management roles, when I have taught customer relations to staff, they are often surprised when I talk about not cursing or swearing on the premises, even when they think they are alone, or in a staff room. My reason was based on fact. A rich lady was walking through one of our corridors and suddenly heard, from a closed room, swearing amongst staff that was very blue.  This offended her deeply and she then began to examine everything on the premises, looking for faults. Very quickly, she persuaded her mother to leave with her, to find what she said would be “A more professional place”. The staff concerned never swore in front of guests – but their inability to internalise the idea of professionalism finally lost us custom.

“Most hotels and restaurants have some type of unwritten code of ethics, which mysteriously remain in the heads of general managers. This writer believes that a Code of Conduct articulating the ethics of a hotel… is as important as a sound marketing plan or fine menu.” (‘Ethics in Business’, foodreference.com).

Like the above writer I strongly believe that ethics must be found in the very warp and woof of any business. It must permeate every strand of training, recruitment, services, etc., and arise from an internal acceptance of what is good and suitable. If it does not, it is a sham and its superfluous nature is bound to come out somewhere, to the detriment of the organisation. The lady I mentioned above, who did not even bother to check-in, and who persuaded her mother to leave, no doubt told her family and friends!

Once or twice I have worked for owners whose ethics were non-existent and who found their incomes wherever they could. Needless to say I did not last long, I am glad to say. An ethic-less owner or general manager can cause all his staff to comply because he holds their income in his hands. Yes, they could leave, but many folks do not have much option, so they try to do their best in very trying circumstances. But even these ethical staff will eventually hit the point of no return, and will either leave or be edged out. That’s what unethical owners are like. Nowadays, I would not touch them with a bargepole, because my own sense of morality and ethics would stop me.

If you look at the Nebraska Hotel and Motel Association Code of Ethics (because it is typical) you will find a smooth and workable Code. But there is an inherent problem. For example, part of the code includes ‘non-discrimination’. That’s fine. But how many have heard of ‘reverse- discrimination’, which can be pretty devastating to a huge number of current or potential customers, and often outweighs obvious Codes?

For example, a very large store in my home town openly stated in a newspaper that its policy of ‘non-discrimination’ meant that all transgender men could try on female clothing in their change cubicles. That is great for the extremely small number of transgenders… but the policy reverse- discriminated against all the women who shopped there.  The result was immediate: women stopped buying their dresses and skirts there and the store closed soon afterwards. Far better if the store had said nothing.

There is also reverse-discrimination where restaurants refuse to serve meat-eaters, though there can be lee-way in that, because there are usually many other eateries in one place. The problem comes not when an individual eatery or hotel says it will only serve this or that, but when a whole area or region does so. It makes that region a no-go area for many potential customers and will drive away those who once paid their money and got a balanced response.

This kind of reverse-discrimination is about to happen in Cape Cod, where tourism chiefs have said they are to target ethnic minorities and gays to get them to come to the region. Sounds good, but there are some very big ethical problems they have either ignored or are ignorant of. (And these segments already visit anyway).

For a start, when one section of people is highlighted, you automatically increase the differences between them and others. This has resulted in much opposition from many fronts in many countries. In the UK, for example, the immigration policy is so loose that literally over 90% of all immigrants are criminals. Not only do they get state benefits, housing and free health provisions, but they carry on their illegal activities, thus increasing the thug-and-theft population immensely. U.S. ‘Sanctuary Cities’ perform the same ‘non-discrimination’ functions. So, illegal entrants gain from the lifelong taxes paid by legal citizens, and receive everything for free. The local hotels, however, love it, because they can get away with paying far less to illegal immigrants. But locals don’t love the hotels! Is all this ethical?

Why should Cape Cod make a distinction between everyone else and ‘ethnic minorities’? Why should they be treated differently? And, indeed, how can they be treated differently anyway? To my knowledge, black folks see and hear and taste just like me. To ‘target’ them is a shameful use of reverse-discrimination, because it highlights their colour rather than their intrinsic value as people. Hotels are places where people stay. Regions can be visited by people of any colour and nothing changes. 

Same goes for targeting gays. Why? Because, despite lots of hype and very bad pseudo-science, gays are just ordinary people who have made a particular sexual choice. What on earth justifies a special marketing campaign? In which way do gays see or hear or taste differently to the rest of us? It simply makes no sense. The only discernable difference is their sexual activities… so does this mean more sexual outlets are to be provided? Is this what Cape Cod wishes to market?

The citizens of Key West for example (the same is repeated everywhere), have been driven into seclusion and fear of reprisals since the area has welcomed gays in particular. This is because they are not allowed to give their opinion. Is this the route to be taken by Cape Cod? 

It is fact that when gays are given special status in any area, city or region, they tend to take over. Why is this a problem? Well, it operates under a reverse-discrimination policy. That is, by concentrating on gay ‘needs’ non-gay needs (not based on sex) are completely ignored. Thus, people pf religion will never visit, and may actively shun the place. This might suit some, but it should be remembered that those who are religious form a massive untapped market – far bigger and lucrative than all gay markets combined!

There is simply no need to make gays special - because they are not. Once Cape Cod targets gays in particular, they can kiss goodbye to most families, those of religious persuasion, and many ‘ethnics’ (because they do not like being grouped with gays as equal causes). Remember – there are only 1% - 2% gays compared to 98% ‘other’! Cape Cod does not seem to understand that this is a very big ongoing issue with a huge boiling pot of opinion underneath. 

Some small towns have targeted, say, arts lovers. Sadly, to the extent of losing everyone else! Many tourists are not art-lovers, though they might enjoy infrequent visits to a gallery or two. But, if all venues are arts related, the small towns will get fewer visitors, or, visitors will travel through and on to other places with more general facilities.

Hotels and vacation resorts in Spain suffered for many years because of its foolish ‘non-discrimination’ policies, which, as always, ignored its alter-ego (reverse-discrimination) . They simply invited ‘anyone’. The trouble was, ‘anyone’ came! Young people arrived in droves, mixing with families and older people. Because the younger people took over, they ruined many holidays for families and older customers. For decades UK youngsters were known for their sexual immorality, drunken behaviour, violence, and big increase in venereal diseases. Now, they are only fifth in the league-table, and France has taken over.

Spain has at last realised its error and is now changing its attitude towards certain segments. So, U.S. hotels and regions now begin to specialise in an already failed strategy?

Very often there are many ethical considerations left unsaid or untouched by hotels and tourist organisations. In an effort to earn more money they forget to look at all aspects of an issue, and this oversight can lead to disaster in the long-run. Ethical and moral stances come from within. If they do not, they are superficial and will crumble at a time most inconvenient to the hotel or region!

I have shown that hotels and regions ought to distinguish what is legal and what is moral. In certain quarters (who happen to constitute a very large majority with cash!), such disastrous oversight can quickly lead to utter devastation! It can also lead to a quirky specialisation of resources and marketing ploys that are ‘locked-in’ to particular segments, segments that are illusory in their claims and desires and very small in number. But, once they have been wooed to your hotel or region, you find that the income they generate is far less than would have been generated if they had not been wooed!

To target particular segments of the market when they have no genuine differentials, borders on insanity. It is certainly not good management practice and certainly shoddy marketing. The aim of any hotel or region, surely, is to attract as many people as possible, and not to self-limit who comes? Especially if those they attract will drive away everyone else.

No doubt many good folks will wonder what on earth ethics and morality have to do with hotels. Well, those who venture into this field without proper thought for all ingredients in the marketing cake, will fall foul of those they wish to attract. Don’t try to attract ‘minorities’, ethnic or otherwise, who need no attracting. They will vacation anyway, whether or not you spend lots of cash trying to woo them. Increase your visitor-base, don’t deliberately lessen it.

Right now the U.S. Senate is about to bring in widespread immigration reforms. “At stake is the ability for many hotel and lodging companies to effectively staff their properties and prepare for future property developments” (‘Immigration Key to Solving Employment Woes’, Glenn Haussman, Hotel Interactive, 30th May 2007).

Though hotels claim they are looking for ‘quality guest workers’, we can be left in no doubt that the real reason for wanting immigrants is their low cost. If The Burj in Dubai has been accused of this, why can’t most others? 

In the UK many hotels are staffed by immigrants. But there are problems – few speak sufficient English, most have cultural peculiarities which they force upon visitors, and many may not be legal! This is causing much civil unrest in the UK and some towns have been turned into mini-Muslim states, where fusion with UK society is non-existent. Perhaps U.S. authorities should look beyond their own doorstep to see what is happening because of immigration elsewhere.

Basically, in the UK, immigrants are not the problem. The problem arises when they arrive without jobs, prospects or income, and literally drain local and national economies, which are now in crisis. Then comes civil unrest and racism. Low paid workers are replaced by illegal immigrants who work for a pittance, have no national security, and claim state benefits using false names. Is this to happen in the U.S.?

Even worse, ‘Sanctuary Cities’ make matters far worse. They want to offer amnesties to illegal immigrants, who have already taken over many low paid jobs. Thus, they want to make legal those who came illegally! This is certainly a twist in ethics! Even if they come legally, how many immigrants can be taken by hotels and regions? Look to Europe and see the ticking time-bomb.

No-one minds a worker who enters a country with qualifications and who already has a job offer. In the UK the number of illegal immigrants who take jobs from locals is in the order of 4-1.

The U.S. Trade Industry Association says “There are too many jobs we need filled, and not enough willing workers. A guest worker program will fit our needs.” That is fine, but to fuel a work program by unethical means (illegal immigrants) is not just dubious, it is totally wrong.

I leave this article with a warning from recent history. New York’s then mayor, Giuliani, persisted in protecting illegal aliens, in a speech he delivered exactly five years before 9/11. Then, on that day, five years later, a number of ‘illegal stayers’ committed the worst terrorist atrocity to date, in his own city. Take heed of the UK position, in which the government admits over 90% of all its illegal aliens are criminals and terrorists.

Government stupidity aside, another recent news item in the UK caught my eye. Big chain food stores have been selling meat and fish under false pretences. As unethical as it comes! What about selling meat that is 30 days out of date? Or, fish that has been chilled and frozen so many times it has lost all colour? Or countless stomach bugs caused by mixing raw and cooked meats? Or, using water to clean counters when the bucket has been on the floor for days?

It gets sicker – not only did the big stores get found out, but suppliers were also guilty… chicken farms who keep dead chickens next door to live ones, and rats feeding off the dead ones running into the live enclosure? Or beef that has been laying around in piles on the floor for weeks and then sold. To guess who? Yes, hotels. Ethics is buried somewhere under rotting flesh!

Thus, ethics is not just a pious set of policies. It must be given practical teeth – responsible management, with detailed and real monitoring systems, a distribution path that can be checked to the last minute and place, and so on. 

Well, I have touched on several areas of concern. Who has the courage to examine each one of them, without relying solely on vested interests and false or unbalanced facts? Yes, ethics runs deep. Or it should. To ignore every facet of this subject is to be both negligent and foolish. 

To concentrate efforts on a very small segment of the market to the detriment of many more is, financially and ethically, suicidal. Look beyond cash flow – ethics, good or bad, drives each one of us, and what’s inside us will drive hotel and tourism decisions.

Ethics is also spelled ‘honesty’, or ‘integrity’! It makes life clean, and gives us fresh air. To ignore ethics is to lower standards, personal and corporate, and this sends us plummeting to rock bottom, not flying to the heights. Which is it to be?

© Barry Napier
barry.napier@ntlworld.com 

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Contact:

Barry Napier
barry.napier@ntlworld.com

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Also See: NRA's Ed Tinsley Says American Dream Alive and Well in Food, Beverage and Hospitality; About 50% of Americans Have Worked in a Restaurant at Some Point in their Careers / March 2007
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