As more hotels, including those far removed from resort locations, slap resort fees on everything from fitness center access to housekeeping service, many travel advisors are taking on a new duty: ensuring that clients don’t go into sticker shock at the front desk.
“I break down every charge for my clients beforehand, letting them know that hotels are now doing what the airlines do when they charge for seat assignments or checked luggage,” said Diane Bean, owner of Off On Vacation Travel in Bangor, Maine. “I don’t want any unwanted surprises for them.”
Observing that “resort fees are unfortunately another reality of today’s travel booking landscape,” Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel in New York, also emphasized the importance of briefing clients about any unforeseen charges they may find on their hotel tab.
“Transparency and clarity for the client is crucial so they fully understand what they are paying for and why,” she said.
There has been a lot of pushback against resort fees lately. The District of Columbia sued Marriott International over resort fees, Booking Holdings in July vowed to begin charging hotels commissions for the first time for resort fees, and Expedia Group intends to downgrade the listings of properties that charge such fees.
While resigned to resort fees, Bean sees them as a growing problem that is unlikely to go away, despite the District of Columbia accusing Marriott of deceptively charging the fees to guests.
“The fees started out at resorts, but now they’re at many urban hotels — those in New York and Las Vegas have gotten particularly aggressive,” she said. “Lawsuits aren’t going to make any difference. The hotels have figured out a new way to make money, just like the airlines did.”
Similarly, Shawn van der Patten, travel consultant with Exquisite Travel Group in Seattle, said resort fees are taking up more of her time these days, whether it’s researching what various properties charge, making sure that the fees are outlined in the client’s paperwork, and, in some cases, searching for hotels that don’t charge them.
Despite her best efforts, resort fees still create headaches.
“It is frustrating because there are times when the fees are not clearly spelled out, and we end up with unhappy clients due to the shock of having to shell out more money at the hotel or resort when they thought the bill was paid in full,” van der Patten said. “Local hotel taxes are a similar problem, especially in Europe, where they vary greatly. We just had a family in Amsterdam who were hit with a huge tax charge that no one, not even our supplier, knew about.”
Increasingly van der Patten frequently steers clients toward properties that don’t charge resort fees.
“In Las Vegas things are particularly horrible on the Strip, with some hotels charging up to $40 a day in resort fees,” she said. “So with a recent group, I found them something in Henderson instead. In Hawaii we’re finding that some hotels are now advertising the fact that they don’t charge resort fees, so this indicates what a big issue the fees have become.”
All-inclusive resorts are another alternative for clients who don’t want to feel nickeled and dimed by extra charges, Bean said.
“Resort fees may be one reason why all-inclusive resorts are growing in popularity,” she said. “We’re seeing all-inclusive resorts spreading to more destinations, including in the U.S.”
At Largay Travel in Waterbury, Connecticut, President Amanda Klimack said resort fees are one reason travel advisors are increasingly acting as “personal shoppers” for clients.
“When we’re quoting rates for clients, we try to advise them of the total potential cost, including fees and taxes,” she said. “If you don’t, they are in for a huge shock when they get to the resort. So often the initial rates, especially those advertised online, are nowhere near what you will actually be paying. The fees can add up to hundreds of dollars.”
Klimack added that it’s important to explain to clients what various resort fees actually cover.
“A lot of people don’t realize that fees for housekeeping and porterage mean that you’re already paying a gratuity for these services,” she said. “So when they tip, they’re actually paying twice.”
While there’s little that advisors can do in getting resort fees waived for leisure clients, resort fees are usually a negotiable item for meetings and other types of business travel, Klimack noted.
“We look at resort fees when negotiating contracts for corporate clients or groups,” she said. “You can often get things waived or at least reduced.”
Impact on Bottom Line
Beyond what they cost hotel guests, are resort fees also having a negative financial impact on travel advisors? Some advisors think they are, likening them to the non-commissionable fare (NCF) items on cruises.
“The analogy to NCFs is a great one, as resort fees are non-commissionable to the advisor, although resort fees were originally designed as more of a ‘catchall’ fee to prevent the need for à la carte payments,” Wilson-Buttigieg said. “At advisory board meetings, we consistently request that hotel chains make these fees commissionable, which would provide another source of revenue for the advisors.”
While Dan Ilves, senior vice president of leisure for TravelStore in Los Angeles, also acknowledges that resort fees can have a negative impact on travel agency revenue, he emphasized that advisors don’t need to take them lying down.
“Travel advisors can choose what suppliers they get behind and promote, and we can choose to promote those suppliers that don’t have NCFs or resort fees versus those that do,” he said. “We can sell away from resorts that impose fees that are either unreasonable, don’t add value for the client, or just to earn higher commission elsewhere.”
If there’s anything positive about resort fees, it may be that they underscore the value of using a travel advisor, Wilson-Buttigieg added.
“Managing the client’s expectations is simply another crucial aspect of the trip planning process, and one of the reasons the ‘human element’ of having an advisor is so important — so that someone can explain these numbers clearly and concisely to the client,” she said.