Chris Pat and his wife had planned to celebrate their first wedding anniversary with a weekend trip to Providence. So when they learned about the state’s “Go Providence Pass” promotion, where guests who book a two-night stay at participating hotels will receive a $100 gift card to use at local businesses, they were stunned as an ideal way to explore the city.
But after checking into The Beatrice in late September, Pat called reception to ask where he should go to get the gift card. Receptionist told him he didn’t qualify: $100 gift cards are only for people who booked at a special promotional rate.
Surfing the Internet, Pat first realized that The Beatrice and other hotels participating in the promotion seemed to charge a higher price for a “Go Providence Pass” — up to $50 to $80 a night, he said. This sounded weird: Who would want to pay an extra $160 for a $100 gift card?
Hotels contacted by the Providence Journal said they only charge a one-time flat fee to cover the $25 they pay for each gift card. But this is not obvious to anyone trying to book online, as the difference in price often seems steeper, especially for longer stays.
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“I feel like there was a program here that missed the mark, and it wasn’t for a lack of effort,” Pat told The Journal. “I wish it would have arrived better with people like me who want to come and visit and get to know the city.”
Promotion designed to promote small business
Launched this summer by Governor Dan Mackie, Rhode Island Commerce and the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, the “Go Providence Pass” is designed to boost hotel reservations and encourage visitors to shop and dine at small businesses, especially those that have been hit hard. from the epidemic.
Rhode Island Commerce, the state’s economic development agency, pays $75 for each $100 Visa gift card distributed at hotels. The other $25 comes from the hotel itself, Matt Schiff, a spokesman for the governor, told the newspaper.
Schiff said that so far 1,100 gift cards have been distributed to hotels. This adds up to $82,500 in public money. When Mackey announced the promotion in July, he said up to $150,000 had been allocated to the program.
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Data on the number of visitors who actually took advantage of the promotion was not immediately available. But three individual hotels told The Journal that they distributed about half of the gift cards they were initially assigned to, or less.
Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau checked into hotels about a month ago and found that many “do not use [the gift cards] As much as we thought,” President and CEO Kristen Adamo said.
Adamo noted that hotels in the Providence area returned to 80% to 90% occupancy on weekends this summer, indicating that their need for promotions was lower. As a result, CVB is extending the program until winter.
Fine print: Tourists must book a special rate
The list of restrictions posted halfway down the Go Providence Pass web page states that visitors must “reserve a GoProvidence Pass package/rate code in order to receive a $100 Visa Reward.”
But Pat said he only knew of the promotion through The Beatrice’s website, which provided no indication that they should use a special rate or code.
“We kind of booked a room, and what we saw on the website was ‘Hey, stay with us for two nights and get a $100 gift card,'” he said. “So we thought we were automatically eligible for that sort of.”
Looking back, he said, it may have been “a bit naive”. After he was told he was ineligible, he checked out the hotel’s website to confirm and saw that there was a “Go Providence Pass” rate that was $80 per night higher than what he paid, he said.
Still, Pat said he and his wife had a great time visiting a boat tour of the Providence River, checking out the RISD Zoo and Museum, and having dinner at Circe.
“We will definitely be back,” he said.
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When he got home in Connecticut, Pat decided to search online and see other hotel charges. At The Graduate, he said the price listed on the Go Providence Pass was $50 higher than the standard nightly rate.
The hotel has since discontinued the show and has not responded to inquiries about the price difference, which Pat remembers seeing.
Hotels say they charge a one-time fee – but their websites say otherwise
The Providence Journal attempted to make a series of reservations last Thursday and confirmed that hotels often charge higher rates for the promotion.
At the Providence Hotel, the Go Providence Pass is listed as the most expensive of the three options available, costing $30 more per night than the standard rate. In theory, that could mean that someone who books a five-night stay would end up paying $150 for a $100 gift card.
But Tom Anderson, the hotel’s general manager, said there’s a flat, one-time fee of $30 for the Go Providence Pass, which is tied to the standard rate. He said the accounting department adjusts the invoice on the “back end”.
Anderson said this isn’t apparent online – so guests are encouraged to call and make reservations over the phone. The $30, he said, covers the $25 the hotel put into the program, plus “processing fees and things like that.”
It is necessary to charge a special price for the promotion, because “If we don’t, we will be completely sold out [of the gift cards] “On the first day,” Anderson said. The hotel started with 56 gift cards and distributed about half of them, he said.
At The Beatrice, a receptionist said that booking a room with a king bed would cost $312 a night less than the standard rate, but the same room would be $337 a night if booked as a package that includes the Go Providence Pass.
That’s a difference of $25 – indicating that for every two-night stay, the hotel will return twice the amount they paid for the gift card.
But Greta Kip, a spokeswoman for the hotel, said the $25 was actually charged as a flat fee, “which is the out-of-pocket cost of the Providence Card.”
Confusingly, visiting The Beatrice’s reservation system through the Go Providence website automatically charged “Go Providence Pass” rates for November and December, which ranged from $279 to $309 per night.
But going directly to the hotel’s website and clicking “Book Now” showed rates for the same period of time ranging from $209 to $239 per night – without a gift card included.
Turns out these low prices are only available as part of a special promotion for Rhode Islanders. But it’s not hard to imagine a tourist glancing at and discouraging a Go Providence Pass.
The hotel has purchased 20 “Go Providence” gift cards and issued 5 so far, General Manager Jennifer Curtin said.
At Marriott hotels, the “Go Providence Pass” was part of a long list of promotions, and there was no clear benchmark rate to use as a point of comparison. Farouk Rajab, general manager of Providence Marriott Downtown, said prices are constantly changing due to demand, often through an automated system.
“It’s like airline tickets,” he said.
Rajab said Providence Marriott Downtown has started with about 100 gift cards and has distributed about 45 cards since the summer.
Disconnect between intent and execution?
Sheaff and Adamo note that Rhode Island Commerce and CVB cannot dictate the rates that hotels set.
Pat said he didn’t feel like he and his wife had been taken advantage of – they were just glad they didn’t overpay for a gift card.
He said the promotion was clearly a well-intentioned effort to encourage small businesses. But there seems to be a “break” when it comes to execution.
“I hope they restore it,” he said.
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