Sitting and chatting with a friend today, we got on the subject of hotels. We happened to be at a hotel at the time, attending a convention, so I suppose it made sense. But I also learned something unpleasant about myself as we chatted.
I don’t look at my daily hotel room bills.
Now I wish I did.
We are, after all, one of the leading tourist destinations worldwide, so if there’s anything we have in great abundance, it’s hotels — and more hotels. I’ve covered meetings of the Central Florida Hospitality and Lodging Association, and I know they have a huge membership and lobby Tallahassee frequently for laws that will help them book heads in beds. New hotel rooms are being built across the state as we speak, despite the shaky economy. It’s solid business to be in the hospitality industry.
We also get more than just tourists arriving in our fine state. We also get a lot of business travelers who come here for conventions.
Now, ask yourself — as my friend Ann pointed out — what’s the difference between a tourist and a business traveler?
I thought about it, but she answered the question for me. A tourist might be on a limited budget, depending on what their circumstances are. They may have skimped and saved for this vacation for the past year, and have just enough for the basics, but not enough for the frills. Dining means fast food, not 5-star restaurants amongst the beautiful people.
Business travelers, on the other hand … often times, they’re not footing the bill themselves. Not a penny. Their employer is paying for their meals, lodging, rental car, etc. So they don’t particularly care how high the tab is.
The tourist might never go near the mini bar. The business traveler might have it empty by the first night.
So Ann told me about how she had gone to a convention about a decade ago, and checked her daily bill the next morning. There was a $5 charge on it, for a bottle of water that had been left in her room.
The problem is, she never opened it, let alone drank it. So she called the front desk to let them know they had billed her for a bottle of water that was still sitting there in her room, untouched.
The desk clerk apologized, said the maid must have accidentally listed the water bottle as having been opened, and promised to remove the charge from her bill. And they did.
She didn’t think anything more about it for a few years … until she went to another convention, and once again checked her daily bill the next morning. And sure enough, there was another $5 charge for an unopened bottle of water added to her expenses. It was still sitting there, waiting to be consumed.
This time, Ann not only called the front desk to complain, but went a step further. She reached out to other people attending the convention and staying at the hotel, and asked if they, too, had been charged for water they hadn’t opened. As it turned out, a whole bunch of them had. Let’s just say there were a bunch of ticked off water drinkers that day.
Not a bad deal for the hotel, though, as Ann pointed out. How many people are like her, and check their bill religiously to ensure they didn’t get overcharged for little things?
And how many are like Mike Freeman, who never glance at their bill, except to toss a credit card at the front desk clerk during checkout and call it a day?
And … therefore …. could end up getting billed for water or something else they didn’t use?
And if you’re in the competitive world of the luxury hotel business, Ann pointed out, why not do it when you’ve got a convention on the premises, when it could be presumed that some of the attendees are probably business travelers who don’t care if they get charged for six rooms while only sleeping in one?
I did, in fact, check my room bill after that. I was at a hotel in Fort Lauderdale, and I was attending a convention. As it turns out, this particular hotel, the Sheraton Suites, not only gave me an honest bill, but a beautifully clean and well decorated room with a balcony sporting a great view of downtown Fort Lauderdale, in a location within walking distance of some nice restaurants and a movie theater, so I had nothing to complain about.
And yet …
As Ann noted, one hotel’s “mistake” becomes your shrunken bank account.
I started asking people who were attending my convention about this subject, and was surprised to see how many of them actually had hotel over-billing horror stories to share. One got charged $25 for the coffee maker in her room. Another was charged for phone calls they never made. Another was fuming about paying $10 a day for a wi fi connection.
It seems hotel overbilling may be on the same level as bad parking in downtown Orlando, long lines at Space Mountain in August, and too many awful political ads a month before an election. And you have to ask — what are they thinking?
In a still sour economy, when tourism is just starting to make a semi-healthy recovery from little things like a recession, credit crunch and housing market collapse, why would any hotel in this loony state risk their name and reputation for a stupid $5 bottle of water?
Well, as Ann noted, $5 for one water bottle multiplied by hundreds of guests attending that convention, and — baby, that’s some decent profits. It all adds up. And if there’s plenty of other “little” fees to toss on those complicated-looking bills — for Internet connections, coffee, air conditioning levels, whatever it may be — that adds up quickly. And I thought only the airlines did this kind of stuff.
Well, that’s my sermon for the day. If you want to maintain a good reputation in the hospitality world, keep the staff friendly, the rooms clean, the bar open until a decent hour, the overall establishment safe from crime … and the bills as low as possible. Folks, guests remember things like that — for a long, long time.
From now on I’m checking my bill every day I’m at a hotel.
And I’ll remember the ones that charged me $5 for the water I didn’t drink.
And I’ll let all of my friends know about it, too … service, people, to remember.
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