For some, there is no bigger thrill while traveling than to discover an ice machine close to their room. Taken for granted at home, ice becomes a precious commodity in hotels. It’s become part of standard lodging accommodations, along with a clean set of sheets or an ironing board.
But ice wasn’t always a gratuity. In fact, the reason hotels have made free ice machines permanent fixtures is because ice once came with a price tag attached.
Back when the Holiday Inn was a burgeoning franchise in the 1950s, founder Kemmons Wilson noticed that rival hotel operations charged extra for ice. As someone looking to break into the hospitality industry, Wilson was looking to improve the guest experience and thought that gouging his lodgers for ice was a poor way to go about it. At a Holiday Inn, ice could be fetched for free.
Because the Inn was a franchise with a uniform set of standards, each new location that opened brought with it the same policy about free ice. Other hotel chains looking to compete with the increasing popularity of the Holiday Inn began to concede. Soon, ice was a no-charge benefit for virtually all hotels.
(Wilson had other thoughts about hotel surcharges. Some chains tacked on $2 extra for each child, a policy he did away with. The Holiday Inn became a massive success, though not all of his ideas landed. Wilson once wanted to install a trampoline in each location, an ambition that ended when a child hopped on one and crashed through a window.)
Of course, a machine handled by multiple guests needs regular cleaning and maintenance, and not all hotels necessarily keep up with the task. A 2012 CBC investigation found bacteria, including E. coli., on ice machines at six major hotel chains in Canada. Ice machines and dispensers should be cleaned monthly.