|By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 29, 2010 --If you're fed up with all of those infuriating airline fees, wait until you check into your hotel.
To overcome slumping revenue and weak demand, the hotel industry is increasingly billing guests for such things as a mini-bar "restocking fee," a "baggage holding fee" and even a "tray fee."
Extra charges at hotels are nothing new. The hospitality industry has long charged guests for making long-distance phone calls, parking and ordering in-room movies.
But now more cash-hungry hotel operators are embracing the revenue-generating tactics of the airline industry, said Bjorn Hanson, one of the nation's leading hospitality experts and an associate professor at New York University.
Not only are hotels increasingly tacking on fees for services that were once complimentary, he said, but many are also adding new charges.
For example, if you take a can of soda from the mini-bar in your room, you may pay up to $2.50 for the drink plus a restocking fee of as much as $5.95, he said. "It makes for an expensive can of soda." Also, if you order room service, Hanson said, you can expect to pay for the food, plus a "room service fee" and even a $2 fee to pay for lost or damaged room service trays. On top of that, many hotels now calculate the gratuity and include it on the bill, he said.
In addition, he said, many hotels now charge a fee just to hold your bags for a few hours after you check out.
All those fees add up. In 2009, he said the U.S. lodging and hospitality industry collected about $1.55 billion from such charges. That is up from about $1 billion in 2003, Hanson said.
But don't expect hotels to advertise these charges in their in-room brochures, Hanson warns. Instead, he said, you will probably learn about them only after you get your bill.
Business travel budgets still tight
The economy is showing signs of new life, but business managers who oversee travel budgets are still not loosening the purse strings.
A recent survey for American Express Business Travel found that firms are spending less on travel and relying more on phone and Internet-conferencing and other alternatives to avoid trips for face-to-face meetings. And when business travelers hit the road, their supervisors are watching how every penny is spent.
The survey of 169 travel managers in more than 30 industries found more than 74% said they use or plan to use teleconferencing instead of paying for travel. An additional 15% said they were researching other technologies, such as videoconferencing and other "virtual meetings."
To keep better track of travel spending, more companies are switching from manual travel expense systems to more sophisticated, online programs.
Heathrow body scanner misused
It didn't take long for someone to figure out how to misuse those full-body scanners starting to be used at airports around the world to screen passengers.
At London's Heathrow airport, an airport worker was cited by police this month for snapping a revealing photo of a colleague as she inadvertently passed through the device.
The scanners were introduced at Heathrow in February in response to the Christmas Day bombing attempt over Detroit.
A spokesman for the manufacturer, Torrance-based Rapiscan Systems Inc. in Torrance, declined to comment on the incident.
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