Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blacklisting your guests

Years ago, I took my grandmother to a casino for the weekend. I booked a room at a chain that I stayed at regularly. To make things simpler for us, I asked the reservation agent for an ADA-compliant room. It wasn't until about 6 months—and several business trips—later that I realized that my profile had been tagged as needing an ADA-complaint room. Sure, I'd noticed that I often been given a room with handrails in the bathroom or some other quirk like a stand-up shower, but brushed it off as, "It was probably the last room they had." It wasn't until I booked a particular room over the phone, and the agent said, "And of course, we'll make sure you get your handicapped-access room." The proverbial light went on in my head, and thinking back, I realized what must have happened.

I offer this as a sort of warning to the fact that databases are only as good as the people who create them, modify them and use them. Or probably, only as good as the weakest link in that chain.

A lot of hotels tout the fact that with their databases, they know all sorts of good things about their guests. Whether they want a queen or king bed ... smoking or no smoking ... what kind of pillows they prefer. But some hotels are also moving in the opposite direction, keeping track of bad things about their guests.

There's an interesting discussion about hotels blacklisting guests on MSNBC. This is a great way that our industry can use information technology to keep track of the bad habits of less-than-desirable customers. Recently, I read an article in our newspaper about a local woman who, some felt, was scamming a particular cruise line. She wrote lengthy complaint letters to the line about every perceived slight and problem with each cruise she took. She even posted information online on different travel forums. Some of her peers felt she was in the right, but others seemed to think that she was simply angling to get all the free trips and discounts she could out of the company. Eventually, they caught wind and told her she was no longer welcome on their ships.

This kind of behavior could certainly be the kind of thing that a blacklist database could catch. One or two complaints aren't out of the norm, but when a customer is repeatedly showing up as having encountered a problem, the question becomes whether they're a chronic grump.

But I'm still a little worried about the possibility of mismatching people who are blacklisted with those who are innocent, but have similar names. Although this seems to be brushed off in the original link above, the craziness that has ensued with the government's no-fly list certainly gives one pause. It will be interesting to see how much better our industry handles our database data in the coming years, to make things better for both the guests and the properties.

Now, how do I go about getting "prefers fruit basket and bottle of pinot grigio on arrival" added to my profile, in lieu of that ADA-accessible thing ... ?

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