Traditional Mexican fiesta poncho rug  in bright colors with sombrero

Lessons for Hotels from Puebla, Mexico

Feliz cinco de mayo a todos mis colegas hoteleros! Forgive me for any grammatical mistakes – Spanish is not my first or even my second language (French is…I’m Canadian).

However, it’s nonetheless crucial that we highlight the nation of Mexico – and all native Spanish speakers for that matter – on this, one of the country’s most important holidays. But first, a history lesson.

The significance of May the 5th stems from the city of Puebla where, on this day in 1862, the Mexican partisans defeated the French forces on the road to regaining sovereign control of their land. Wait, the French? But, they’re an ocean away.

Yes, well, as it turns out, while America was busy slaughtering itself over the issue of slavery, the French decided to ‘intervene’ in Mexican affairs (led by Napoleon’s nephew, of course) over some unpaid debts. And by intervene, I mean send over around 40,000 troops to the port of Veracruz and install the younger brother of the Austrian emperor, Maximilian, as ruler.

Shocker: the Mexican people were none too pleased over turn of events, promptly raising their own armies and launching their own forms of guerilla warfare against the foreign usurpers who had neither the justification nor any cultural links to warrant such an invasion. This came to head on May 5, 1862 outside of Puebla where the Mexican forces were able to claim the day. Although not the most instrumental battle in driving the French back across the Atlantic (the whole affair didn’t end until Maximilian’s execution in 1866), it was a rallying cry for the remainder of the war and now we commemorate the Mexican victory by honoring the partisan’s efforts on this day some 150+ years ago.

Obvious question: what does this have to do with running a hotel?

First, knowing a bit about a nation’s history and culture has never hurt anyone, especially when some of the actual celebrations for Cinco de Mayo are so outlandishly fun, exciting and downright tasty! Second, it serves as a reminder of the growing interconnectedness between the United States and its southern neighbor.

A cursory glance at the changing dynamics of the population of America will reveal that the proportions of people of Mexican descent and native Spanish speakers are both on the rise. As such, it’s becoming increasingly vital that frontline hotel staff as well as members of senior management speak Spanish and have at least a rudimentary understanding of many of the unique cultural traditions of not only Mexico but also the Latin world in general.

Do you have Spanish speakers on staff? What positions do they occupy? Do they cover all shifts? Are Spanish counterparts readily available for all pamphlets, brochures, menus, tent cards and all other sales documents? These are just a few opening questions to ask. And on a more personal level, do you speak Spanish fluently? If not, do you have any plans to learn?

Furthermore, the imperative for a greater Spanish presence extends not only to Mexico but the rapidly gentrifying nations of Central America and South America where Spanish is the national language in all countries but Brazil. Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, but the ideas put forward here are translatable to the rest of Latin America. As these nations prosper, there is likewise increase in outbound travel, much of which will end up on North American lands.

For this, I like to trust in the age old expression, “Do unto others as you would do yourself.” Just as it would humble you to encounter English speakers at a hotel in Buenos Aires, Bogota or Puebla, so too would it be comforting for a Spanish speaker to encounter an American hotelier who can converse in his or her native tongue. Given the influence of the Spanish world on the US economy, it should almost be a mandate to have Spanish-speaking staff members.

As a final note on appealing to changing tastes, cultures and demographics, might I also suggest incorporating more Mexican cuisine ingredients onto the menu? I’ve written in the past about comfort foods or congee and how familiar foods tap promote positive emotions, so let’s extend this reasoning with a healthy infusion of tomatillos, pico de gallo, salsa guaca or morita peppers. And then, just as before, think broader in terms of incorporating other Spanish-world staples like a quality ceviche or fried plantains.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in HotelsMAG on May 5, 2015)

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