While demanding payment at the time of all hotel room bookings sounds like a good idea, the potential consequences must be carefully considered before venturing down the same road that the airlines traveled.
There’s momentum building among hotel owners that it’s time for them to follow the lead of airlines and charge guests for rooms at the time of all bookings and introducing substantial fees to change reservations once they’re on the books.
It’s already been seen as a common practice at some hotels, and of course the “advance payment” options that allow guests to receive a discounted rate for paying in full at the time the reservation is made has gained some foothold among consumers. But it can be a slippery slope to follow the airlines down that road.
While in theory it’s a fine idea for hoteliers to gain control of the revenue generated by the reservation from the time of booking, there are potential complications, including how the online travel agencies will adapt to it.
But more important is the perception it will create. Owners have to think carefully about whether they want their investments to be viewed as another commodity. There’s an intimacy that hotels provide their guests that no other industry can match, and that relationship is as important as ever.
That much ballyhooed “customer experience” that the hotel industry continues to preach as though the concept didn’t exist 50 years ago would certainly be damaged by such a commoditization move. Consumers would get used to it, but undoubtedly there would be a certain element in the relationship lost if hotels demand payment six, eight or 10 months in advance of all stays. That’s a chunk of dough for families to fork over that far in advance of a vacation.
The other element to consider is the quality of the stay itself. If all guests must pay in advance, their expectations will be raised. There will be little room for error for the hotel. Perfection will be expected, and try as they might, it’s an impossible task for hoteliers to deliver on that expectation.
Consumers required to pay up front will expect prompt check-ins and extended check-outs. They’ll demand that everything in their room works to their satisfaction. Owners will hear about it more loudly than ever if a guest finds a dirty corner.
Why wouldn’t a guest, such as the one writing this column, expect perfection?
In their quest for providing the ultimate guest experience, some hotels have forgotten about the basics.
A good example of this is the sleep experience. While Barry Sternlicht did all consumers a favor when he had Westin introduce the Heavenly Bed in 1999, most hotels still don’t completely understand the sleep experience, whether it be the room temperature or the elimination of light.
Because many hotels feature a gazillion watts of external lighting to highlight the façade, it often affects the sleep experience for guests. Many hotels that use so-called blackout blinds often mess up the installation that lets in light through a gap, which obviously defeats the purpose of the blind itself. Trendy hotels that use shutter blinds as window dressing somehow forget that light seeps in through the slats. The picture below was taken in a guestroom at a Las Vegas Strip hotel at 2 a.m. on a Thursday. It might as well have been 2 p.m. for anyone trying to sleep. Peace, quiet and darkness lead to better sleep and fewer cranky guests!
I’ll save other examples of “perfection expectations” for another day. What this all means is that hoteliers have to think long and hard about the message they want to send to their guests. The current structure of offering incentive for guests who prepay for bookings is a good alternative that doesn’t alienate anyone.
Following the airlines’ mentality might on the surface be good for the balance sheet, but raising guests’ expectations of perfection will be a hard thing to meet—especially when labor issues are so prevalent throughout the industry.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that might be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.