Travel Notes: Hotels try new ways to rev up food revenues

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Penny-pinching travelers are spending less on food and drinks, and some hotels are responding by putting an end to conventional room service. Others are working even harder to entice their guests' taste buds.

New York Hilton Midtown, the biggest hotel in New York City with nearly 2,000 rooms, announced plans to eliminate room service starting this summer. In its place, the hotel will offer a cafeteria-type restaurant where guests can grab quick meals like pizza and sandwiches.

"Hotels are thinking of retooling to make the food offerings more limited," said Bruce Baltin, senior vice president at hospitality consulting firm PKF Consulting.

Spending reports show that room rates have been edging up in the past year and are on track in 2013 to eclipse pre-recession prices. But spending on food, drinks and other hotel extras has not kept pace.

A new PKF report showed that room revenue from 2011 to 2012 increased 6.3 percent while income from food, drinks and other hotel services edged up only 2.3 percent.

In Southern California, several hotels are responding by offering new choices to get guests to spend.

At the Luxe City Center Hotel in Los Angeles, plans are in the works to offer guests quick on-the-go drinks and meals, like steel-cut oats for breakfast, before the end of the year.

"Since people are on the move all the time, that is where those quick grab-and-go options work," general manager Tom Xavier said.

He said the hotel is also considering including in its regular room service menu many of the signature dishes served at the new lobby restaurant.

"We are still playing with what we want to do with room service."

Party flight to Vegas

Travelers flying to Las Vegas don't wait until they touch the ground to start their reveling.

On the way to Sin City, the average planeload of passengers spends a total of $116 for liquor, beer, wine and soda, surpassing drink sales to any other destination in the lower 48 states, according to statistics released by GuestLogix, a company that specializes in onboard merchandising for the airline industry.

Travelers flying to cities in Hawaii and Alaska spend the most of any U.S. destination, but that is because it often takes a long-haul flight to get to those cities.

Brett Proud, chief executive of GuestLogix, said the spending patterns for travelers to Vegas are unsurprising.

"Everybody going to Vegas has a party mind-set," he explained.

Spending on drinks drops significantly for travelers leaving Las Vegas, Mr. Proud added.

For all destinations, the biggest days of the week for buying drinks are Thursdays and Fridays, when the average plane load spends $67 and $66 per flight, respectively, according to Guest-Logix's statistics for May. Of those sales, about 99 percent are for the purchase of liquor, beer and wine.

Hertz adds travel goods

Car rental giant Hertz Corp. is following the lead of the airline industry by selling more than just transportation to travelers.

In San Diego, Hertz unveiled its newest model for car rental outlets, including a retail shop where renters can buy travel items such as charging cords, beach bags, sunscreen and sodas.

Car renters can also charge their iPads, print out maps and other documents and ship FedEx packages.

Hertz chief executive Mark P. Frissora said the company is planning to expand the concept globally by 2015.



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