Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

There, but for the grace of God, go I. That thought must have run through the mind of every hotel general manager who has read the devastatingly funny Power Point presentation, "Yours is a Bad Hotel," currently making the e-mail rounds in cyberspace.

"Funny," of course, is in the mind of the beholder, and I suspect they're not laughing it up at the Doubletree Club Hotel in Houston, the target of the presentation.

In 17 slides, Tom Farmer and Shane Atchison, two Seattle Web design consultants, use every Power Point gimmick Microsoft has made available to build the case that they received very poor service indeed in the wee hours of Nov. 15, 2001.

They arrived with confirmed, guaranteed reservation in hand and were told there were no rooms. Mike the night clerk (his name was changed for the presentation) is not only unapologetic -- he is, according to the presentation, deeply unapologetic.

The strength of the slide show is in the straight-faced use of familiar Power Point formats: the metrics map that places the hotel among other hospitality providers (it fares worse than the Kabul Youth Hostel); the comparison chart ("Expected benefit: Points plus frequent flyer miles. Actual benefit: Insolence plus insults"), and the statistics slide (the odds of the consultants reserving a room there again are worse than one in 2,200,000, equivalent to the "chance of Earth being ejected from the solar system by the gravitational pull of a passing star").

Mike the night clerk is the focus of these travelers' pointed humor, and the presentation certainly reminds us we are only as good as our most poorly trained employee.

But there's another reason this presentation has appealed to the viral nature of the Internet.

The heart of the matter is this: Were Atchison and Farmer naive to think they were owed a room at a specific hotel because they had given a credit card number, received a confirmation number and were told they had a guaranteed reservation?

If they had read the fine print, they would know that in many cases, a confirmed reservation -- at a hotel, on an airplane, from a car rental agency -- guarantees very little. (Actually, that's not true -- it sometimes guarantees you'll be charged if you don't show up.)

The previously unambiguous words "confirmed" and "guaranteed" have become double-talk worthy of Norm Crosby. And while these words are highlighted in promotions to convince travelers to book certain brands, they ultimately create resentment in the very travelers they're wooing. At a time when the industry seems to be pulling out every stop to regain the trust of travelers, perhaps we can begin with promises we can live up to.

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