An interview with Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin (1706-1790) is one of the founding fathers of the United States – a politician, author, printer, postmaster, scientist, poet, inventor and diplomat. He is the definition of a renaissance man.

While his acclaim lives on the history books, a historical actor-entertainer named Bill Robling (pictured above) has spent the last 30 years bringing Ben Franklin to life. Normally a staple of the Philadelphia tourist scene, he recently sojourned to my hometown of Toronto for a media event.

While attending this affair, I pulled Bill aside for a fun interview about our industry. While channeling his questions through the voice of Ben Franklin, it is nevertheless clear that Bill has quite a few observations for hotels to take note of, and I hope you will learn that, even after two centuries and countless technological innovations, the core of hospitality remains the same.

Larry: Ben, we’re in a bit of a pickle at the present in the hotel industry – lots of challenges and turmoil.

Ben: Turmoil? Stop feeling sorry for yourself! There is nothing you can do if you put your mind and body into it. This reminds me of the time that we needed books in Philadelphia. You know, those “reading tools.” Well, the poor couldn’t afford them, so I had to roll up my justaucorps and oversee the construction of the colonies’ first set of libraries. It seems to me that you’ve got stop crying and start inventing or reinventing yourself if you wish to stay with the times.

Larry: But, there has been some good invention in our industry. For example, travel agents reinvented themselves as online travel agents. In doing so, they not only regained their market share, but they also doubled their commission take.

Ben: These things happen. My newspaper, the Philadelphia Gazette, has been under intense pressure of late. So, we reinvested back in the product, looking to expand the business to create a broader network of papers to stretch all across the colonies. It is a work in progress, of course, but you can never stop thinking or trying. And as for commissions, it’s what our ledger-men call a variable cost, you only have to make certain your price is sufficient to cover this expenditure.

Larry: Another issue that troubles many of us is this sharing program called Airbnb…you know, that computer application that allows folks to rent out a spare room in their home for some added income.

Ben: I’ve never heard of this airy bed and breakfast incorporation. But the notion of renting out lodgings for a short spell has been common since long before I was still a hobbledehoy youth. We have inns, but often when there is a large gathering in town, they are full as the Thames on market days, so these additional beds do indeed come in handy. I would say the best solution is to focus on what you do which is superior to all other establishments. Many fellows will always peruse for the most inexpensive abode. Others will perform this only sometimes. But sometimes they desire a certainty of comfort. For example, a choice between goose down and contemporary-stuffed pillows would definitely furrow my brow.

Larry: There have been a lot of new technological advances in the hotel field. Should hoteliers wait or move quickly even if they are unproven?

Ben: Unproven? As in electricity, or perhaps, my Gulf Stream charts? Any hotelier or businessman must unequivocally recognize the salience of keeping at the hip with all the latest contraptions and concoctions.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Learn from Ben Franklin and learn from history. And if you want to contact Bill Robling, you can reach him at