NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Marriott guests will soon find a new feature in their rooms: a gentle reminder to tip the staff.

Earlier this week the hotel chain launched a new campaign called The Envelope Please to encourage guests to leave tips for the housekeepers. At locations across the United States and Canada, staff will leave white envelopes in 160,000 hotel rooms printed with the name of person who cleans that room and a message:

Thanks for staying at Marriott Hotels. Our caring room attendants enjoyed making your stay warm and comfortable. Please feel free to leave a gratuity to express your appreciation for their efforts.

The program is being launched with Maria Shriver, founder of A Woman’s Nation, who described the campaign as an important step toward educating travelers. Many people may not realize that it’s customary to tip housekeeping staff, she told the Associated Press. The Envelope Please is a good way to gently remind them while providing an easy and secure option for leaving behind a little bit of cash.

For many travelers this will come as a surprise, since a large number of people may not even be aware that leaving tips for a hotel’s cleaning staff is customary in the first place.

“Most guests do not tip,” said Ed Copeland, a hospitality instructor with Kendall College in Chicago. “Guests may leave a tip if they are there for several nights, but tips on brief stays are uncommon. The maid is not there with his or her hand out like a bellman, so it’s easy to forget.”

Unlike in the service industry, tips typically are not considered part of a hotel staff’s pay. Although wages vary widely based on region and employer, Copeland estimated that the average housekeeper at a full service Marriott makes around $10 per hour, a far cry from a waiter who takes home $2.50 before gratuity. For this reason many travelers fiercely debate whether or not to tip housekeeping staff at all. As MainStreet’s Robert McGarvey reported last January, many people insist that housekeeping is a standard, paid job like any other. You would no more tip the housekeeper than the front desk clerk or the cashier at a bookstore.

The numbers are hard to pin down, but according to McGarvey’s data, only about half of travelers leave behind any cash for the maid. The Envelope Please could push those numbers up at Marriotts.

“Personally, I do believe guests should tip the maid, and I do, but I am also part of the service industry,” Copeland said. “Many hotels use a variation of this currently. Some leave a signed note by the maid and some have a printed card… I believe the envelopes are helpful, because they help to get the tip to the person who cleaned the room.”

This is an important point that even well-intentioned guests often miss, he said. Leaving one lump sum at the end of your stay doesn’t necessarily mean that the person who cleaned the room will actually get the money. If the housekeeper who cleaned up yesterday is different from the one who shows up today, your generosity could miss its target.

“I believe,” he added, “most educated travelers will understand the purpose of the envelope.”

So, how much to tip if you choose to do so? Between $1 and $5 per night is industry standard, according to Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson, depending on your room and the quality of service. If you don’t, the envelope will still be there waiting.

--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.