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September 16, 2009

A Different Perspective on Hotel Deals

Journeys-within-b&b-siem-reap
The Rosses with their staff at the Journeys Within B&B in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

by Brook Wilkinson

I met up last week with Andrea Ross, one of Wendy Perrin's top travel specialists, and my host during the voluntourism trip to Cambodia that I wrote about in the May 2008 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Andrea and her husband, Brandon, run a Southeast Asia tour operator called Journeys Within, a B&B in Siem Reap, and also a local nonprofit that gives back to the local communities through university scholarships, microloans for small businesses, and more. (With all that and two small kids, Andrea and Brandon have their hands full!)

Andrea had an interesting perspective on the hotel deals that we've been seeing in the last year. "Hotels in Siem Reap are slashing their prices," she said. But how do they make up for these discounts on their bottom line? In many cases, by laying off employees. And that starts a trickle-down effect that she's seeing at home in Siem Reap, and is surely taking place all around the world. People with jobs in the tourism industry are typically well-off in places like Cambodia; they often share their relative abundance with their extended family. When a hotel lets go of one waiter, they may well be taking food off the table of a dozen or more people. And there aren't many other alternatives for that waiter; Cambodia's garment industry (what we think of as sweatshops are attractive employers to many a rural farmer's son or daughter) is hurting as well, now that Americans are cutting back on their material consumption.

I know that hoteliers have some very difficult decisions to make in an economic climate like this one. Having to close your doors forever because you refused to lay off a single employee does no one any good. And I certainly don't blame the travelers who are taking advantage of the deals to be had right now. But I also applaud people like Andrea and Brandon, who have made a commitment not to lay off any of their staff--and as a consequence haven't been able to advertise the bargain-basement prices we see elsewhere. And I ask you, my fellow travelers, to speak up when you're on the road. Encourage the properties you visit not to let got of staff right now, to find other ways to cut costs. Leave a few extra dollars in your room as a tip for the housekeeper who may well be earning less than she did last year. An amount that would barely cover a draft beer back at home could feed that housekeeper's entire family.

Further reading:
* The Autobiography of a Tip (CNT, September 2009): What a difference a gratuity can make
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

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