Resort fees? Key West hotelier just says ‘no’

Resort fees, which once covered high-end amenities offered by upmarket properties, have morphed into a way for hotels of all strata to lure guests with artificially low nightly rates without losing revenue. But not all hoteliers are willing to engage in this sleight of hand.

A bit of background is in order. With the proliferation of hotel booking sites and ever-more price-sensitive consumers, many hotel operators adopted the practice of adding a “resort fee,” which enabled them to offer a lower nightly rate. Or so it seemed.

Instead of offering a rate of $199 per night, a hotel might offer a rate of $159 with a $40 resort fee. The $159 rate would place their property higher up on the list when sorted by price, garnering them greater attention. Potential guests would often not even know of the resort fee until they completed their booking.

Resort fees have become so ubiquitous that the last report issued by the Obama administration named them as one of several hidden fees across several industries, and called upon the industries and their customers to work toward to mitigating or eliminating the growing use of such fees.

At least one hotelier is listening.

Julia Fondriest, who owns six independent, boutique hotels in the heart of Old Town Key West, Fla., is dead-set against them.

“When you ask guests what they like least about hotels, their answer is universal: resort fees,” she said. Fondriest refuses to hide an additional $20 to $38 per night resort fee, which would show up in the fine print of her hotels’ online listings.

Vintage Key West cottages

“The only way a property can distinguish itself from others on that list is by dangling a low rate out there in big, bold print,” she says. Of course, the nightly rate is often significantly higher when the resort fee is added.

“It’s a shell game that we just won’t play,” Fondriest emphasizes. “We never have and never will. Our rate is our rate, and while it may not be the most profitable policy, we think it’s the fair and honest way to do business.”

It’s the only way Fondriest will operate her six properties: The Merlin Guest House, Key Lime Inn, Albury Court Hotel, Chelsea House Hotel, Lighthouse Court Hotel and Cypress House Hotel.

The Merlin Guest House was the first lodging property she acquired in Key West, 20 years ago this month. When she found the property, it was a collection of five neglected buildings that had been stitched together in the 1970s. But she saw past the peeling paint, rusting roofs and rotting woodwork to the character of the enduring, wooden buildings.

She knew she could revive and restore them, she says, and she did.

Today, she has a collection of 50 classic wooden structures, the oldest of which was built in 1854 and, because of its location, escaped devastation of the Great Fire of 1886.

Key West lighthouse

Another of her properties, the Lighthouse Court Hotel, is on U.S. Highway 1, adjacent the Key West Lighthouse, and across the street from the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. In addition to its appeal to literary fans, the Hemingway home is a popular wedding venue, making the hotel an excellent spot to lodge wedding guests.

Despite their vintage exteriors which have been preserved to accurately reflect the period, each of the 200 rooms features the most modern amenities: fast Wi-Fi, comfortable beds, modern bathrooms and convenient charging stations.

To celebrate the anniversary, of the first property, Historic Key West Inns is offering guests who book directly with the chain for stays between Sept. 1 and Oct. 19, 2017, 20 percent off 20 quintessential Key West experiences. Those range from bike rentals and boat rides to fine dining and fishing trips.

“We offer a hotel experience that’s connected to the destination itself, and this anniversary package enables our guests to explore everything our island has to offer,” Fondriest says, with a local’s sense of pride. “We’re not styled to look like someone’s image of Key West; we are Key West. When you stay with us, you know how the locals live, while the hotels themselves leave you with a true sense of the place you came to visit.”

The special package is available for booking made directly at

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Photo by Carl Dombek
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