Some years ago, when EuroDisney was still in diapers, the European media – which had always resented this incursion of Americana into the heart of Europe – decided to slaughter the organisation.
Although we are accustomed to it, watching the newspapers and TV ganging up on a victim is never an uplifting spectacle and, in this case, I felt it was unnecessary for the media to be so cynically dismissive of an enterprise that sought, mainly, to bring a little fun to a rather joyless world. (Not, I hasten to add, that Paris is joyless.)
The problem is the media’s view of its own role in society. The traditional responsibility of the journalist to inform has given way to a perceived duty to “reveal,” “expose” and “lay bare” the facts. Sadly, there are those who confuse harmless illusion with conspiracy.
The media, it seemed, despised the American falseness of the EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris) mirage, so conspired to unveil it. But we didn’t need to be told that the Disney smile was created for our benefit, that the sugary welcome and slick presentation were painstakingly fabricated…we knew that…and we liked it that way. Which also explains the phenomenal success of Las Vegas.
Most of us in the meetings business accepted, long ago, that fantasy has a very real and important role in our professional lives. We learned from those masters of dissimulation, the hoteliers, that hypocrisy oils the wheels of hospitality, that our delegates expect an element of theatricality and enjoy the charade. Everyone knows that a good hotel is like the proverbial swan—the serenity is all on the surface. We don’t wish to be reminded that it’s chaotic in the kitchen, hair-raising in housekeeping and extremely stressed behind reception.
We secretly relish the fact that hotel managers dress like Jeeves and put on old-fashioned airs and graces. Costume is so important when you’re playing a part. And the script is comfortingly familiar as well.
“Is everything to your satisfaction, sir?” “May I recommend the quail eggs Vesuvius, sir?” We all know what this means. “We have over-ordered quail eggs, which are past their best and therefore smothered in a chili sauce.” But we don’t spoil the play by adding subtitles.
Of course, the “fresh” in fresh fruit salad is a relative term, and menus are designed to impress not enlighten. We expect nothing less…and, personally, I don’t care if the head receptionist is on automatic when she says, “Enjoy your stay.”
Some people might be pleased to learn that “our hotel staff members speak five languages.” You and I know that this means that the chambermaids are Filipina, the receptionists come from Nicaragua, one commis chef speaks Inuit and the assistant porter is fluent in…well he’s from Louisiana. English speakers may be hard to find. But we don’t say so.
And take brochures. (Or Web sites.)
Brochures (and Web sites) are an intrinsic part of the wonderland that we encourage hoteliers to weave around their products. Only the congenitally naive are taken in by them. Pictured on Page 3 is a couple self-consciously relaxing in a bedroom. The perceptive will notice that one is the assistant manager (not in uniform) and the other is the receptionist with the best legs. On Page 5, they are to be found in the restaurant enjoying lobster thermidor. And then (surprise! surprise!), the girl reappears in the sauna, on Page 9, wrapped seductively in a towel. Long live fantasy—the hotel industry has mastered it, and meeting planners should appreciate it.
In these challenging economic times, it is too easy for the hard heads in the procurement department to extract the fun out of functions for the sake of a few pennies. They should be dissuaded.
Pragmatic, price-driven solutions have their place in meeting planning, but not at the cost of harmless enjoyment—albeit created by smoke and mirrors.
The Disney Corp. and the city of Las Vegas understand the importance of how illusion contributes to the “feel-good factor.” We must not underestimate the importance of theatre and should applaud the necessary dissembling of the hospitality profession. Today, even meetings for redundant bankers and mortgage brokers can be perked up by a sprinkling of pixie dust.
TONY CAREY, CMP, CMM, is an award-winning writer and past member of the MPI International Board of Directors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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