Tuesday, April 08, 2008
National Harbor opens: a menage where "things happen": testing customer service work ethic
Today I visited the just-opened National Harbor on the East (Maryland, Prince Georges County) side of the Potomac, and across both the “new” Woodrow Wilson “drawbridge” (yes, it still isn’t tall enough) and across the river from Alexandria. I had tried to visit in February, when one could not get into the complex. The roads are designed such that one could not even pass through it and see it until open.
The Gaylord Hotel and other businesses attracted media attention with their February job fair (the one time they opened early) to hire 1600 people, and they made a lot of the fact that they were looking for “passion” in job applicants. These were largely hotel service positions (domestic, food service, front desk, reservations) so they were looking for people who would have a “passion” for providing personal service to others. The need was presented in the media with a measure of moral fervor. The job fair lasted about four days and I understand they hired only about 10% of applicants. Rooms there start at $300 a night. I don't think that the place is exactly "Grand Hotel" (from the 1932 MGM movie: "people come, people go, nothing ever happens") except that the particular film also got a lot of mileage from its expressionistic atrium (in black and white, no less).
The atrium was out of this world, and actually presents itself as a miniature Colonial Willamsburg (even though this is Maryland, and St. Mary’s City is 40 miles to the SE). There is a sports bar with Nationals trademarks and a model of Babe Ruth (mix of teams). The refreshments were every bit as expensive as theater concessions.
Army reserve NCO’s (dressed in "dress fatigues" with spit-shined boots) were having a convention, and I ran into some of them, including at least one in a wheelchair. At any event like this, the physical results of the war are apparent immediately and publicly. They hadn’t heard of the disturbing new film “Body of War,” which anyone following events in Iraq should see. I'd think think Army reserves returned from Iraq would know about it. (I have a review of this documentary film here.)
The St. George Parking Garage did not present the best in customer service. One exit was closed, and it was hard to figure out how to leave. The elevators did not work. One walked down stairs, only to find out that one was supposed to take his ticket with him when reaching the ground. The lot was almost full, and that means that PG County will enjoy needed additions to its tax base, when other areas are faltering.
This is a brand new “play city” that, for all its opulence, has a fictive feel about it. (I remember that 50s Parker Brothers game “Star Reporter” with its “Playville” and “Play Beach”). One feels like one is in a movie set, or in some huge Twilight Zone board game. It doesn’t seem quite real yet.
Update: Friday April 11
The Washington Post has a Metro story by Hank Steuver, "The Haute in Hotel," with more interesting indoor atrium and outdoor Potomac pictures, in a slideshow gallery,here.
The Cirque du Soleil, with all its acrobats and teasing in its circus performance, will perform at the National Harbor in October 2008. I saw it in Minneapolis in August, 2000.