The Most Important Meal of the Day

A letter I recently received from a thoughtful and passionate, but ultimately misguided reader urged me to advocate that limited-service hotel chains reverse their free-breakfast standards. His rationale was that hotel owners like him have faced rapidly rising costs in recent months — fuel surcharges by suppliers, higher waste collection fees, off-the-chart utility costs and more — that combined with falling occupancies have put a serious dent in their profitability.

He further argues that since airlines have paved the way by charging for everything from extra luggage to soft drinks to pillows, it won't be difficult to impose a charge for breakfast (his suggestion is $5 per guest) onto hotel guests.

While I feel his pain, I believe his idea is the worst possible course the industry could take. First of all, while I'm no lawyer, I'm sure it would violate anti-trust laws for chains to collectively decide to stop serving free breakfast.

That important technicality aside, an industry strategy of nickel and dimeing guests would erode all of the goodwill the hotel industry has amassed in recent years. As I've written previously, the air transportation system is such a mess that most travelers find air travel a revolting, but necessary evil. And after a long day navigating crowded airports, long security lines and packed airplanes, most travelers find hotels to be a warm, comforting and stress-free environment that's totally opposite from the hell of air travel.

To change any part of that experience — including something as seemingly minor as free breakfast — could seriously threaten that feeling of hospitality that many guests experience when they step through the doors of a clean, modern hotel.

The public appreciates the realities of rising costs (they face it everyday in their own lives), so they probably would understand the necessity for hotels to raise their rates to compensate for higher costs of operation. But a hotel system in which breakfast costs an additional $5, the fitness room costs $2 and USA Today is a buck will only ultimately put hotels in the same category as airlines — the most reviled businesses in America. The industry has a real chance to rise above what's happening around it. And besides, as our mothers told us, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Changes at Lodging Hospitality. I have some happy and sad staff news to report. Carlo Wolff, our long-time features editor, retired at the end of last month. Many of you know Carlo as a prolific writer and commentator on the U.S. lodging industry. If you knew him well, as I do, you know him also as a renaissance man whose interests range from music to books to table tennis and, most of all, his family. I will miss him as a co-worker but still have him as a friend.

Taking Carlo's place on the masthead is Patrick Mahoney, who is our new associate editor. Patrick joins us from another publication in the Penton Media family. Welcome aboard, Patrick.

In addition, we've promoted Eric Stoessel to managing editor. In his 10 months with LH, Eric has shown exceptional editorial and leadership skills. I welcome his assistance in managing the print and online editorial functions of Lodging Hospitality.

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