Just remember this the next time you sit down to negotiate a contract: If you don't ask, they won't tell. Sales managers are trained to answer only what you ask them — they won't volunteer information, especially if it might cost them something. If you ask about any additional fees, for example, the sales manager may point out the fees relevant to your meeting, but not necessarily any additional house surcharges. Why not? Well, you didn't ask about those.

So how do you determine the real cost of your meeting? Simple. Before signing a contract, sit your sales manager down in a comfy chair. Don't let him get up again until you are told about the energy surcharge, the fire department fee, the telephone usage fee, the storage fee, the baggage-handling fee, the meeting room service charge, the safety deposit fee, the mail fee, the pool fee, the health club fee, the parking fee, the photocopy fee, the union fees, the nonunion fees, the fax fee, the room service fees, the newspaper fee, the computer hookup fee, the minibar fee, the water bottle fee, the towel charge, the amenity delivery fee, the extra setup fee (even if just one chair is moved), the extra equipment fee (even if it's an extension cord), the late parking fee, the substitution fees, the late arrival fee, the late departure fee, the fee to collect the extra fee (it does exist!), the use-of-the-American-flag fee, the additional per-person minimum fees, the all-inclusive resort fee, the a la carte resort fee, the hotel shuttle cost, the extra signage fee, the minimum bartender fees, the “commissions” provided to inside vendors, etc. These are all fees or surcharges that can be charged beyond the 18 percent to 21 percent “service” charge on meeting room, audiovisual equipment, and F&B costs.

In an ideal world, the sales staff would mention all charges in advance. In their defense, sales staff usually aren't informed about new fees and surcharges until management or the stockholders decide to impose them to improve the profit projections of each department of each hotel (bonuses and careers may depend on sales staff collecting these fees and surcharges). And with hotel revenue per room expected to slow and occupancies dropping, expect to see fees and surcharges sprouting like weeds.

However, you can be proactive. Put an addendum in your contract that specifically disallows additional fees or surcharges not covered in the contract without your express written permission. When asked to pay a surcharge, don't agree unless you get something else of value in return. If they say it's a fee required by law, ask for a copy of the law, and comply if it is truly required. If it's hotel policy, show them the addendum.

Don't be swayed by sad stories about how “We need to work together,” or “We need a win-win situation here,” or “Costs have gone up,” etc. Just remember, the CEO of Starwood properties, the largest hotel property owner in the United States, was paid about $56 million in salary and stock options while Marriott made a 66 percent profit last year. They received these profits because revenue was up. Revenue was up at least in part because more fees and surcharges were collected. The lesson should be clear: Just say no to extra fees and surcharges.




Tom Carrier is a senior meeting planner for a government contracting firm in Rockville, Md., and the author of The Small Meetings Handbook.