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T+L’s Guide to Tipping 2011

Illustration displaying tipping.

Photo: Peter Oumanski

By now, there should be enough cheat sheets, calculators, and apps out there to finally put an end to questions about tipping. Why is it, then, that even seasoned globe-trotters, Travel + Leisure editors among them, still fret over it? Tipping is meant to be a pleasurable gesture, one that marks exceptional service, creating a bond between a guest and a hotel staffer or tour guide. However, as service becomes increasingly personalized—airport greeter; bathroom attendant; private chef—the potential pitfalls begin to add up. Add to this a host of cultural considerations, and the standard rules no longer apply. (Should you offer dollars with a handshake—or tucked into a thank-you note? Is local currency better than a few crisp greenbacks?) To help you on your next trip, T+L asked some of the most seasoned hoteliers and tour operators around the globe to weigh in. Read on for their expert advice.

Tipping Scenario No. 1: The City Hotel

When you land at many airports in Asia—including Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Beijing—the first encounter with your hotel will likely be right outside customs. Luxury properties often have an airport greeter dressed in a business suit who will pick you up, escort you and your luggage to your driver, and load your bags into the car. Most guests remember to tip drivers about $3 in the local currency, but greeters are often overlooked, according to Joseph Chong, general manager at the Peninsula Shanghai. They should receive the same amount as drivers. Once you’re at the hotel, Peter French, general manager of Raffles Dubai, who has spent more than 20 years working in hotels in Asia, says the standard concierge tip is $7 per day—slightly more if a guest makes frequent requests. The exception is in Japan, where tipping is not common, but it’s acceptable to thank your concierge with a token gift such as chocolates, says Wolfgang Krueger, former general manager of the Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo, now at the Kowloon Shangri-La Hong Kong. For other staffers, give a $2 tip to the doorman and the same per bag for a bellhop or porter; $5 per day for room attendants will suffice. Budget a $20 tip for a full day of sightseeing with a private car and driver, $5–$10 for a half-day. If you go to dinner in one of the hotel’s own vehicles, consider $5-$8. If you’re staying on a business club floor, the fact that you’re paying a premium covers extra services, but it’s gracious to reward the breakfast server for the extra coffee refills and clearing of buffet plates. A $2–$3 tip left on the table at the end of the meal will be appreciated. Also, don’t forget the oft-overlooked restroom attendants in lobbies: $2 per visit is sufficient.

Tipping Scenario No. 2: The Resort

As soon as you arrive at your resort, prepare for a parade of staffers who will take care of you during your stay. And even in the case of resorts with no-tipping-required policies, it’s hard to know how to thank those staffers who go above and beyond. The standards for rewarding great service can vary depending on where you are in the world, but here are a few general rules. Matt Bailey, managing director of Grand Wailea, on Maui, advises tipping your tennis instructor 10 to 15 percent after a lesson. Same goes for the fitness coach and scuba instructor. The bellman toting golf bags or ski gear—especially for a family or group—should receive 50 percent more than the normal luggage tip (instead of $10, make it $15). Babysitters should be rewarded according to the level of engagement: 20 percent of the total fee to keep four tweens occupied for an evening, and 10 to 15 percent to watch a napping baby. In the spa, massage therapists should be tipped 20 percent at the front desk—leaving money on the table is considered inappropriate. Leave $2–$3 for the pool attendant who snagged you a good chair ($5–$10 if a cabana was set up for you). Bailey suggests $3 per day for the room attendant at a limited-service hotel, and $5 where the attendant is returning several times daily for extra towels and turndown. Remember to leave a note with any tip so the staffer knows what it is. The golf valet who cleaned your shoes and clubs should receive about $10 each time. Bailey also advises tipping butlers as you would concierges: “They make up the room, serve meals, draw baths—they’re a conduit to all the services in the hotel.” If you relied heavily on the butler’s services, give him an envelope with a couple of hundred dollars at the end of a four- to five-day stay (a little less in other parts of the world where tips are generally less generous).

Tipping Scenario No. 3: Adventure Tours + Safaris

Whether you’re tracking cheetahs in Botswana or mastering rapids in the Grand Canyon, your guide will be with you every step of the way, often combining several roles in one: field expert, driver, majordomo, and even therapist when you step outside your comfort zone. Off the Beaten Path cofounder Bill Bryan, who specializes in tours of the Americas and the South Pacific, suggests tipping a hiking guide between $10 to $15 per day per person—more if the route is grueling. Whitewater rafting guides should receive about $10 per day. For the fishing guide who helped you catch that six-pound rainbow trout, $100 on a $500 fee is fair. Butterfield & Robinson trip planner Jonathan Landsell says his company, and many others, tip local tour guides themselves, making an additional gratuity unnecessary but still welcome. For example, a $20 tip for a half-day sightseeing excursion with a local Peruvian would be appropriate. If you spent quality time together trekking across Peru or cycling in Morocco and want to show your appreciation for your trip guide, he suggests 2 to 3 percent of the trip cost. Note that if the owner-operator of a boutique tour company escorts you, monetary gifts are unnecessary (it would be like tipping a hotel’s general manager).

Traveling in the bush on safari requires a substantial team of staffers. At a tented camp, the camp manager will be your main point of contact, but you won’t need to leave a tip, as he’s the equivalent of a GM. At the end of your trip, budget about $18 per day for your guide and $6–$10 per day for the tracker. Aim for $5 per day for the room attendant and $3 per bag for your porter and the staffer who handles laundry. Dennis Pinto, Micato Safaris’ managing director, encourages travelers to be mindful when it comes to handing out money to locals who aren’t part of the company’s staff. If you want to give back to a community, consider donating to a local school or conservation project instead.

Global Tip Sheet

In most cases, try to use the local currency. This is especially true in emerging economies. China’s monetary policy, for example, is very strict, so local staffers may have difficulty when trying to exchange U.S. dollars for renminbi. In India, much the same problem arises.

Be careful of overtipping. In some countries, it could be perceived as something of an insult. “The pride of the Chinese is that they are able to do anything better than anyone else without having to be ‘bought,’ ” says Joseph Chong, general manager of the Peninsula Shanghai.

Status and gender are important, too. In India, for example, offering a gratuity to a white-collar worker such as an educated guide is considered insulting. In some parts in the Middle East, much as women should cover their shoulders and knees to be respectful, female travelers may want to ask male companions to tip on their behalf, when they’re in more traditional, rural areas.

Tip discreetly. Choose the moment well. Remember: a tip that singles out a staffer on a tour, for example, will expose both guest and worker to potential resentment.

When in doubt, go with what you know. Remember that hospitality staff often deal with international travelers of different backgrounds and are keenly aware that tipping varies by culture.

Inside Stories

Three hoteliers reveal their most over-the-top tipping tales.

Darren Gearing, vice president and general manager, Island Shangri-La Hong Kong: A staffer at our Restaurant Petrus struck up a conversation with a lone diner to make sure he was feeling all right. When the guest settled the bill, he bought the staffer a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1982—worth about $4,050.

Peter French, general manager, Raffles Dubai: We had a guest who presented a staffer with a $100 bill, then ripped it in half and said, “The other half is for you at the end of the stay.” Less a tip, more of an insult.

Rod Wyndham, managing director, Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, South Africa: One guide helped a guest fulfill his dream of seeing leopards in the wild. He received a $12,000 tip meant as seed money for an Internet company he wanted to start.

Tipping by the Numbers

33: Percentage of Americans surveyed who could not identify the standard tipping amount for a meal. Source: Michael Lynn, professor of consumer behavior and marketing, Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

$200: Average monthly amount in gratuities earned by staffers at the Aman New Delhi.

$0: The amount required for any service in Iceland, where tipping is not practiced.

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