FRIENDLY Hotels last week halved its guest telephone charges in what looks likely to be the first move in a significant shake-up of the industry's frequently criticised practices.
John Burley, Friendly's group marketing director, said the cut from 19p a unit to 10p had been made because the rise in mobile phone and charge card use had led to a drop in calls from hotel rooms.
"We've taken this strategy against a background of press questioning about hotel telephone charges, and because of the wide variety of options for making calls these days," Mr Burley told Caterer.
He said the move would affect revenue from charges, but that the company wanted the service to be more equitable for guests. "The strategy is one of offering quality at a fair price," he said.
Jarvis Hotels is considering similar changes and is meeting next week to discuss the issue. Calls are presently charged at 25p per unit in all hotels, but according to Richard Thomason, director of hotels, the company makes no profit on phone charges.
The two companies are leading the way in an area where hotels have traditionally made substantial profits. According to figures for 1992 produced by Pannell Kerr Forster Associates (PKFA), hotels in England of more than 150 bedrooms made around 3.4% of their revenue from telephone charges, with about half of that going on the cost of buying and running the system.
Meanwhile, other companies are reviewing their telephone charge policies, though not necessarily with a view to reducing rates.
A review is under way at Forte Crest, while Queens Moat Houses said it was considering introducing a centralised policy to replace its varying rates.
A similar policy is being pursued at Novotel UK, where a standard rate of 20p per unit is being introduced in all but one of its 18 UK hotels.
Sales and marketing director Guy Parsons said the move would result in a 3p drop in some hotels, but price reduction was not the intention. "We believe we charge a fair rate in the market, and we have costs to cover such as paying for the switchboard, its depreciation and the staffing," he said.
David Martland, company secretary at De Vere Hotels, said the company had no intention of changing its pricing policy because it too felt its rates were in line with the rest of the market.
The company charges 22p per unit in its four-star hotels and 25p at five-star level. Mr Martland said the company monitored customer reaction through its general comment cards placed in rooms, and no significant complaints had been made.
Evidence of the wide variation in rates can be found among London's de luxe hotels. The Sheraton Park Tower charges £1 for the first unit and 27p for every unit thereafter, while the Lanesborough and Dorchester charge 50p for the first unit and 25p thereafter.