Every business exists to serve its customer base or clientele, and if it does a good job, it will succeed. Businesses which forget this truism are doomed to fail.  Every business depends to a huge degree on repeat business; –  even highway businesses dealing with a transient customer base see a very large proportion of repeat business.

The Inn exists to serve the travelling public as a first priority, and this is a tradition back to biblical times. The innkeeper at Bethlehem did not imperiously dismiss Mary and Joseph with ‘sorry, no reservation, you are not welcome here’, he scrambled around and did the best he could for this family on the road.

Hotels and motels in northwestern Ontario see very large seasonal peaks and valleys.  In the days when roads were not as good as now and it was out of the question to merely push on to the next town,  our hotel-keepers were famous for the lengths they would go to find accommodation for everybody in peak season.  Our roads are better now, but the very successful businesses are still those who go the extra mile for folks on the road.  They are Innkeepers in the best tradition.

I drive quite a bit, in Canada and the US, and I see a very disturbing trend in our supposedly tourist-friendly northwest, in businesses which serve the travelling public. Businesses which should be in the Innkeepers Tradition, whether or not they actually rent rooms.  That trend is the large and growing proportion of highway businesses posting prominent signs reading ‘our washrooms are for our customers’.

I have news for you, everybody who comes through that door is your customer, you exist to serve the travelling public, and he is the travelling public. These signs cry out ‘Go away, we do not like tourists, and we do not like you!”  You can bet that they cost more in lost customers than they save in washroom cleaning.  That guy you embarrassed into buying a candy bar to use your washroom will not be back.

I understand that we have a special problem in that there are some less than charming ‘knights of the road’ to be found on the TransCanada highway.  I also understand that we are victims here, in that we do not have the government-sponsored, properly equipped year round rest stops so prominent on long-haul highways in other Provinces and States.

Nevertheless, this fixation by small highway businesses on washrooms gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘anal retentive’, and is peculiar to Northwestern Ontario. Worse, this new ‘tradition’ seems to be spreading from the highway to all the businesses in Dryden, making us leader of this dubious pack.

I wonder if building a reputation for our city and our area as ‘tourist-unfriendly’ is really in anybody’s long-term best interest.

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