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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | October 5, 2010

Last weekend, when I scored an online rate of $116.90 for a four-star hotel in D.C. (not including the additional $32.97 in taxes and fees) with spectacular views of the Capitol, this editor was mighty pleased with herself. Sure, there was the occasional twinge of professional guilt. After all, wasn't this prolonged deep discounting of rooms sidelining any real chances of recovery for the lodging industry? Less than 48 hours later, with bill in hand at checkout, any vestiges of that guilt were gone. Hotel fees, it seems, are alive and well and picking up the slack from struggling room rates.
     Let's take the $9.95 per day Internet fee. At check-in, it sounded like a good deal. After all, some hotels charge as much as $19.95 a day. Turns out, it was per device. And that's no deal when your travel companions include a spouse who thinks a laptop and a Blackberry are two extra appendages, and two college-age daughters for whom the mere thought of Facebook deprivation is viewed as the end of civilization as they know it.
     Of course, a valet parking fee was expected. But when you pull up to the front door at 1 a.m. after a five-hour drive, who bothers to talk price? Turns out it was $43 a day, not including the tip. Even by New York City standards, there was room for sticker shock. And then there was the in-a-moment-of-weakness $7 pot of coffee from room service that came with a $2 delivery charge, a 16 percent service charge, plus tax, that had magically transformed into a $10.82 pot. Perhaps the in-room, brew-your-own complimentary coffee might not have been a bad choice -- even without the fresh cream.
     According to a study by Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality Tourism and Sports Management, hotel fees accounted for $1.55 billion in revenue in last year's faltering economy and are expected to generate $1.7 billion this year as occupancies improve and hotels get more aggressive in pushing them.
    And considering that room rate seems to be the one area lagging in what has become an encouraging rebound, hotels are certainly going to continue to squeeze revenue from every ancillary stream they can tap. Just last week, in a review of the industry's performance for August 2010, Mark Lommano, president of Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research, said in a statement,"This month we started to see rate growth beginning to improve and come back in upper-tier segments. However, the industry still has a long way to go." He cited a 6.4 percent average gain in occupancy, but a mere 1.5 percent increase in the average daily rate, compared to the same period last year, and said it was the first time demand and rate have been so disproportionate.
     In hindsight, that missing minibar, which on initial room inspection had created some grousing, now seems a blessing. Imagine the restocking fee!