Wednesday 22 November 2017

Room service? It'll cost you...

Extras: Parking and breakfast are extra but Wi-Fi is free
Extras: Parking and breakfast are extra but Wi-Fi is free
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

We cry foul when airlines raise their baggage fees. We grind our teeth when Ryanair charges for check-in, or Aer Lingus for seat selection.

But why the strange silence when it comes to hotels?

Budget airlines aren't the only ones breaking their fees into 'extras' once taken for granted. Recently, for example, Bewley's Hotel in Ballsbridge was advertising rates of €69 per room. Add a basic breakfast at €9.95 and overnight parking at €8, and your bill jumps up by nearly 25pc.

Irish hotel room prices were the lowest in Western Europe last year, according to the latest Hotel Price Index. But how much of a 21pc fall in room rates was due to competitive pricing, and how much to a Ryanair-style splitting of the bill?

Currently, guests at Dublin's Merrion Hotel pay €20 per day to park their cars. At Kelly's Resort Hotel in Rosslare, all rates are automatically subject to a 10pc service charge. Order room service at the country's top hotels, and a tray charge of €5 and more can be slapped on to the bill (per person).

The logic seems straightforward. Hotels are under an almighty squeeze. VAT and local authority rates haven't budged in the recession, the Irish Hotels Federation says the industry as a whole is "insolvent", and some 15,000 'zombie' rooms are widely held to be spoiling business for everyone.

Rooms are discounted because hotels want to get guests in the front door, hoping they will spend more freely once they do. But is surprising them with hidden extras a smart way to do business?

Costs are fine once you see them coming. When you can't, they're a frustration.

Of course, Irish hotels are not alone in all of this. Comical mini-bar, phone and laundry charges are common at four and five-star hotels all over the world. We've all had our moments with $12 nuts and the bedtime choice between sink water and €7 bottles of Evian.

Wi-Fi is the worst offender. Attempting to check email recently at Dublin's Herbert Park Hotel, I was confronted with internet charges of €4 for 15 minutes, €6 for 30 minutes and €10 for an hour. Similarly, guests of the Shelbourne Hotel are charged €9 an hour or €20 a day, and O'Callaghan Group hotels charge €12 per day.

Hotels say they are passing on a cost; that it is expensive to kit out a complex enterprise with internet infrastructure. If that's the case, why don't they charge us extra for water or electricity?

Google and Facebook have based their European HQs in this smart economy. Connectivity is who we are. Charging for Wi-Fi in 2010 is downright disturbing.

Interestingly, one five-star that has broken ranks is the Ritz- Carlton in Co Wicklow. It began providing free internet access this January, noting that the move encourages people "to use the hotel".

Isn't that the point? Once we are comfortable with costs, once we can compare the rate between one hotel and the next, we can settle into becoming repeat customers. Discounting is a short-term game, (and we've all taken advantage of it), but the risk now is of creating lasting bad value.

Hotels are not budget airlines. When Michael O'Leary charges me €5 to print my own boarding pass, at least I know I'll be off the plane in an hour. When I check into a hotel, I have arrived. My journey is over. I want the annoyances to stop. I don't want to feel like an ATM.

Ironically, for all its Ryanair-isms, Bewley's in Ballsbridge hotel offers complimentary Wi-Fi. Last time I visited, the lobby was scattered with laptops -- and bar and café business was booming.

Irish Independent

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