Brook Sabin is a travel journalist for Stuff.
OPINION: Tipping is one of the worst things about travel. I just got back from a trip abroad, and he’s more prolific than ever. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before tipping culture takes hold in New Zealand. And it must be rejected.
Covid turned the world of travel upside down and decimated the industry. Now that it’s roaring back, I’ve noticed some “new normals” starting to emerge.
The industry is chronically understaffed and (in some cases) running away with poor service, long queues and delays. For example, some hotels now advise that rooms be made every second or third day. They introduced the policy during Covid, people tolerated it, so it’s here forever.
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One of the most disturbing trends is that tipping culture seems to be spreading. A few years ago, there was a tip jar that you could put a few spare coins into; now credit card machines ask if you want to tip before the transaction goes through.
Tipping is not an option, it is increasingly an expectation.
One of the least enjoyable parts of traveling in the United States is tipping. With the weak New Zealand dollar, the price of traveling there has already skyrocketed. Add another 20% tip to everything and it’s ridiculous.
On my last trip to the US, I checked into a hotel and here’s what I was expected to pay in tips for my first night.
- As I pulled into the parking lot, a man motioned for me to stop the car. He then told me that the car had to be moved another 10 meters, but only he was authorized to do so. You guessed it: for a tip.
- The bellhop waited for a tip.
- After check-in, I was handed over (without warning) to a concierge to explain what to do in the area. She expected a tip.
- I was told I needed to move the car from the ‘visitors’ car park to the overnight car park. I tried to do it myself, but (once again) was told it was not authorized. You guessed it, another tip.
- After settling into my room, I went downstairs and ordered a coffee. I was handed an iPad to select my tip, with three big options: 10%, 15% or 25%.
- I have room service for lunch – he expected a tip.
- The cleaning staff had to be tipped.
- Dinner was a 20% tip.
Other than all that, no service was great. It was passable, but nothing memorable. All I remember is how awkwardly I waited for him to tip.
But here’s a not-so-radical idea: How about the giant hotel chain I stayed at, with multimillion-dollar profits, pay their staff a fair wage and make tipping optional?
I have no problem with tipping for exceptional service. But the expectation of tips, which seems to creep into every transaction, is the Americanization of travel at its worst. We all know when people are being obsequious and bumping into us with fake smiles to get a tip. I don’t want that, and I certainly don’t want to pay for it.
A few years ago, then Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett called for more tips in New Zealand to increase the quality of service. The suggestion didn’t seem to go over well. Tipping does not encourage better service; it encourages people to act like they care because there is money in it. If anyone, it’s the people who care when there’s no money who deserve the tip.
Of course, high-end restaurants in the U.S. that Bennett is likely going to have great hospitality when it comes to tipping. But in general, service in the US is spotty, not to mention the silent tantrum you often have to endure if you don’t tip.
New Zealand is one of the friendliest nations in the world to visit; that’s because our hospitality is genuine; it is not based on the expectation of money for a smile. We must continue like this.
What do you think? Is tipping good for travel and should it be more common in New Zealand? Let us know in the comments below.