Opting out of housekeeping and ‘decontenting’

Today I want to talk about “decontenting” and how it relates to housekeeping. In particular, this would be when guests are prompted at check-in to opt out of daily housekeeping services with primary compensation including additional loyalty points, room discounts or F&B vouchers. Many independents and a few major brands are already employing this tactic. Decontenting can pertain to much more than just housekeeping —think bathroom amenities, basic cable, breakfasts, newspapers and even the comfort of meeting a person at check-in instead of completing this process via a mobile device.

Ask yourself: at what point does a hotel stop being a hotel and become an a la carte service?

The biggest fear is that decontenting will act as an action preceding drip pricing accounting models, gradually removing all the content from the product then adding surcharges for their reintegration into the hotel experience. Drip pricing has been widely shown to frustrate travelers and ultimately discourage brand loyalty. But decontenting does not directly lead towards chagrin-inducing, opt-in drip pricing. It’s a precursor built around the choice to opt out.

This leaves plenty of wiggle room to argue the merits of decontenting on a case-by-case basis, especially given the spectrum of hotel brands across different price points. Housekeeping is one of the most sensitive cases given the potential for massive labor cost reductions.

If you’re paying upwards of US$500 a night, striking US$10 off is hardly worth the trouble. However, that same deduction from a US$75 ADR is a dramatically greater consideration. This excludes the potential amongst luxury travelers for a hotel to appear “cheap” by proffering this exchange. Clearly, decontenting might just have an appropriate audience.

It comes down to housekeeping and cleanliness as a part of the overall experience and interaction with the brand. By removing amenities, you are removing physical points of interaction and thus, dehumanizing the hotel and its brand. Treating services with an a la carte approach means that guests are less prone to discover the fascinating nuances of your full-service experience — for instance, a special note and chocolate left on the bed with turndown service. You’ll never have the chance to sweep your guests away and give them the fulfilling stay they truly desire.

As a more transparent comparison, think of an upscale sushi restaurant. Does such an eatery rise in acclaim for its a la carte sashimi menu or for the savory rolls that only the chefs know how to make? When a friend recommends a new sushi joint, are they more likely to laud the individual nigiri pieces or the special in-house creations? Keep an ear up the next time someone describes a restaurant and note what they fixate on as the distinguishing factor.

There is a dire warning here that too much decontenting will commoditize the hospitality industry into something far similar to that of the airlines, and consequently, a far less profitable beast. Housekeeping opt-outs may be logical for budget hotels as their average guest is more price-sensitive and, hence, receptive to these tradeoffs. But as you ascend the ladder, differentiated service becomes a key impediment to commoditization and driver for long-term growth.