Trash in the form of Objects

We sell China our garbage; and they sell it back to us in the form and shape of objects – they look real, and feel real, but when put to use, they decay, fall apart or break often in less time than it took to unwrap them. There are a lot of things wrong with our economy, and this is certainly one of them. It’s a big one! How can people possibly afford to keep spending their money over and over on the same things? Recently I had occasion to wash 2 quilt bedspreads that I just purchased a few months ago. They disintegrated in the washing machine; when they came out of the dryer the solid blue backs looked to be covered with lint, but in fact it was the internal stuffing coming out through the fabric. I did not realize they were made in China when I bought them, but now I see it on the tags. Last year I purchased 5 sets of pots and pans for our new rooms. I run a quality operation and I purchased what I believed were reasonable quality products. Within weeks of use most of the frying pans needed to be replaced because the teflon coating peeled off after one use. The BBQ tools at our original cabin (10 years old) are still in use and look fine; the ones purchased last spring were rusted and falling apart by last fall and I’ve had to replace them all – sadly I could go on, and on, and ON with more examples. The common theme through it all, is that ALL these items were made in China. Don’t even suggest “buy American” …..YOU try to find American made items in Alaska; try to find them anywhere! Even if you could find what you need, you can’t afford the shipping to get it here, even if you could afford the item, which if not made in China, will be 3 to 4 times as expensive to start with!

So just remember, if it says “Made in China” it was probably made from US trash that we sold them….better keep your receipt. When it breaks, falls apart or disintegrates, maybe you can get your money back. As consumers we must demand better! If we’re diligent as consumers and make our voices heard can we make a difference? As a business operator, the challenge remains how to afford providing quality. Profitability is impossible when things constantly need replacing.

The Cold Wind of Tourism in the Summer of 2009

The cold wind of our recession/depression is blowing in Alaska, even though it has been a summer in paradise, thus far. This is our 10th year running my little lodging business, and regardless of what expansion we might have gone through in the winter, we would start the summer season with more sold out days than not. After the first few years it was not uncommon to be virtually sold out for the months of June, July and August; often as early as April. .

At the end of the first week of June 2009, I could count the # of sold out days ahead, on one hand. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear some tale of woe from a neighbor with a b&b, travel agent or charter operator. Tourism and travel are down across the board, and for many the season is looking bleak; for some, perhaps non-existent.

This winter as the economy crumbled before our eyes, it wasn’t that people weren’t calling and emailing for reservation availability this summer; they just weren’t booking. They were shopping and it didn’t matter that we’re among the nicest around; price won out, and we were loosing out to lower rates. The hospitality trade journal articles were all about not lowering rates; but after 6 weeks of practically no reservations, I lowered rates and ran some specials. Immediately business picked up; and although we still have availability on almost every single day, it’s often just one room that’s left. Meanwhile, the hotels and motels that stood their ground are reporting as much as a 60 to 80% down turn. Many of the smaller businesses that relied on the “spill over” effect will suffer the most, because there may never be a spill over this year!

This then may be the biggest indicator there is – We have an entire page on our website dedicated to other lodging suggestions. Historically we would begin sending guests to this page in February for the extremely popular dates like the 4th of July, and generally by April 80% of our requests would be met with “look for our link ‘other lodging options’.”

This year we have only recently started making referrals or sending folks to this page; and in most cases it’s only the groups of 3 or more; we almost always have a room left if they only need 1 bed.

The businesses that have been relying on referrals or “spill overs” will face the largest decline in business and it will be these businesses that may not be able to sustain themselves during these trying times. It will be businesses with solid footings, a strong customer base and enough business savvy and flexibility to ride out this storm that will survive this very cold wind that is blowing through our beautiful Alaska summer.

Where are the workers?

I really don’t understand – with the high unemployment numbers we keep hearing about, where are all the workers!? As the proprietor of a lodging operation in a tourist location I have need to hire a seasonal worker or two each summer; before I was self employed I worked at a local motel that had even more of a need for workers. Finding Americans who are willing to work hard at such tasks as cleaning rooms however, has proved to be a challenge only met by foreigners. Even young Americans graduating from high school or returning home after their first year at college, seem ill prepared to put in a full day, much less a long day. Over the years it’s been shocking how many kids expect 2 weekend days off as a part of their summer job’s “benefit package!”

How cliche to say “why, when I was a kid” …. But I fear I must….there was a time when a summer job was all about making the money, as much as you could, and you worked hard, willingly. Now, if you want to find someone to work hard at menial jobs like cleaning rooms, you need to look for a foreigner!

I’ve been in the hospitality industry for 10 years, and in that time, consistently the best workers have been the cultural exchange students. As word spread among local businesses, more and more have hired these students, and although there will always be a bad egg or two in any batch of workers, overall their quality far exceeds American workers.

What’s happened to our society that this should be the case, and what does this bode for our future? I don’t have these answers, but I continue to ponder this issue as I periodically search for employees of value.