A Traveller’s View on Tipping

I came across this post about tipping at a hotel and why it is a must, and the first thing it brought back memories of was the service I encountered at 2 hotels late last year during my travels. The first was an airport Hyatt Regency in North America, and the second was a Sheraton in South Korea. I stayed at both properties one after the other, and thus the difference in the service standards was just so obvious to say the least. First off, let me start with my view that I find a tip is meant to reward someone who has done more than what is expected of their role or responsibility. For example if a barista makes the gesture of creating a ‘latte art’ on my caramel macchiato or reminds me of their daily special, then that deserves a tip as it is a service above and beyond what is required of them.

As I have mentioned before, I had the mis-fortune to be served by a very rude bellman who picked up my luggage from my room in the hotel at the Hyatt Regency, and while I had prepared the tip for him, I had expected him to help me move it to the waiting shuttle bus. One might say that is the shuttle bus driver’s responsibility, but I do not think of it that way since the role of the bus driver is to drive guests to and fro the airport and the bellman has the responsibility for moving luggage from the mode of transportation to and from the room. For a bellman to pick up the luggage, leave it on the trolley in the porch and has the cheek to ask for a tip, I would normally have ignored them but as I considered that I had more luggage than the average traveller due to bringing a snowboard, I tipped him nonetheless. However, upon arriving in Seoul, the bellman (or bellwoman) did not even provide me with the opportunity to lift a hand on my luggage and ensured it was sent from the bus to the room. And due to the no-tipping policy in South Korea and much of the rest of the world, I did not even have to tip the bellman. The actual fact was I was embarrassed for having a lady carry my luggage and handed her a tip but it was rejected. The main point of the argument given by the writer is that if you do not tip, do not “expect any form of service” but “do expect service personnel to call you names or engage in retribution-like behaviour“. Now my counter-argument is that if service staff in other countries can provide such a level of service without the need of a tip, why do I need to tip when I am provided a lower level of service? Based on my experience above, I had a much more pleasant service experience that I did not need to tip, even when I would be pleased to tip more compared to the former where I ‘had to tip’ even though I did not receive a satisfactory experience. The writer also looks at tipping as a need to ‘support their livelihood’. Again back to my comparison, I paid slightly more for my room at Sheraton Seoul compared to the Hyatt at O’Hare, but that is expected since city hotels are more expensive that airport hotels located in suburbs. Comparing living standards in Seoul and Chicago, I believe they are more or less the same, since South Korea is a developed nation with a high GDP as high as that of Chicago. Thus I would not expect labour cost for both hotels to differ much, since the rate I paid is slightly similar considering the location of the hotel. While this may be an assumption, I welcome any comments someone else might have on this matter if there are credible sources available. This comes back to my second counter-argument that if other hotel staff around the developed can survive without a tip, do tell me the hotel staff in North America needs to rely on tips to ‘support their livelihood’?

Personally, I do like the concept of tipping in restaurants as that has yielded better service attitudes from servers in North America. Furthermore, if the service is lower than average, I have the flexibility of giving less than 15% unlike in Singapore where a 15% service charge is automatically added. However I have yet to experience hospitality service standards that are better in North America compared to Asia. My best hotel stay in North America comes from the Andaz hotels in New York, but comparing Westins and Sheratons in Asia and North America, I seriously cannot justify giving a tip for what is inferior service. Show me the service first before we talk about tipping!

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