Category Archives: Destination Selection

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

 Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

Never in my life has writing about contingencies and contracts been so difficult! So many recent events—earthquakes in Mexico, more hurricanes, and just this week, the Las Vegas mass shooting—have occurred since I began drafting this that the situation is almost incomprehensible.

It would be, for me, immoral, not to note the horrors of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Mexico first. Because of the loss of life in a dramatic way, in an “ordinary” (certainly for our industry) setting in Las Vegas, we are currently more focused there. We understandably want to help the loved ones of those who died and those who were injured, of those, including hotel staff, who witnessed the carnage.

Like many of you, I woke the morning of October 2 to the stunning—amazing, isn’t it, that another major act of mass gun violence could be “stunning”?—news of the lone attacker who shot, from the 32nd floor of a major Las Vegas convention hotel, into a concert killing (at last count) 58 and physically injuring or causing the injury of many hundreds. Sadly, it is expected those numbers will increase.

The psychological injuries to many more who were there, who loved those killed or injured, emergency responders, local residents, hotel and concert workers are far greater. Immense thanks to MGM and Mandalay Bay for offering counseling to their employees. Just as I thought about the airport personnel who, on 9/11, let through those who terrorized the world, I can only imagine the pain of front desk, bell and housekeeping staffs who had contact with the shooter and how they might question themselves.

And then there’s those at the concert venue who perhaps never made emergency announcements, such as where to best exit the venue in case of disaster or violence*, because “what could possibly happen?”

Which brings us full circle, back to the original intent of this blog and sidebar: contingency planning—how it begins with destination and site selection, RFPs and the questions asked, negotiations, contracts, and written contingency and emergency plans. These last weeks would test even the best of planners.

My friend and colleague, Tyra Hilliard, Esq., Ph.D., CMP, and I have talked and continue to talk incessantly about these issues. My friend and colleague, Kelly Bagnall, Esq., and I will, on this upcoming Meetings Today webinar, talk critical contract clauses on October 25 at 1 p.m. Eastern time. In an index of Meetings Today blog posts related to risk management and contingency planning, there are many useful items, many of which also make reference to contracts. In July of this year, I wrote about the challenges laws being considered and passed posed for groups when selecting destinations.

No matter how much Kelly, Tyra Hilliard and Josh Grimes (quoted in the sidebar), and others talk about the importance of contracting and planning in other ways for contingencies, we still see how few do.

Rick Werth taught contingency planning at the MPI Institute programs years ago. He taught then, and I still teach, “people first.” Assets can be recovered; people cannot.

Thus, I wondered, first, about those who work in the hotels, restaurants and attractions—initially after Harvey struck and then after each subsequent hurricane and the two earthquakes—who had lost everything, including documentation, clothing, shelter and transportation. How could they go back to work, even if the hotels opened, when they were living temporarily not knowing what comes next?

What about the people of Puerto Rico still waiting for water and power? How can we expect them, in crisis, to serve guests living in comfort?

What support and counseling will hotels provide to their workers who want—no, need—to work but have on their minds all they have to do? I’ve been unable to learn how hotel companies in Houston and surrounding areas, in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and elsewhere, have handled the physical and psychological needs of employees. It’s a question to ask in your RFP because if disaster strikes and your meeting continues, you’ll want to know. If you’re with a hotel or hotel company and reading this, contact me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and tell me if you want it to be anonymous and I’ll post it.

If you want to discuss this issue openly, please respond in the comments below.

I know that we want, as Tyra notes in her comments in the sidebar of the newsletter, to book or hold meetings where disasters have struck so that the communities can get back on their feet, but what about the health and safety of those affected by disaster who staff, attend and exhibit at our meetings?

Ask questions internally, or if you are a consultant or other third party, of your clients, and ask more in your RFPs. Then if you practice what I say and do for clients, answers should be contracted to ensure the parties don’t wait until the last minute to deal with a crisis or potential crisis or even just to know what the policies and procedures are.

As Diane Ramos, CMP, and her association learned, once you are on-site getting ready for your event and a hurricane is approaching, knowing what steps you must take to keep people safe and the steps that are contractually—or legally—permitted, makes the next steps in contingency planning and action more in line with expectations.

What all should you consider in your contingency plan? What questions should you ask internally and in your RFPs? This is not an inclusive list, but it will hopefully give you some ideas on where to start.

1. Who attends your meetings? Who are your exhibitors? Your off-property service providers?

  • Of those, how many may be full or part time emergency responders? How many may be part of the National Guard or other national or international rescue team? Will they be called to respond to an emergency anywhere in the world and be unable to attend your meeting?
  • Do you work with journalists? Medical personnel? Utility workers? What will their role be in response to an emergency? If they were unable to attend your meeting, what would their inability to attend cost in attrition? Will you be able to negotiate forgiveness into your contract or forgiveness if your meeting continues? What about later on, if not in the contract? And what about forgiveness if you must fully stop your event for reasons of force majeure or because you do not think there is a reasonable way to cancel but attendance is lower due to emergency?

2. Is your company or association one directly or indirectly involved in response or infrastructure to a disaster or a crisis? If they are, what will the ability be for exhibitors and participants to attend?

3. Do participants come from areas where disaster may strike? If they decide to attend, what will you do to ensure they are able to return home quickly and safely, or shelter where the meeting is being held?

[In Las Vegas, some hotels are extending complimentary rooms for families of victims to retrieve their belongings; others are providing rooms at low cost for loved ones of those hospitalized. Several airlines, at least at first, had only waived change fees until a few days after the massacre. I hope that changed].

4. What are the conditions under which the health and safety of participants could be impacted, by say, a chemical spill? By mold from flooding? Will, like after 9/11, loved ones and companies not be willing to put others in harm’s way by attending the meeting? (Read in Diane Ramos’s comments here what they had to consider as Hurricane Irma made its way toward Florida and cancellations they began receiving).

5. What backup power is available at any venue you are using during the course of your event? How has it been tested? For how long can it last? What about water supplies? Food delivery and preparation?

6. Will the venue (especially a convention center as we have seen over and over beginning with Katrina) be a shelter for those displaced locally and for tourists and meeting-goers unable to stay in their hotels?

  • If the venue is an emergency shelter, how soon will it be available to your meeting if your meeting follows a disaster by two or three weeks—or longer—following a disaster?
  • If the venue must still be an emergency shelter following a major disaster, how will it accommodate your meeting and the needs of people who need shelter? Can it do so?

7. What infrastructure issues exist now in the destination? (Recommended: follow the reports from the American Society of Civil Engineers on U.S. infrastructure—which, right now, gets a grade of “D+”).

8. What will be the ability of the destination to respond to emergency infrastructure repair?

[Read more about the current situation in Puerto Rico, as reported by The Atlantic and The Hill, for one of the more tragic examples of the impact a disaster can have on infrastructure not unlike what New Orleans experienced after Hurricane Katrina with the loss of medical and emergency care facilities].

9. In what year was the facility you’re considering built? Is it up to, or beyond, code for any disaster?

10. Assuming there is one available, for what portion of a facility—and for how many days—is a generator serviceable? If the power is out for two, three or more days, what do you plan?

  • How has the generator been serviced? How has it been used in the past and the results?

The list is already getting long, so let’s wind things down with a final burst of questions for venues.

11. What is your backup water supply? For how many days and for how many people are you prepared?

12. If your venue is needed for a shelter, what happens to guests already in house?

13. What are the backup plans to provide food to anyone in the facility?

14. How do you support and protect your employees?

15. If you’ve been through a flood in the last year, what was the cleanup process to ensure mold was eliminated? How can you guarantee that it actually was?

16. If the venue is placed on lockdown or those inside must shelter in place for any reason, what will the procedures be for notification? Has the venue ever dealt with this sort of situation in the past?

17. Where are the closest medical facilities? What are their contingency plans in the event of disaster?

18. Will gasoline be available and in what quantities? Does your facility have its own supply?

19. What are the multiple methods for getting people to and from airports and medical facilities? What about the methods for your staff to get to and from work and home? What if there is no gasoline available or it is rationed? What backup plans are in place for employees in that instance?

  • When will airlines pull flights and personnel? How soon after a disaster will they realistically be able to fly emergency supplies in or people out of the area?

20. What will the change policies be at hotels, resorts, venues, airlines, etc., for people who must/need/want to depart early because a storm is predicted?**

**An exercise—a mini case study or tabletop exercise—I use to teach risk management begins “Two days from the main arrival for your meeting, storms are predicted.” It asks a few simple questions, beginning with “what are your assumptions?” For years, in each group, the assumptions have been that the storms are snow; are not in the area of the meeting; that there will be no problems moving forward. The reality in today’s world of mergers and acquisitions is that airlines are far more cautious with their equipment and crews, and will pull them before disaster strikes in order to avoid catastrophe.

The questions planners should be asking and that hotels and other venues should be prepared to answer are far greater in depth than most ask or consider when it comes to selecting destinations. And here’s the catch-22: in recent days, I’ve received numerous emails to book meetings in Puerto Rico just as I did for Houston because what can help an area recover better than business returning, they ask.

I concur—we need to help those in need get on their feet while we plan (in writing) for the worst. Once a hurricane is predicted, it may be too late to change plans or to move people out of harm’s way or to determine when force majeure kicks in for stopping a meeting or when force majeure can be applied to a meeting that continues but with fewer people because of a prediction of or an actual event.

Help the industry and our colleagues by adding your own questions and thoughts in the comments below. Tell us of your experiences—personal and professional—as you dealt with a crisis.

Only by sharing can we become stronger at contingency planning.

RIGHT NOW! Just as we always say “it couldn’t happen here”, it has—in multiple places in the U.S., Mexico and nearby islands, some U.S. territories, for natural disasters, and in a major convention city, a person-made crisis. If you have contracts in place, go back and ask questions and if appropriate, negotiate and write an addendum to your contracts that cover how contingencies and disasters will be handled. Write the contingency plan you’ve sworn you’d get around to but haven’t. And whether your meeting is in a “disaster prone” area, consider deeply that a disaster can strike anywhere.

Editors’ Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Additionally, the information provided within the Meetings Today Blog is done so with the understanding that the writers are not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services or advice through the distribution of the content. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be sought and contracted.

*My “forever” gratitude to Debbie Williams who, at the time we met and when I learned from her, worked for Microsoft. She, by example, showed me how to get on a stage in front of thousands and do her “flight attendant routine” of announcing emergency procedures and exits. Christie Hicks, once with Starwood and a past chair of the PCMA Foundation, your words to me as you exited and I entered the stage on the night I was honored by the PCMA Foundation for lifetime achievement as an educator, still stay with me and I swear, I’ll always do emergency announcements even if I’m being honored.

I hope others plan for and begin to do so at every event!

Click here to view additional content in the 10.06.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

8 Destination and Site Selection Tips Updated for Our Times

8 Destination and Site Selection Tips Updated for Our Times

It used to be much easier to select destinations and sites/venues for meetings and events: rates, dates and space were the common denominators.

Today, regardless of which side of the political or cultural divide you sit (or stand or march) on, you are, I hope, aware of the many issues and laws just in the United States that impact booking and holding meetings. I’ve written about it before in previous blog posts for Meetings Today titled “What Do You and Our Industry Stand For?,” “2017 Meetings Industry Hopes & Predictions” and “When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?

Why have I repeatedly written about and returned to this topic?

Because those in positions of authority in our industry first touted U.S. President Donald Trump as “one of us”—he owned hotels and golf courses and certainly would  help to make tourism and travel more robust. Because as time has gone on, the executive orders and proposed U.S. budget have caused an awakening of the damage that can be done to hospitality with the stroke of a pen. And because I have experienced the impact of changing times and laws on meetings and booking meetings for clients and from colleagues. It appears, with the latest news about the travel ban, that there are still questions about who may or may not come into the United States.

And the laptop ban? We’re still uncertain about the impact it will have, especially if it is expanded. [Editor’s Note: it appears laptops are safe for now.]

In case you weren’t following closely, here’s a timeline of our industry’s reaction to the election of our current president and the subsequent actions impacting meetings, tourism and travel.

On Nov. 9, 2016, the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) congratulated Donald Trump on his election as the 45th U.S. President and said they thought he would be good for our industry because he was a part of it.

On Jan. 23, 2017, the industry again expressed its eagerness to work with the Trump Administration.

Then came what is now known as the original “travel ban” executive order, and on March 1, 2017, the impact of the “Muslim travel ban” and its cost to the U.S. was expressed in this article from The Independent, one of many articles from in and outside of the U.S.

On March 9, 2017, there was more discussion about the “travel ban”—now with more questions because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling—again confusing us all.

On May 17, 2017, The Hill published an article describing alarm over the potential of an expanded laptop ban within the travel industry.

On May 23, 2017, the Los Angeles Times published an article on the travel industry’s outrage following the announcement of President Trump’s proposed budget, which included a funding cut for the Brand USA marketing program.

On June 16, 2017, after airline, hotel, tour and travel companies—and many associations—had already begun the process of working with Cuba, President Trump announced an updated policy making it harder to do business in or travel to the Caribbean island nation.

In addition to the laptop concerns, which made it complicated for those traveling from other countries—especially for speakers and presenters who rely on their laptops or tablets to do work while on the road and to use for their presentations, foreign visitors now face even more visa application restrictions that require some applicants to submit their social media handles, thus giving up a great degree of privacy.

And here’s more information about the TSA and Homeland Security’s stricter security measures for travel that may discourage international visitors in the U.S.

Of course there are issues in the majority of U.S. states impacting our industry. If you’ve not kept up with what happened in North Carolina because of their so-called “bathroom law,” search it. There’s so much written about the business impact of the bathroom bill that the links would consume this entire blog.

North Carolina wasn’t the only state to pass or consider a “bathroom bill.” As noted in the July 2016 Friday With Joan newsletter, the American Counseling Association pulled out of Tennessee because, even after trying to work with the governor and state legislature, a law in direct opposition to their work, was enacted.

And then there’s this:

AILA leaves TX for 2018 over sanctuary city law. I was also told at least one other association canceled their Texas meeting because of the anti-sanctuary city law. A full account of this was unable to be obtained after contacting multiple Texas DMOs (aka CVBs). You can follow ongoing industry issues at Texas Competes.

From the Houston Chronicle, concern was expressed about boycotts of Texas over a variety of laws, including the sanctuary cities ban.

PCMA pulled out of Houston while in “pre-contract phase” in anticipation of the special session called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in which he and others hope the state will enact an anti-transgender law (aka “bathroom bill”) similar to North Carolina’s. Follow along at Equality Texas for updates. Texas did pass this law that limits adoption by LGBTQ persons, which is causing groups to reconsider Texas as a destination for meetings.)

Another group has stated they may leave Houston if a “bathroom bill” is passed in Texas.

Beyond social and other like issues that impact who can travel and from where and how, many states and political subdivisions are attempting to enact laws to raise taxes to fund convention center expansions or built stadiums or fund other needed infrastructure or housing in their communities. In addition to reading tweets at @meetingstoday where we post links to tax laws, subscribe to the local or regional business journals or, if they exist, digital newspapers or alerts on “hotel” or “tourism” taxes to keep up to date. An increase of even 1% in room or sales taxes can have an impact on your budget.

So what is this all building up to? I wanted to provide Meetings Today and Friday With Joan readers with a list of eight actions planners—and our supplier partners in asking for and providing information—can take to help them navigate the destination and site selection process in modern times.

1. Know the mission, bylaws, policies and stands on social and economic issues of your company, organization and clients. If you don’t already know, make sure you research this information. It will help in your planning!

2. Know your audience. And that’s not just who will attend your meeting. Also know their families and traveling companions who want to feel safe and included.

3. Question management about the impact the passage of laws (federal, municipal or state) would have on your meetings, its participants and vendors, including potential boycotts or travel restrictions impacting attendance and image in the public square.

4. Revise your RFP to include the issues that are most important to your group, the ones that influence where and why you book and don’t.

5. After revising your RFP, also update it to include questions about the following:

  • Pending laws on raising taxes or ones that may impact individuals coming to the state or city, or from or to other countries.
  • Contractual provisions for “impossibility” in stopping the meeting if a law is passed that is in direct opposition to your organization’s mission and on attrition if the meeting moves forward and is boycotted by a percentage of persons impacting attendance, room pick up and other provisions (See the sidebar for more on this language and how and why it was developed by one major EIC (formerly CIC) member, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)). This may also impact some professions such as medical, journalism, or legal who may be called into service in case of critical situations.

6. Work with an industry attorney on crafting language to negotiate and explain provisions in your RFP upfront to any destination and venue you are considering and to vendors with whom you may contract (See the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys (AHIA) for a list of its members).

7. Stay on top of the news and bring issues to management and/or your board of directors—before they bring them to you—that may impact your in-place contracts, the meeting or event attendance, image and sales or membership.

8. Develop a strategic plan for communications within your organization to ensure the future planning of meetings is well-informed.

Look, I’ve been there and in fact just spent two months working through issues for a client in trying to manage a cancellation and rebooking because of some of these issues. As early as the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I was managing meetings and negotiating provisions that impacted groups because of specific laws.

Then it seemed clients thought they would be OK … until they weren’t.

ASAE’s direction and PCMA’s stand are just two industry specific examples. I hear from many who are working with their attorneys and vendors to refine for them and negotiate into contracts or addenda what is now referred to as the “ASAE Clause” (see sidebar).

We have an obligation to be smart about and up to date on the issues that affect us. We also have an obligation to work with our business partners upfront on all the issues that may impact our meetings, no matter how difficult it may seem. To not do so can be costly in dollars and reputation.

Disclaimers: for this and all editions of Friday With Joan and other periodic blogs written by the author, the information is not intended as legal advice. Should you need the services of a lawyer (or other professional) you should contract for the services. And, as always, the views expressed by contributing bloggers and respondents are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Click here to view additional content in the 07.07.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Accessibility, the ADA and Inclusion – It’s Our Job!

Accessibility, the ADA and Inclusion – It's Our Job!

Shortly after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I was an MPI delegate to the board of the Convention Liaison Council—the previous name of what is now the Convention Industry Council (CIC). Speakers were invited to address and inform the board about topical issues, such as music licensing and the ADA, that impacted our industry and each organization. Cricket Park, then deputy executive director of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), and now, the Rev’d C.B. “Cricket” Park, rector, The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Bethesda, Md., addressed us about the ADA and its impact on the meetings and hospitality industry.

Cricket was the only person to ever write a book and, for PCMA, a white paper, on the ADA and meetings. Alas, both are out of print.

Like many of you, I was blown away by what we hadn’t paid enough attention to and what we needed to learn and to implement in regard to the ADA. Not many years later, my company was responsible to help plan and execute a meeting conducted in the U.S. by the U.S. and Canadian governments on issues of accessibility around the world.

On a site visit with representatives of both governments, I observed how clueless the hotel salespersons were about the ADA and compliance and general accessibility issues. Illustrative of that: the clients were in the guest room bathrooms taking measurements and there the sales people were telling us about their turndown service and wonderful spa and pool, the latter two which were totally inaccessible for someone with a disability and had no materials or people to help those with hearing or sight needs.

To date, not all countries have disabilities acts. This blog and the accompanying newsletter specifically address laws in the United States. For those who are in or do meetings outside the U.S., these resources will help: U.S. State Department “International Disability Rights”Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DRED)Disability Rights International; and International Disability Rights.

Alas, none of the above noted resources, unlike this from the U.S. Department of Justice, specifically address meetings. Reading further into this blog post and referencing the somewhat limited resources from our industry—thanks to Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA), formerly ACOM, for their work creating an accessibility toolkit—will help make our industry more accessible, in addition to asking participants what they need to fully participate and experiencing some of the obstacles they face firsthand.

That and common sense on the part of meeting professionals—planners, professional development designers and suppliers to our industry—can help guide us to better inclusion practices and simple adjustments.

I am not an expert on the ADA and all the components of helping to make meetings and facilities inclusive. Niesa Silzer and I, with assistance from Kristen McCosh (here’s a profile and a short bio) who is the Boston Mayor’s Commission for People with Disabilities, at a PCMA’s Convening Leaders in Boston in 2014, lead an experiential session in which attendees participated in several hands-on exercises. This will be somewhat replicated again, as they did a few years ago, at this year’s SGMP NEC on June 7, for more than discussion about disabilities and inclusive hospitality and meetings.

And why this is personal: I took my unassisted mobility for granted. Yes, I’d broken bones necessitating crutches, but somehow I managed. Even after back surgery, I was immobile for a bit but eventually regained my ability to walk and move about well.

Until I couldn’t.

The need for a mobility scooter came long after my knowledge of the ADA. By the time I needed assistance, I was already aware of and in tune with the extreme difficulty of being a person with a different ability or with a disability when traveling or even just getting around in my own city (Washington D.C.)! Others may not be.

These are ways to begin thinking and planning differently in order to have more inclusive meetings. They are by far not all you need to know or do and do not include sensory and other areas of disability. It’s up to you to do more research by starting with a list of questions for your meeting participants and hotel guests.

1. Conduct site inspections using a wheelchair or power chair or mobility scooter.

  • Consider the timing for elevators and see what it takes alone and with others to get to the elevator once it arrives.
  • Once the elevator arrives—or will it? See this video, created by The Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Zach Anner, experienced with humor that I sometimes don’t have—is there room and will you and your device fit?
  • Check on the restroom(s) that have this sign (or the more traditional version):

    …to see if they really are accessible from the outside as well as the inside. A wide stall is not all it takes to make a restroom accessible. If the door can’t be easily opened from inside or out or the turning radius isn’t great enough for a power chair or scooter, how is it then accessible?
  • For guest rooms, how does one traveling alone using a power chair or other device open the door and access the room? How easily is it to exit the room or get around? And where can you park and charge your mobility device in the room? Where are the controls for HVAC? Are the window blind pulls accessible?
  • While moving around the hotel (or other venue) did you find that all doors have push buttons to open them? Or do you, as I have done, just push through hoping not to break glass and wood and not to injure yourself?

​2. Conduct a site inspection wearing an eye patch or with cotton or ear plugs in your earsNOTE: for safety, just like in commercials for cars with a professional driver winding down a mountain road where it tells you not try this at home, it is advised you not do this on your own.

  • What’s printed in Braille or where and how accessible are human beings to assist? If the hotel uses robots, how do they interact with people who are deaf, hard of hearing or blind or low vision? How much of the printed-for-sighted-people materials—in-room safety cards? Menus in guest rooms and restaurants? Menus and ingredient labels on food for your events?—are accessible for all?
  • As Shane Feldman notes in the accompanying Q&A sidebar, take note of how much information on the in-room television and elsewhere is close- or option-captioned.
  • Ask about all recreational facilities and those who work in them. What Stacy Patnode Bassett experienced on her honeymoon and at the movie theatre (see Q1 in the related Q&A sidebar) was so stunning to me because it’s not 1950 or 1970 or even 1980 or 1990! Yet, I know that her experiences are not unusual.

3. Check guest rooms for accommodations.

  • Is there a bar in the closet that can be raised and lowered for clothing? Or is the only bar a low one that makes all clothing pick up lint from the floor? Just because we use mobility devices doesn’t mean our clothes are short or that we aren’t traveling with someone who needs their clothes to hang higher!
  • Is the extra roll of toilet paper, the hair dryer, the safe and everything else within easy reach regardless of one’s height or ability?
  • How many cases do they have to make any room accessible for someone who is deaf, hard of hearing, has low vision or is blind?
  • What is the owner/developer/management company doing to create designs that are more inclusive? (See: “Making Hotel Rooms Fully Accessible, Discreetly” and “An Artist’s Manifesto for Accessible Hotels”).

4. Check meeting and public space for more inclusive features.

  • Measure the height of buffet tables and items on them (chafing dishes and other food or food displays) to see if everyone can access them. Discern the knowledge of the convention services and banquet staff about doing so. Determine how your group or the hotel will assist those who cannot carry a plate of food on their own.
  • Is the hotel designed for what it is assumed all millennials want and need—that is, with low seating and lighting and many other “modern amenities”—that for anyone, millennials and Gen Zers included, might not be accessible?
  • Is the knowledge of meeting room seating audience-centric for sight-lines? (One of my favorite books, “Seating Matters” by Dr. Paul Radde*, shows how).

*I learned long after I wrote the foreword for the book—I was and am not compensated for the foreword I wrote or for “plugging” the book except to hear great things from people like Gail Hernandez who used seating from Paul’s book and how successful it was!—that Paul worked with Interpreters and the Deaf community on seating to ensure good sight lines.

5. Know what the Amendment to the ADA included.

  • In addition to swimming pool lifts, which a segment of our industry fought, and are now mandated, food allergies and chemical sensitivities are also now included within the ADA. Determine if hotels have unscented guest rooms and unscented products for those who need them.
  • When in doubt, contact the U.S. Department of Justice/U.S. ADA Hotlines: 800.514.0301 (voice) 800.514.0383 (TTY).

6. Make no assumptions!

  • On your registration, use the mobile wheelchair symbol and the statement “Tell us what you need to fully participate in the meeting, including mobility, sight, hearing, food and scent” with multiple methods of contact.
  • Just because someone doesn’t “look” like they have a disability, or because, when the registration form asked they didn’t note it, plan for all possibilities. Someone could be injured just before or while traveling to your meeting. Many who have disabilities do not want to disclose that because it may harm their reputation “if it gets out.” Others have what are considered “invisible disabilities” and prefer to keep that quiet (I’m forever indebted to the Invisible Disabilities Association and their great booklet, “But you LOOK Good”). When you see a person who has a placard and parks in a “handicapped” space and “looks fine,” stop before you admonish them.

7. Prepare for everyone.

  • Our jobs are to be hospitable. To be hospitable is to be inclusive. To be inclusive is to consider all those who may attend your meetings and stay in your facilities.
  • Know the ADA and go beyond it where and when possible. If room service has a “policy” of not substituting meals for those with, say, low-salt diets which may be a result of serious health issues, work with the chef to come up with menus for different diets (See what Tracy Stuckrath has written and said about these issues).

As you read the stories from D’Arcee Charington Neal, Shane Feldman, and Stacy Patnode Bassett in the accompanying April 2017 Friday With Joan Q&A sidebar, think about what you would have done in their situations and more, what you will do now to ensure others at your facilities and your meetings do not endure these types of incidents.

When a venue says they are “in compliance with the ADA” ask them how they know. Then take it the next step to see if they go beyond compliance to real inclusion.

When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?

Originally published Meetings Today

Years ago, working in-house as a planner and later in my own business, I worked with groups whose policies sometimes conflicted with laws or social justice issues, in locations under consideration or under contract for meetings. It was important to the groups to know the laws that might impact their meetings and whether or not they should even consider a destination.

I worked with an attorney to develop clauses (sadly, lost to the ages since they were on paper, not even on a floppy disk!) about how the group and hotel would handle these issues if laws were passed after a contract was signed. It was not an easy negotiation but usually, once explained, it was possible to negotiate and contract fair conditions for the parties.

I think about those days often as companies and associations continue to look at similar types of issues and decide where they will spend their money. Then, like now, it was all about where to hold the meeting and what food to serve. During the years of the boycotts brought on by the work of the late Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers, a number of clients were specific in their contracts about the source of the food served. There are a number of groups now that, like then, determine where to go based on the status of organized labor in the destination and venues.

Most recently, so-called “religious freedom” laws like North Carolina’s HB2 and Tennessee’s counseling law (seen as anti-LGBT) caused meetings and concerts to cancel. Companies like PayPal decided to not open a new operation in North Carolina costing the state jobs and income. When Georgia was considering a bill similar to the one passed in North Carolina, even the NFL said they would relook at Atlanta as a site for future Super Bowls.

In the not distant past, a client, because of bylaws and mission, had to decide if they would hold a meeting in Arizona after that state passed SB1070 (also known as “Papers Please” law). Others have faced similar issues over reproductive laws. You might remember a certain hotel company that was boycotted because of apparent racial profiling (one that I thought was out of business but is still around and running into similar issues again), the states avoided because they flew a Confederate flag, and groups that won’t book a specific hotel company because they don’t allow AEDs in their owned, managed or franchised hotels.

Each group—corporate or association, not-for or for- profit—has to determine what issues impact their decisions about what hotel company or hotel owner with whom they will do business, what local or state laws will be in sync with or in opposition to their mission, bylaws and polices, and what will impact the organization’s image.

In an article in the April issue of Meetings Today and a subsequent webinar about site selection, a number of concerns were discussed, this among them. It certainly seems that the “religious freedom” laws have caused the most angst lately for groups (See this month’s Friday With Joan interviews and links of “must read” articles in the newsletter for more on those).

In many discussions about boycotts, issues explored include those of the legal termination of a contract, the moral (are we hurting more people by terminating a meeting or boycotting a city/state/company than we are by going?), and the tactical (is there time and ability to move a meeting?). Do boycotts change things? Sometimes. Certainly Rosa Parks’ actions did. And in other cases, they hurt as they are at Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café in Asheville, N.C.

I don’t have answers about what is right, wrong, moral, ethical or legal. When you read the interviews, use them to start or continue a conversation in your organization about where your meetings are held. I recently made a personal decision to teach for UNCC and provide education for a client in North Carolina. I can use these laws as discussion points to help others learn what we must consider when we book or terminate meetings.

What I know we have to do:

  1. Be aware of the news, pending laws (on issues, on taxes), and other conditions (infrastructure) that impact where and how we hold our meetings.
  2. Know your organization’s mission, bylaws, policies, ethics and other principles to know what would cause a conflict in where you book.
  3. Include contingency planning on what to do if laws are passed after contracts are signed.
  4. Follow @MeetingsToday‘s tweets and other news sources and know what matters to your employer or clients so you can be the source for information.

As always the views expressed are my own and may not reflect those of the publisher, Stamats, and the publication, Meetings Today. For comments, email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com or respond in the comments section below. Also check out my related Q&A with legal experts.

Click here to view (and share) the full July 2016 Friday With Joan newsletter.

10 Tips for Better Site Inspections

Originally published on Meetings Today blog

In the April print and digital editions of Meetings Today, I wrote about the “10 Areas of Site Selection to Question and Learn” and spoke more about site selection on the April 27 webinar, “Site Selection: Finding the Right Fit.” It all ties together with this Friday, May 6, blog and the Friday With Joan interviews about site inspections.

This blog focuses on hotels. It is a fraction of the items on checklists I use. The same principles, and many of the questions, apply if you are looking at a convention or conference center, restaurant, museum or other venue.

1. In Person or Virtual Site Inspection

Not everyone can afford to visit every destination (city/country) or site (property/venue) under consideration before making a decision and contracting. Every meeting professional has had to book “sight unseen” and hope that the RFP questions and responses—and the contracts—cover all thoroughly.

Just like experiential meetings are best, so are physical site inspections. Technology does not yet allow us to experience a site as we would if we were there. There are things you won’t know—an airwall’s ability to block sound; whether room service trays are left out overnight; the flow of people from entry to front desk to elevators to meeting space and through the meeting space; using various means (wheelchair, electric scooter, blindfold, ear plugs) to check accessibility—unless you do a site inspection in person. One day, maybe, virtual site inspections … though I wonder about the privacy of cameras in all areas!

2. Prioritize and Allow Adequate Time

List who and what are critical to your meeting and its participants, speakers, vendors and others, before you schedule a site inspection to help you and the venues make the most of the site inspection.

With priorities in mind, consider the time you want and need to thoroughly see and experience each property. The amount of time depends on what’s most important to and for your group and meeting. For example, if you have a one day meeting that, unless an emergency occurs, won’t use sleeping rooms, your priorities may be meeting space, audio visual support, food and beverage, and access.

If you require guest rooms, what’s most important: view(s)? quiet? amenities? cleanliness? (Do you check under and behind beds, other furniture? Check bathrooms for mold? Ask about how they clean and replace drinking glasses and bedspreads/comforters?)

3. Schedule or “Surprise” Site Inspection

Some planners believe a more realistic experience is achieved if they just show up, unannounced, for a site inspection.

Better: schedule your site inspection in advance to ensure people with whom you need to meet are available (see No. 4), and your priorities can be achieved. You can take time, unaccompanied, to sit in a lobby, walk the halls at night, use room service or eat in the restaurant to observe areas you believe might have otherwise been staged just for you.

If you’re looking at multiple hotels or hotels and a convention center, ask the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization also known as the Convention and Visitors Bureau, or CVB) for assistance. They can help you schedule appointments.

Whether to go when there are groups occupying the space (see No. 5) or when it is empty will depend on your availability, that of the property(ies), and your needs. Ideally, you would conduct two inspections: one when the hotel is occupied, another when it’s not.

Usually we don’t have that luxury.

4. People You Should Meet

Schedule, at the very least, meetings with a sales manager assigned to your account, the director of event services (aka convention services) or a convention services manager, representatives of the in-house AV company and of the unions, the director of loss prevention (security), front office manager, director of housekeeping, the chef and catering manager (note: in some properties, event/convention services and catering are a combined position), the general manager, and if on site, an owner, and any others who may help you learn more about the property, its staff and service.

After a thorough RFP is sent and responses received, you’ll have evaluated and ranked your choices and then schedule site inspections. I like to start a site inspection with a meeting with all parties to explain the meeting for which the site inspection is being conducted, and ask them to tell me and the client more about the property from their department’s perspective. Asking questions and listening closely and asking follow up questions allows you to learn more than you might on a walk through with sales alone.

Allowing time for this plus the walk-through means inspecting a site may require a minimum of three to five hours per property. Don’t scrimp on the time and rush through it. You may want to record your comments and take photos or videos as you go—seeing more than one hotel a day can cause them all to seem alike! Take time to gather accurate information.

5. What to See and With Whom

Like my industry lawyer friends say about industry legal issues, “it depends” on your meeting, its complexity, the participant demographics and on your priorities.

Usually a sales manager accompanies the planner and/or group conducting a site inspection. I strongly recommend being accompanied by an event service professional (aka CSM) and someone from the in-house AV provider. They use the space daily and will be able to best answer questions. You may also have with you others from your or your client’s organization, vendors (AV, decorators) with whom you contract, and volunteers. Prepare all of those who will accompany you on what specifically you want to see and experience. It’s easy to be “wowed” by amenities when those may not be most important to your group.

Representative Guest Rooms and Suites.

  • See as many of the different guest room types as possible. Years ago, a student said see “the worst room in the house” (thanks either Kelly or Bob!)—the one by the elevator or ice machine or not renovated or without a window or with a view to the trash or over an area where private parties with music are held. You know someone in your group may get that room and you want to be prepared.
  • If you use suites, see different types: those with separate parlors and entrances to those parlors; one room “executive” suites, some with Murphy beds. If you have noted a priority for a “Presidential Suite,” ask to see those the hotel designates in that category and how they each may differ.
  • Smoking or nonsmoking? More hotels (see link in resources) are now all nonsmoking. Some groups have smokers and may need to consider—for guest rooms and suites—if this is a priority and what the policies are for smoking in a nonsmoking room.
  • If your preference is like mine to go when a property is occupied, you may not be able to see as many (or any) guest room types. Perhaps finding a compromise time when a group is meeting on a last day and many people have checked out (and rooms have been cleaned) will be optimal. Work with the DMO and hotel to determine what’s most advantageous for you and the property’s availability.
  • If you can, stay overnight (see No. 8 about who should pay). Experiencing a guest room—one that has a connecting door, for example—allows you to check for soundproofing, security and general comfort.

All Meeting and Public Space.

  • I prefer to see meeting space in use to more easily test airwalls. The venue may need to secure permission from in-house group/s for you to see their space either occupied or when they break. If you can’t see space occupied, check with references for groups like yours to learn their experiences. It won’t be the same; it will give you some reference points. If there are groups in house, make it a point to talk with the planner(s) about their experiences.
  • If your group requires specific sets and the hotel is not occupied, ask if they will set rooms to your specifications (which you’ll send ahead) to see how your sets looks in their space.
  • Check access to the space from the hotel’s entrance/s and from guest rooms. In a property with multiple towers or buildings, consider the distance and your group’s demographics—are there people for whom the distance, with or without a mobility device, would be difficult? Look for directional signs and determine if the signs are be adequate, or what needs to be improved or added.

Furniture

  • Ask about and see the types of meeting furniture a property has: hard surface tables that don’t require skirting and draping or dented plywood? Different sizes and types of tables such as real crescents (versus using a banquet round)? Ergonomic chairs? Soft furniture able to be used in meeting rooms or on stages? Sizes and numbers of risers?

Audio Visual (or AV)

  • You will, in your RFP, have asked for price lists and conditions of use of the in-house company and conditions for use of an outside company. Even if you use an outside AV company, ask the in-house provider (and perhaps an hotel engineer) to conduct the site inspection with you to help explain how and where the sound systems are (or aren’t), power, lighting, and more. If your external AV provider is with you, coordinate ahead of time for the questions you both need to ask.

Accessibility

  • In your RFP, you’ll have asked details about transportation to and from airports, trains, and public transit to and from the hotel. Confirm that by experience when you arrive (see No. 9).
  • Consider conducting a portion or all of the site inspection using a mobility device, wearing ear plugs or an eyepatch. Regardless of what a venue tells you about their ADA compliance, you’ll learn firsthand what a participant with a disability may experience (think you have no one with a mobility or other disability? An individual can become disabled—permanently or temporarily—in an instant. Be prepared). Stay on or in the wheelchair or scooter to use restrooms, access restaurants and other outlets, and guest rooms (for more information, go to the U.S. Department of Justice resource linked in “resources” below).

Sustainability or “Greening”

6. Food and Beverage

Some planners like to conduct “test” meals or “tastings.” I’m not a fan of doing so because they are meals prepared for a small group and will not be like those prepared for your meeting of 25, 50 or 1,000 or more people. Better, if you conduct a site inspection when another group with similar demographics is in house (see No. 5), ask to see and sample the meals they are served. These will be more representative of what your group may experience and you will get a better sense of the hotel’s capabilities.

I’m also a fan of eating in the employee cafeteria after a large group meal when leftover meals may be served.

Meet with the chef to learn about the hotel’s capabilities and the chef’s preferences, if and how they serve locally grown and produced food, if they have and use their own garden for herbs, produce; if they are beekeepers. Find out what they do to prepare requests for vegetarian, vegan, Kosher, Halal and other meals that may be needed (Patti Shock’s webinar on food and beverage will be helpful).

7. Staffing and Service

Years ago, one of the best comments I ever heard was in meeting planning training conducted for a client’s staff: over three days, one of the lunches was in the employee cafeteria. After lunch, I asked about the experience. One person observed “The suits ate with the uniforms,” meaning management and line staff sat together. And one of the worst site inspections I’ve ever been on—one I cut short after 15 minutes—was when the director of convention services who was guiding me through was acknowledged by name by all the line and management staff we encountered. He addressed only management staff by name, not line staff. When asked why, he responded “They work for me; I don’t need to know their names.” The site visit ended right then.

In your RFP, you’ll have asked about employment longevity of management and line staff, how many staff are full or part time, and how many positions are outsourced and not direct employees of the hotel. When you meet the hotel GM, get a sense in what ways this person is engaged with all staff.

Talk with staff in different positions to learn their experiences. Sit in the lobby and observe the front desk, bell, valet, and concierge staff. Walk the back (or heart) of the house to observe both cleanliness and storage, and how all staff are treated. If you eat in the employee cafeteria, you’ll observe how employees acknowledge each other and the relationships among individuals and departments. When talking with union stewards or department heads, ask about labor contracts and negotiations with management and owners to determine any red flags that may impede your meeting (and about unions: some planners automatically dismiss their usefulness.

When it comes to sustainability of human beings, they are often one of the strongest advocates. Consider a different view from one you may have).

8. Paying for the Site Inspection

Whether it’s a “three hours and a walk through locally with a meal,” or “a trip involving a few nights,” there are costs involved in a site visit: transportation, parking, and meals among them. Often, coordinated by a DMO, cities, hotels and other venues will pay for meeting planners to come to their cities, experience what they have to offer, and pick up the tab for all expenses.

FAM trips have been abused and an ethical cloud often hangs over those who go to destinations that they know they will never use in their current job, sometimes justifying that one day, in another job, they might. If you can’t otherwise go to see a city and hotels, you can ask a DMO if they are scheduling trips to which you could be invited provided that during the time there you see and meet with those that will be pertinent to your group and meeting.

If your company or client prefers to pay for your trip to ensure there are no real or perceived obligations, pay for your trip and if you contract and hold a meeting, consider negotiating that amount being deducted from the master account.

Help your employer or client understand the importance of experiencing the properties and build into their meeting budgets transportation, accommodations, and meals.

9. VIP or ‘Regular’ Treatment

Sometimes if a DMO helps you schedule appointments, your contact may offer to arrange and even pay for or provide transportation to and from the airport and the appointments. If the convenience is helpful, review the schedule to ensure it will provide the time you need to experience everything on your checklists. If all your meeting participants are to be “VIP-ed”, consider upgrades (better rooms), special check-in, and even in-room amenities.

Remember: you’re there to experience what your meeting participants will experience. It’s best to set parameters for your stay from arrival to departure and to say “thank you but no thank you” to VIP treatment.

10. What if …

  • you’ve used the property in the last 6 months? The last year or two?
    • Even if your program is the same or the hotel has not changed owners, management company, or brands, conditions and staff can change. Conduct a site inspection.
  • there’s no budget for a site visit?
    • FAMs? Hosted Buyer programs?
      • They are useful if used for more than the social events! Just as you would for a pay-your-way site inspection, build in time for those with whom you need to meet and what you need to experience.
    • Pay and have the cost (agreed to in advance) refunded to the master account if you contract and hold the meeting.
    • Prepare a volunteer in the area to conduct the site inspection. They can use media to take you with them and for you to ask questions (it’s another good way to check connectivity in the venue).
    • Use social media to ask colleagues about their experiences.
    • Read all you can including, yes, on TripAdvisor.

Most importantly:

  • Submit thorough RFPs.
  • Require (demand!) thorough proposals in response to your RFPs.
  • Prioritize your needs and schedule.
  • Experience what will help you make a decision based on your priorities.

RESOURCES:

Better Room sets: “Seating Matters: State of the Art Seating Arrangements”

For comments, do so below or to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com. And be sure to check the interviews with CSMs, sales, and a meeting planner in the Friday With Joan newsletter.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

Soft Terrorism Targets and Events: How Do You Prepare?

Originally posted on Meetings Today Blog

Washington D.C. Capitol District

For those of us who live and/or work in D.C.—I have a home office across from and next to major Federal buildings, and near a restaurant where more groups of kids and teens go than to almost any monument or museum!—terrorism is not on our minds all the time.

I imagine that you who live and work in this area think, like I do, about MetroRail (our subway system) risks more than a potential terrorist attack.

Reading this article in the Friday, 4.15.16 Washington Post (“Alert Level Green” by Dan Zak)—thinking about the classes I teach in a university meetings certificate course and at meetings industry seminars and conferences—I thought more than usual about the soft targets that have been hit in many cities and countries outside the United States.

I thought too about how hotels, after 9/11/01, instituted more checks on who came and went but that like most places and people, the concerns and the preparation is far less now.

Does it concern you? If you have an off-site event in D.C., will you ask if they attended this briefing and what they are doing now? Did you previously ask about security, even to find out if they had AEDs? Do you in other cities?

How do or will you look differently at risk considerations for your events? Or will you?

Note: In an April 27 webinar, I’ll address more issues that are not usually on destination and site checklists, with a follow up blog and interviews in the Friday, May 6 Friday with Joan newsletter. Sign up for the webinar here.  And for Friday with Joan newsletter here.

5 Meeting Functions Enhanced by Knowing What’s in the News

Stack of newspapers

We’re all busy. The news is often painful to read, watch and/or listen to, but our work is so impacted by what’s in the news and the potential consequences that if we are not paying attention, we are negligent in our duties. It’s all part of life-long learning*, which many, after they secure degrees or any letters after their names, forget.

Here are five areas of conducting meetings that are impacted by what’s in the news and why you should pay attention. In the comments, add yours and your sources—newspapers (print or digital), periodicals and other media go-tos (including social).

1. Destination Selection and Use: The greatest buzz (groan … I know!) is about the Zika virus, its origin, where and how it’s spreading, and what is being done to stop the spread of the virus. Airlines are issuing waivers to passengers and changing some employees’ schedules of those who are afraid of traveling to areas where Zika-carrying mosquitoes are prevalent. PCMA’s Convene had this to say about it.

Knowing what airlines are doing and the impact that may have on the accessibility of all destinations, especially second and third tier ones, matters to our selection and use of those destinations. Cleveland, that was for years a Continental hub and then a United hub, has cut back more nonstop flights to numerous destinations. One wonders what the impact will be on the Republican National Convention to be held in Cleveland this summer. Perhaps, if gas prices continue to be low(er), more will drive.

(I’m not saying don’t go; I’m saying be aware, informed, and plan for contingencies … whether they are health related or otherwise).

2. Site Selection: Will our choices narrow because of the mergers noted in No. 3 below? Will you have the information you need about labor contracts? What about the impact of fire safety if you hadn’t read about the fire and investigation of a hotel in Las Vegas? Or if you had not read my blog about safety, you might not have asked about the presence of AEDs or other safety features. You might not know that many hotels are considering eliminating in-room phones (you’ve noticed how there are fewer in rooms now, right?), which may be a safety hazard or are considering using robots versus people to serve.

3. Hotel ContractsIHG (InterContinental Hotels) merged with Kimpton; Fairmont and Raffles merged. From what these hotel CEOs say … there will be more. What is the impact on contracts in place of these mergers and those upcoming? Or future contracts? Are you aware of who owns the hotels (the buildings) and who manages them as well as the brand on the door?

What are you following to keep up with all that may change and the impact on your contracts and contract negotiations? (On April 27 and August 31, I’ll do webinars for Meetings Today—the first on site selection; the latter on contracts for accommodations. You can also find past webinars at that link). Clearly the industry press is covering these mergers just as they are with the airlines. (After UA and Continental, American and US Airways, who will be next?) Follow the business press too. I subscribe to the print editions of Bloomberg Businessweek and Fortune, local business journals for cities to which clients are considering or taking meetings, hotel-related reading, Crain’s for various cities, and more. You can read online or in print. Just read!

And then there was this that should be a concern for all planners, Starwood employees, and individual hotel owners about what Starwood’s new CEO says about the safety of most Starwood brands under a Marriott merger.

4. Meeting “Stoppage” and Individual Cancellation Plans and Policies: If, because of a pending snow storm or other weather issue, the airlines start to cancel flights days in advance (follow Joe Brancatelli, @joesentme, on Twitter) … or if because of the Zika virus people decide it is not safe to attend a meeting you’ve planned or one you plan to attend … or if, like in Cleveland, an airline pulls flights and it’s no longer easy to get to and from the destination without multiple plane changes, a person says “enough” and wants to cancel attendance, what are your policies? What’s in your contracts with venues and vendors about stopping the meeting?

Is it force majeure if a storm hasn’t hit and you cancel a meeting? What about Zika which reports say is spreading, but like SARS, may not actually impact the meeting? All the things that could impact a meeting being stopped—by the venue or by weather or by an individual who just doesn’t want to schlep more than she’d planned—are impacted by what’s in the news. To not pay attention means to be caught off-guard or to make assumptions and we know what that does!

5. Liabilities and Meeting Risk: What if you had been, as part of your job, responsible to send people on an incentive cruise and they’d been on this ship? What if you book a group into a Zika-infested area and someone needs, for reasons unrelated to Zika, a blood transfusion? What must you consider when updating your risk and emergency plan for each meeting? What in that destination or facility might cause harm for which you must plan?

I know that there are those who think I overthink it but here’s what I know: to under-thinking and under-planning puts people, the meeting sponsor, and you at risk. And if you’d like the table of contents to a risk plan, go to the “Resources” section of my website or email me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com for a copy.

Another thing you might also like: if you don’t read, you wouldn’t know about the wearable chair, which seems a perfect thing for exhibitors at tradeshows, or that two songs in popular use finally settled a copyright case (Hint: one is sung at least once a year to or by most of us).

And an asterisk to the title: learning from lots of different sources enhances your life. You are able to start and continue conversations with almost anyone, enabling lots of opportunities; you gain insights about your life and you continue your education.

*In the February 8-14 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, quoting Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist at Columbia. “He says societies need to emphasize life-long learning not just school.”

6 Dots to Connect to the Industry’s Future

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

That was the title, minus the number, of a session I delivered for an industry meeting in January.

I agonized about what to include up to, during and after the session. What I wanted to say at the start was, “The industry’s future is bleak except for some hotel company owners, and maybe a few others. For the meetings and sales and marketing professions, for the service segment of the hospitality industry, we have exceptional challenges.”

I believe that statement because I see jobs lost to automation, interest in big issues like safety and security wax and wane depending on the events of the day, and a general sense that we are still an industry focused on logistics not content, delivery of content, and people.

So why didn’t I? <shrug> Because. I simply didn’t. It had been suggested that people want upbeat thoughts and easy-to-use information and avoiding politics would be best.

So now, here, I add to the “dots” and hope we all can take this information and move forward to energizing an industry that is stuck in so many ways, that believes that “hosted buyer” programs solve the buyer-seller relationship issues, that cool apps will ensure we connect with others—even though our eyes are looking down most of the time at apps, missing the world and people and ideas and inspiration around us, and that hotels will listen to all customers not just Millennials.

(Who, it turns out, want desks in rooms after all!)

1. Demographics

People are on the move. The population of almost every country is blended because of the ease of travel and the desire for new experiences or a hoped-for better life. The crises in Syria and so many other countries have forced people out of their homes.

The United States is much more a “melting pot” or “tossed salad’ or “stew” than ever before.

There are five generations alive, and in some cases, working and attending meetings; they are certainly traveling and staying in hotels. In the workplace, Boomers, many of whom are at “retirement age” want to continue working because there are more contributions to be made and in some cases, they can’t afford to retire. But they are being forced out of jobs or not hired for new ones because they are thought to be “too old” or too expensive and Millennials, hungry for work, are willing to take jobs at lesser pay.

Boomers and Xers are being managed by Millennials and are not always pleased.

We talk a good game of “diversity and inclusiveness” and yet, exclude many from jobs. People with disabilities are frustrated with the lack of accommodation and inclusiveness in travel and at meetings. The meetings and hospitality industry could (and should) be on the front line of adapting to demographic changes.

What we can do:

  • Get back to meeting (and marketing) basics: “know your audience” or your potential audience or customer.
  • Once known, determine what can be done to attract and include the diverse audience you have or want. Do speakers reflect a diversity or are they all alike in appearance, opinion, experience?

    Will the images and colors used to market your venue, service or meeting be those that will not offend? Are there dates over which holding a meeting or marketing your facility, because it’s wide-open, will be inappropriate? (Think religious, national or local holidays or festivals).

    Will what a guest at a hotel or participant at a meeting see or experience be reflective of a broader population?

  • Be inclusive in language and attitude. The term “politically correct” has been thrown about frequently during this U.S. presidential election season. C’mon—being caring and empathetic, including others in our language, is a smart way to market and work.

    I mean, referring to Boomers as “little old people” seems so yesterday! (One of my favorite columnists wrote this about the difference in politically correct and inclusive language).

  • Design meetings differently. My colleagues, Jeff Hurt and Jeffrey Cufaude, both write frequently about how to do so. Follow them, read and incorporate what they suggest.
  • Hire and retain a diverse workforce ensuring they reflect a diverse population. Know that those who are of different generations, ethnic and other backgrounds, gender identity—and all that makes us unique—have good ideas to add to the conversation.

2. Climate

Regardless of your belief in what scientists are saying, the climate has changed and has impacted travel, tourism and health. 2015 was the warmest year on record. El Nino has caused flooding rains, massive snow fall, tornadoes “out of season” and other weather events.

The Zika virus that is spreading and considered by the World Health Organization an emergency—and is now believed to spread through sexual contact—may also be a result of climate.

What we can do:

  • Consider climate’s impact on your meetings and travel to and from them. You can’t avoid weather and you shouldn’t avoid all places where climate could have, or has had, an impact! You can plan for contingencies.
  • Advise meeting participants on what they need to do to plan for weather contingencies. Not everyone is a frequent traveler and knows to pack an extra jacket or sweater (also useful for over-chilled rooms) or umbrella, or of their rights or what to do if flights or trains are canceled at the last minute because of a “climate event.”
  • Understand the impact of climate on the cost of food and beverage and other aspects of your meeting operations. Plan accordingly. When you budget, don’t use last year’s plus or minus 10 or other percentage. Consider where you are going and what you are serving and what the impact of climate may be on those costs.
  • Read the CIC’s APEX report on sustainable events and change how meetings and meeting venues operate to stop waste of energy, food, people and resources.
  • Read all that Nancy Zavada, friend, colleague, and “Queen of Sustainability,” writes for Meetings Today (Here’s her latest on what the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly did).

3. Infrastructure

The United States is falling down and apart. Literally.

While the crumbling infrastructure has political and tax implications, and you can try to influence the votes of your senators and representatives, the concern for meetings is great. Roads and bridges that are inaccessible can impact how people arrive, depart and traverse the destination you select.

The toxic water situation in Flint, Mich., is also part of the aging infrastructure made worse by the source of their water. Don’t count on other U.S. cities avoiding similar issues or even having access to water. When a water main breaks—which they are with frequency in the U.S.—we’re out of luck.

The American Society of Civil Engineers issues a report card every four years on US infrastructure. You may not have read it. You should.

What we can do:

  • Ask tough questions of DMOs and do your own research about cities you are considering for your meetings. If you work for a DMO or a hotel, be honest with groups who want to book. Show creative ways your destination is managing the infrastructure challenges.
  • Create alerts for the cities (I use www.bizjournals.com and am city specific) and even for “infrastructure” or a specific city’s infrastructure so you are steps ahead in information.
  • Connect this dot to “climate” and see how destinations’ infrastructure is impacted by budgets used to combat a weather emergency.
  • Create emergency and crisis plans for all contingencies.
  • Find out what back-up (generators, bottled water, transportation, communications, safety, etc.) plans the venues you are considering have for any emergencies.
  • Take nothing for granted.

4. Biz Models

The sharing economy, co-working spaces and hotels, job sharing, contract or temporary workers—there is nothing the same as it was when some of us started in the industry even if you started just a few years ago! We will continue to experience changes in how work is performed, by whom and where. Technology of course has contributed to these changes.

Look at the impact of infrastructure and transportation and climate on just this one “dot” and you’ll see how the future of how we do business has changed. Why fight traffic when you can work at home or from anywhere because you are connected? (Of course this assumes good and free connectivity which can be impacted by infrastructure!).

The opportunities new business models open for different demographics—people with disabilities, parents, people who want or must work multiple jobs—is great. And it also means a change in how people are paid which could have a negative effect on the economy as it will on individuals.

It’s just not going to be the same any more. And those who work in a sharing economy may not have the financial or time resources to attend meetings. Another dot connected.

What we can do:

  • Decide how you’ll work within the changing structures.
  • If you are a “temp worker” or hire temporary workers, know the rights and responsibilities.
  • If you hire or outsource to individuals or companies that use new models, determine what liability you or they may have for any errors and omissions.
  • Read this article and understand this still new peer-to-peer economy.

5. Laws, Policies and Politics

Whether it’s taxes or civil rights or marijuana legalization, politics, policies and laws impact all we do including the meetings we present.

What the 2016 presidential candidates have to say about our industry and policies that may be enacted with new municipal, state or Federal lawmakers are likely to have great impact on the meetings, travel and tourism—the collective hospitality—industry.

What we can do:

  • Be informed about the laws of the destinations to which you plan to take meetings.
  • Know your company’s or organization’s bylaws and mission and if there are any hot-button issues that could cause a meeting to cancel if a law or policy were enacted, or, like a corporate planner friend, where your off-site events could and couldn’t be: hers can’t be near strip joints or marijuana dispensaries for appearances.
  • Be informed about impending laws.
  • Register to vote and then vote.
  • Participate in actions to be held on April 14, 2016, for Global Meeting Industry Day. If you’re involved in planning these events, request that it be more than a celebration and rather a day of action about issues that matter to and impact our industry. Engage others in conversations about these issues.

6. Technology

Technology is usually considered the greatest thing to happen to our industry ever! While I think it has an impact, it’s one that can have both positive and negative impact.

It does impact outsourcing of jobs (see “Biz Models”); automation of front desk procedures that may eliminate jobs; automation of site selection and meeting planning processes, again a potential job eliminator; virtual and hybrid meetings some of which may cause people to not attend face to face. Technology can help us do our jobs more efficiently, connect with others to learn, create communities before, during and after meetings.

Technology also keeps our noses in devices when we could be interacting with others when we are f2f at meetings! And technology is (one of) the greatest threats to privacy and security. We can’t live without it and sometimes we fear living with it.

What we can do:

  • Determine how to effectively use technology to enhance the meeting and show experiences. Don’t use it as a crutch!
  • Consider technology just one more tool in your creative kits.
  • Have contingency plans for data breaches, and outages. If it hasn’t happened to you, it will!

6. Terrorism

This is the one, at the January program, I called “The Elephant in the Room”—something we all think about and rarely address directly until there is an attack somewhere. When, recently the CEO of a major international hotel company, said that the acts of terrorism in Paris, Egypt and elsewhere hadn’t really impacted tourism and hospitality, I wondered in what universe he lived!

Statistics do show that people, though they didn’t stop traveling entirely, did think more about where they’d travel. After the Paris attacks, school groups said that they would not come in—even from the distant suburbs—to the District of Columbia, the U.S. Capital, for their usual school trips, so uncomfortable were they with the possibility of terrorism.

What we can do:

  • Don’t assume that your meeting, regardless of where it is held, is safe.
  • Be aware and know what you will do if there is an act of domestic or international terrorism.
  • Create a plan to protect people and property, to shelter in place, to move people to different locations.

Are there other dots and connections of which we should be aware? Yes. Do I think the meetings industry will continue? Yes. Do I think that we need to be more aware and do more to connect dots to other dots to move the industry ahead? A resounding YES!

And we can if we make a concerted effort to connect these and other dots … together.

6 1/2 Practical Steps to Emergency Preparedness … Right Now!

Originally published Meetings Today 

Right, there are many more steps that should have begun at the destination and site selection phase and while you planned your program. But we’re about to have a blizzard in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern regions of the United States and I’m guessing that some of you are both personally not prepared and, in my opinion, worse, have meetings that are going on now or scheduled over the weekend or early the week of January 25 and aren’t prepared.

Your local media have told you some of the logical things—stock up on batteries, keep flashlights at the ready, have plenty of bottled water and blankets; if you live where you’re responsible for shoveling or putting out de-icer, be ready to do so. If you aren’t listening or reading local media or social media, here’s a great U.S. government resource where you will find more information.

For your meetings going on now or early next week (or the next time a weather or other emergency happens):

  1. People First: Whatever you do, consider people and their safety first. Nothing is more important! How you will shelter in place or how you will help people depart—or not arrive if your meeting is upcoming—is the most important part of what you will do. Because you follow my blogs and those of others like Tyra Hilliard, you made an emergency/contingency plan long ago … right? … and know this. In case you didn’t, you will put into place the following aspects and people will be foremost in your thinking and actions.
  2. The Show Will or Will Not Go On: Discuss the alternatives with management or clients, with your venue(s) and vendors. Remind them “People First” as you plan. Decide now—and I mean right now—if you will attempt to get people out of harm’s way now or postpone the arrivals for next week or plan for people to not arrive at all and what the contingencies are for each potential action (See item No. 4).
  3. Communicate!: As soon as you’ve determined No. 2, communicate in all ways possible (in person at face-to-face meetings today, via email, phone, text, via app if you have one for the meeting) your recommendations for those who are at a meeting or those planning to travel today, tomorrow, or in the days following the emergency, in this case, the blizzard.

    If your office/agency didn’t make individual’s travel arrangements, communicate via email and text and app (multiple ways not just one assuming people will see it) how and what people should do regarding leaving including contact information (airline, rail and bus company phones and URLs), best methods to get to their mode of transportation. If people drove to the meeting, provide information about road conditions and do not send people on their way if there is a better than 30% chance they will be in harm’s way.

    Recommended: follow tweets for local police, municipalities, and travel providers. I like Joe Brancatelli (@joesentme) because he has lots of good information about airlines and trains.

  4. It’s Not Force Majeure If It Hasn’t Happened: Postponing a meeting today for next week is pre-mature if you hope to invoke force majeure. Nothing much has happened. In D.C., where I live and work, we had the “rehearsal snow” last night that caused icy roads, road and school closures or delays. (I’ve not checked to see if there were flight delays and cancellations last night or this morning).

    If you have a meeting for which people plan to travel beginning Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday—or even Tuesday—you should talk with the hotel and other venues and vendors immediately to determine what considerations there are for all parties. After a blizzard, nothing will operate immediately. Making plans for postponement or holding a meeting with fewer people (including speakers who may be unable to arrive) is a plan to put in place.

  5. Work On Shelter-in-Place Plans: It’s possible that people will have to stay longer at the hotel in which your meeting currently is being held and locals may also want to stay there, taxing the facility and staff and their supplies. Determine what rates will apply to those who need to stay longer. Those “three days before and three days after” clauses may not help because their conditions may not apply in an emergency or they weren’t specific enough (This, we’ll discuss later in a webinar on contracting for accommodations!).

    Find out what supplies the hotel has ordered in today, before the blizzard, and how they plan to accommodate staff who volunteer to stay in the hotel to serve guests or what their plans are if staff cannot arrive. Reconfirm (because you asked at site selection, right?!) what their back-ups are for power and water. Find out what emergency plans the city has. News stations here reported that in Omaha, Neb., the other day, police stopped responding to emergency calls unless people were injured, so bad were the conditions (It is expected in the D.C. area that we will have winds up to 50 mph and severe conditions and though the sun is shining as I write this, I’m a believer in what the forecast says).

    If you’re in a hotel that doesn’t allow AEDs, and if you think that emergency responders may not be able to get there, see if you can—if you don’t already travel with one—find an AED to purchase at a local store to have on hand just in case. It’s the one item that may really save a life in an emergency.

    Oh and don’t think that serving alcohol freely to those who are sheltered is a good idea! During one emergency (a tornado) a facility at which I did training did just that in the one building where they had an operating generator. Drunk people in emergencies are potentially more dangerous to themselves and others. You too need a clear head!

  6. Don’t Leave Without Ensuring Every Detail is Covered: One of my best learning experiences was when a colleague left without telling me and I had to handle arrangements for a class on 9/11. YOU have a responsibility to the people and meetings you plan. Don’t leave without ensuring all things are in place to protect people and property, or put in place plans for what may happen for next week’s meetings.

    I know you’re worried about yourself, family, friends. You want to get home or to the grocery store to get supplies. But if you are on-site today reading this or you’re getting ready for a meeting for next week, put all plans in place for the people who count on you.

6.5 And when this blizzard is over, you’ll revisit your contingency planning and start again to fill in the blanks for what wasn’t done and what you can do better, beginning with site and destination selection. Be safe. Be careful.

Check in here via the comments or on Twitter @meetingstoday to let us know what you do, did, and how you are. Ask your participants to do the same when they are safely home.

6 Considerations to Better Destination Selection

Originally published Meetings Today

Groups tend to focus their site selection efforts on finding the specific venue/facility in which their meetings will be held. Selecting the destination, the city/state and country—is at least as important. And I’ve got plenty of other considerations, including sustainability (human and environment)! Here are six major details to reflect on during the site selection process.

1. Taxes and Additional Charges: Too many people think the rates and prices they are quoted are “the final price” and that nothing more will be charged. On top of a room rate, there may be a state or local sales tax, a tourism tax or fee, and other charges. Some are flat fees and some percentages. For food and beverage prices, the tax (usually sales), always added to the price of the meal, can also be added to a service charge (different than a gratuity). Often the venue will charge an administrative fee, which can also end up being taxed.

2. Laws. In your RFP—in addition to asking the current tax rate—ask what laws are being considered to raise taxes. Research the “best and worst” U.S. cities for hotel taxes; and it can be extremely helpful to keep an eye on and subscribe to business journals.

Following the business journal and news outlets for the destinations you are considering will allow you to know what’s on upcoming ballots or what’s been passed or defeated that may impact your meeting and those who attend it. For example, we recently saw the defeat of Proposition 1 in Houston, a proposed law supported by the Houston CVB, Marriott, United Airlines, and others that would have prevented discrimination against any number of groups of people.

We have to be sure the laws of cities to which we take our meetings are in line with the bylaws, missions, and policies of our organizations to ensure there are not conflicts.

3. Climate and Weather. Sure we all think we know about “hurricane season” but outbreaks of storms have been erratic around the U.S. and the world. Severe droughts in California and Brazil, in particular, have caused shortages of water. If you plan a winter meeting, snow or the lack thereof could be a positive or a problem! El Nino is expected to wreak more weather havoc.

4. Infrastructure. It’s remarkably on few minds when a destination is considered. Although the U.S. Congress passed a new highway bill, the roads, bridges and water infrastructure of the U.S. are aging horribly. Even here in D.C., where I live and work, the water main breaks are legendary, shutting down roads and causing many to be without sources of water.

This 2013 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers is a good place to start.

5. Accessibility. This is a broad and complex area—everything from airline access to access for people with disabilities has to be considered. Recent experiences at an airport taught me that not all airports (even in first tier markets) have sufficient services for people with disabilities.

And airline mergers means lift has been cut to many markets. If people can’t get there or it takes two or more changes of plane, they may reconsider. The U.S. Department of Justice is doing random checks of hotels; many cities, like Boston, have offices on disability awareness and can give you stats about, for example, how many taxis are accessible.

Check with them for help with accessibility issues.

6. Safety. How could I write a blog on site selection without acknowledging the horrors in Paris, the threat to the U.S. and a recent threat in Germany that caused a soccer match to be canceled? And there are ordinary safety concerns about which we all should care: access for police and other emergency services to the facilities in which you’ll hold an event; lighting in areas people will frequent (Check out the following blog post for more about safety in a facility).

The U.S. Department of State is, for planners taking meetings outbound or in, a good resource for country safety, including weather and human factors. And use DMOs (aka CVBs) for additional info. This is not to say don’t go if there are obstacles or concerns. Certainly we won’t stop travel to Paris or D.C. or other cities in the world. Rather, factor in these and other issues when selecting destinations. Know what you will do to manage and counter the issues that could have caught you by surprise if you hadn’t looked closely in the selection phase.

Be smart and aware when selecting destinations!