‘Les Miserables’ — the Innkeeper lives!

?Les Miserables? ? the Innkeeper lives!

Last summer, I attended another brilliant performance of “Les Miserables.” It’s easily my favorite play, and I’ve seen it in Toronto, New York and London. Before I come to my point, let me digress for those unfamiliar.  

Based on a novel written by Victor Hugo in 1862, the musical is set in the time leading up to the French Revolution. One of the more comical characters in this exceptional period piece was the Innkeeper, best known for the song “Masters of the House,” which jovially mocked the hotel industry at the time: 

“Charge ’em for the lice, extra for the mice
Two percent for looking in the mirror twice
Here a little slice, there a little cut
Three percent for sleeping with the window shut
When it comes to fixing prices
There are a lot of tricks he knows
How it all increases, all them bits and pieces”

Almost 250 years after the novel’s original publishing, how far has our industry moved? Not that far from what I have experienced. On a recent trip to a luxury chain property, our innkeeper was hard at work: 

  • $4.99 for a bottle of water
  • $14.99 for Internet access (not even Wi-Fi!)
  • $3 to receive a fax
  • $5 to send a fax
  • $40 for daily valet parking
  • $1 for each “toll-free” long-distance outbound call 
  • $14.99 for an in-room movie
  • $5 for a soft drink from the minibar 
The guest folio also included several different taxes and local community improvement fees. The total for these extras, including room service breakfast, came to about a 50% surcharge on the quoted room rate.

While the impetus for adding the Innkeeper character was mostly comic relief, the message nonetheless hits home. Service charges and extra fees are big business for hoteliers. My experience with numerous properties clearly identifies these areas as easy profit centers. 

What I propose will not sit well with RevPAR-hungry property CFOs, so apologies in advance to my financial friends. Simply put, upscale properties need to recognize that guests find this to be equivalent to petty larceny.  

I’m sure you recall the media turmoil when airlines heralded in checked baggage fees. An interesting note on this development is that the surcharges did not apply to business class travelers. Perhaps what is needed in the hotel industry is a sense of differentiation whereby those who stay in suites and upgraded rooms will receive additional complimentary services such as those previously outlined. Promising one room rate with no extraneous charges may just be the cinch you need to distinguish your brand and launch a new marketing campaign.

Several years ago, I stayed at an incredible Relais & Chateaux property in the south of France called Les Mas Candille. The valet readily parked the car, and there was bottled water in the room. I asked the innkeeper if I would be charged. Almost insulted, he replied, “Sir, you are in my home. Just as you would not ask me to pay if I stayed at your house, I would never consider charging you in mine.”