Yes, hoteliers, meeting planners do feel your pain. While energy costs skyrocket, your guest rooms are filled with TVs blaring, laptops tapping, and air conditioners humming — all sucking juice like a kid with a straw and Kool-Aid. In fact, some hotels are experiencing up to an 80 percent increase in energy costs, according to Kathy Shepard, vice president, corporate communications with Hilton Hotels Corp. in Beverly Hills, Calif. That hurts.

It hurts so much that, at press time, major chains and individual hotels had added surcharges in California and 15 other states to help cope with what everyone hopes will be a temporary surge in energy costs. “Living in California, I can commiserate with the hotels over the size of the energy bills they have,” says MaryAnne Bobrow, executive director, Wild West Veterinary Conference, Citrus Heights, Calif. But, she says, “When contracts are involved, I don't believe a surcharge is appropriate. When rates go down, my contracted rate isn't adjusted down, so I do not think the reverse should be true.”

What can you do? Lynne Tiras, CMP, president of International Meeting Managers Inc., Houston, fought the surcharge — and won. “We had a call from a hotel in the Northwest, where we are taking a repeat medical meeting this summer. The salesperson told us that they would be adding a surcharge to our rooms. We informed them that it was not in our contract and that we would be advising our attendees in advance not to pay it.”

James Goldberg, a partner with Goldberg & Associates PLLC, Washington, D.C., would say that's just fine. “Any fee that is mandatory and applied post-contract amounts to an increase in room rate, and legally that amounts to a breach of contract.” Anyone with a meeting contracted in the near future ought to ask if the hotel plans to impose an energy surcharge. “If the answer is ‘yes,’ the planner should say, ‘Think again.’”