Years ago I worked at the front desk of a hotel, part of a chain of national business traveler properties.
Part of my job was to have at the ready lots of information that would be useful to people just passing through the area. I’d memorized the phone numbers of all the decent restaurants within a few miles, knew the operating hours of every good shopping location in the area, and could tell you just what time to get a cab from just the right cab company to make your flight without being too early or too late. Every time someone started to ask, “could you recommend a…” I’d be ready with several good options, and it helped them feel welcome and at home.
When I visit new places now, I’m careful to observe how well people there welcome out-of-towners and make them feel at home.
I’m especially sensitive to it here in Richmond, where I don’t think we’ve always done a good job of this.
My favorite version is when the information is offered unprompted. Friends and I recently visited a small tourist-friendly shop on the downtown main street of Brookville, IN and at the conclusion of my purchase, the store owner said “now have you visited the store across the street, they have some great such and such” and then proceeded to name two or three other things we might enjoy doing in town.
Which we did.
It was a low pressure, high value interaction that took a few additional seconds in their day. Even if someone isn’t ready to make those kinds of unsolicited suggestions, they should be on the lookout for any hint of a question from someone who’s possibly not from the area.
“Hi, I’m visiting, can you tell me what I should see here in town?”
Boom! There better be 2-3 things on the tip of the tongue in response.
In theory, anyone remotely involved in tourism and hospitality should have at the ready a list of things to do, places to see and events to attend so that, if asked, they can pass this info along quickly and easily. That certainly includes hotel workers, but also the wait staff at restaurants, cashiers at retail stores, patrol officers with local law enforcement, parking garage attendants, businesspeople who wander the streets of Center City or the Depot District, etc.
And even if we never have a chance to offer a tourist our suggestions, it’s a good practice to know what’s special about the place we live, what things might stand out as unique to a visitor. It increases our own understanding of how we might be seen from the outside, and what’s going on in the community around us.
Next time you’re at a local restaurant or store where you’re not already recognized, take note of how the hospitality interaction goes. Maybe even ask the person what they’d recommend doing in the area. We all might learn something.