The Facade

A slightly ranty opinion piece….

The “facade” is an endemic, collusive and insidious value at the heart of just about every hotel I have ever stayed in. (It exists in the hotel in which I am writing this now). The idea at the heart of the ‘facade’ is that what the customer cannot see cannot harm them, that the facade is all-important and what lurks in the “backroom” must be kept secret and, ideally, neglected. In many cases the service rooms and corridors hide threadbare carpets, yellowing walls, and cobwebs aplenty. as long as the guests don’t see it, it is quite acceptable, even to be celebrated as a sign of management’s frugal and clever use of resources.

The store rooms can be rotting away (or kept to a minimum legal standard of repair), the offices dingy, poorly lit, even unhygienic, so long as they remain hidden from public view behind the smokescreen of superficial quality.

The very hotels which boast to their customers sumptuous carpets, fresh linen sheets, local commissioned etchings and paintings, and smiling suit sporting welcoming name badges hide squalid conditions, poor electrics and years of backstage decay. What is more shocking is that this skimping on investing in the shadows and the unseen is somehow celebrated as a sign of clever and good management. Instead, each hotel exists as a place of deceit, with a sunlight overworld, and a seedy underworld illuminated by dirty cavern walls dripping with phosphorous.

Behind the No-Entry signs is a nasty motive that exclaims that the places from which service is born and maintained must be neglected and kept at a bare and mean-spirited minimum. The staff are under orders to smile at the guests as if this place is next to Heaven itself  but as soon as the door to the dank service passage is shut and rows of half broken light fittings and grime takes over, the same staff must scuttle like sewer rats from place to place in the spaces in between, unworthy of the same values of care and quality that the hotel claims to uphold and aspire to. The office behind the hotel reception, store cupboards or back-chambers betray the real attitude of the place – that people and places don’t really matter that only what lies on the material surface really exists or is of consequence, The hotel looks upon its community with a gaze that stops at the eyes. The mask is all.

I have stayed in hotels that really have made me feel at home. The reason the attention to making me feel welcome, as at home, is genuine, authentic and like a real person, more than skin deep – from an already heated room on a cold night on arrival, an offer of fresh milk with the tea things in my room, an attempt to remember my name, or a fair rate to use the bedside telephone to call home.

But most of all it is this. The facade and the reality are one and the same.  There is a unity. The external appearance is the beautiful and impressive icing on an equally rich and delicious cake!

The service rooms and passageways, the cupboards and the staircases are as bright and airy as the guest corridors and rooms, with pictures on the walls, door hinges that have also been oiled, window panes that have also be cleaned, kettles, tea and coffee pots for staff that a customer would feel happy with.

There is, in a way, no facade. for the hotel is a home from home, a place of authenticity through and through where quality reaches below the surfaces and also bubbles up playfully from below. A place for human beings to work, play and rest, for both staff and guests. Such places are true “guest” houses. How rare they are.

A manager has just exited furtively from a service corridor and closed the complaining door as if ashamed or hiding a secret.

He offers me a gap-toothed smile before scuttling across the Axminster carpet to his office from which  eerie yellow glow emanates.On the wall over the office next to the reception are two certificates: Investors in People Award” and “Customer Service Charter Mark.”

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