Jackie Robinson’s legacy to hospitality
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” – Jackie Robinson
By David M. Brudney, ISHC
Scenes from "42" brought back memories of my early experiences traveling through the South in the early '60s as a guide in the tour bus business.
I dropped out of college and went to work for Greyhound Highway Tours. My first big trip was escorting a 40-day journey billed as the "Spring Flower Tour of the South" that took us across the Southwest, through the heart of the Deep South, finishing in Washington, D.C. during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
What an educational experience for a college dropout, born and raised in Northern California, whose only knowledge of life in the South was from books, magazines and movies.
Watching "42" reminded me of those things I saw with my own eyes when traveling the South: public drinking fountains and restrooms marked "Colored" that you see in the movie, riding in city buses with African-Americans sitting in the back and going to a movie theater and seeing the "Colored" sign pointing to balcony-only seating.
And I cringed during the part of "42" when a Philadelphia hotel GM met the Brooklyn Dodgers team bus and stopped them from checking in. As long as Jackie was on that bus, the entire team would be turned away.
Changes in the hospitality industry
I left "42" thinking also about the progress and changes in the hospitality industry and how business in general has evolved from when it began for me a half century ago.
I thought of the Penn State School of Hospitality Management students to whom I spoke last fall (link to my Jan. '13 article on Penn State hospitality students). I wondered if those students - - and other new generations of hoteliers - - will see "42" and recognize and appreciate how much the country and the hospitality industry has since changed.
Those too young to have lived it and those curious enough to learn more about that era need only watch the current AMC series "Mad Men." Business entertainment was very different from today. The three-Martini, three-hour lunches with wine and desserts were standards, especially when making sales calls on clients and prospects in New York. I never smoked, but I carried with me at all times a gold-plated lighter so I could always light up my guests at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Hard to imagine today, but back then we mimeographed for document duplication, reservations came through telex machines, and IBM Selectric typewriters were the latest in technology.
My time in hotel sales came before the hotel business became the business of hotels. Complimentary rooms, meals and other favors were given to clients indiscriminately. There were no hotel asset managers "watching the store," and owners were primarily absentee landlords. The GMs were kings.
But there was much progress to be made. When I began my hotel career as a sales representative in the mid-1960s, the clients and prospects were all white men aged 45 to 65. Minorities were nowhere to be found. Women in the business were mostly secretaries. The emergence of non-white, female, younger clients and prospects didn't occur until the late '70s and well into the '80s.
I have a photo on my wall taken at the 1969 national sales meeting of what is today Westin Hotels. Two Asian men and two white women stood out among a sea of white male sales professionals.
How far we've come
It was a time before the dawn of vertical marketing. Today hoteliers target previously overlooked and underserviced niche markets, special interests groups and more diverse clientele. Major hotel chains create specific websites now for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community - - unfathomable in the '70s.
No doubt hotels have advanced, becoming more adaptive to guest tastes and preferences, while those running them initiated greater guest engagement and improved guest-friendly facilities and services. Along the way we've also become more cost conscious and bottom-line driven - - deservedly so, it hates me to add.
Last January I attended my first Professional Convention Management Association convention in decades and was taken by the change in attending members from my first PCMA in '69. Hundreds and hundreds of women and minorities, aged 25 to 45, passed in front of me enroute to general sessions, hybrid and other breakout sessions.
It was a welcomed sight after decades navigating that sea of older white males.
Let's all agree there's still more to be done with both clients and hotels. And I'm sure Jackie Robinson would agree hotels and corporate America need more diversity, most especially at the corporate level.
hospitality marketing consulting firm based in Carlsbad, CA, provides customized, professional sales and marketing services including independent sales and marketing operational assessments, sales training, mentoring, and speaking for hotels, resorts, conference centers, and destination marketing organization worldwide.