Tuesday was a rough day for Marriott International. First, the U.K. announced its intent to issue a US$124 million fine against the company in relation to the Starwood guest reservation database incident announced last November. Later in the day, it was sued by the District of Columbia over allegedly deceptive “drip pricing” practices that tack on hidden resort fees to folios.
But I am not writing to lament Marriott’s issues, rather to make sure all hotel executives take note.
Yes, you should do whatever you can to tighten up data protection as jurisdiction becomes more aggressive in penalizing businesses that can’t better protect customer privacy. But the more interesting conversation will center around how hoteliers have thumbed their noses at legislatures with the power to protect consumers from hidden resort fees. The topic has received ongoing notice from policymakers for at least three or four years now who increasingly view it as a deceptive practice.
In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission argued that separating resort fees without adequately disclosing them likely harms consumers and violates the law. Luckily, perhaps, it has stayed relatively quiet on the issue since the Trump administration came into power. However, Tuesday’s news from D.C. could be the tip of the iceberg.
I understand how “resort fees” cover multiple free services provided today by even urban hotels, such as access to Wi-Fi and fitness centers, but they need to be more overtly displayed at the time of booking, and generally they are not, especially among the major online booking sites. It seems as simple as that. Hoteliers could also cook those fees into daily rates, but that will become a competitive issue that will not work in their favor.
This storm has been brewing, and the D.C. attorney general may have opened the floodgates on this issue. It might be time to get your boots on.