July 07, 2014

Hotels and Stratification

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Hotels are a great way to think about social stratification. There’s the obvious: some hotels are incredibly expensive and affordable only to a select few. In the board game Monopoly, those with hotels on their properties are often the wealthiest players. And hotels have hierarchical ratings, from one to five stars delineating their quality and likely the corresponding wealth of their visitors. But there are other ways in which hotels can teach us about economic inequality as well.

Most of us are aware of two types of hotel guests: the business traveler and the vacationer. Business travelers typically get a number of amenities because their employer usually pays the bill. In order to attract meetings, conventions, and conferences, hotels strive to please business travelers because they can mean selling dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of rooms. A large corporation might have a deal with a particular hotel chain and thus regularly book many rooms around the country for its employees. These guests will likely be treated well, with upgrades to special rooms, complimentary breakfasts and other special features. 800px-22_West_-_interior_view_-_Ritz_Carlton_sign

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Those traveling on vacation (and on a budget) might get fewer amenities and less attention. Yes, a hotel might want someone’s repeat business, but losing a family’s business (and perhaps their friends’ or those who read reviews online) is less costly than losing an industry’s or corporation’s business. By contrast, those not on tight budgets who stay at high-end resorts will likely have a vastly different experience. Wealthy vacationers may even get discounts or complimentary rooms if the hotel will get publicity from the person’s visit. Many casinos will comp rooms for those who risk a lot of money gambling at their tables.

At the other end of the economic spectrum are a group of hotel guests many people are likely unaware of: those who stay in single room occupancy hotels (SROs). These are often older hotels, located in downtowns or neglected areas, which rent rooms on a long-term basis to low-income individuals, many of whom would likely be homeless otherwise. These hotels are often run down, have shared bathrooms, and house mostly (but not only) men with few family or social contacts.

 Sociologist Eric Klinenberg discusses SROs at length in his book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Because of the large number of people in SROs with substance abuse issues, mental health problems, and criminal histories, SRO residents often keep to themselves and mistrust their neighbors. Owners and employees of SROS also mistrust and fear those who stay there as well. Needless to say, because of the low income and low status of those who stay at SROs, their business is not highly valued. Technically, they are not hotel guests but instead are long-term residents. But designating these buildings as hotels enables many operators to get around local laws protecting renters.

Most of us have never heard of SROs because they tend not to be located in areas where business or leisure travelers visit, nor are they likely to be part of the search engines that help us find places to stay while on vacation.

For many people with the means to do so, a hotel stay is a regular part of a vacation. Having time off from work is itself a good indicator of social stratification, since not everyone gets paid vacation time. Of those who do get paid time off, not everyone can actually afford to travel. Last year, the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a study called “No Vacation Nation” which notes:

The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirements of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries.

Australia and New Zealand both require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year; Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger if we include legally mandated paid holidays, where the United States offers none, but most of the rest of the world's rich countries offer at least six paid holidays per year.

The study notes that nearly one in four American workers (23 percent) has no paid vacation or holidays; nearly half of low-wage workers have no paid days off. By contrast, 90 percent of the highest earners (those in the top income quartile) have paid vacation days.

Will you be taking a vacation this summer? How do your travel plans (or lack thereof) reflect your socio-economic status?


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Interesting article! I agree with your toughts!

I think every employee has to get paid vacation. Hotel stay will help them get relaxed and concentrate more in next coming work. Even low vage earners too should get all benefits.

Excellent article on Hotels and Stratification, almost nothing is read on this subject on the internet, I found it very interesting.

Great article. Love the point shared. its a must read

I will review my social economic status and choose the best hotel i can afford. Nice article.

Hotels and stratification is a good guide for coming up with different packages for various types of hotel guests. Great article.

I really want to thank you for this amazing article. Keep sharing and helping the community.

Great article, covered all points.

Great article used great information.

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