What is the Right Answer?

>> Monday, September 14, 2009

You know, I love staying in hotels. I'm a loyal frequent flier of one of the major hotel brands, and I think for the most part the hotel people know their business. I also understand that they think, to better serve me, they need to know my business. This means they ask a lot of questions when you book a room. I don't object to this, because it usually results in better service or it saves me some time when I get there. I have to admit, though, there is one question that stumps me more times than it doesn't. Often I don't know how to answer it.

"Is this trip for business or pleasure."

Sometimes I know the right answer. Many times I do not.

I mean, let's think about this. What do they want to know? Do they want to know who is paying for it? If so, why don't they say, "Business or personal?" Or better yet, ask me if my bill is being paid by a third party employer. (On the other hand, if they want to know if I were paying myself and deducting it from my taxes as an unreimbursed business expense, then I would probably get that question wrong, too.)

Let me give you some examples of some confusion I have had with this "Business or pleasure" question. Last February a hotel reservationist asked me this question. I said, "Uh ... I'm going to stay so I can be near my kid in the hospital." In my mind, this isn't pleasure, but it doesn't really seem like business, either. That particular employee didn't tell me how she recorded my answer.

Last spring I made a reservation in eastern Ohio. The super cheerful-super helpful woman asked me, "Is this trip for business or pleasure" I said, "Uh ... it's a family reunion." She promptly offered me a group rate. If I had been a little quicker on my feet, I would have said something closer to the truth, like, "Can I get back to you on that? It will depend on who actually shows up." Anyway, I don't know how she recorded my answer either.

I had the sad experience of attending a family funeral recently. To get there, we had to take a car trip that was about 7 hours, so there was absolutely no chance of us avoiding a hotel room. When I made the rather last minute reservation, I got the same question. "Business or pleasure?" With great restraint, I made no snide comments. I just said, "It's for a funeral." I don't think I want to know how she recorded my answer.

Now when I go to Disney World, I think the answer is obvious. This is supposed to be a pleasure trip. Things like visiting family or reunions (especially school reunions) are a much closer call in my book. Tragedies and illness -- clearly not pleasure, and yet to call them business is just monumentally disrespectful.

I think we need more choices. We could have, "Business or personal." We could say, "Company paid or reimbursed, unreimbursed business trip, vacation/pleasure, I'm too tired to keep driving, pure family obligation, my mother/wife/husband/father is making me do this, and I haven't decided yet."

Maybe you have a few more ideas?


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