A New Understanding Of Fleabag Motels

Martin Romjue
Posted on April 25, 2016


A fleabag motel once meant a low-rent, unsanitary, poorly managed place full of squalor and sordid activity. I remember a visit to a fleabag motel years ago with a group of undercover Florida police officers staking the place out for an anti-prostitution sting. Let’s just say you have to be a special kind of deviant to get aroused in such a place. But that was in another Century, another time of life, as they say.

Nowadays, fleabag could refer to a hotel, not ratty at all, but nevertheless at risk of offering complimentary fleas. We recently stayed at what is called a “pet-friendly” hotel at a Marriott Residence Inn. It’s my fault for not knowing, since I missed a sign above the front desk stating as such. Apparently, the entire Residence Inn chain is “pet friendly.”

Overall, Residence Inns are decent, middle level accommodations, convenient, friendly and hassle-free. Good food, comfortable furnishings, free coffee, newspapers, breakfasts, and evening appetizers. It’s just that the chain allows overnight guests to bring their pets. On the surface, it’s a wonderful idea, because most of us love dogs and/or cats, and can relate to the traumas of having to leave a pet at home or in a kennel for a vacation. So Residence Inn sees a valid market opportunity in attracting guests with pets.

Here’s the problem: One of the guests in my traveling party, staying in another suite, gotten bitten for two nights in a row by fleas; never before, and not after. My wife and I asked the front desk after the first night to have housekeeping change the sheets, but the guest got bit again the second night.

Unrelated to the pet situation, we noticed the following customer service no-no’s during our stay: Dirt and dust so caked on our suite’s living room window that it obscured the view; in the other party’s suite, a defunct TV remote control with corroded batteries; missing light bulbs in some of the bedroom lamps; broken hair dryer; cloudy, warm swimming pool water with used towels strewn about the deck; a long human hair on a pillow in a made bed. At times, dogs wandered the halls and barked behind closed doors. We even saw a cat curled up in a window while driving up.

I know these are clearly First World problems, so I mention them only in the spirit of advocating good customer service in the limousine industry, since LCT is emphasizing the topic in the magazine and at our events. When we checked out after a three-night stay, we told the manager about the guest’s flea bites. She said she would have their pest control designee and cleaning staff inspect the room and report back to us. We asked for a comped night or two on the suite, but they only offered us 5,000 Marriott rewards points instead. Of course, you know how this will turn out: No problems detected, everything just fine — dogs, cats and humans all living in sanitary harmony. Never mind fleas and flea eggs can hide out in all kinds of surfaces and crannies, surviving for weeks. Throughout the process and in follow up emails, the hotel staff was defensive (with furrowed brows) and in complete denial, repeatedly telling us they are pet friendly. They assured us staff deep cleans all rooms, they charge pet owners a higher rate, and bill them for any damages. Deep cleans every time for a new guest?

But that doesn’t account for human nature. You can envision how many pet owners — once the doors are shut for the night — cuddle with pets in the beds, watch TV with them on couches, maybe even bathe them in the tub and blow dry their fur. And what about the occasional “mishap” on the carpets, that’s quickly cleaned up unbeknownst to staff but the area not sanitized? Or the dog that maybe chews, ahem, on a remote control? Not all pet owners allow these liberties, of course, but the temptation to use amenities in more flexible ways are greater when they’re not yours.

What’s even more troubling is, how do you define the term pet? Remember, we live in an era where no culture is supposed to be better than any other, and no person’s truth is more valid than any other person’s. (I’m a Thetan, so I’m clear!) A pet-friendly hotel logically would have to allow birds, ferrets, domesticated snakes, a Vietnamese pot-bellied piglet, maybe even goats and chickens. What the hell, just bring the family alpaca! After all, who are you to say one pet is worth more than another, or wilder or more unsanitary as the next, or more loveable? We could easily have hotels double up as covered petting zoos or kennels, reminiscent of human-animal equality in certain Third World situations.

The point here is if you pursue a particular market or client base, or appeal to one, at the expense of another, consequences will emerge for your business. You can’t be all things to all people and deliver top service. So, in the case of Residence Inn Marriott, I fully respect their business decision to earn profits by renting suites to pet-owing travelers and being “pet-friendly.”

As for business travelers, and those of us who stay in hotels without our pets, along with many of your clients in chauffeured transportation, we all have plenty of other competitive options than the Marriott Residence Inns. It works both ways.

And no limo operator I know would ever send a vehicle out to a client with caked dust and dirt on the windows. If you’re cleaning the windows, you’re already clear on at least once basic concept of good customer service.

Related Topics: client feedback, client markets, customer service, Editor's Edge Blog, hospitality, hotels, LCT editor, Martin Romjue

Martin Romjue Editor
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