Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Dog-Eat-Dog Business, Part 6

People often ask what sort of contract I have with hotels. The answer is none. Staff call because I’m easy to reach and quick to respond. Once they’ve called a few times, they’re not inclined to change.

I and three colleagues have been in this business for decades. We’re well known and popular, but hotel doctoring is a glamorous occupation, so plenty of doctors yearn to break in.

How can they do this? Guests who want help ask a concierge, desk clerk, operator or bellman. You might think that they learn the name of the official house doctor, but there is often no such person. Except in luxury hotels, selecting a doctor is not a high priority, so the choice may be up to the employee.

This is no secret, so entrepreneurial doctors know who to approach. But how can he phrase a sales pitch? Pointing out that he is a caring, compassionate physician who provides superior care sounds creepy. Doctor web sites and housecall agencies always proclaim this, but you should be skeptical. I’ve worked for dozens; they check my license and malpractice history but never my competence.

The new doctor might offer to charge less, but he never does. The free market doesn’t apply to medical fees.

So what’s left? Services selling to a hotel (florists, tours, masseurs, limousines) often pay a kickback, and there is a long tradition of hotel doctors doing the same. It’s illegal for a doctor to pay for a referral, and I hasten to admit that I have no evidence that any individual on the Los Angeles scene is doing that, but when I start hearing “have you forgotten something?....” hints from bellmen et al, I wonder if a new competitor is making the rounds.

Being entrepreneurs, these doctors have many irons in the fire. They are often too busy to drop everything and hurry off for a housecall, but they know me, so I sometimes visit my own hotels at their request. I collect my usual fee, but these entrepreneurs want their share, so the guest pays extra.

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