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CIAA: Ritz-Carlton service charge ‘impermissible’

Patrice Wright’s receipt for four drinks and sweet potato fries from the lobby lounge of the Ritz-Carlton in uptown Charlotte during CIAA week features a $10.20 CIAA service charge.
Patrice Wright’s receipt for four drinks and sweet potato fries from the lobby lounge of the Ritz-Carlton in uptown Charlotte during CIAA week features a $10.20 CIAA service charge. WBTV

The CIAA said a 15 percent surcharge the Ritz-Carlton tacked on during the CIAA tournament last month was “impermissible,” and that it’s working with the hotel and Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority to resolve the issue.

The surcharge for lounge guests first came to light when a patron complained to Observer news partner WBTV after noticing the line on her bill. N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office is investigating and has asked the Ritz-Carlton for more information.

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association is the oldest African-American athletic conference in the nation.

Tom Murray, chief executive of the CRVA, said he spoke with several other hotel general managers about the surcharge. None of them imposed a CIAA surcharge.

“I’ve still only heard of this one hotel that had done it,” Murray told the Observer. “We certainly didn’t like the confusion that was brought up in the labeling on the receipt. We certainly were disheartened by the fact that customers felt confused by that.”

Among other uptown hotels contacted by the Observer, representatives from the Omni and Charlotte Marriott City Center both said they didn’t charge CIAA-specific fees during the tournament. The Westin and Aloft Charlotte Uptown did not return a request for comment.

Murray said the CRVA doesn’t have the power to dictate practices to private businesses but said he will “continue to work with the CIAA and each of our hotel partners.”

In a statement, the CIAA said the Ritz-Carlton service charge was not approved or implemented by the CIAA or the CRVA and that the athletic conference is “on the side of our alumni and fans” who traveled to Charlotte.

“The CIAA will continue to work with the CRVA and hotels to ensure such exceptions to using the CIAA name for any surcharges, which are not approved by the CIAA, are impermissible,” the statement read.

The CIAA agreed last year to keep its annual tournament in Charlotte for six more years as well as move its headquarters to the city. In return, the CRVA increased its annual payment to the athletic association from $1 million to $1.4 million.

The Ritz-Carlton has issued a statement apologizing to customers for what it called a “misunderstanding.” Spokeswoman Heidi Nowak on Wednesday didn’t answer questions about whether the hotel has imposed such surcharges for other large events, such as the Belk Bowl. She emailed a copy of the Ritz-Carlton’s earlier statement.

“The service charge was not intended to single out any particular group or organization and we deeply regret any misunderstanding this may have caused,” she wrote.

A spokeswoman for Bank of America, which developed and owns the hotel building, declined to comment, saying the bank isn’t involved in the hotel’s day-to-day operations.

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