Customers vs. Guests

 There is an essential and legal difference between Customers and Guests

The airline and hospitality industries have quickly replaced their trade vocabulary from “customer” to “guest.” Nearly all words pertaining to “customers” have been replaced by the more intimate “guests.” This may seem innocuous, and airline passengers (and hotel users) have simply coasted along. But there is an essential and legal difference between the two.

A guest goes to an event or enjoys a service by invitation, given free by the host, because of an existing or an intended social relation. Since the relationship between the two parties is social, there is no written bill of obligations. Of course, the guest is expected to reciprocate at the event or in the future.

A customer-seller relationship, however, is more formalized and legal. Every transaction involves an exchange of money for goods or services to be delivered, of specified quantity, quality, and price. A law governs every market exchange; rules of decorum govern social exchange.

And that is why I abhor it when staff call me their guest. I refuse this fakery, this made-up intimacy, this puffery of the market transaction. I do not abide by its neo-feudal mind set, couched in artificial caring, for it works only under normal circumstances when there are no adverse events.

Consider the United Airlines flight #341 from Chicago to Louisville in which UA staff called in airport security to drag one of their “guests” for refusing to vacate his seat when he was told to be deplaned due to overbooking. Was he treated with respect and kindness befitting a “guest”? He wasn’t even treated the best that could be expected for a paying customer.

Next time an airline steward or hotel staff calls you a guest, insist that you be called a customer. You paid them, and that should entitle you to certain rights. You do not know each other, and there is no need to be intimate. All you want is for them to be efficient and civil; no need for put-on friendliness. Remember: Customers have rights, guests don’t.

About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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