sSAN FRANCISCO -- Energy surcharges tacked onto many hotel bills in
California are under attack from a law firm here that filed suit
against major hotel chains, claiming it is illegal for them to
charge extra for heat and light.
Many major hotels in California have added energy surcharges
between 83 cents and $3.50 per night to hotel bills.
The firm of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimannn & Bernstein filed a
class-action suit in San Francisco Superior Court asking the court
to stop Hilton, Hyatt, and Starwood from charging consumers the
extra fees -- and to pay restitution to consumers. Another lawsuit
was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against Marriott.
The same law firm represented travel agents in a class-action
lawsuit against airlines over the 1995 commission cap.
The lawsuit against the hotels alleges that it is illegal
business practice under California law to quote a rate for a hotel
stay and later tack on an extra charge, which the customer may find
out about only at check-out.
"Our contention is that these hotels have accepted reservations
for rooms at a certain price and they are obliged to charge that
price," said Barry Himmelstein, an attorney with the law firm. He
said some hotels disclose the surcharges at the time of check-in
but called those disclosures "inadequate."
Not every hotel is charging extra: Some notable independent and
resort hotels, such as San Diego's Hotel Del Coronado, have opted
not to levy energy surcharges.
The hotel's managing director, Michael Hardisty, said, "A lot of
major hotel chains have done it [imposed surcharges] but we
haven't, because we want to get people here."
Rick Lawrance, president of the 1,000-member California Lodging
Industry Association, made up of small and midsized properties,
said most of the members are "trying to shy away" from
Spokeswomen for Hilton and Hyatt said they could not comment on
the lawsuits because it involved pending litigation.
Calif. tourism officials fight negative blackout
A recent heat spell, meanwhile, sent a chill through
California's travel officials, who are worried that the national
spotlight on rolling blackouts will discourage travel here this
The industry is trying to overcome the barrage of nightly news
reports by emphasizing the precautions in place so that visitors
will feel little impact from the energy crunch.
In Palm Springs, the desert resort community where temperatures
soar in the summer and air conditioning becomes a necessity, the
visitors bureau is having some fun with the crisis, handing out
flashlights imprinted with "Palm Springs: We Love You" to all hotel
But the bureau also is taking the power shortage seriously,
assuring meeting planners and the trade that visitors won't get
stuck in a sweltering hotel or meeting room if the air conditioning
is shut down in a rolling blackout.
"There have been some blackouts, but all the major hotels and
our convention center have back-up generators," said a bureau
Lost in the media coverage, she noted, is that the power outages
are infrequent and short in duration -- typically about an
Moreover, some areas, including portions of Los Angeles and
Anaheim, are protected from blackouts because they're within
publicly owned utility districts that were unaffected by
Officials say most Californians have not experienced a blackout,
either at home or at the office.
"National media attention to the California energy crisis
perhaps has given the impression that everyone, everywhere in the
state is being affected. This is not the case for much of downtown
Los Angeles," said Armel Santens, general manager for the Biltmore
Hotel Los Angeles.
The California Travel and Tourism Commission addressed the issue
with a hot link on its Web site saying "The lights are still on in
The commission's site, at www.visitcalifornia.com, sports a message from
executive director Caroline Beteta offering reassurances about the
availability of essential services, transportation and
The impact on the travel industry has been difficult to gauge
because the energy crisis has hit at the same time the economy
slumped, say tourism officials.
"Indications are that business is softening and we may be down
from last year," said Lawrance. "But last year and the year before
were phenomenal years."
San Francisco's hotel occupancies have slipped this year, but
John Marks, president of the city's visitors' bureau, speaking at a
recent industry event, attributed the slide to the economy,
although he conceded that the possibility of blackouts may have had
In San Diego, a CVB spokesman said "on the leisure side, we
don't see any indication that people are deciding to cancel their
As for conventions, he noted that most conventions are booked
well in advance and blackouts are not going to cause them to
"We've gotten calls from meeting planners and we have a
statement, and that is that blackouts, if they happen, will not
ruin someone's visit but perhaps be a minor inconvenience."
At the San Diego Hotel Del Coronado, managing director Michael
Hardisty said summer bookings appear to be "solid," although the
hotel also is fielding questions from meeting planners, who seem to
be the segment most concerned about the power crisis. No meetings
have been canceled, he said.