Hotel Phasing Out UNICEF "Donation" in U.S.

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Customers of a Seattle, Washington-based hotel chain are being charged for a so-called donation to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) when they check out of the upscale lodging facility.

However, after customer complaints Westin Hotels and Resorts told CNSNews.com it is phasing out the program in its hotels located in the U.S.

Westin spokesperson Gretchen Kloke told CNSNews.com that the "voluntary dollar is asked from the guest at check out. There is a space to indicate if they'd like to donate a dollar and the agent is supposed to ask if the guest wants to do that."

An invoice from a Westin hotel in Washington, D.C. obtained by CNSNews.com does not furnish the guest with that option. Asked why the Washington, D.C.-area hotel did not provide their customers with the option in advance, Kloke said the program is in a modification period and that particular location may not have fully implemented those changes.

Kloke acknowledged that the program has suffered some "negative reaction" and will be phased out in the United States within the next month. Westin will, however, continue the program in its locations in 71 other countries, according to Kloke.

Westin Hotels and Resorts purports the program is designed to "invite guests to make a donation" to UNICEF, established by the United Nations in 1946 to help suffering children in war-torn Europe.

But the invitation comes in the form of a $1 line-item charge on the invoice, noticed only when guests wake-up to find the surcharge on the express check-out bill on the last morning of their stay.

A recent guest of a Westin hotel in the Washington, D.C. area noticed the "Unicef Donation" located on the express checkout invoice. The "donation" was listed between charges for garage use and a local telephone call. Prior to signing off on the invoice, the guest, who wishes not to be identified, requested the unauthorized charge be removed and the attendant agreed to do so.

Westin expects to raise more than $2 million in the first year of its "Check Out for Children" program, according to a statement released by the company earlier this year.

The company intends to use the funds for UNICEF's vitamin A distribution program in developing countries.

"UNICEF programs provide children with basic services in the areas of health and nutrition to ensure that they can reach their fullest potential," according to the statement issued by the company. "One of the organization's major priorities is the reduction of malnutrition, which affects more than 225 million children each year."

Juergen Bartels is chief executive officer of Westin's parent corporation, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. In March Bartels suggested that the company is asking its guests for the "donation."

"Every day we open our doors to thousands of guests around the world. Requesting a donation of just US $1 on behalf of UNICEF allows us to open the door to the future for millions of children," Bartels said.