Energy Fees Again?

In recent settlement agreements with Florida's attorney general, both Marriott and Starwood agreed not to assess energy surcharges in the state for two years or draw up any group contracts that include such fees, even for meetings to be held after the two-year period.

But will the result of the investigation, in which the attorney general claimed the chains were levying the fees without disclosing them, prevent hotels elsewhere from breaking out energy costs as separate line items on bills?

Given rising fuel costs, some industry observers speculate that hotel companies will re-implement the controversial pricing strategy.

"There's no doubt that some will try," says Bjorn Hanson, global hospitality industry leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "They can justify it to guests by saying to them, 'You've never paid three dollars at the pump before, right?' "

Some people have told Hanson that individual hotels already have assessed energy surcharges of $2.95 to $5.95, but he has been unable to corroborate those reports. Silverado Resort Napa has allegedly been charging energy fees, but property officials did not return calls for comment.

Josh Grimes, a travel industry attorney in Philadelphia, says the return of energy fees "is inevitable, because every other industry is charging them. My air-conditioning repair guy said he will be tacking on an energy charge, and the airlines have done so."

Adds Washington D.C.-based attorney Jim Goldberg, "I would not be surprised to find energy fees in hotel contracts next year. I heard that home energy costs will rise by 70 percent in 2006; commercial energy costs likely will go up too."

Meeting planners have mixed expectations. "I certainly expect those to pop up again," says Heather Kreider, event coordinator at TQ3Navigant in Englewood, CO.

But independent planner Vicky Betzig, of Meetings Industry Consulting in Brookfield, WI, says, "I have not heard of any facilities adding energy fees due to recent events with oil prices. I look at the high costs of energy as being temporary, and as a planner mostly of association meetings, I am typically booking properties a few years in advance."

Marriott declined to comment on the Florida settlement. Starwood is a bit scorched by the experience. "My guess is that we will not do energy fees again," says David Scypinski, senior vice president of industry relations for Starwood. "We learned something the last time around."

Says a Hilton spokeswoman, "Never say never, but there are no plans at this point."