Tuesday, February 03, 2009

My rant on luxury hotels

I've got a few problems with luxury hotels. You know, the ones that are in that $200+ per night range? I feel like they're missing a few things in their business model, so here are my open suggestions to hotel operators:
  • Valet parking should not be $20-$40 per night. I understand that you likely have to outsource your valet operation for liability reasons, but you've got to figure out how to get that into the price of the room. One of the worst first impressions is to drive up to a hotel and have the valet remind you that it's $30 per night to park; before I've even walked in your door and checked in, I've already been dinged with a pretty hefty charge. Believe me, if it were between a room at $220 per night with no valet or $250 per night that included valet, I would choose the latter because the experience would feel better. (P.S. -- if I'm paying $20+ per night for valet, the valet should not change my radio station or move the position of my seat)
  • High-speed internet should not cost anything. After the initial infrastructure investment in some wired and/or wireless equipment, there really isn't too much of a recurring cost as you probably are going to have a high-speed connection at a monthly cost coming into the hotel regardless of whether or not any of your guests use it. If you have to recoup some sort of cost per room night, build it into the cost so that I don't sit down after I've checked in and feel like I'm getting dinged again: remember that at this point I've gotten hit by the valet for $30 per night for my car, I've signed off on the room rate with all of the additional taxes, and now I'm getting hit for another $10 per day for internet. Again, if I were choosing between the $220 per night and the $260 per night, but the $260 now includes internet and valet, I'm not going to quibble. (P.S. -- some of you provide bandwidth-throttled connections for free and higher speed connection at a premium; this strategy is good provided that you aren't throttling the bandwidth to below dial up speeds)
  • Workout facilities should be free. I've not stayed anywhere, including the very high-end chains, that have workout facilities that are worthy of a $10 charge -- it costs $8-$10 to go work out for a day at Spectrum, 24 Hour Fitness, or Bally's and none of you have those sorts of facilities at your hotel properties. In fact, your equipment is usually out of date and there is usually not enough of it. Unless you have an absolutely huge, state-of-the-art workout facility, it needs to be part of the base rate and even if you have a great facility, it should be part of the base rate. Some of the mid-tier hotel chains have figured out how to put in great facilities in small spaces, have state-of-the-art equipment, and not charge anything to use the facilities, so you need to as well. (P.S. -- lemon water and refrigerated towels are great, but please make sure you have regular towels and plain water available as well)
  • Small amenities make a big difference. Why don't you provide me with mouthwash and q-tips? The Holiday Inn Express that I recently stayed in provided me with mouthwash, q-tips, and cotton balls -- if they can figure it out, you can too. Also, if you spend a gazillion dollars making a really nice, marble-covered bathroom, do not give me small bath towels that I can barely get around my waist. Again, if Holiday Inn Express can figure out how to get me a soft, over-sized bath towel, you can too. (P.S. -- if the maid moves all my stuff on the counter of the bathroom to clean the counter, putting it all back on top of a washcloth instead of pushing it all into a corner is a nice touch)
  • Water conservation should not be a joke. You put the signs out about water conservation and I see the signs; I follow the instructions, and I still get all of my towels replaced. Unfortunately the water conservation ideas are at odds with the overwhelming luxury service that you want to provide -- you have to figure out how to balance it and get your staff on board with supporting the program. If the whole program is a joke, then maybe you should just get rid of the signs and support the environment by not printing them.
  • Be careful with your ancillary F&B revenue streams. I do expect to pay more for a beer at your hotel bar than Joe's Bar down the street -- $8 for a bottle of Coors Light is pretty expensive and $14 for a vodka and soda with well vodka that's measured in a shot pourer is really expensive. Yes, I also expect to pay more for food than at Joe's Bar down the street -- $18 for a cheeseburger is pretty expensive; there's only one place that I've ever been that has a cheeseburger worth the $18 price tag they slap on it. There's a certain amount of tolerance that we as your guests have for slightly elevated prices, but if you push too far, it forces me to leave your property to either spend less money elsewhere or to find a store and bring some items back with me. (P.S. -- I love Fiji water, it's my favorite bottled water, but $9 for a large bottle of it makes it worth my time to go buy 6 bottles of it for $9 at the gas station down the street)
Maybe I'm overthinking all of this, but as people look hard these days at what they're spending their money on, they want to feel like they are getting a good value, even at a luxury hotel. A hotel guy might look at everything I wrote and tell me that I don't understand, that there's competition, that there's Hotels.com; that they need to have the lowest possible room rate and that they really have to make all of their money from the ancillary streams. They would be wrong with regard to my understanding, I was in performance venue management for years and get the whole idea of ancillary-based economics. Here's the thing: we would put a facility fee in the ticket price of a concert and people rarely had an issue with it, but if we had tried to charge everyone entering the facility those few dollars at the door, no one ever would have paid it.

It's worth thinking about.

Image from dbking

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