Dealing with tourism discount demands

By Emily Hoover |

In an economy where prices are raising and job wages aren’t, tourists are used to getting a discount, and they often do, thanks to AAA, student, Florida resident and military discounts.

But when a place doesn’t offer these discounts, what makes people act like its a personal attack?  Just because they’ve slapped on enough sunscreen to protect half the state of Florida from the perils of ultraviolent rays and they are still sunburned, they think everyone who is selling goods or services is going to do them a favor and take 10 percent off their purchase. Perhaps even get them in free just for stimulating the local economy.

Silly rabbits, this tourist industry isn’t for kids—especially when it’s the only industry a small town like St. Augustine, Fla. has. Sure, we’re the oldest continually inhabited city in the continental U.S. Sure, we love people, history, good food and the arts. But, that doesn’t mean we’ll smile and wave when tourists cut us off in traffic, ignore the crosswalk, and “forget” to tip that poor coffee barista who makes less than it costs to manufacture their Crocs and then honor their AARP card.

I understand times are tough. My parents moved to Palm Coast, Fla., before the housing boom, because we couldn’t afford the cost of living in St. Augustine. Every time I drive my car down their street, I see all the cookie-cutter homes crammed next to each other, housing nothing save for dust and the smell of fresh paint.

I work 32 hours per week and juggle a full-time school schedule to get by, to pay my rent and bills and buy food for my dog.

I know I’m lucky to even have a job when the national unemployment rate is approaching 10 percent. I am grateful for being lucky enough to attend college—especially a private college—when tuition is becoming more expensive each year.

Yes, I know these problems exist all over the country. In some countries, poverty is worse than I could imagine. It pains me to exist in my little microcosm when a percentage of the world can’t afford shoes to walk to school or food to nourish their starving stomachs.

But I’ve worked in restaurants, retail, telemarketing, and, currently, in tourism. I’ve been determined enough to land a job every time I’ve needed one. As a result, I’ve had my share of consumers spouting off on me for the prices of the goods and services I’m selling.

“Do you have military?”

“No, sir, unfortunately not,” I say, maintaining my toothy smile. “But the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum grants free admission to active duty military and I believe there is a buy-one-get-one-free discount with one—or both—of the trolley companies.”

“You don’t support our military. You and that Obama.”

Sometimes, it really makes me feel guilty when I engage in conversations like that, because it’s not like I don’t support military members, regardless of how I feel about war. It’s not like I don’t enjoy conversations with Florida residents about the best beaches, boiled peanuts and fresh-water springs. It’s not like I don’t understand the plight of being a working college student, about to spontaneously combust because of lack of sleep and time. It’s not like I don’t want to save a buck or two.

But, I don’t make the rules.

When tourists spend $400 at Disney World and opt for classy meals at fine restaurants, I have to remind myself I’m not obligated to give them a discount. It’s not my fault they went on vacation and engaged in some over-spending.

When they roll their eyes at me and tell me they are broke college students, I have to remember that they know, like I know, they’ll be in debt up to their eyeballs with student loans when it’s all said in done. They are really  just learning to budget and experimenting with bargaining.

When 55-year-olds make sarcastic comments about the lack of senior discounts, I choose to believe they’re projecting their anger at me. They’re really lamenting the future of Social Security and they worry about the federal retirement age going up.

When they denounce me as un-American for not honoring a military discount, I have to remember they’re not really mad at me. They’re worried about the economic recession and inflation; they’re worried about paying for their children and they’re worried about the economy, like everyone else.

This kind of thinking helps me keep my cool when I’m at work. It keeps me from blowing up on them. I don’t know them. They don’t know me.

If they want to be friendly and they have questions about where to eat, I just remember to ask for their price range before listing my suggestions.

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