Are You Superstitious?

Well, are you? Seems like an apt question for a Friday the 13th article.

While the Western World increasingly moves toward a scientific and largely atheistic approach to natural phenomena, there are still many people on this pale blue dot who strongly believe in the supernatural and mystical numerology which for those of European descent includes the number 13. As hoteliers, it is our job to be accepting of other belief systems and to accommodate special requests, no matter what the logic behind those requests is. Before we dive in to guest service protocols for superstitious guests, now would be a good segue for explaining why 13 is such an unlucky number in Western cultures and, while we’re at it, identifying any other numbers to be wary of.

While web sources spin a good yarn about betrayer Judas, the 13th guest as Jesus Christ’s last supper, or how some medieval French King killed some French knights on Friday the 13th, I prefer the Occam’s razor. The number 13 is unlucky because it follows 12 – a figure shrouded in spiritualism long before Christianity came onto the scene, dating back to when all we humans could do was look up to the stars at night and observe that there were 12 lunar cycles per year. From there we get the 12 months, the 12 astrological signs, 12 hours before noon, 12 hours after noon and various uses across many world religions (12 Apostles, 12 days of Christmas, 12 Tribes of Israel, 12 Olympic Gods, 12 Radiant Signs of Shiva and so on). Whatever your thoughts are on 13, it’s undeniable that its precursor plays a vital role for almost every aspect of our daily lives.

Enough digression. What’s important here is that you acknowledge that other people’s systems of beliefs are different from your own, and, as long as they aren’t harming anyone else, you do your best to accommodate them. Our job is to be of service, not to question or judge another person’s niche or seemingly absurd requests.

This is essence of what true hospitality is. After all, while our staff members may only hear the highly distilled end of a guest’s convictions in the form of a curt or brief request, rest assured that there is a lot more behind these appeals which goes unstated.

In application, your hotel, when built, may or may not have skipped the 13th floor. But you will still have room numbers of 413, 713, 1413 and so on. Knowing that this irks a small minority of people, a minute’s worth of training is needed to inform your desk clerks that the appropriate response to someone wishing to change a room with one of these numbers is not, “Why?” but “Of course, right away!”

Similarly, in the phonic language of Mandarin, ‘4’ sounds a lot the word for death. As such, many Chinese guests may not want to be placed on the fourth floor or in a room with this digit. It’s the same situation for Japanese guests and the number ‘9’.

Do you have a protocol to accommodate such beliefs if you are sold out and have no other rooms are available? How will you train your staff to politely tell superstitious Chinese guests that the hotel is booked solid and that they’ll just have to settle for a ‘death’ room? This can also be seen as an opportunity to upsell if your suites happen to avoid spooky numerology.

Taken further, you must train reservation agents to not only accommodate onsite changes in this regard, but to anticipate such problems. For instance, knowing that you receive a healthy dose of Chinese-born travelers each year and that a certain subset will take the coincidence of death and ‘4’ seriously, why even bother putting a single guest from this demographic in any room with this digit? Such travelers should be marked the moment they input their credit card information and inventory should be reallocated accordingly.

As it pertains to floor planning, you would be foolish to put a fitness center, meeting space or swimming pool on the fourth floor if you hope to attract Chinese guests. In the case of the latter, the last thing you want is for your visitors to be scared of drowning! If you are beyond the point of redoing architectural drawings, then the solution is simple: rename the floor ‘3A’ or ‘G’ or ‘M’.

This is perhaps the most prominent example of where superstition would become a factor in a hotel’s day-to-day operations. There are many others, both those involving other numbers as well as those that do not. Nonetheless, it’s worth note because, by accommodating and anticipating these esoteric requests, you are showing that you genuinely care and building good rapport with your guests.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published by HotelsMag on May 13, 2016).