Skift Take

We wish hotel companies and online travel agencies were as innovative in providing much-touted personalization as they are in inventing extra fees customers struggle to avoid.

Marriott International plans by May 15 to disclose resort fees in the total prices it displays in its initial search results on its website and mobile app. It’s the long-awaited outcome of a 2021 settlement with Pennsylvania — that required the Bethesda, Maryland-based hotel operator to include in fees in upfront total prices.

Marriott is the first of the global hotel groups to make the change, which pertains to extra fees for services and amenities offered during a hotel or resort stay. All the other global hotel groups and online travel agencies have continued to charge fees for services or amenities at some properties and exclude them from the room rate or bury them in “taxes and fees,” according to ResortFeeChecker.

“We have been working diligently over the last several months on the technology required to update our room rate display and further enhance the way these fees are disclosed, in accordance with our agreement with the State of Pennsylvania,” a Marriott spokesperson said. “In fact, when we deploy our changes by May 15, we expect to be the first hospitality company to change its display, leading the industry on this important issue.”

It remained uncertain whether other non-resort fees properties may change, such as mandatory fees for non-valet or valet parking, and would be included in Marriott’s updated search results later this month.

In February, U.S. President Joe Biden called out companies for not disclosing “frustrating charges.” The administration stated that more than one-third of hotel guests claim to have paid such fees.

Yet many consumers seem to take it in stride. One study found that guests dropped their online ratings by only a small percentage after they encountered fee surprises yet booked anyway.

Gary Leff at A View From the Wing was the first to report on Monday that Marriott would finally update its search display this month.

“Resort fees make it difficult for consumers to compare prices,” Leff wrote. “Hotels that don’t have resort fees look more expensive and are effectively punished.”

Leff was skeptical the Biden Administration would take serious action.

Contentious Issue

Why do resort fees linger despite consumer annoyance? Money.

Marriott alone made at least $206 million off the practice just from its self-managed resorts since 2012, according to depositions from the Washington, D.C., Attorney General’s ongoing lawsuit, which Skift reported on. The fees, which even some non-resort locations charge, generated $17 million for Marriott in 2019 alone.

Leff speculated that ongoing lawsuits similar to Pennsylvania’s from attorneys general in California, Texas, and the District of Columbia might pressure Marriott or other hotel groups to change their pricing practices.

Yet industry practices haven’t changed since the Pennsylvania settlement, as Christopher Elliott recently noted at The Washington Post. Before the pandemic, Booking Holdings had considered including resort fees in total prices at its online travel agencies but paused the process in 2019.

So-called “drip pricing” continues to be a popular sales technique in travel, where a seller gets a consumer psychologically invested in an offering and then adds little additional costs without prompting the buyer to abandon the purchase.

Most U.S. airlines have added checked bag fees for the past decade, except for Southwest Airlines, which sees including the cost of the bags as a way to stand out in the market.

Marriott might choose to position itself as a change-maker in the hotel sector.

“Marriott International is committed to providing customers with clear and transparent pricing,” a spokesperson said on Monday. “We have long been focused on ensuring that any resort/destination fees charged by hotels are separately and clearly stated.”

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Tags: future of lodging, lawsuits, marriott, Marriott International, resort fees

Photo credit: A pool at a hotel that recently had a resort fee, the Hawaii Oahu Marriott Ko Olina. Source: Marriott International. Max Pixel

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