By Winslow Swart

When appearing in the Alamo City, Jennifer Lopez, Kobe Bryant, Snoop Dogg, Sting and the Stone Temple Pilots have a favorite haunt in common – it is the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk. Forget the celebrities, a lot of regular folks, including me, feel the same way.

This a story about how one River Walk hotel works to win customer loyalty.

The Valencia was fully booked Saturday, May 5, when lightning struck the hotel at 1 a.m. It took several hours for General Manager Chad Taylor and his team to determine that the main power module had been hit. Taylor and the hotel’s full complement of managers came back to work and were on duty by 6 a.m. as guests awoke to dim back-up lights, no A/C, no breakfast, and most critical of all, no coffee!

Reserve power can’t power a commercial kitchen, much less air conditioning systems. The Valencia was dead in the water. That’s when Taylor discovered that the competition — other downtown hotels, including the Sheraton Guenther across the street — also were good neighbors. Hotels on and off the River Walk opened their kitchens and guest service departments to the Valencia staff, and by mid-morning, 45 gallons of coffee had been trolleyed back to Valencia’s guests, all of whom were quickly rebooked into nearby hotels. A replacement electrical module, meanwhile, was located in Columbus, Ohio and booked on a charter flight to San Antonio.

By 5 p.m. the Valencia lights were back on and the hotel was back in business. Nobody expected those 400 guests to return. But first a trickle, then a stream, then a mass exodus of guests from the neighboring hotels appeared on Houston Street to check back into their rooms. Not a single complaint was lodged throughout the ordeal, and that was before it was announced that all guest charges were waived. “Comp everything,” declared Taylor, “rooms, meals, drinks, the works.”

The guest loyalty factor was surprising, but even more surprising was the way other hotels opened their doors to  the Valencia to minimize the disaster’s impact. Perhaps it’s the sense of community that downtown businesses in San Antonio have created over time. Whatever the case, the image of managers pushing service carts loaded with fresh coffee down Houston Street from nearby hotel kitchens in the wee hours of the morning makes for a pretty good story.

Twice within the past year, my wife and I have opted to play like tourists and instead of leaving San Antonio, we’ve traveled downtown and checked into the Valencia. Our decision wasn’t a random one. A series of professional, chamber, and economic development events hosted at the Valencia peaked this service culture building consultant’s interest. The many little things Hotel Valencia staff would do, even at larger-scale meetings and events, seemed to revive the lost art of customer service. Taylor calls it “aggressive customer service.”

The 213-room Valencia opened in 2003. The first two floors were once the historic Giles Building, the rest is new construction. It’s right on the river, and only steps away  from the Majestic Theatre. We also favor the hotel’s restaurant, Citrus. Chef Jeff Balfour won the Corona International Paella Championship held at the Pearl last year. Citrus, in my opinion, offers the best lunch value downtown with gourmet burgers and a custom paella sauté bar.

No Labor Day holiday plans? It’s not too late to plan a getaway. Forget about airport security lines, and instead check into your favorite downtown hotel.

Winslow Swart is the Kyoshi Sensei of Kenseido, Chief Inspiration Officer at Winslow Consulting and parks his urban mountain bike at Geekdom in San Antonio.