‘Just doing their jobs’? Here’s why I always tip the hotel cleanerTravel News from Stuff - 13-11-2023 stuff.co.nz
I’m in a new city and am heading out for a big day of exploring. I’ve hung up my bath towels, turned off the air-conditioner and hidden my empty chocolate wrappers in the bin. My final task is to leave a few dollars on the pillow as a gratuity for the person who cleans my room. I generally budget $5 per day.
“I don’t believe in tipping”, I hear you counter, in a tone reminisce of Mr Pink in Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 cult classic Reservoir Dogs. Gathered for breakfast in a busy diner, the outspoken jewel thief, played by Steve Buscemi, announces “As far as I’m concerned, they are just doing their jobs”.
And there you have it, the number one reason travellers don’t feel the need to tip service staff. You can’t blame us really, beyond rounding up a bill or tossing coins in the tip jar, it’s just not in our DNA. But now, after the ravages of the last few years, I reckon it should be. We all promised to do better.get quote or book now in New Zealand
Spare a moment for the housekeepers; those invisible genies who scrub toilets, empty bins, and find dropped earbuds when all hope is lost.
Twenty years ago, I barely gave them a passing thought, let alone a rupiah, ringgit or riel. They are just doing their jobs, right? No need for a pat on the back.
Then I visited Cambodia, a beautiful country that was still carrying the fresh scars of Pol Pot’s brutal regime. Hit by an avalanche of child beggars, land mine victims and poverty that brought me to tears I fell into the trap of handing out small change. But conversations with a group of volunteer British doctors warned me about organised begging syndicates and children being trafficked. Far better, they advised, to donate to a recognised charity and travel with a tour company that gave back to the communities it visited.
Fair call, yet the desire to do something right-here, right-now was all-consuming. But what to do?
We debated the topic long into the night. What if, in place of giving money to beggars, travellers gave money to an employed person? It sounded contradictory, giving to someone who already has a job while bypassing those who were visibly struggling. But what if that person was the sole breadwinner of a large and extended family? What if the job was hard and the pay low? And seasonal, meaning that often, little tummies went hungry. Finally, if the recipient was a woman (yes, we were drawing some big generalisations), we thought there was more chance that the bonus would be squirrelled away for good use.
Who better than the housekeeper? The money was not solicited, nor would it alter a family’s social dynamics. It would be a sign of appreciation, given voluntarily for a job well done (and it’s always well done).
Alice Hall, Unicef Australia’s Director of International Programs says, “as a traveller, being sensitive to the local environment, culture and wellbeing of residents is really important and will result in a better travel experience. In any culture, it’s generous to be thinking about the service teams like waiters, shopkeepers and cleaners that help you along the way.”
Hall further advises that travellers “check travel advice on tipping culture, as tips are not always customary, but certainly shop local, support local restaurants and cafés”.
Over the years I’ve seen enough proof to know that an unexpected gratuity will be well received. (except Japan, where any cash left out will sit there untouched. Guaranteed).
In a small guesthouse in Luang Prabang a housekeeper started leaving small gifts in return. One day – noticing I was a tea drinker – it was an envelope of freshly dried mint leaves; on another it was posy of wildflowers. Although we never saw each, a gossamer-thin connection was forged.
Similar things have happened to me in Peru, Namibia and Mexico (where I discovered a handmade paper bookmark slipped inside the novel I’d been reading). Yet most times I receive nothing, except a feeling that both our lives have been made better by the silent exchange.
Intrepid Travel – a leader in responsible tourism for 30 years – has a mission to create positive change through the joy of travel. “In some countries, housekeeping is seen as a proud and important role, however, in other countries, housekeeping is considered unskilled work and staff are amongst the lowest paid in hotels and often come from disadvantaged, vulnerable or marginalised groups,” says Annette Sharp, Intrepid Travel’s Global Social Impact Manager.
“In these countries, tipping can make a huge difference to a housekeeper’s income and livelihood as the money goes directly into their pocket.”
So, if you are in a financial position to do so, why not make it your new travel habit. My tips: get cash (in the local currency) ahead of time, always place it on the pillow and, as staff change throughout the week, leave it each day of your stay.
And rewatch Reservoir Dogs. Mr Pink is nothing but a crooked cheapskate.
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