by Robert McGarvey
Hoteliers know they have a problem in their little used lobby spaces and their similarly unused business centers but now they believe they have a solution and it involves a bet that we are dumber than they are. Here’s the Travel Weekly story. The subhead lays it out: “Hotel companies, recognizing that their public areas are often used as coworking venues anyway, have followed the example of WeWork and its temporary office spaces by renting out portions of their facilities as communal workplaces. But will guests pay to use space that has been free until now?”
It’s that last sentence that boils my blood.
Understand, I do not dispute that hotels might – perhaps even should – seek to impose charges on non guests that use their public spaces as offices. It is one thing to stop into a hotel lobby and have a coffee or a cocktail and do a little business. It’s another thing to park in the space for six hours and do a full day of work. A hotelier has every right to seek to monetize that occupancy. But charging guests?
I applaud the hotelier quest to monetize otherwise under-used spaces – but not at the expense of paying room guests.
Fine by me, too, if hoteliers want to open their fitness centers to the public. Most aren’t much used anyway and if the public can be lured in, why not?
But charging guests for what has been free is where a line needs to be drawn.
Personally I prefer working in my room, I also do not much use hotel wifi and instead create a hotspot on my phone – it’s much more secure internet access. So I’m not exactly the target market for this use of public spaces.
Indeed, I have never parked myself for a workday in a Starbucks – although I know many who do and who enjoy it.
At least one hotel group seems to be doing this right: Crowne Plaza. The chain’s Plaza Workspace program offers – free – access to spiffy work pods. But for those who need more privacy there’s The Studio which is available for booking by the hour (and there’s a dandy online tool for that). Cost where I looked was $50/hour – but, remember, there’s no need to incur those costs unless you need that privacy. The free workspaces look quite inviting and comfy.
Why do some hoteliers believe they can gouge guests for use of what amounts to public meeting spaces? Don’t ask me, ask them. All I can guess is that they think we are dumb enough that we will pay for spaces that had been free (and largely underutilized in recent years – despite the outlier and outsized successes such as enjoyed by Ace Hotels). And to pay when there almost certainly is a Starbucks, or other coffee shop, a block away from the hotel and with free work space in the bargain.
Travel Weekly did quote one skeptic about our willingness to pay, Filipa Pajevic, a grad student at McGill’s School of Urban Planning: “Coworking has already been happening at hotels, in the sense that they’ve already been providing people a place to work while they’re away from their official workplace or home. So for hotels to say, ‘Look, we’re also going to offer coworking spaces,’ I don’t know if that’s going to necessarily go well. You’re asking me to now pay extra for something that I’ve already been doing in your hotel for free.”
And that just may apply to non guests as well. Why indeed would a person who has been using a nearby hotel for business meetings in the lobby – something done for many years by Manhattan dwellers, also San Franciscans – now suddenly dip into his/her pocket for lobby access? I don’t begrudge hoteliers their desire to nick those non guests for $20 or $50 – it’s just that I don’t see people doing this when there are those other nearby, free work spaces (Starbucks).
The bottomline here, however, is that when you are a guest don’t even think about paying to use hitherto free public spaces. Just say no. And walk outside and into a coffee shop (and, yeah, the java probably is better than the hotels’ too).