The hotel industry is about to embark on a dangerous PR journey. As the Los Angeles Times reports, hotels expect to boost revenue by 5% in 2012—to the tune of $1.95 billion—simply by increasing the fees they charge customers for everything from baggage handling services to outgoing phone calls. It doesn’t take much PR expertise to know how the public feels about fees.
The public hates fees.
Anyone who has had to shell out $25 for a salad and a bag of chips at a crowded airline counter knows the feeling of being pushed into a steaming cauldron of anger, exploitation, vulnerability and frustration while searching for cash and balancing the carry-on luggage between one’s elbows.
Anyone who has ever looked at a bill, an ATM receipt or a credit card statement and noticed ambiguous or undisclosed fees can relate to the sensation of being punched in the back of the head while walking down some stairs–it’s not much fun!
So yes, the public feels very strongly about the evils of hidden or unexpected fees–no matter how small they may seem.
Here’s the problem with fees: They’re insulting. Most people don’t mind paying for things, but fees make us feel stupid and weak because we loathe the idea of handing over money and getting nothing but a few laughs in return. The human race designed a rover that is currently digging holes on the surface of Mars, so the act of paying a separate fee to call Pizza Hut from a hotel room feels like a kick in the face.
Transparency is key to any PR strategy, and these fees are the very antithesis of transparency. They’re designed to circumvent sticker shock and slowly bleed consumers of their money, goodwill and patience. And yet, the hotel industry believes that now is the time to ramp up these arbitrary charges.
When an industry decides to increase revenue by not just selling a service but itemizing that service to the point of incredulity, the public is sure to react. Will the public stop staying at hotels? Of course not. But will they enjoy their experience at hotels less because of ill will generated by ridiculous fees? Oh yes.
It’s time for the hospitality industry to do a little soul searching. Otherwise we suggest that the PR firms who represent hotel clients add some semi-transparent bumps to their own rates. After all, their hospitality clients certainly are making things a whole lot harder for them.