Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why I Love Arabs

Examining a Danish hotel guest last month, I became uncomfortably aware of sweat dripping down my back. I hadn’t experienced this since the previous autumn.

Summer doesn’t arrive in Los Angeles until mid-June, and it was an average day with temperatures in the 80s. The hotel lobby and corridors felt comfortable, but a wave of hot air greeted me as the guest opened his door.

Entering, I recalled why I like Arabs so much. They appreciate air conditioning as much as Americans. Citizens of all other nations believe it spreads disease. They tolerate it as one of the perils of foreign travel, but when someone falls ill, the air conditioning stays off. Hip young hotel doctors dress in shirtsleeves, but hipness is a distant memory for me, so I wear a suit and tie. During a long summer visit, it’s debatable if I or the patient is suffering more.

I always explain that the machine that cools air in an air conditioner is identical to that in your refrigerator, and no one worries about disease from refrigerator air. This convinces no one, college graduates included.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Get Letters

Mostly from workers in the hotel business. In my dreams, agents write, suggesting a book, perhaps entitled “Hotel Doctor to the Stars.” So far these haven’t arrived, but physicians occasionally E-mail me. They want to know how to become a hotel doctor.

I suggest reading the earliest entries to this blog where I describe my own beginnings, but here's a short version.

To become a hotel doctor I advise them to (1) let local hotels know they’re available and (2) wait. It helps if (3) there’s no competition. That worked for me although it took over ten years from the time I began until 1992 when my yearly visits passed 1,000, and I quit other jobs to become a fulltime hotel doctor. By then others were entering the field, so newer doctors will wait longer. No one likes to read that.

My only advertising is a letter to general managers three or four times a year, but I'm aware that there are better techniques. Aggressive competitors who extol their services to desk clerks and concierges often take over my regular hotels, at least temporarily, but it didn’t work when I tried it. At better hotels, employees are nice to everyone, so they listened intently, eagerly accepted my business card, and promised to keep me in mind. The first few times, I left feeling pleased with myself, but calls never followed. At cheaper hotels and motels, staff seemed mystified at the concept of calling a hotel doctor. No one ever got sick, they insisted.

It’s possible I was missing the key inducement: money. Paying a bellman, desk clerk, or concierge “referral fee” has a long tradition in hotel doctoring. It’s illegal for a doctor to pay for a referral. All my competitors denounce the practice, but it’s not rare for a bellman to rush up and announce, “I’m the one who told Mrs. Jones to call you. I always tell guests to call Dr. Oppenheim…” They invariably look puzzled when I explain that I’m happy to provide free consultations to employees, but tips are against the law. They never argue, but I suspect they’re mentally crossing me off their list.