Friday, August 19, 2005

The End of the Boom?

A lot of prognosticators have theories on how to determine where we are in those pesky but inevitable business and economic cycles. Some of those theories make sense, some don't. One thing that seems certain though, is that the beginnings and ends of these cycles occur at times when the majority of people don't expect them.

The North American economic boom has been rolling along, with fairly minor deviations, for decades. Many investors expect their stocks to continue going up indefinitely. Homeowners and amateur real estate speculators think that home and land prices are going to keep going higher and higher forever. Some business owners are already becoming complacent and feel that because they are so busy, they no longer have any reason to keep their customers happy. I am seeing more and more of this irrational behaviour here in Canada. I also noticed it in the U.S. when we were there.

We hadn't planned on visiting Las Vegas on our recent trip, so we arrived there unannounced. Not only was there no welcoming committee, there were also no hotel reservations. We figured we would be able to find all kinds of available accommodation on the Thursday night when we arrived. Nope. We stopped in at the Luxor and several other large hotel/casinos and were turned away each time. We eventually found an available room at the rather pedestrian Hotel San Remo. We checked in, glad to have a room.

As we unpacked and began to check things out in the room, we discovered that the remote control for the TV didn't work. The internet access didn't work. There were burnt out light bulbs. My wife reported these things to the front desk, expecting that they would be taken care of immediately. When we left Las Vegas, two days later, we were still waiting. At least the San Remo had reasonable rates.

There were signs all over the Hotel San Remo announcing that it was going to be converted to the Hooters Casino Hotel. Since the Hotel San Remo appears to have been operated by boobs, I guess the transition is appropriate.

In Salt Lake City, we had an even worse experience. Every hotel we tried was full when we arrived in mid-afternoon. We eventually found a room at a Quality Inn at $179.00 per night. It wasn't worth it.

When a guest approaches the front desk of a hotel in Salt Lake City, I wouldn't necessarily expect him or her to be greeted by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I would, however, find it reasonable to expect a degree of civility and a greeting something like: "Good evening, sir. How may I help you?" What we got instead was no verbal greeting at all, just a rather annoyed look from the female clerk who obviously didn't like to be distracted from the more important things on her agenda. On the second morning, after the bed sheets had been changed, I found faded blood stains on my side of the bed, positioned where they would be if a female guest had had an unexpected visit from... well, you know. The same morning, I heard water splashing onto the floor of the bathroom. When I investigated, I found water pouring in through the ceiling. Someone in the room above had let their bathtub overflow. We reported this to the front desk, expecting someone to come to our room to clean up the mess. Nope. We had to mop up ourselves with towels. We were afraid that we wouldn't be able to get another room elsewhere, so we stayed.

Hotels, like many other businesses, depend on repeat business and on developing and maintaining a good reputation. Certainly, having someone like me writing bad reviews isn't going to help with that. Still, if business is good, these facts are sometimes forgotten.

So, what does this all mean?

We are near the end of the boom. That is my prognostication.

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