“You are clearly missing the big picture”

My recent critique of the phrase “for your convenience” in the hospitality industry brought out angry hotel managers, who insisted they were providing a convenience to their guests and that I was all wrong.

One them is Patrick Mansfield, who sent me a lengthy rebuttal. “Although you may be mostly right on several points,” he noted, “you are clearly missing the big picture.”

A closer look at Mansfield’s points reveals more about the misunderstanding between guests and their hotels than it does about my flawless argument. I am right, of course, but Mansfield’s comments show we have a long way to go before the hotel industry knows this irrefutable fact.

For those of you just tuning in, here’s what you missed. A few weeks ago, I penned a USA Today column in which I cautioned hotel guests that if they heard the words “for your convenience,” it’s really a warning. The story also posted on this site, where we also had an interesting discussion.

Historically, the lodging schemes range from a benign half-truth, like signs that promise your hotel isn’t changing your towels “for your convenience,” to outright howlers, like the convenience of a hefty parking fee added to your bill.

There’s plenty of evidence to show these practices are on the rise. A recent NYU study concluded that hotel fees and surcharges in the U.S. increased $100 million last year to a record $2.55 billion. And there are stories — too many stories — about the properties cloaking their fees in convenient language.

Mansfield, who described himself as a 33-year industry veteran, took issue with that premise.

“Have you ever bought a car?” he demanded. “Have you ever visited the theater? Have you ever taken a plane ride? Have you ever bought a bottled beverage with a deposit required? Welcome to the good old USA! Fees, taxes and other convenience charges are everywhere. First, and foremost, we live in the USA and we are a capitalistic society. The almighty dollar sings.”

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Ah, so everyone else has “convenience” surcharges — so why not the hotel industry? Besides, it’s the patriotic thing to do.

Wrong and wrong. Just because car dealerships, theaters, and your regional Coca-Cola bottler have fees doesn’t make them right. And it’s not American. It’s actually anti-American.

Americans have a reputation for what-you-see-is-what-you-get plain-spokenness and honesty. They don’t nickel and dime. To even suggest that this is capitalistic is patently offensive.

Mansfield argued that guests need to pay for what they use.

Exercise was important enough by the public, so a gym is added to a hotel. Cold winters are sometimes boring, so an indoor pool is added to a hotel.

People have the need to stay in touch with the world, so Wi-Fi is added.

All “for your convenience.”

Can you name any of your examples that are “free”? Neither can I.

So, who is to pay for these extra steps the business is needing to do to stay competitive? Their guests and patrons bear the burden. It’s never the guests’ fault, but the cost passed on is what the market will bear. If the cost is too much, the business may fail and close. I have seen this first hand.

Um, no.

Sure, a new pool or exercise facility costs money, but you don’t pay for it with a fee that’s added at the last minute. That’s deceptive. Instead, you bake the cost into the price of the room. That’s the honest way to do it, and that’s what guests expect.

If you can’t turn a profit by charging an honest price, you probably shouldn’t be managing a hotel.

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Mansfield also bristled at the example I cited, in which I complained about the signs urging guests to leave their towels on the rack for their “convenience.” I wondered if they didn’t actually mean “for our convenience.”

“May I ask what percentage of your reading public uses one set of towels per day?” he asked. “The laundry expense for a family of four must be enormous. And how often do you change your own personal linens on the bed? If you answered every day, I commend you on the paycheck you earn each week. I am clearly in the wrong profession. ”

How does this change anything? The fact remains that the hotel benefits more than the guest when people reuse their towels. So, asking, “Whose convenience is it really?” is fair, and his answer about consuming resources isn’t really relevant.

But let’s go there for a minute. I happen to be from a family of four, and on some days we reuse towels, and on some days we don’t. Running the laundry is the cost of doing business. If hoteliers can’t factor the expense of this into their operations, maybe they shouldn’t be in the hospitality business.

“I must stop here,” says Mansfield. “Hotels, theatres, airlines, phone companies, car dealerships, barbers, grocery stores all have fees and taxes that are needing to be passed on to their patrons. Please mention if you write an article in the future that the best way to not be ripped off is to do your research before traveling or purchasing a vehicle or any purchase at all. You completely missed that an informed patron is rarely going to be ripped off.”

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On this we can agree: Informed consumers are far less likely to get ripped off. But even Mansfield admits it’s “rarely” but not “never.” And that bothers me. In my former home state of Florida, every car dealership has a mandatory “dealership fee” that adds more than $700 to the cost of a new car. It’s a junk fee, of course. My former home town of Orlando is the mandatory resort fee capital of the world. You may not have a choice about paying one of these outrageous fees.

Hotels and other businesses are lying with these extra fees. They’re making their product look cheaper than it actually is, but then forcing you to pay more. Sure, there may be a way of avoiding the surcharges, but not always. (Think airline luggage fees. Who travels without baggage?)

I found rebuttals from hoteliers like Mansfield and others who took the time to write to be incredibly disingenuous. They know the truth. They’re not facing the facts when they say they’re doing this for guests. They’re actually doing it for themselves. And they’re lying when they claim it’s being done for your convenience.

They aren’t getting the big picture.

And when I hear that phrase — “for your convenience” — I run for the hills. You should, too.

Fees and surcharges are

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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