The Westin Nova Scotian allows customers to pay what they want

The Westin Nova Scotian hotel is inviting guests this week to choose the price of their stay.

The Pay What You Want promotion began on Sunday and runs until Saturday. Guests can stay two nights in the 60 rooms that were set aside for the promotion. Reservations are sold out.

By Natascia Lypny

Cecelia Jennings picks her price after answering Denise McNeil's questions about her stay (Natascia Lypny photo).

The Westin Nova Scotian hotel is inviting guests this week to choose the price of their stay.

The Pay What You Want promotion began on Sunday and runs until Saturday.  Guests can stay two nights in the 60 rooms that were set aside for the promotion.  Reservations are sold out.

Guests are asked to answer a questionnaire about their experience and thoughts on the promotion.  Then, they name their price.

“We had one person that checked out who didn’t pay anything,” said Director of Revenue Denise McNeil.

But this blank bill was an exception.  McNeil reports that guests have so far paid anywhere from $50 to $129.

Rooms at the Westin during this period normally run for $149 to $169 per night.

“I do still think there’s benefits with a zero paying guest,” said McNeil. She admitted she wasn’t sure what to expect when allowing the customers to pick their price.

McNeil said that it was important that the guest in question highly rated their experience in the exit survey and would tell friends and family of their experience.

“One of our goals is to hopefully open the door to some different people who may not have considered a Westin in the past that we can turn into Westin guests in the future,” said Glenn Bowie, Director of Sales and Marketing.

Listen to Cecelia Jennings describe why she took advantage of the promotion for herself and her dog Destiny, and how she chose her price.

Cecelica audio clip

Bowie said that for the most part, clientele taking advantage of this offer aren’t dissimilar to those who regularly book rooms.  However, the promotion has attracted an unprecedented number of guests who call the peninsula home.

“Halifax hotels can be a reasonable value,” argued Bowie. “You can be a tourist in your own town affordably, but I don’t think people know that in a lot of cases.”

Attracting locals to the Westin is particularly difficult in the winter season.  Also, the March break taking place this week across the Maritimes signals a significant drop in business clientele.

This annual lull in reservations this week was made worse with the shift in the Halifax region March break to coincide with the Canada Winter Games.

So, Director of Revenue Denise McNeil decided the Westin needed something “creative” and “edgy” to attract customers.  A field-marketing manager through the Westin’s franchise company Starwood suggested the Pay What You Want promotion.

The deal is the first of its kind in Canada.

The Ibis Singapore hotel and Hotel Abruzzi in Rome have offered similar deals as the Westin in the past. Opportunities for customers to name their price have become more frequent in recent years with restaurants but rare with hotels.

McNeil said she had no idea what to expect when she proposed the promotion to the Westin.  The hotel staff was equally curious but also excited and interested, said Bowie, who shared in McNeil’s apprehension.

“In my case, from a marketing perspective, I was just hoping we’d get some press out of it—and that has far exceeded any expectation I had,” said Bowie.

The advertising for the Pay What You Want promotion began in mid-February with an announcement on the Westin Nova Scotian’s web site, and Facebook and Twitter accounts.  McNeil said there was little reaction.

A week later, the hotel sent out a press release.   Since then, the promotion has been featured by Live at 5, CTV Atlantic News, CTV National News, Canada AM, and the Globe and Mail.

“If you were to look at the viewership of those publications, not to mention a number of tertiary publications that we’ve been involved in, it would probably be millions of views, and something that we could not have afforded to do on our own,” said Bowie.

The publicity surrounding the promotion has served not only to promote the deal itself but also the Westin as a whole.

Despite its positive effects, Bowie and McNeil are unsure whether they will do the Pay What You Want promotion in the future.  Bowie said the media attention is unlikely to be repeated the second, third, or fourth time.  Right now, the Westin Nova Scotian is simply revelling in being a Canadian hotel first.