A recent discussion on the MiForum listserv brought up the topic of being charged for pitchers of water placed on tables in meetings. Yes, charging for water. One example given was a hotel charging $5 a head. For tap water. In pitchers. There is always an argument to be made for hotels to come up with interesting (or frivolous?) things to charge for, but let's be realistic. If it's a matter of the hotel being in a drought location, it's understandable to want to conserve water. But if that were the case, there are business-friendlier ways of going about it. Consider going the route of placing glasses out and only providing water pitchers upon request, as many banquet dinners do in order not to pre-pour 300+ glasses of water, much of which will go unused. If it is a matter of conservation, then I would ask this: Are the hotels charging guests a surcharge for water consumption in their rooms? If any are, I guarantee that it's not $5 per day, per guest.
Over the past couple of years, a growing number of fees and "initiatives" have popped up that I am sure are steady new revenue streams. Amongst those, here are a few that I find particularly irritating.
• Internet access. While IT can make the argument that it costs a lot of money to install and wire a property for Internet use, the pricing structures just make no sense to me. If the argument for charging exorbitant amounts of money for Internet use in meeting space is because of bandwidth, then how can they also offer free Internet access in the lobby and other public spaces where there is also high traffic? Yet in guest rooms, which I assume are low-traffic areas, there are charges that range from $10/day upward of $25 a day. One day there will be a YouTube video of a flash-mob of businessmen in pajamas or bathrobes descending upon a hotel lobby to check their emails. One day.
• Green towel initiatives. Now, to be fair, I think this is a very noble effort. Help the hotel help the environment by conserving the tons of water used in washing towels that guests only use once. I am sure the hotel sees a significant cost savings through lower consumption of energy and water... So where does that money go? Are room rates being lowered? Are guests incentivized in any way? Are the estimated cost savings being donated to an environmental cause? Can anyone say yes to any of those questions?
• Early check-in fees. These are relatively new and really go a long way toward being customer unfriendly. I have seen this in Las Vegas and most recently at a hotel I stayed at in Chicago. If you want to have access to your reserved guest room before the check-in time, well, fork over some more money for those few precious hours. I always thought that hotels lived by the motto of "heads in beds" -- the more time guests can be in their rooms, the more chance they have of spending money while in the room. If the rooms aren't cleaned yet, then understandably guests should wait. But if the room is sitting there already cleaned and empty, why not just give it to someone who might actually want to go straight to work in their room, and lo and behold order room service for lunch! Instead, they upset a guest and potentially lose a future booking, by squeezing every penny possible, forcing them to either pay for the early check-in or pay a bellman to check the bag while they wait.
There are dozens of other examples we can all give (um, resort fees at nonresort hotels?), but at the end of the day the hotel is there to make money. Unfortunately, I think this route that many hotels are taking is going to hurt their customer-loyalty base and future business. It's a great opportunity for those who won't even consider charging such fees to take advantage of the opportunity to sell themselves as the more honest alternative.
Eli Gorin, CMP, CMM, is managing director of Hospitality Growth Partners (hospitalitygrowthpartners.com), which helps clients develop their approach to meetings and events through strategic growth consulting, meetings management consulting and training/professional development.