How hotel soap can change lives

I’m one to wonder how things work when I travel.  Shawn Seipler is, too. Four years ago, he had a simple question, as he hung out in his hotel room after a day of meetings: “What happens to my used soap?” He noticed that soap is hardly depleted after a stay, and to throw it away seemed a waste. From this germ of a thought was born the nonprofit he founded, Clean the World.

The Orlando-based organization has solved the hotel soap problem with a very simple program. Housekeeping disposes of used amenities in a special bin provided by Clean the World, which picks up the bin when full. Clean the World melts down the soap remnants and creates new bars of soap. These and other repackaged amenities become part of the hygiene kits the nonprofit creates: one-quart bags that contain soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor and washcloth. The kits are distributed to the homeless and displaced, those living in shelters and victims of natural disasters.

It’s a win on so many levels. Hotel amenity waste is diverted from landfill. Homeless individuals receive hygiene kits, which prevent disease. Hotels wear the halo of doing good. Since 2009, more than 15 million bars of soap have been distributed. Simply brilliant.

During your next hotel shower, take a look at the soap and wonder, “Will this go to Clean the World?” There’s a good chance it will (the organization has more than 1,700 hospitality partners). But you can help the cause by asking  your hotel’s management if they participate–and encouraging them to do so if not. Corporate travel managers and meeting planners can require Clean the World participation on RFPs. And assembling hygiene kits through the OneProject initiative is a valuable Corporate Social Responsibility project.

Much good came of Shawn Seipler’s very simple question in his hotel room. How many other problems can be solved with the simple act of wondering, during those idle nights in a hotel room?


Laptop parade

This week I spent some time on an oddly positioned treadmill in a hotel fitness center. Strangely, the room was just off the lobby and the treadmill faced out to the front desk. So I spent my workout watching the comings and goings in the lobby. (Literally!) The parade was diverse: individuals, couples and families walked by the door, many stopping at the front desk to check out. There were grandparents, young couples, busy families and business types. After a while I noticed that with one exception, they all had only one thing in common: a laptop bag.

Surveys show–backed by anecdotal evidence such as my treadmill observation–that free Wi-Fi is the single most important amenity to travelers (both leisure and business), trumping free parking and breakfast. I know I would not even consider traveling without a laptop (except for one unplugged vacation last year) and usually have at least one other device for which I will use Wi-Fi. While business travelers have long behaved in this way, I suspect that it’s only within the last five years that leisure travelers have as well. No matter where we are, or why, connection to elsewhere has become essential.

Travelers have long been perplexed by the pricing contradiction: lower-tier properties tend to offer free Wi-Fi, while higher-end properties charge for use (or charge for faster speeds). A year ago, I would have said this is bound to change: Free Wi-Fi for all! But hotels have just caught on to what airlines have known for a few years: Ancillary fees can have a huge, positive impact on the bottom line. What’s your take? Do you see Wi-Fi becoming so essential to the hotel experience that it will go the way of the bed: free?

Should Hotel Personnel Be Fully “Present”?

In the last month I have stayed in a wide range of hotels–including a five-star resort, a four-star business hotel, a three-star big box new brand, and another that could only be described as a flashback to the ’80s (maybe no stars?). In each case I noticed something new on my radar: housekeeping staff engaged on their cell phones while doing their jobs. And it was a huge turn-off for me.

I want to be realistic. I know these workers are, in general, not doing this job because it’s their calling or passion. So it would be a lot ask that they be fully engaged. But in all cases, I dinged the hotel a little in my mind…with a little bigger hit to the five-star property perception than the ’80s relic. It has made me think about the illusion of service in a hotel. I realized I want to believe the staff is there, fully present, ready to serve (even if I know, deep down, that probably isn’t the case).

If I were a hotel company, I would prohibit (and enforce) use of personal phones during staff working hours. Is that unfair? Of is it all part of creating the service illusion?

Third time’s a charm

Gary Leff, knower of all things frequent flyer, swears that his most important tip is this: Hang Up, Call Back (HUCB). When a customer service agent doesn’t give you the answer you want–or even the answer you know to be true–politely say goodbye, dial again and hope for better results in the next call. Gary suggests trying at least three times before giving up.

Truth be told, this tip always seemed a little unbelievable to me. Customer service agents were all on the same page (literally: the manual), I thought. But I had occasion to put the tip to use this weekend. And now I’m a believer.

I faced a simple task: Cancel one night on a three-night reservation at a Hilton.

Call #1: The agent looked a moment at my reservation, muttered, “Hmmm,” (never a good sign) and told me she’d need to speak to a supervisor. We were then cut off. Coincidence or bad luck? I think not.

Call #2: The agent told me Hilton could not alter the reservation because it was made through a convention housing service. She provided me the housing service’s 800 number. So helpful! Not. The recording informed me I had just won a cruise (if I would stay on the line). Clearly the wrong number. Which is when I remembered Gary’s advice.

Call #3: After the agent told me the same story about the housing service and gave me the 800#, which I knew to be the bogus cruise prize phone number, I protested. I politely explained why I believed Hilton was actually the party that should change the reservation. She put me on hold to talk to her supervisor and eventually came back to tell me the reservation had been changed. Eureka. Lesson learned: Thank you, Gary!