Resorts are nowadays far from a place to sleep. There are often multiple infinity pools, and maybe even a lagoon. As part of the resort fee, you can maybe be a part of one of many activities, or use the resort’s equipment and maybe even explore a new skill. It’s all marketed as complimentary — but it’s only sort of so.
With almost all hotels charging a resort fee, these fees run between $20 (Dh75) and $50 (Dh190) per night — and they’ve become one of the most controversial issues in the travel industry.
According to a survey of more than 100 hotels, the average resort fee was $42 (Dh150), representing nearly 11 per cent of the overall nightly cost. And like most other resorts that charge such fees, most often the fee is not optional — even if you never use the amenities.
Making the case for resort fees
Resort fees may be a way for hotels to increase profits without necessarily charging guests more. “Hotels claim that resort fees allow hotels to reduce the commissions paid to online travel agents,” according to a 2017 report.
Most resorts pay travel agents a commission based on the nightly rate rather than the overall cost. A lower nightly rate plus resort fee reduces what the resort must pay to the referrer.
Some resorts do go all out on amenities, which makes the resort fee seem more justifiable. Hyatt’s Alila Napa Valley in the US charges a $55 (Dh200) nightly fee, which includes valet parking and the use of bikes and electric vehicle charging stations. The $50 (Dh190) fee for the Ritz-Carlton Bacara covers amenities including yoga and water aerobics classes, electric bike rentals, guided beach walks and use of tennis courts.
Brittain Komoda, one such resort's marketing manager, says splitting the fees might encourage vacationers to learn about the amenities offered and actually use them. “We have cultural activities, water activities, GoPro rentals and other classes. We want guests to experience them and to know what they cost.”
It’s possible a tourist who otherwise would never pay separately to get on an outrigger canoe might do so because it’s included in the resort fee they paid, he added. That activity might become their vacation highlight, leaving them with a more favorable memory of the resort.
And buying even a fraction of what the resort offers a la carte would likely be far more than the $50 daily resort fee — which is charged per room, not per person, the marketing manager added. For example, renting a GoPro costs about $40 (Dh150) a day, and full-face snorkel mask rentals cost $17 (Dh16) per person. Stand-up paddleboarding lessons run about $150 (Dh550) to $180 (Dh660) per adult.
“Our intention is to greet new and returning travelers alike with immersive experiences that sum to far more than our resort fee,” he added.
Making the case against resort fees
But some hotels may claim resort fees cover basic amenities, like Wi-Fi or use of the room phone.
For travelers booking expensive rooms, the additional mandatory charge to cover perks that are advertised as “complimentary” can feel stingy and confusing. In 2012, regulators warned 22 hotels that the resort fees were not adequately disclosed on their reservation websites.
Resort fee transparency has improved. In November 2021 , Marriott committed to displaying the total price — including room rates and other mandatory fees — on the first page of its booking website. But at other resorts that separate fees from room rates, it can be difficult to understand the total cost.
“If resort fees were included in the room rate, consumers could compare rooms at different hotels by simply viewing the room pages at the hotel websites,” according to the 2017 report . “With separately-disclosed resort fees, consumers would need to add the room rate to the resort fee and remember the total for each hotel under consideration.”
Dave Betham, general manager at another resort, says it’s for this reason that his property — which offers complimentary amenities and cultural activities — will not charge resort fees. “We look at it from a guest perspective,” Betham says. “We like the idea that there are no surprises.”