Hotels Sneak In New Fees

They're at it again.

Hotels are adding new, creative fees to meetings contract proposals that, in many cases, are tough to negotiate out. And, unfortunately for planners, hotel industry trends suggest this is likely to be the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future.

Among the latest charges reported anecdotally by meeting buyers were a 10-percent "administration fee" for any direct billing on the master account for outside vendors; a $3-per-person "environmental fee" for using a hotel-owned park near the property, on top of a $500 rental fee for the space; a daily guest-room housekeeping fee applied only to groups; and a "passing fee" for the banquet staff passing drinks out on trays.

Deborah Gaffney, director of conference planning at the Tax Executives Institute in Washington D.C., received a contract that contained both the administration and environmental fees.

Fortunately, Gaffney wasn't using any outside vendors, so the administration fee didn't apply to her. But she says, "Should I have planned to use an outside vendor for tours, décor, or similar services, I would refuse to pay such a fee. Planners should have the right to use their preferred vendors without penalty."

As for the per-person fee to use the park site, she says, "I battled and lost. But they were giving me other concessions, which helped my bottom line, and I work hard for those types of items."

Among the terms Gaffney successfully negotiated were a break on the room rate, suites for officials at a regular room rate, a three-week room-block cutoff, an AV discount, a pre- and post-meeting rate, and an agreement that complimentary room allotment be calculated on a cumulative basis rather than per night.

For Loretta Lowe, a San Francisco-based independent planner who was hit with the daily housekeeping charge, which she ultimately negotiated out, "It's becoming more and more common to find some fees like this." But her biggest bone of contention, it seems, is how these charges are being billed. "I'm not against hotels making a profit. I'm against hotels hiding that profit in absurd fees and surcharges," Lowe says. "Just raise the darned room rate."