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Exorbitant prices and arbitrary fees in the United States? Experts categorise. Picture: Adobe Stock

Tourist rip-off in the USA: What’s it all about?

Reto Suter

Travellers to the USA are complaining about exorbitant prices in hotels and overpriced food in restaurants. Travelnews asked North America specialists what the price explosion is all about.

Kurt Eberhard has travelled to the USA around 25 times. This year alone, the Co-President of Travel Professionals Switzerland (TPS) has already travelled to the United States twice - and couldn't believe his eyes and ears.

«It used to be cheaper to stay overnight in the USA than in Switzerland», says Eberhard when asked. "Those days are over. Now hotels in the United States cost the same or even more than at home."

He was also perplexed by the high fees that are now charged in many hotels. In the past, the so-called resort fee for certain extras, such as access to the fitness centre, was almost exclusively found in Las Vegas. Now it is the order of the day in many city hotels across the country. «I'm just waiting until I have to pay extra to use the lift», says the travel professional with a wink.

According to Eberhard, prices in good restaurants are also only going in one direction: upwards. «I'm not talking about Michelin-starred cuisine in the luxury segment, but about restaurants in the mid-price range with good quality», he explains.

What is added to the price on the menu afterwards can only be described almost cheeky in some cases. In the USA, people are used to the fact that the tax and tip added on afterwards make restaurant bills on average 30 per cent higher than the prices printed on the menu.

«Recently, however, more and more additional surcharges are appearing inexplicably on the bill. For example, three to five per cent for kitchen staff or an inflation surcharge of five per cent», says Eberhard.

15 per cent tip is no longer enough

Travelnews asked several Swiss North America specialists about the current price situation in the USA. They do not hide the fact that prices have risen massively in some cases. "That is, unfortunately, true», says Anja Meier, Senior Product Manager North America at Knecht Reisen.

Employees in restaurants used to be satisfied with a 15 per cent tip. Today, at least 18 to 20 per cent is expected. «Some states have also introduced additional taxes, which further increase the daily costs for travellers to the USA», says Meier.

Dominik Sanchez, Product Manager USA at the Hotelplan specialist brand Travelhouse, also speaks frankly: «The price level in the United States has risen very sharply in recent years», he says. Various factors such as the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine have driven up prices.

«This makes it all the more important that we make our customers aware of the prices, even if we lose one or two bookings as a result», explains Sanchez. We want to prevent travellers who have booked with us from being shocked by the prices when they arrive.»

What does give Dominik Sanchez from Travelhouse hope, though, is that he recognises a trend reversal. «Hotels are no longer fully booked in many places», says the USA professional. «Many Americans are currently travelling to Europe due to the strong dollar, and the tourism industry in the USA is therefore increasingly reliant on international guests again.»

One of the most expensive regions is the west coast. Image: Adobe Stock

According to Michael Bötschi, founder and co-owner of North America specialist Go2Travel, it's worth paying attention to the prices: “The costs for hotels and meals are particularly expensive on the west coast, in Florida and Hawaii—even higher than in Switzerland,” he explains.

The situation is different in the Midwest, around the Great Lakes on the border with Canada and in the southern states, outside the big cities. Prices there are much lower than in the hotspots. «The choice of destination within the USA therefore has a major influence on the price/performance ratio locally», says Bötschi.

The Swiss USA experts are not at all happy about the widespread resort fees. «They are often charged for services that in most cases don't bring any added value to customers, but should be a matter of course», complains Anja Meier from Knecht Reisen. "I'm thinking here of things like towels at the pool or beach, WLAN access, local telephone calls etc."

Dominik Sanchez from Travelhouse says: «We have agreements with our partner agencies that these fees must be shown in the room description. If this is not the case and customers have to pay a resort fee on site, we have the right to reclaim this from our partner afterwards.»

Price explosion leaves many travellers cold

What is pleasing for the Swiss North America specialists is that the increased prices don't seem to be affecting demand for trips to the USA. Michael Bötschi from Go2Travel states: «We are very satisfied with the level of bookings. Unsurprisingly, our individual hire car tours are doing best.» There has also been pleasing growth in motorhome holidays and guided coach tours.

Knecht Reisen is also experiencing growth. «Depending on the region, our bookings are up 10 to 20 per cent compared to the same time last year», says Anja Meier. Once again, hire car tours along the west coast and to the national parks are very popular this year. Motorhome and campervan tours are also very popular. «We are particularly pleased with the high demand for train holidays and island hopping in Hawaii», says Meier.

Highly popular with all Swiss North America specialists: camping holidays with a motorhome. Picture: Adobe Stock

«At Travelhouse, many perennial favourites are in high demand. The national parks in the west, the coast of California, Florida and New York are still very popular, especially with first-time visitors», explains Product Manager Dominik Sanchez. «Customers who have already been to the USA several times are a little more willing to experiment. The southern states, New England and the Pacific Northwest are playing an increasingly important role here.» Travelhouse has also noticed an increase in motorhome camping holidays.

That all sounds extremely positive. Nevertheless, not all Swiss travellers to the USA are completely unimpressed by the rise in prices. This is shown by the example of Hawaii at Travelhouse. «Because the price level has risen even more sharply in recent years than on the mainland, we are seeing a slight decline in bookings in Hawaii», says North America expert Sanchez.