Saturday, June 02, 2012

City Hall’s Welcome Mat Says It All

CityWatch, June 1, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 44

RETHINKING LA - To live in Hollywood is to assume the role of tour guide. On a daily basis I am reminded that I live in a great city, one that attracts tourists from around the world who come here to experience the stories that Los Angeles tells, some true and some fiction, but all of them compelling.

I frequently meet strangers who have that lost look on their face and it’s my habit to make eye contact and give them the nod, indicating that it’s okay to ask for directions. That brief moment of wayfinding costs me nothing and yet it has such an impact. All it takes is a moment to point them to the best place to photograph the Hollywood sign or visit the Griffith Observatory or find the Hollyhock House or travel on the Walk of Fame.

I rarely speak the correct language but it never matters, even when they’re on the wrong train, headed to North Hollywood in search of the Kodak, or on Santa Monica Boulevard looking for the sandy beaches. A bit of pantomime, directions to a map, a quick sketch on a scrap of paper, even a brochure from one of the many racks, and my work as an ambassador is complete.

Tourism is the number one jobs generator in Los Angeles so it makes sense to take care of our tourists and it certainly reminds me on a daily basis that I live in the center of the universe when it comes to culture, the arts, history, the entertainment industry, education, and all of the things that attract people from all over the world.

Local businesses capitalize on the opportunity by reaching out with information, some by passively hosting brochure racks and others who fill the sidewalks with flyer patrols who compete with hawkers and buskers.

Through it all, they communicate loudly and clearly, “Welcome to LA, we’ve been waiting for you!”

Walt Disney wrote the book on hospitality and central to his philosophy was the simple rule that your number one responsibility was to care for the guests, no matter what your position. The people who sweep the streets of Disneyland are typically the first person a lost child will encounter so their training starts with learning the names of the Seven Dwarfs, not with principles of sanitation.

This focus on “corporate culture” means that everybody in the Disney organization is trained to understand that their professional competence can be evaluated by their ability to communicate successfully with a lost child.

Imagine if that commitment to guest satisfaction were part of LA’s “civic culture” and an expression of City Hall’s core purpose and core values.

Visitors to City Hall, whether local or tourist, would be able to wander through City Hall and be greeted by friendly and helpful hosts who are ready to offer directions, tell a story, comfort a lost child, and steer the public through the City Hall experience.

Dave Meslin of Toronto has taken to acting like a tourist in City Hall, asking the first person at the first counter for directions to the brochure rack, to the information kiosk, the tour guide. He typically gets a blank stare but he is determined to remove barriers to civic engagement.

If City Hall is serious about conducting the business of the people in a transparent and inclusive manner, it will start by treating locals the way Walt Disney treats tourists, like honored guests.

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