Thursday, November 09, 2006

Concerning Status

Apropos of my recent post on status ... .

I've recently spent some days at a fairly fancy hotel in a moderately poor part of the world. One thing that struck me was how many hotel employees there were hanging around ready to help the guests at any opportunity. In part, of course, this is a natural result of the low cost of labor. What's puzzling is that there are so many, mostly doing nothing, as to give the impression that the marginal product of the last few must be very close to zero.

It occurred to me that perhaps what they are really there for is not to do but only to be. Humans value status. Having lots of people around you who are visibly lower status than you is one way of giving you the feeling of high status, which you may well enjoy.

Along similar lines, I was thinking about the difference, in the U.S., between fancy hotels and nice but not fancy hotels—consider a Hampton Inn as an example of the latter. The space and comfort of the accomodations isn't very different, although the fancy ones have more polished marble in the bathrooms. I wonder if a good deal of what you are paying for, and what makes the difference in characteristics between the two sorts, is status, provided in part by surplus employees.

Apropose of which, my wife remarked during our most recent summer trip that she feels more comfortable in the kind of hotel or motel where it seems natural for her to hold open the door for the properietor or a worker who is going through it with an armful of laundry.


Charles Pooter said...

I agree with your wife. The optimum hotel experience for me is one of quiet efficiency without undue deference from the staff. I find continual enquiries as to my well-being to be off-putting. Also, the number of staff a hotel has hanging around seems to have no relationship to the speed of room service or other important factors.

Rick and Gary said...

I agree with your wife as well.

Anonymous said...

The large number of employees may stem from the fact that scavenging for tips from rich tourists is the most lucrative occupation available to them. How many of them, I wonder, are paid little or nothing by the hotel and just live on tips?

Anonymous said...

I think in the best hotels, the luxury is that you can actually feel all the services but the employees are almost invisible... you know there is a swarm of employee working for you but it's not in your way...
It's not about holding the door for the laundry employee, it's not about 3 employees bringing you your laundry, it's about finding your laundry in your room, like it happened by magic, perfectly cleaned and ironed with a sample of perfume.
Anyway all this eventually depend on customer preference.

Anonymous said...

The idea of having an employee always doing "nothing" is to have him available whenever one of the guests needs something. That something may be as unimportant as a direction toward a room in front of you or something more complicated as a refill of your cup of white wine.

Of course it grants status just to know you have all that useless amount of employees around you “stealing scarce air” from the room.

Now, think about the status it gives to the employees to know that maybe they had the chance of serving wine to a former President of a developed country. Or maybe, to serve it for a successful business man that has a larger amount of money in just one of his bank accounts than the whole year salaries of the employees of the hotel.

It would have been honors for me having said that I was chosen to take "Mr. President's bag" to his room and shake hands with him. Or say to Mr. Friedman that I follow his blog every day I receive a feed about him posting an article on his website. Or maybe also, have been present when one of my favorite writers signed a book of him in front of my eyes.

I think that if those things happen to me one day, I will be in possession of a tremendous status compared to 13 millions people that live in the country and have never had the chance of doing those three (maybe meaningless to many people) things. Things, I would have had for ever as one of the greatest weeks of my college life.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

There is another possible explanation. Were you visiting during the peak tourist season, or a low season?

Many "developing" (poor) countries have very backwards labor laws -- such that it is not economical to hire and layoff staff to accomodate seasonal and other variance in labor requirements. The result is exactly what you describe.

Mike said...

When I was recently in a budget hotel in Beijing, I was surprised by the amount of staff even there. One employee's entire job seemed to be electrically scoring billiards games. I think only one game was played all night. And he refused all tips.