A lot has changed in the world, but one thing that hasn’t changed is how natural disasters always yield feel-good stories of people rising to the occasion to demonstrate what true dedication to service is all about.
While the challenges associated with protecting club and resort properties and operations during the extreme-weather “seasons” seem to become much more daunting each year—along with the fact that those “seasons” now seem to have melded into a non-stop, 365-day concern—one thing that hasn’t changed is how natural disasters always yield feel-good stories of people rising to the occasion to demonstrate what true dedication to service is all about.
One such story that came out of the latest round of monster storms that hit parts of the U.S. at the end of this summer and the “start” of this year’s hurricane season had a hospitality connection. While it didn’t come from the club industry, it still has plenty of relevance and offers some good teaching-moment and planning opportunities for both managers and staff members.
It involved Satchel Smith, a sophomore at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, who works part-time at a Homewood Suites in that city while attending the school. In September, Smith’s father dropped Satchel off for what he expected to be another routine 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. desk shift. But then Tropical Storm-turned-Depression Imelda began to dump torrents of rain on Beaumont, triggering flooding that trapped Smith and 90 other guests inside the hotel.
For 32 hours, the 21-year-old Smith was the hotel’s only employee on site, because flooded roads kept any of his co-workers from getting to work. But as CNN reported, Smith’s performance in that situation led to his being hailed as a hero by the guests who relied on him for nearly two days, with one praising his performance in a Facebook post that then got shared more than 13,000 times.
“He has manned the phones, answered each of our questions, ensured that we have had a hot cup of coffee or tea, and helped to serve us a hot breakfast,” that guest wrote. “He has handled this situation with grace, kindness, and a beautiful smile on his face.”
Smith, a sprinter on Lamar’s track team, did admit to feeling overwhelmed by a situation that he described to CNN as “pretty intense.” Really trained only for front-desk duties, he took it upon himself to also handle maintenance issues, room-service requests and even tried his hand at cooking, despite having “never worked in a kitchen” and “not really [being] a good cook.”
Even after a co-worker finally made it in nearly two days after Smith first had to start to hold down the fort on his own, he stayed around for a few hours to help her out, took a brief nap, then woke up and went right back to work until his family could safely drive to pick him up.
The best takeaway for Smith, he told CNN, was how guests were so thankful for his efforts and how they also joined him in trying to help stalled truckers on the roads outside the hotel, wading out to give them food and water. “It was basically like a big family,” Smith said.
I would think every club manager might want to share this story with staff, as a great example of doing what it takes to fulfill a service mission, no matter what the circumstances. It also reinforces the appreciation and recognition that will come from going above and beyond, even when it may not be in an emergency situation. And the story might also prompt me to plan to help workers learn more about how to do other jobs within an operation, should this type of situation ever arise on their club’s property.
Finally, I might also try to reach out to Satchel Smith, to tell him to get in touch after he graduates and arrange to come in for an interview.