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Treat hotel staff politely, or you’ll regret it. (iStockphoto)
Treat hotel staff politely, or you’ll regret it. (iStockphoto)

Rude to hotel staff? One way or another, you’ll pay, study finds Add to ...

Travellers who are rude to hotel staff may get more than they bargain for – and in surprising ways, depending on what continent they are visiting.

A new study found a divergence in how hotel staff in North America and China react to abusive customers. In North America, chambermaids, front-desk clerks and concierges are 20 per cent more likely to retaliate quickly and directly to the offensive guest by denying good service. They might make the guest wait, serve them cold food or give them wrong directions, for instance.

Hotel staff in China, however, are 19 per cent more likely to become less enthusiastic toward their jobs altogether. They retaliate less against the offending guest. Instead, they blame the system and the job itself.

“In China, they are very collectivist. And sure enough, what we found is that they tend to cut back on service to all customers in general. They just simply disengage from customers. It’s very passive, it’s indirect. It’s not surgical [retaliation] like it is in North America,” said Daniel Skarlicki, a business professor at the University of British Columbia, who co-authored the study with Ruodan Shao at the City University of Hong Kong.

The researchers surveyed 200 employees at two luxury hotels in Vancouver and Beijing owned by the same chain; both have similar business guests and well-heeled clientele. Staff participating in the survey were asked to report the number of abusive experiences they experienced. This could include anything from being yelled at and having guests make unreasonable requests to inappropriate body language.

The survey then recorded the frequency in which staff sabotaged service because of that treatment, and how they felt about their jobs in general. The researchers also tried to factor in job security: Vancouver has a slightly higher level of unemployment compared with Beijing, so Chinese attitudes aren’t necessarily due to feeling trapped in a job, Skarlicki said.

He draws two key conclusions from the study: Mistreatment doesn’t come without consequences, and hotel employers should take care in training its staff on separate continents.

“It could be as much as just helping employees understand that, ‘Look, here’s the bad part of the job, and here’s some proactive ways of how to deal with customers that are mistreating you,’” Skarlicki said.

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