Hotels Feel the Pain

The automatic federal budget cuts brought about the by so-called sequestration are already inflicting some pain on the hotel industry. Federal agencies responded to the cuts by slashing nonessential travel by federal employees, which represent at least 30% of business for some hotels. This month, the 67th annual National Defense Transportation Assn. Forum & Expo — which was to be held in September in San Antonio — was called off because of the budget cuts. The association is a nonprofit, educational group focusing on transportation issues for the military.Travel officials worry that further federal cuts will continue to hurt a travel industry that supports about 14 million workers.

As you probably suspected, luxury hotels are feeling the pinch as the economy spirals downward. It’s not just the fact that tourists are no longer interested in paying $1,750 a night for a room when their brokerage accounts are imploding at the same time. The corporate travel market is shifting, too, and some companies are shying away from sending employees to fancy hotels for fear that bad press will follow when people find out that these are the same companies laying people off right and left. Imagine that!

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Hotels like the St. Regis and Four Seasons can’t exactly advertise $99-a-night rates since doing so would lose them the “brand prestige” they worked so hard to create. So there’s no easy solution at hand, although experts say customers should have more “bargaining power” in the months ahead. If you walk into the St. Regis and convince the manager to give you a room for $100, be sure to let us know!

After years of boycotting selected Hyatts for their mistreatment of workers and refusals to negotiate, UNITE HERE announced Monday that it is expanding its boycott to all Hyatt properties worldwide, with the exception of the dozen that have signed union contracts.

The international food and hotel workers federation, IUF, representing 12 million hotel and food service workers in 120 countries, has signed on to the global boycott. Indian workers fighting subcontracting in their hotel industry have joined in, picketing hotels in three states to support the boycott. British and Filipino workers have also picketed Hyatts in support of U.S. workers.

The expanded boycott aims to hit Hyatt overseas, where it’s growing. While the U.S. market is saturated, according to the union, Hyatt has 56 hotels in development in India alone.

UNITE HERE has also launched an online campaign to further dent Hyatt’s brand, asking supporters to vote Hyatt the worst hotel employer.

There are plenty of reasons to believe Hyatt qualifies. High room quotas mean housekeepers work so fast their muscles do not have time to recover, a major cause of debilitating repetitive strain injuries affecting their arms, backs, shoulders, and hands.

In response, California hotel workers have been trying to get a law passed to provide housekeepers with fitted sheets and long-handled mops. The tools are aimed at decreasing on-the-job injuries after an occupational health study found that housekeepers have high injury rates. Hyatt hotels were the worst among those studied.

Youngblood testified at the hearings on the new law, saying fitted sheets “would save our backs.” She said Hyatt was the only major company to speak against the proposal publicly.