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Scam alert: Hilton Hawaiian Village charges for mandatory hula lessons and resort audio tours

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Hawaii is a wonderful and magical tourism destination, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority is working hard to make you come back again and again to their island paradise and to experience the famous Aloh

Hawaii is a wonderful and magical tourism destination, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority is working hard to make you come back again and again to their island paradise and to experience the famous Aloha Spirit.

But how would you feel paying hundreds of Dollars in not previously disclosed mandatory resort fees for services you always thought were included, or worse for services you don’t need in the first place? For some hotel- or better resort guests this will be a bitter surprise until they arrive, or in some cases until they depart.

The Hilton Hawaiian Village is the largest and one of the most known resort in the State of Hawaii and located in the heart of the world-class travel and tourism destination of Waikiki. Guests from all over the world enjoy the amenities of this resort, and the Hilton, of course, is one of the major and important players of the Hawaii travel and tourism industry.

Among other hotels in the tropical paradise of Hawaii, the Hilton Hawaiian Village has the practice of quietly adding a US$30 daily resort fee to room rates at the end of a guest’s stay. In Hawaii resort fees charged by participating hotels can be between $5.00 and $75.00 daily.

Hula lessons, lei making, ukulele lessons, and a resort audio tour are now part of this mandatory resort fee at the Hilton and is guaranteed to be added to a guest’s bill, whether the guest partakes in the activities or not, and whether the activity is booked in full or not – that is where the “subject to availability” comes into play in small print.

The director of brand public relations for Hilton Worldwide Jacqueline Toppings said:”Resort charges allow us to continue offering the added-value amenities and services that our guests value. For that reason, these charges are mandatory for all guests unless otherwise noted. We collect required taxes on resort charges consistent with the laws in the jurisdictions where we operate.”

Hula lessons are perhaps a good idea for some, but probably not so much for the business traveler attending a convention at the nearby Hawaii Convention Center. At least there is “free” Internet – another mandatory part of the resort fee. So if the traveler is a premium member of the Hilton Hhonors Club, free Internet is no longer a bonus of being a member, because it is now included in the mandatory resort fee.

The resort fee does not give guests the choice to “opt out” of the fee if they choose to not use the amenities covered by the fee. A guest cannot choose whether s/he wants that newspaper delivered to the hotel door or that one-hour tennis court time reserved, or even those fax machines and copy services available at the hotel’s business center. Whether a guest uses them or does not use them is not the question – the answer is that it will be paid for.

eTN caught up with Cynthia Rankin, the Regional Director of Public Relations of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and according to her, resort fees at the Hilton Hawaiian Village are mandatory and are not part of the room rate. She stressed that hula lessons are a mandatory part of the guest experience and, yes, are subject to availability – so, of course, the guest will be paying for it at the end of the guest’s stay.

If a guest stays at the Hilton for two weeks, upon check out, another US$420 will be quietly added to the bill for all these free cultural classes, free newspaper, and phone calls that were never made from the hotel room.

The scam goes even further. eTN called the Hilton Hawaiian Village reservation department on Sunday, January 5, 2014 and was transferred to a nice Philippine lady in Manila. A room was offered for a rate of $ 270.00 per night plus tax.
The reservation agent after quoting the $ 270.00 rate asked for what name she should book the reservation under.

No word was lost over the resort fee, until the eTN reporter asked about any additional fees and the tax rate. The agent proceeded explaining the fee and said there was no way to opt out. When eTN did not want to proceed the agent offered rooms at other hotels. The eTN reporter responded to be interested getting rates from oceanfront hotels like the Outrigger Reef close by. The agent suggested in her response two other Hilton properties in Waikiki (Double Tree and Hilton) that did not charge a resort fee. Only when specifically asked, the agent explained the other hotels were one block or 10 minutes from the beach.

When the eTN reporter declined to proceed the Hilton agent said that the she had good news, because the caller was now qualified to receive a $200.00 discount, that could be applied. She would have to transfer the call to another department. When transferred the $200.00 rebate turned out to be a rebate rewarded after booking, paying for and of course staying at an overpriced hotel in Orlando, Las Vegas or Utah, some with additional resort fees.

So what choice does a guest have? Of course there is the opportunity to book at another hotel the next time one visits the Aloha State. So let’s look at another prominent hotel here in Hawaii.

The Outrigger Reef is a comparable hotel with the Hilton. However, the Outrigger does not participate in resort fees on Oahu.

When eTN spoke with Barry Wallace, Executive Vice President of Hospitality Services for the Outrigger® Enterprises Group, he said: “We have a difficult time competing with guys like the Hilton. For example, we have a room special of US$159 a night with breakfast, but Hilton may have a special of US$149, with breakfast and a US$30 mandatory resort fee per night being added on later. A guest booking the hotel would usually not see the difference and thinks the Hilton is less expensive when, in fact, the Hilton may be 60% more at the end when the final tally is done.”

The Outrigger, along with the Halekulani and Trump Tower, believes honesty is the best policy when disclosing rates and they hope to get repeat clients in the long run.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. What would stop a resort from charging US$200 in resort fees every night and US$100 in room rates? Absolutely nothing. To the guest, like most of us, that do not read the fine print, the resort is charging US$300 a night – but here is the kicker. Stay tuned. eTN is working on a story that involves possible tax fraud and much more in regards to resort fees in the State of Hawaii.

This article is part of a new series eTN has started for 2014 to bring travel and tourism scams to light. Do you have any scams you want disclosed? Write to [email protected]

The audio of the eTN reservation call is available to improve customer service.

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About the author


Editor in chief for eTurboNew is Linda Hohnholz. She is based in the eTN HQ in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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