I'm writing this from a hotel. Outside the room, I can hear someone on the housekeeping staff vacuuming the hallway.

Note to self: Don't forget to tip the housekeeping staff on the way out. It's just the decent thing to do, right?

Except that it turns out this is where I part ways with the CEO of Hilton Worldwide, parent company of one of the world's largest hotel chains.

Speaking at the 41st annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference last week, Hilton's CEO, Christopher Nassetta says he doesn't tip housekeepers.

"I typically do not leave a tip," Nassetta, who reportedly earned $19.8 million in 2018, said in response to a question from host Andrew Ross Sorkin about how much he normally leaves in a hotel as a gratuity.

(Update: After this article published, I heard from Hilton, which provided a statement from Nassetta differentiating between travel for work and for personal reasons, and describing what he plans his approach will now be, "going forward." I've included it in full at the end of this column.)

A Hilton spokesperson further elaborated for The Points Guy, which first reported on this:

"It's Chris's view that every Hilton Team Member works hard. Rather than selectively reward some Team Members, he is focused on providing meaningful economic opportunities for all 400,000 Team Members.

That's why Hilton is the No. 1 place to work in the US and No. 2 in the world, as voted by our own employees."

Which is nice and all, but c'mon. We're talking about a CEO who reportedly made $19.8 million in 2018, while the median hotel housekeeper hourly wage for U.S. hotel housekeepers was $11.37 an hour in 2016 (most recent year available).

And he's not just quietly refraining from tipping, but announcing his position at a big industry conference.

Now, in fairness, there is a good societal argument against tipping as a means of structured compensation.

  • In a system where guests are expected to tip employees, this means employers are likely able to get away with paying those employees less than market rate.
  • In other words, every employee in a "tippable" field works for a base salary (sometimes a very low one) plus tips. If there were no tips, the employer would presumably have to make up the difference -- otherwise the employees wouldn't stay.
  • There are also some practical considerations about leaving a tip for a hotel maid. For example, a lot of people say they leave a tip on the day they check out, but there's no guarantee that the person who picks up your tip is the same person who cleaned your room the whole time you were a guest.
  • And of course, the whole thing is voluntary. Marriott started leaving envelopes in hotel rooms suggesting cash tips for housekeepers -- a move that prompted a controversy.

However, saying the system overall should be changed is a lot different than just lodging a one-person protest against it, especially when you're the CEO of Hilton.

And, especially when your one-person protest happens to keep a few extra dollars in your pocket.

How many extra dollars? 

Well, the American Hotel & Lodging Association suggests leaving "$1 to $5 a night" for housekeepers. 

"The tip should be left daily (preferably in an envelope or with a note so that it's clear it's for housekeeping)," according to a helpful Gratuitiy Guide included on the organization's website.

We should note that Hilton is a member of the AHLA. In fact, Hilton's global head of corporate affairs, Katie Fallon, sits on its board.

So it does seem that if Hilton felt strongly about this -- and wanted to change the overall compensation structure across the industry, it would have a lot of pull to be able to at least get the industry association to stop advocating for it.

But according to the media office at AHLA, their position isn't likely to change anytime soon. In fact, they're in the process of updating their tipping guide.

So, for now -- CEOs of major hotel brands notwithstanding -- the proper thing to do seems to be to leave a tip for your housekeeper. It's what I'll be doing over the next few days at the (non-Hilton) hotel my family and I are staying in.

Oh, and in case you're interested, according to AHLA, it's also $1 to $5 for a parking valet, an extra $2 for anything else delivered to your room -- an extra blanket, for example -- and 15 to 20 percent for room service, bartenders, and wait staff.

As I mentioned above, Hilton reached out to me after this story published with a statement from Nassetta. Here's the full statement:

"When it comes to tipping in hotels, I have always had a different approach to work and personal travel. I also never meant for my approach to work stays at Hilton properties to discourage others from tipping when they are traveling.

Going forward, I will tip when traveling for both work and personal travel. Nothing is more important to me than Hilton's culture and team members, especially our housekeepers, who are central to delivering Hilton hospitality around the world.

I have always been generous with my time and engagement with team members when on property, and I will remain focused on keeping Hilton the #1 best place to work in the United States."

Published on: Jun 8, 2019
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