In this case, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas. The resort fee—a daily charge tacked onto a hotel or resort room rate for services guests may or may not want—began there about eight years ago. Last year, the U.S. hotel market collected an estimated $2.7 billion for all manner of fees and surcharges, according to Bjorn Hanson of New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism.
In other words, hotels and resorts saw what airlines were doing and started figuring out their own ways to increase revenue beyond the basic fare—or, in this case, the room rate.
Some hotels now charge for early check in and late check out. And for baggage storage. Or an “administrative fee” to restock the minibar. At one Las Vegas hotel guests are assessed a $25-a-day “personal use fee” if personal items such as bottled water are stored in the minibar fridge.
Hotels in major cities such as San Francisco call their daily fee an “urban fee.” In New York City, it’s often known as an “amenity fee” or “facilities fee.”
Sometimes the sting of the mandatory charge is softened by including credits at the hotel’s F&B outlets, as well as other specified services. At New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan, for instance, the $25 added to bills daily as an “urban destination charge” includes a $15 beverage credit at the hotel bar and a $10 food credit at the grab-and-go. The hotel also says it pays for Internet access for up to three devices plus local and toll-free calls.
But the fact remains, these charges are automatically tacked on bills, whether guests avail themselves of the stated benefits or not.
Does this mean meeting planners, or their attendees, are stuck paying them? When it comes to the daily add-on (whatever it may be called), hopefully not.
“I have heard of planners negotiating out this fee,” says Lauren Wolfe, a lawyer who publishes the website killresortfees.com. Wolfe follows chatter on hotel fees on Twitter, and watched as the members of a national nonprofit group recently “went ballistic” over the daily fee charged when they booked at their convention hotel in Maryland. The room rate was renegotiated, she says. “It is embarrassing to professional planners to have something like happen. Even if a hotel has no resort or urban fees currently, I would put it in writing in the contract, so that there is no potential issue in the future.
“More importantly, these hidden fees cause nothing but frustration for convention and event attendees, so it would serve everyone’s best interest to see that they are part of the room rate and not a surprise to guests when they get to the hotel.”
Jeff Kear, co-founder of Planning Pod, an event management and facility management software platform used by event and meeting planners throughout North America, says, “Most meeting planners know to ask if such fees exist and, if they do, simply say ‘we are not paying that’ as part of their negotiations. Sometimes the hotel tries to slip these fees in at the last minute when guests show up, and this is where iron-clad contracts that disclose all fees and charges are necessary when negotiating room rates, minimum requirements and amenities for meetings. That way you are not contractually bound to pay such fees and can simply charge them back if they are assessed without your written approval.”
Kear also advises that planners bring along their financials from previous years’ events to show their hotel spend and P&L. “If a venue sees you have a track record of profitability with your event, they will be more inclined to work with you and drop ridiculous fees like the hotel urban fee, especially if there’s the chance they can win your business for future years,” he says.