The Lakeview Resort is one of Kerala’s loftiest hotels, not only because it is situated some three thousand metres above sea level, but because it is one of the few resorts to have qualified for the coveted five-star rating. The residence is situated in the middle of endless acres of manicured Indian tea plantations and overlooks a picturesque valley and the famous lake that inspired its name. Since the days of English colonisation, when the station was established, visitors have flocked there simply to be able to gaze eastwards at dawn as the sun rises between the hill peaks that separate Kerala from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. The dawn mist acts as a prism, throwing the blaze of colours progressively from the sky, down onto the lush carpet of tea bushes and finally scintillating across the cool waters of the lake. The Lakeview is also a hotbed of behavioural economics.
With a reservation in a ‘superior room’ at this select resort, I was expecting an experience that would be everything the tour’s name, ‘Best of Kerala’, had promised. However, the first announcement the check-in lady had for me was that my room was located at the back of the hotel, on the ground floor, and had no view. I imagined spending the next two days looking out on a cooling tower, a parking lot for tour jeeps and a few sun-starved creeper plants hanging onto a rock face.
“But,” the check-in lady interrupted my increasingly gloomy train of thought, “I do have a deluxe junior suite available. It has a lake view and a balcony. These are our prices.” She slid the price list across the counter. It turned out that ‘Superior’ was the lowest room category in the entire establishment – superior to what? And what a price difference – the deluxe junior suite was more than double the rate of the superior room. “I am sure that we can arrange a discount for you sir. The porter could show you both of the rooms if you wish.”
I knew where she was going with this: the hotel had already seduced me into a booking for a room with an attractive price and a deceptively appealing name. Now, she was about to use another behavioural trick: she would show me the suite first in order to set a very high reference point and then show me the inferior accommodation, which would look even more dreadful in comparison. I would perceive the difference between the two rooms as a mental loss and my subsequent loss-aversion would do the rest: I would end up twisting my own arm into spending the extra money. Psychologically, I was already doomed. On top of that, I had just had a four-hour drive up the mountain and was tired and hungry. She smiled expectantly.
I decided not to see either of the rooms. My only hope of salvaging anything from the situation was on the price.
“What is the discount?”
“Twenty percent of the difference between what you have prepaid and the higher price”
“Forty,” I countered. I immediately went for the high-ball. I had no bargaining power, but I figured that if we had to meet in the middle somewhere, it would help to shift the middle a little higher.
We did settle at thirty percent in the end and, probably just like every other ‘superior’ guest before me, up I went to the deluxe junior suite. I suspect that the little room at the back of the hotel is the most reserved, but the least slept-in room in the whole place. The ruse is called the foot-in the- door technique. Let’s just call it the Kerala-Two-Step. The sunrise was lovely though.