Strange Hotel Charges during CIAA Tourney

Hotel SurchargeThose of us who travel for a living are often mystified by the logic applied to hotel bills. This is especially true when we are not members of the hotel’s reward programs. There are all kinds of unique taxes and service charges hotels will now use to increase their bottom line. It is quite creative really – and very weird. The $250 room charge, or whatever it is, can climb its way to $275, $295 or more. They don’t even hide the fact they are slapping all kinds of taxes and fees on some of us because they think they can.

The CIAA Basketball Tournament was held in Charlotte, N.C. this past February. The CIAA, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) was founded in 1912. The CIAA is the oldest African-American athletic conference in the nation and its Division II athletes have not only distinguished themselves on the field, but in numerous life and career endeavors. The schools making up the conference may be under 1,000 to 7,000 students or more.

One of the host hotels of the tournament was the upscale Ritz-Carlton. It is hardly a cheap hotel. Their guests pay top dollar; hundreds of top dollars per night.

As with any hotel, the Ritz-Carlton has a lounge area and in the lounge area, food and (mainly) adult beverages are served. Adult beverages are not cheap to begin with at the Ritz-Carlton and the food is hardly free. So when an organization such as CIAA has a tournament, where 100,000 or more attendees arrive in town, more than a few will make it to the lobbies of the hotels. In fact, many hotels will expand their lobby facilities to accommodate the overflow crowds.

Is this a bad thing? No, it is called making more money than usual.


Imagine the surprise of many staying at the Ritz-Carlton over the course of the CIAA festivities when they were presented with their charges, and 15 percent had been added as a “CIAA service charge.” The hotel said the extra charge was for expanding their facilities. Then they said it was to pay the wait-staff.

Some of those who were paying the extra charges called it something else. They filed complaints and some feel it was racially motivated. I hope and pray that was not the case.

While the hotel said it did nothing unlawful, reports are that they are issuing refunds and making a $75,000 donation to the CIAA Scholarship Fund. They are also being investigated by the Attorney General’s office and paying a fine. With all those penalties, something strikes me as having been unethical.

What went on there?

First of all, the hotel’s logic astounds me. If you are expanding just the lobby area to accommodate tournament guests, isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that bringing in more money? Hotel drinks are very expensive and hotel food is ridiculous (anywhere). It is hard to believe the costs of adding a few tables and moving some stuff around would put them “into the red.”

Next point I raise is if the hotel does this for every trade show and tournament held in town. Charlotte gets some pretty big trade shows and tournaments. Does the hotel add a 15 percent surcharge for every major event? It would be interesting if they could show that they did.

Has the lounge area been destroyed by CIAA attendees in the past? It would seem the answer is no. Were they afraid of something happening in the future or were they covering their bases just on general, unethical principles?

Is it the “aura” of sports and sporting events that scares them? Do they believe that guests staying at the hotel who are in the world of sports are crazies while a convention of podiatrists or accountants is more acceptable? I have seen accountant parties!

What I really appreciate about this incident is that it strikes a blow for all of us who travel for a living; from the guy who schlepps running shoes into retailers, to coaches attending conference meetings to association officials visiting universities. It is time we have the hospitality industry make some explanations as to why and how they charge.

I am on the road many weeks out of the year and I can’t remember seeing a trade show surcharge. I am only the opinion of one and hardly the beginning or ending point of this discussion, but something went on at the hotel during the CIAA tournament and I for one, want more answers.

This isn’t a major sports story, I know. I’ll talk about idiots blowing up their hands with fireworks on another occasion. For now, it is good for those in the business of sports to take a look at the ethics of sports business every so often.


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