Just over a month ago I was working with a client for a couple of days in the beautiful city of Penang, Malaysia.  There are few ‘5-Star’ hotels on the island, and I was lucky that my client’s office was located in the same building as the hotel that they were putting me up in.  

What might have been a pleasant stay turned into a series of unpleasant events, each of which could be summed up as a cheap shot at the hotel guests, taking an opportunity to gouge them where they could – with the final blow occurring yesterday when I received an email from the hotel after having checked out over a month ago – more about that in a moment.

Several months ago, Hotelintel.co published an article “Death by Mini-Bar Price Gouging – A Hotelier Tradition Under Threat?” where we looked at mini-bar trends that were happening around the region that were shaking up the industry and putting a smile on guests’ faces and reaping great rewards when it came to repeat business and positive reviews on sites like Trip Advisor.  

We Gouge You Because We Can

hotel minibar gouge

In the article, we saw how the humble hotel mini-bar has actually become a liability when it comes to guest satisfaction, hotel reviews and repeat business.  Over the past 30+ years, minibars have been increasingly gouging hotel guests, taking advantage of their captive position, providing a small selection of not-so-convenient foods and beverages that would otherwise cost no more than a few dollars at extortionate prices.

From the article:

**The final ‘pièce de résistance’ comes at checkout time where the reception staff will ask the guest whether or not they consumed anything from the minibar. Despite what the guest says, they are then put on momentary trial as the reception staff with an air of authority dial through to housekeeping and have them check the validity of the guests claim as to whether on not they had actually consumed anything from the minibar.”

Some hotels in the region have realised the power of the minibar and transformed its potential for evil into a force for good by making it free (absorbed into the room cost) or providing much more selection and making products cheaper than what they would be if they bought them in a supermarket downtown.

It would seem that this hotel in Penang hadn’t read the article.  The minibar was sparsely stocked and the room only had two small bottles of drinking water.  If you wanted more drinking water, it was available under lock and key down in a room on the lobby where it was sold by the ‘cup’ (one of those plastic sealed small cups of water charged at the price that you could buy a couple of litres of water downtown).  The problem was that if you actually wanted to go downtown, the hotel had a deal with the taxis where normal taxis had to pay a fee that was over double the real metered cost to the hotel to be allowed to drive up to the hotel and take guests into town.  Either way – if you were thirsty or needed more water, you were going to pay.  Touché hotel – you won that battle.

We paid the extortionate rate for a taxi to take us into town and we stocked up on some water and other supplies that were much healthier alternatives to what was available in the room.

A few overpriced breakfasts and meals later, it came time to check out and go home.  The usual “Did you consume anything from the minibar?” question was asked.  We replied “No” – honestly.  Reception continued to call housekeeping to check if we were lying (standard practice in most hotels) and when it was all clear, we were given the green light to depart.

The Hotel’s Final Jab

A month has passed and life has gone on with Penang as a distant memory – or so we thought.  Yesterday I received an email from the hotel:

***“We wish to inform that after your departure, our minibar associate have recorded the consumption of the items as attached.                                                             ***

We would like to seek your approval to charge your credit card with late charge amounting to RM10.00 being your Minibar Consumption. We attach herewith the Minibar invoice for your reference.

Please be advised that if we do not receive your reply within 05 days, we will automatically charge your credit card on the said amount.

Should you have any further enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact us.

We are looking forward to welcoming you back to the Hotel Equatorial Penang.?

Over an entire month since checking out without incident, and now the hotel has taken the time to send me an email chasing up over a RM10.00 (about USD$2.40) bag of potato crisps that we didn’t consume.

USD$2.40 is a small amount of money, but the damage it has done has cost them possibly thousands of dollars in repeat business over the following months as I will be returning to do business with that client in Penang but given this attitude of perpetual gouging when and wherever they could, it’s not a place I will be choosing to stay during my future visits to that client.  Multiply that out then by all the people that hear of my ordeal.   They seem to have something awry with their minibar auditing process which has probably left many other guests with a bad taste in their mouths. This hotel’s minibar policy has resulted in a $2.40 packet of crisps (that would have a cost price of around USD$0.60) has cost them a potential thousands of dollars in future business.  

Imagine if they made water complimentary for guests – understanding how far away from town they were, and provided a selection of minibar items for free or at a very low price? I wouldn’t have had the inconvenience of taking 3hrs out of my work schedule to have to call and wait for a cab, drive into town, get groceries and get another cab back.   I could have used that time productively in the hotel working – and I am certain that I would make it my place of choice every time I travel to Penang and I would recommend it to all of my friends.

Reconsider Your Minibar Policy

If you are a hotel that still uses the minibar as an instrument to gouge your guests, may I recommend reconsidering your strategy. The hotel industry is in a period now where customer satisfaction can make or break a hotel in an instant – and as a response to this, extortionate mini-bar policies are becoming a thing of the past. Don’t miss the boat.