To get an idea of what the hotel bill of the future might look like, take a look at your present bill at the Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Guests at the resort are "required to pay a mandatory housekeeping gratuity and utility service fee of up to $22.95 per person per day," according to the terms on its website.
Or stay at easyHotel (www.easyhotel.com), the European-based discount hotel chain, where housekeeping costs between €8 and €10 and at one of its properties in Dubai, it even charges 5 Dirham per extra towel. I'm not making this up.
American hotels might appear hesitant to follow suit, but there's evidence that they're warming to the idea. Selected Starwood hotel properties, for example, offer 500 frequent-stayer points for guests who opt out of housekeeping services. Other chains have cut back on housekeeping or offered discounts (some as high as $20 a night) for guests who turn down maid service.
Many vacation rental properties break out housecleaning fees, but when hotels try to get in the act -- as this one did back in 2008 -- guests protest.
It's safe to say that an overwhelming majority of hotel guests assume the cost of housekeeping is included with their room. But the same could once be said for the ability to check a bag on a plane or be served a meal on a longer flight. Neither of those is automatically included in many domestic airfares anymore.
The first step in this transition, which is already under way, is for hotels to allow guests to opt out of having their rooms serviced. Some guests like being able to tell the hotel staff to skip their room. Scott Weiner, a Virginia Beach, Va.-based executive, recently stayed at the W Hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., and collected 500 extra loyalty points (W is part of the Starwood chain).
"I would definitely do it again," he says.
But while such a choice might save the property money, it's unlikely to generate any revenue. Only by unbundling the room rate from the fee and making it mandatory (as some hotels now do with so-called "resort" fees) can serious money be made.
You'd have to look hard to find a hotel manager who wouldn't want to tack a mandatory $22.95 per person per day charge for cleaning, as the Atlantis does -- and get away with it.
The hotel industry will argue that housekeeping is an expense and strictly speaking, not part of the room you are renting from them. They'll probably take a page from the airline playbook, saying that you don't get a housekeeper when you buy a house -- why should it be any different at a hotel?
Guests, on the other hand, will say it's reasonable to assume their linens and towels will be changed regularly at a hotel. And while some wouldn't object to opting out of housekeeping for a day or two, they'd see the opposite -- mandatory housekeeping charges over and above the room rate -- as nothing less than a money grab.
One thing seems certain: As airlines rake in record profits, some of them almost entirely as the result of surcharges that didn't exist only a few years ago, it's only a matter of time before a major American hotel chain will follow Atlantis and easyHotel. And housekeeping fees will probably be among the first of the unpopular new charges.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org. E-mail him at email@example.com.
(c) 2010 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.