“That’s not fair!”
I hear this refrain from my 6-year-old son regularly. Being the gentle and sensitive mother that I am, I generally reply with, “Life isn’t fair, kid.” Tough love.
I hear a similar refrain from meeting planners when it comes to the ever-more-creative list of surcharges and fees levied by hotels, convention centers and other supplier partners.
Planners seem to fall into two camps:
- The “Just Round Up Your Price Already” group wants suppliers to do away with all the nitpicky fees and service charges and charge one simple price for everything, even if it’s higher. Simple, clear cut and above board.
- The “Be Reasonable and Disclose” group can deal with the separate charges (or maybe they have been beaten into submission by the unbundling of charges started by the airline industry) as long as they are aware of them all up front and they make sense. Seems simple enough, yet that’s not the way most of the industry operates.
Given that surcharges and fees amount to a $2.5 billion revenue line to the hotel industry, I don’t see them going away any time soon. It’s going to take more than a battle cry of “transparency!” to get hotels, venues and suppliers to turn their backs on that kind of income.
But surely hotels, venues and suppliers are only charging for reasonable expenses, right? Maybe not. The following are just a few of the charges listed among the “World’s Most Outrageous Hotel Fees.”
Yes, your room is ready before the official check-in time of 3:00 p.m. Sure, you can have a key to the room now…for $20-50 extra. Also early check-out, of course.
I haven’t seen this one personally, but apparently hotels are adding these to your bill. You can ask to have the charge removed, but the point is that it was charged to your bill without your permission in the first place. $1-2.
In-room coffee and tea
The previously free coffee packs and tea bags sometimes come with a price tag of $2-5 now.
The safe that was probably installed in your room when the hotel was built? You may have to pay $1-4 a day for the convenience of having it, whether you use it or not.
And these are just a few of the fees that are charged directly to hotel guests. Multiply these by hundreds or thousands of attendee rooms and the pain of meeting planners is obvious. Then add on top of that fees and surcharges that are slipped on to a master bill for room set changes, audiovisual, bar set-up, comparing the registration list to the in-house guest list and a myriad of other services that were assumed to be free or for which charges were not made clear, and a meeting planner’s budget is blown like Marlin and Nemo making a daring getaway.
It doesn’t seem like hotels and other suppliers are going to opt for the “simplify pricing” solution any time soon. So my suggestion is that planners make sure they read every word of the contract, ask about fees, surcharges, overages and additional expenses for virtually every line item and add any to the contract that aren’t clear. On a recent discussion board, a meeting planner said that the first time she was aware of certain charges was at the banquet event order (BEO) stage of the meeting. She felt blindsided and her perception of this hotel was irreparably damaged.
It also behooves the wary planner to add language to a contract along these lines
“The parties agree that neither Group nor its attendees are responsible for any fees or surcharges not enumerated in this contract or agreed to in writing upon check-in.”
That way, if there are surprise charges, planners have contract language to back them up on getting the charges removed from the master bill. This is not a way to “get something for free” but motivation to have all of the fees clearly disclosed in the contract.
This disclosure is perhaps most important when dealing with convention centers and other large venues. These venues often incorporate into the contract by reference Terms and Conditions and Policies and Procedures, some of which include fees and surcharges listed by dollar amount or percentage. In many cases, the meeting planner client has not even received these documents when they are asked to sign a license agreement. Planners should never sign a venue agreement that incorporates other documents unless they have reviewed those documents as well.
With large venue agreements, I suggest making a list of all the fees and surcharges and then combining them into one list. Then each party initials that list, agreeing that the Group will not be responsible for any other fees or surcharges beyond those on the list (with the possible exception of charges from labor unions, which should be fully disclosed).
Life may not always be fair, but business should be.