As long as they do good work, doctors assume patients will remain loyal, but hotel doctors learn not to be so trusting. Helping sick guests produces no income for the hotel. Ninety percent are not terribly ill; if rebuffed they rarely make a fuss, so the manager never hears about them. Paramedics deal with emergencies. Years may pass before a GM encounters an imbroglio that only a doctor on the spot can defuse; I’ve recounted a few. Although the best marketing tool, they never happen when I need them.
So how does a doctor keep a hotel’s loyalty? You might think that practicing good medicine is the best P.R. That’s not necessarily so because, ironically, people take for granted that doctors are good. In fact, most are competent, and that includes my competitors. Patients are usually grateful after seeing me, and over thirty years I’ve acquired plenty of flattering letters, but when patients feel the urge to tell the world about a doctor, they are generally less happy. When a GM hears from a guest, it’s almost always a complaint.
Assuring bellmen and concierges of $20 for every referral is a long tradition. It’s illegal, and my last competitor who definitely took advantage lost his license in 2003, but hotel staff continue to drop hints.
Other doctors tour hotels to extol their virtues to the staff, but I don’t. Three or four times a year I write to a hundred GMs but stop once a hotel starts calling. I dislike merchants who keep telling me how much they love my business, so I assume this feeling is general. Perhaps fifty hotels call during a typical year, but I doubt if five GMs know me by sight.
In 1994, I bumped into the doctor who serves a dozen crème de la crème luxury hotels around Beverly Hills. As we talked shop, he mentioned that he knew most of his general managers since he encountered them at social engagements. That’s a marketing tool I can’t match. It turns out that, when a hotel opens, he chats up the manager, and matters are settled. I send my usual letter of introduction, but I never acquire a new hotel in his territory.
During that conversation, he grumbled that a colleague who covered for him recently had left a business card at every hotel. I sympathized, adding that I’d be happy to cover, and I promised not to solicit afterward. Since my leisure time activities are reading and writing, I rarely decline his calls, so we’re both pleased with the arrangement. I still have no answer to the question at the beginning, but at least someone else is responsible for keeping the loyalty of many hotels I visit.