Random In-house Publishing

Due to a combination of wild assumption and striking incompetence, I recently ended up repeating a long and pointless journey and overnight stay in the following week. I'm pleased to say that only the wild assumption was on my behalf - I assumed that an email containing details of a definite appointment meant that I was supposed to turn up at the specified time and place - whereas the striking incompetence became apparent when there was nobody else there. I knew that things were turning fruit dimensional (pear shaped) when the receptionist searched in vain for my name in three folders and a ring binder, then started making random phone calls.

I guess you've been through this experience yourself at some time and will recognize the symptoms. However, besides the usual pondering on what shape pears are that haven’t gone wrong, what really got me thinking is how the costing policy of the (rather less than salubrious) hotel works. For the first trip, I booked a Sunday night stay about three weeks prior and it cost around 40 US dollars room-only for one night. For the second trip, I booked four days ahead and it cost something nearer to 100 US dollars. OK, so maybe I'm going to get a penthouse with wall-to-wall grand pianos, hot and cold running servants, and silk sheets. Or perhaps they included for a banquet meal and a West End show.

Turns out that I got the same room, the same level of non-service, the same single and very small towel (though they had washed it), and the same view of the same brick wall out of the window. There was approximately the same number of guests and the same number of cars in the car park. It was the same day of the week, and even the weather was about the same. It just cost two and a half times more.

Now, I can understand that prices change based on factors such as demand, the time of year, the day of the week, the general occupancy level trends, the cost of maintenance and bank loans, the number of months left before the owner needs to change their Rolls Royce for a new one, and hundreds of other variable factors. But it still seems a bit steep, just because I booked less than a week ahead.

I suppose this is one of the problems with the Web, online booking systems, and technology in general. Instead of printing a price list that people can see (and so has to at least appear to be relatively reasonable in the way charges are calculated), you can hide it all in the business logic behind a flashy Web page and make semi random (usually upwards) movements in the price on a whim. Ashtrays full in the Roller? Just change a configuration setting so everyone pays twice as much for the same thing for a couple of days.

So can I adopt this approach in my charging scheme? Maybe the documentation team here at p&p can figure a way to base our charge backs on some crafty business logic that combines essential factors such as the weather (we could be out in the garden), the day of the week (the pool hall charges half price on Wednesdays), or the time of year (we could be on a beach somewhere on vacation). Combined, of course, with the complexity of the task (need to find the appropriate reference book), the urgency (chance of keyboard friction burns), and the topic (might have to learn new stuff). In addition, to prevent unwelcome charge calculation transparency, we'll take the ANSI code of the first letter of the requester's name and add that on to the hourly rate.

Wow, sounds like a plan. So, do you need any documentation work doing this week...?

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