What’s on Your Ballot?* VOTE Nov. 8 – Our Industry Matters!

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

What's on Your Ballot?* VOTE Nov. 8 – Our Industry Matters!

What’s on Your Ballot?* VOTE Nov. 8 – Our Industry Matters!

“Within the last decade, the travel industry has experienced tremendous change and has been dealt various struggles and challenges. Many of these have played out in the political realm. As another election approaches, we all need to be informed as to where the candidates stand on issues important to our industry and how referendums on the ballot may affect us—whether positive or negative. This is also an important time to engage in the civic conversations. Members of our industry need to engage candidates before the election and inform them of the powerful economic impact and job creation our industry provides to thousands of communities throughout the U.S., and equally as important, the effects of various policy proposals. They need to know the travel industry constituency is one they cannot ignore.

Waiting until someone wins an election is often too late. Their priorities may already be set, their views already formed. I would encourage everyone to participate to the level they can starting with voting. Nothing is more important!”  ~~ Don Welsh, president and CEO, Destination Marketing Association, Intl. (DMAI).

My first vote was on my birthday during the 1968 Ohio Primary (It’s OK to do the math!). Before that, as a child, accompanying my parents when they voted, the magic of the voting booth—then a booth with a curtain and levers, something I miss—was a remarkable experience. In a family where, if you read my Sept. 26, 2016 blog you know news and reading were a daily part of our lives, politics and elections were always discussed.

Voting, my parents instilled in me, was the most sacred right we had which was especially stressed by my Dad (of blessed memory), who’d fought in WWII, and both parents fought block-busting and worked for civil rights. Knowing the issues and candidates was a subject of dinner and other conversations. Political conventions—when they were more than “made-for-TV” events—were looked forward to and watched well into many summer nights.

This year, the U.S. faces a contentious presidential election, the outcomes of which will impact our lives and our industry for years. I read and hear many people say they won’t vote at all because they don’t like either of the two major U.S. Parties’ candidates or the two third party candidates. More, I hear Millennials are not as concerned about voting. My friend and colleague, Charles Chan Massey said:

I’ve been registered to vote since I turned 18 and have never missed an election yet. This year more than ever it’s important to vote AND to elect progressive leadership at the national, state and local level. Politicians in conservative states (or in some cases, in states that are not necessarily conservative, but have been made so by voter suppression laws and gerrymandering of voting districts) have begun enacting laws that are beginning to directly impact the meetings and events industry. If we allow the pattern to continue who knows what will happen not only to our industry but to our very way of life? I for one don’t want to find out and encourage everyone to vote AND to vote for progressive candidates and issues.” ~~ Charles Chan Massey, founder and CEO, SYNAXIS Meetings & Events, Inc.

Not voting? To me it’s not an option. This letter, written in 1962 to President John F. Kennedy about voting rights, is indicative of why we should cherish and exercise our right to vote. For African Americans and women in this country, the right to vote was hard fought and though we thought it was won, there are still many states where voting rights are far from secure (Suggested: Google or other alerts for “voting rights” to become more aware of voting issues around the United States).

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ Elections matter! I get frustrated and disappointed when I hear people say that they are not going to vote because they ‘don’t like either candidate.’ Throughout their young lives I’ve discussed with my five children the electoral process and reinforced that voting is not only a privilege, it is an obligation that we have as citizens of a free democratic state—a right that our forefathers gave us and many Americans have sacrificed to protect. And as important as the selection of our next president is, a general election has implications on so many other offices and propositions at the federal, state and local level that we need to educate ourselves on those issues and vote on them. I encourage you to exercise your right to vote and help shape the future of our great country.” ~~ Paul M. Van Deventer, president and CEO, Meeting Professionals International (MPI).

I’m with Paul on this; I hope you, readers, are too.

To prepare for writing this blog and newsletter, I began collecting “down ballot” (non-Presidential) issues that impact our industry. It’s not been an easy task! When I asked a number of industry associations if they collected ballot issues for the U.S., I got unequivocal “nos”—they did not have lists. That became (more) surprising when I learned that one CIC member, in particular, is working to influence an initiative in Seattle (I-124) about which you can read at the links in the second part of this October 2016 Friday With Joan newsletter.

I also solicited from a number of Convention Industry Council (CIC) member CEOs, and others who influence our industry, statements about why people should vote. My deep appreciation to those who provided the statements you can read interspersed throughout and at the end of this blog as well as that from Don Welsh, CEO of DMAI, with which this blog leads.

Consider that without exercising the right (and privilege) to vote—if you’ve not registered and missed 9/27/16 Voter Registration Daycheck here to see if your state or territory, or if you are an American living abroad, allows registration when you read this or same day as voting registration—you are missing an opportunity to influence the laws that impact you and our industry.

Our industry has been hit hard because of misperceptions about meetings (remember the “AIG effect”? “Muffingate”? The stress on government planners during the Congressional hearings? HB-2 in North Carolina and other like bills?). We can do more!

Throughout the years, the meetings industry has been vocal in its complaints about laws which make communities inhospitable. As members of the hospitality community, we have a duty to vote, to prevent the adoption of such laws and to ensure those who advocate them are not elected to positions of power. As an example, the State of North Carolina is now suffering the devastating economic consequences of its adoption of laws which would further discriminate against the LGBT community. In all of the many states in which similar legislation is being considered, and in the many states in which discrimination against members of the LGBT community – in employment, housing and access to service in restaurants and stores – remains legal, we must vote to make our voices heard. Little is changed by complaining. Everything can be changed by voting.”  ~~ Steve Rudner, managing partner of Rudner Law Offices, exclusively representing hotels and resorts.

Voting in national and local elections is one of the greatest responsibilities we have as citizens. SGMP’s hope for any election results is that there will be continued support and understanding of the importance of education and conferences in the government sector. We encourage members to be aware of legislative or ballot issues that may affect their meetings.” ~~ Michelle Milligan, CGMP, Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP) national president.

If you think that every vote doesn’t count, it does. Thanks to Mental Floss for this great information.

This year, each and every vote is essential. I think people acknowledge this on some level, but it’s hard to say whether that will make people actually get out and be part of the turnout we so desperately need to see. The way I see it, it’s not just about who will be the next president (although that is a really BIG deal!)  Our choice in November also has the power to impact many state and local decisions to follow. Among the ones that concern me is legislation that adversely impacts how people are treated in our own back yards. I am deeply and personally opposed to the creation of laws that permit or even give the appearance of tolerating discrimination. With my association “hat” on, these types of laws could also cause serious harm to our meetings and conventions business by creating an unwelcome environment for convention sponsors and attendees. I hope that people who support and are passionate about diversity and inclusion will use their votes this November in ways that not only move our country forward, but also encourage fair practices and discourage discrimination in any form.”  ~~ Susan Robertson, CAE, EVP, American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and president, ASAE Foundation, and CIC chair-elect**.

As a fourth-generation Washingtonian [the DC Washington], and one whose family had incredible debates about all political issues (any opinion was allowed), the importance of being informed and involved was always stressed in my family. In fact, my uncle ran for Congress a few years ago. 

My parents instilled a strong sense of citizenship and always stressed that we are responsible for our leaders and their results (or lack thereof). I received a degree in government and politics from the University of Maryland and interned for a political organization, then worked on Capitol Hill. I began my work in government relations and soon learned the value of organizations and the expertise they lend to our political process. We know that by being engaged, we can affect great outcomes and help design the future of our country. I am able to help my NACE members because of my government experience and am excited to see the work we accomplish within the Convention Industry Council as well.”  ~~  Bonnie Fedchock, CAE, executive director, National Association for Catering and Events – One Industry. One Association (NACE), and chair, Convention Industry Council**.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Register to vote if you’ve not done so, and ensure your co-workers, family and neighbors do too. Take our poll so we can see the power of the hospitality community.

2. Learn the issues and positions of local, state, and federal candidates. Share those issues in the comments section. If you are a voter from another country, in the comments to the blog add to the issues I’ve provided and tell us with what you are contending politically that could impact our industry (I hope everyone is keeping up with Brexit and the implications).

With thanks to colleague, friend, and former client, Karen Galdamez at COST, for this great resource to track tax and other ballot issues. Remember: where you hold meetings may not be where you vote and knowing—especially if you didn’t contract for a hotel or convention or conference center to tell you about increased taxes after a ballot or city council or state initiative—what you’ll pay is critical to your responsibility as a meeting professional (This does not let hoteliers and other suppliers off the hook! Let your clients know if there is an increase in taxes or service charges or other laws that could impact meetings).

Subscribe to the Business Journals for the cities in which you have contracted or are considering meetings. And get alerts for topics that include “hotel taxes,” “tourism taxes” and “infrastructure,” all of which impact our meetings.

3. Contact your member of Congress or a city council member or state legislator who might not know the value—financial and to the health and education of people—of meetings and our industry. On Meetings Mean Business’s Global Meetings Industry Day and at other times, do more than celebrate meetings. Reach out to the U.S. House of Representatives and US Sentate on important issues that affect the industry.

4. Share this newsletter and talk about the issues with co-workers, colleagues, family, neighbors and friends.

5. Vote on November 8. If you know someone who doesn’t have a way to get to the polls, offer to take them and then do so, or help them get an absentee ballot. If you have a meeting on November 8 or it’s a travel day, remind expected participants and exhibitors and sponsors to vote prior to leaving for your meeting. Consider having a viewing room on Election Night for those who want to be with others to watch.

6. Read these closing comments from our industry leaders and take them to heart. They’re voting. You should too.

The election cycle is essentially a series of face-to-face meetings and events that come down to one final in-person experience – casting your ballot. These national, state and local elections will influence regulation and/or legislation that could positively or negatively impact face-to face-meetings and our industry. As a representative of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, we urge everyone to exercise their right to vote and be heard on November 8th. Because the most important moments and decisions are worth meeting about.” ~~ Michael Dominguez, CHSE, co-chair, Meetings Mean Business Coalition; SVP and chief sales officer, MGM RESORTS INTERNATIONAL.

As a member of the travel industry, you should vote to make your voice heard at the local and national level. The $2.1 trillion travel and tourism industry is truly bipartisan and positively affects every Congressional district in the United States. No matter who wins the White House this fall, one thing is certain: travel works for America. It’s why we will continue our work with policymakers at all levels to ensure that travel is secure, accessible and efficient.” – Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association.

I encourage everyone to make sure their voice is heard when it comes to any type of election of ballot. I, too, believe that active participation in any democracy is an important right and responsibility that we all have. Thanks to you for continuing to ‘being a vocal conscious and advocate’ of the meetings and events industry.” ~~ Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, president & CEO, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI).

As the final countdown to Election Day is upon us, now is the time to take a stand and support candidates at all levels of government—city, state and federal—who will advocate on behalf of hoteliers. The stakes are higher than ever for the hotel and lodging industry as new legislative and regulatory opportunities and challenges continue to emerge. With one unified and powerful voice, we can define our industry and your involvement is critical to these efforts. We encourage all of you to get out the vote and support candidates who will make our industry stronger.” ~~ Vanessa Sinders, senior vice president, government affairs, American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA).

Our constitution gives us the right to participate in our destiny. Yet, bad officials are elected by those with best intentions, but don’t vote. If you want your voice to be heard, use your vote; it is one of your most powerful possessions.” ~~ Deborah Sexton, president & CEO, Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA).

*With apologies to Samuel L. Jackson and the company for whom he does commercials for the title of the blog.

**Susan Robertson and Bonnie Fedechok are not speaking on behalf of the Convention Industry Council. Their CIC positions are there for informational purposes only.

Your ROLE As a Hospitality Professional: 4 Keys to Greater Success

Originally published Meetings Today blog

Your ROLE As a Hospitality Professional: 4 Keys to Greater Success

Reading

Observation

Listening

Exploring

I didn’t mean to create an acronym; it happened as I thought about what has helped me become a smarter professional. In fact, this blog began as one only about reading until more crept in. I didn’t mean for the the subject to sound like a self-help article because I’ve read that self-help articles are not great for any of us. It just happened.

This was inspired because of a number of Facebook conversations through which I learned how many people in my circle of colleagues didn’t know what (or where) Aleppo was. They ‘fessed up after Libertarian Presidential Candidate, Gary Johnson, had a “moment” in an interview.

Here’s what I do know and practice and hope you will too.

Reading

This industry has been my home since I was a little girl. Right—no title when I helped create street fairs to raise money for polio research and when I worked for an art museum coordinating events and for public TV coordinating on-air auctions. In fact, not until I moved to D.C. in 1978 and got my first professional job did I know it was a profession.

And from childhood, I’ve loved reading. The trips to the local library, bringing home armfuls of books, were pure joy. I was fortunate to live in a home where my parents read: newspapers and periodicals and books. We didn’t have a television for the earliest part of my life though my dad, of blessed memory, a ham radio operator, was an early adopter of television. Our first TV was purchased in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the Army-McCarthy Hearings, both of which I was mandated to watch (That could also be in the other ROLE categories).

My reading is eclectic:

  • At least one daily newspaper (in print) and many digitally, and on Sundays, my treat is the Washington Post and The New York Times.
  • Periodicals, in print and digitally, that include Meetings Today (of course!) and other industry trade pubs, and The AtlanticThe NationThe New YorkerNew York MagazineTimeThe WeekMoment and SojournersScientific American and Architectural Digest, among many.
  • Books—in print. Only in print. A dear friend and colleague gave me a Kindle once and I tried. It just didn’t feel, literally (pun intended), right. I read an article about how people learn better from reading on paper. I love the feel of paper and especially of books.
  • Blogs, social media posts, interviews—if it has words, I’m there!

I can take most of what I read and relate it back to what we do. This article, about a class called “Designing Your Life” and the related book, from the Sunday, September 18, New York Times is an example (Of course I’ll read the book and wish I could take the class).

As I started reading that article, I was skeptical. The more I read and learned of the professors (and authors) diverse backgrounds, age, experiences, and took in the quote from a retiring professor about what he would do next and the request to take the class, I was hooked.

The format (take note, Kristi Casey Sanders!) of the class—even the use of the much maligned PowerPoint, grabbed me. Like Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” (published in 2006), I envisioned sessions created around some of the concepts.

“5 Ways Total Strangers Can Make Your Trip Better” helped me rethink how we put people together at meetings and how we can make the experience richer for them and use that to further their appreciation for being in the same space.

Chris Elliott wrote about Zika and airlines and refunds. With a client with upcoming meetings in Puerto Rico and Florida, it hit close to home. All hospitality professionals are grappling with Zika and its impact.

Observe

  • How and where people congregate, how strangers or people who work together interact. I love watching people at airports especially when there’s a shared experience of, say, a delayed flight, and how they band together; or at a food court as the workers arrive and their interactions. One can learn so much that can be used in developing meeting environments by observing others.
  • Who the industry sponsors who sponsor outside the industry are. While watching “Guy’s Grocery Games,” a commercial for Burgers-Brew and Que  showed that Michigan Tourism was the sponsor. “Brilliant!” I said out loud. I wonder how many DMOs (aka CVBs) or state tourism boards do the same.
  • Food and what you can replicate or how it is presented that you’d do differently. That’s an easy one given the number of photos of food on social media! Go beyond the photo and ask questions about placement, or as my colleague, Tracy Stuckrath did when I posted photos from the Charter Member Day at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. with catering by Windows Catering, if they labeled the food for ingredients [I responded that they didn’t and in other circumstances, I’d have noted that to them but I was so delighted to be there and so surprised that they had food available, I let it go. Sometimes even this professional becomes a regular person!]. [Note: if you are planning a D.C. trip and want to go to D.C.’s newest museum, check about tickets. They’re free and because of the interest, best procured ahead for specific times].

Listen

I confess: I eavesdrop and learn so much. If we listen to what others are saying in conversations we’re in or those near us, if we listen to the news or what people are saying at meetings in the “open space” (casual) spaces like at breaks, in restroom lines (yeah, usually for women only), in elevators. If we take time to hear silences as well as noise, we generally learn more.

One of the reasons I love learning and practicing improvisation (“improv”) is because it teaches one to listen without jumping ahead. I’ve had the privilege of being in sessions with Izzy Gesell who is a great improv teacher and who, with a hotel sales person (Bob Korin), is teaching improv as a tool for sales managers as Izzy has at PCMA and ASAE and to many others.

Scientific American, one of my favorite publications, has a great take on listening. After you’ve read this, spend some time practicing.

Explore

You don’t have to go to one of the Poles to be an explorer! You can explore in your own office, city, town, country. You can explore by reading  something you’ve never read (see Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” for ideas); by going to a meeting that isn’t something you usually attend; by taking classes or listening to webinars even if you think you know the subject. Brainpickings (one of my favorite blogs) has better ideas—and illustrations!—than I can give.

What are you reading? What’ve you observed that has made an impression, created an “ah-ha” moment that inspired you and/or your work? Did you eavesdrop recently and listen to another person or people who might have given you ideas? In what ways have you explored and where and what did you learn?

Share! We learn best from each other.

Back to School: Industry Degrees and Other Education

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Back to School: Industry Degrees and Other Education

It’s September and, for many, thoughts turn to “back to school” which made me wonder where and how readers of Friday With Joan learned to plan meetings and events.

Are you of a generation who went to school for a degree in meeting and event planning or hospitality management? Or were you like many—certainly those of us “of a certain age”—who learned by doing? Are you among those who got into this industry because you planned family events and someone told you how well you did it and that it was a career, so you jumped in and never took a class?

Perhaps you learned by doing and then took a meetings and events certificate course like the one I teach at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

I guess, because you are reading this, you have more education, formal or informal, than many; that the education you’ve received is a mish-mash and includes webinars, periodicals, blogs, discussion groups and industry involvement, and perhaps a degree in this field or in something unrelated.

My first experience organizing events was in the early ’50s when my friend, Alan, contracted polio and I organized street fairs to raise money for polio research. My first industry-sponsored education was not until after I moved to D.C. (1978), joined MPI (1980) and shortly thereafter, attended MPI’s Institutes.

It was, then, a five-day intensive program of classroom learning with the best in the industry (thank you, Howard Feiertag, Ken Fischer, Jed Mandel, Peg Mahoney and others) and experiential learning through project development (With others like Arlene Sheff and Carol Krugman, I later taught at “Institutes,” a program I wish MPI would revive. It and the old PCMA-Sheraton Showcases were among the best for industry-led education).

On the supplier side of the industry, Cornell, Michigan State, and UNLV have all had classes in hospitality/hotel management for years. Classes in meeting management are, considering the age of the profession, relatively new.

(You can learn more at ICHRIE about this side of the industry).

The Convention Industry Council (CIC) and its member organizations have gone to great lengths to add to the body of knowledge available including the development of the CMP program and the APEX initiative. Universities, colleges and community colleges have both degree and certificate programs in meeting and event management.

And there are masters and Ph.D. programs in various aspects of meeting management as well as in hotel operations.

Does it take a degree to learn and practice meeting management? Should a degree be required to be a professional in the meetings industry? To get a job? My friend, Chris Galvin, with United Way in northwest Ohio, plans lots of events and had known little about our industry until we met in the early 2000s.

Interestingly, as I was putting the finishing touches on this blog, she sent to me this article that questions the requirement of a degree for work in many fields. After all, President Lincoln “read for the law” versus going to law school and was a fine president!

Here’s what I believe:

  1. Lifelong learning is critical—whether that learning is required (for CEUs to maintain one’s CMP, for example) or not. Daily, there are changes in the world that impact what we do and what we must know to do it.
  2. Access to education is greater for those with internet access which gives those of us reading this an advantage over many in countries where hospitality and tourism could benefit individuals and the economy.
  3. The number of groups and discussions on Facebook and LinkedIn, among industry association peer groups, via industry and business periodicals, could fill days of learning and provide necessary tools.
  4. Those who are lifelong learners and who mentor and help others learn will succeed personally and move our industry’s progress along.

Read too what three industry professors have to say, and an industry colleague not long out of school, about their experiences and what we need for the future.

Weigh in on what you think should be required for someone to work in our industry and what a relatively recent graduate, Ashley Akright, discusses about her education and what we need in the future. Help others learn by sharing where and how you’ve gained the knowledge you have.

In what areas do you think we need to provide more or different education and in what ways the industry—whether through the established groups like PCMA, MPI, IAEE and all the CIC member organizations—or the newer groups like SPiN and the experiential like the recent [ctrl]+[alt]+[del] can do to further our education.

What are your recommendations for how our industry can help those now in the industry, and those to come, learn?

Lastly, it’s fitting that this, my 100th blog post for Meetings Today, is about education: learning is a subject about which I am passionate! Two of the first industry honors I received were for my contributions to education: one, with a photo of me holding a ruler, apple, and chalkboard, as one of “15 Who Made a Difference” in the industry from an industry publication, and not long after, from PCMA as “Teacher of the Year.”

Later, HSMAI honored me (along with Keith Sexton-Patrick, Jim Daggett, and the late Doris Sklar) for our contributions to industry education; IACC honored me as the only non-member to receive their Pyramid Award, and later, the Mel Hosansky Award—both for education, and the latter, the only non-member other than the late and dear Mel himself, to receive it.

Most recently, PCMA’s Foundation honored me as, so far, the only non-academic for lifetime achievement as an educator where I joined two remarkable industry educators, Patti Shock and Deborah Breiter who preceded me. For all these honors, I’m grateful. More, I’m grateful to be able to continue learning and teaching.

Meetings in the Clouds

Originally posted Meeting Today Blog

Meetings in the Clouds

I love clouds. The different formations, how they cast shadows and make it cooler to be outside on a hot summer day. I love how they look when a storm is approaching, though I confess to preferring that on the ground rather than when in the air!

“Slowing down to appreciate clouds enriched his life and sharpened his ability to appreciate other pockets of beauty hiding in plain sight,” wrote Jon Mooallem in a May 4 New York Times Magazine article titled “Head in the Clouds.”

I suggest you take the time to read the article about Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s decision to take a sabbatical after feeling burnt out at work (he ran a graphic design business and edited a magazine called The Idler), and how he developed a fascination for clouds and formed the Cloud Appreciation Society. If you make it to the final section of the article, you will learn about the first major conference for the group, held on the Cloud Appreciation Society’s 10th Anniversary.

Oh wait, did you think “cloud” in the title was to do with the digital cloud? Where we store our data? And perhaps I’d write about how we could hold meetings in those clouds?

Naw. In the blog accompanying the August 2016 Friday with Joan newsletter (all about hotel contracts) I said it was August and yet, I was going to make you think. This may do that but what I really hope it does is help you become more observant and to see that meetings can be oh-so-different and about, well, clouds and observation.

Before you read on, I suggest you click here and listen to Judi Collins.

Reading about this one day cloud conference reminded me of the film “Wordplay” (IMDB info and video) about the Will Shortz crossword puzzle tournament. While watching “Wordplay” (more than once), I realized how complicated we sometimes make meetings when this—a crossword puzzle tournament—was so simple and joyful.

OK, maybe not the same kind of joyful as for those who seriously competed in the competition until they won! Both gatherings (cloud and crossword) seemed to be about what we know people want from most meetings: connections with others with the same or similar interests.

Watching the “Wordplay” film, I remember the marvel of the evening talent shows. I wondered why, at industry events and other meetings, rather than producing over-the-top, overly expensive receptions with inaccessible food and way-too abundant alcohol and noise, can’t we simply enjoy what we say we are there for, which in most cases its “networking” and is really peer-to-peer interaction. If that was the goal, why don’t we hold simpler events like these?

The science geek in me loved learning about clouds and seeing the exquisite photographs in the The New York Times Magazine article. I loved reading about the one day conference, Escape to the Cloudsnamed and executed in a way that could only cause one to gasp at the wonder of it all. “The program … was a little highbrow but fun”; they gave away “artisanal Cloud-Nine Marshmallows” in gift bags. And they worried about the environment of the meeting as we do: “…the London sky was impeccably blue. Not a single cloud. It was terrible.”

About Lisa Knapp singing the song most associated with Judi Collins (linked above), the author wrote: “The performance moved me. But it was more than that, and weirder. Maybe, somewhere in this story about clouds and cloud lovers, I’d found a compelling argument for staying open to varieties of beauty that we can’t quite categorize and, by extension, for respecting the human capacity to feel, as much as our ability to scrutinize the sources of those feelings.”

Isn’t that the reason why we go to meetings? To be “awed” and enchanted? To leave feeling better than when we arrived? Maybe we can learn something from this very simple gathering that was about … clouds.

What’s Wrong With Hotel Contracts?

Originally published Meetings Today


It’s August. It’s hot and humid. It’s “vacation time” and you’ll be reading this after both major U.S. political conventions. Why am I making people think?

But here’s the thing: recent conversations made me worry (even more than usual) about the state of our industry’s interest in understanding contracts and the risks faced by not knowing or preparing enough to sign or recommend signing contracts with hotels and other vendors.

To complement a brief article (“Seven Keys to Hotel Contract Success”) in the August print and digital edition of Meetings Today, this blog, and the interview with two industry attorneys, Kelly Franklin Bagnall and Joshua Grimes, in the August edition of Friday With Joan, will, I hope, create greater awareness of the importance of preparing to and executing contracts (You might also read the July edition of Friday With Joan and the accompanying interviews with industry practitioners and attorneys about contentious issues being faced by the passage of state laws).

Why do I care so much about contracts?

I knew little about hotel and other contracts when I first became a meeting professional. That is, I had planned meetings and events but had not dealt with complex contracts. That was until I moved to D.C. in 1978 and even more when I started my business in 1981. Ultimately, in 1983 when a client canceled a meeting (that I’d not booked or advised on the contract) and they were sued as were my company and me, individually, my interest was piqued.

I’ve told that story before and will again each time I teach about contracts. What puzzles me is that there are still too many in the industry who don’t want to know more about contracts even when questions arise that result in disputes that go to litigation or arbitration.

Having learned from some great attorneys, I offer:

  1. I’m not a lawyer. This blog, the aforementioned article and the upcoming webinar are provided with the understanding that the writer and publication are not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or professional services through their distribution. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be contracted.
  2. The opinions expressed are those of the author and may not express the views of the owner or publisher of these vehicles.
  3. Disclaimer: I have testified as an expert witness for Kelly Bagnall’s clients, and she and I have presented together at ExhibitorLive and for other groups.
  4. I know that there are areas of contracts covered by law that do not have to be included in contracts. If the specific conditions are not spelled out, it’s likely someone will assume something, the originators or signers of the contract will be gone before the execution of the meeting or no one can comfortably interpret the meaning. I’d rather spell it all out.

Reading Agility

How well do you read and dissect contract language? Here’s an exercise I use in classes at UNCC and elsewhere when I teach the business case about contracts. Read the following clauses, the first taken from a corporate hotel contract template, and figure out what might be unclear or questionable.

Room rates are quoted [elsewhere the specific rates are stated] exclusive of applicable state and local taxes (which are currently 13% + $3 per room per night) or applicable service, or hotel specific fees in effect at the Hotel at the time of the meeting. 

Did you figure out what was unclear or questionable? Tune in to the August 31 Meetings Today webinar, “Contracts: Accommodations” to learn the answer.

(If you think you know the answer, email me).

In addition, check out these clauses from signed contracts I was asked to review:

Should extensive meeting room setups or elaborate staging be required, there will be a setup charge to cover Hotel costs and additional labor.

My questions about this one simple sentence included:

  • What does the hotel consider “extensive meeting room setups” or “elaborate staging”?
  • What is the setup charge and what are the charges for additional labor? Who determines and when that these fees will be applied?
  • Are these charges taxed?
  • Is there a service charge and/or administrative fee on the charge?

The following special considerations are extended by the [Hotel Name] for Group based upon 85% fulfillment of your Room Block usage. [Note that elsewhere in the contract, the rate is stated.]

  1.  25 Staff rooms at 50% off confirmed group rate of $215.00. 
  2.  1 Complimentary Presidential Suite.
  3.  Additional staff rated rooms at a reduced rate of $199.00 per room.
  4.  15 roundtrip Sedan transfers.
  5.  Complimentary coffee and soft drinks for Staff Office.

Some of the questions to ask about No. 4:

  • How many people will each transfer accommodate?
  • From what point to what point(s) may the transfers be used? (Even if you assume—which you won’t again!—that use is from an airport and to the hotel, what if it’s an area like L.A., D.C., or New York, with multiple airports? Or if you want to use the transfers between a train station and the hotel? Or around town?).
  • For what dates may we use these transfers?
  • Who owns the sedan(s) and employs the driver(s)?

Starting questions to ask about No. 5:

  • On what days will this service be available? For how many people or in what quantities?
  • Will the coffee include condiments (cream and/or milk? Sweeteners and if so what kind?) and cups and saucers? “To go” cups? Will tea and decaf be included?
  • How often will this service be refreshed?
  • What soft drinks will be available? In what way will they be kept cold? Will the containers be recyclable?

You get the idea, right? There is lack of specificity in many contracts that planners sign or recommend be signed in the interest of time. Those signatures can be costly when questions aren’t asked and clarification is missing.

During the 8/31 webinar, we’ll review numbers 1, 2 and 3 and show some of the question to ask on other areas of guest room accommodations. I bet, though, that now that you’ve begun this process, you can begin to “q-storm” questions on these and on contracts you’re reviewing.

I recommend you:

  1. Write thorough RFPs and request that hotels address each point in their proposals.
  2. Read the proposal or contract sent by the hotel.
  3. Read it again out loud. Then again. Listen to the content—note what’s there and what’s missing.
  4. Ask clarifying questions and include, in writing, as much information as reasonable. When asked how long a contract should be and told by some they think a 10 page contract is too long, I say this: Contracts should be as long as needed to include the conditions and specifications to ensure that whomever executes the meeting, you or someone else, knows the intent and agreed to conditions.
  5. Don’t rush to sign. Hotels threaten lots of things especially at year or quarter end if a contract is not signed. After a contract is signed, it will be much tougher to change any language or conditions.
  6. One document versus a contract plus addendum. Yes, I know many use their own addendum with an hotel’s contract. In talking with industry attorneys, and in my experience of seeing conflicting language between different documents and in the world where computers make it easy, create one document.

Finally, here are some relevant links related to this blog post:

Pokémon Go (or No-Go) at Meetings

Originally published Meetings Today

Person Using Pokemon Go App

Nope, I’ve not used Pokémon Go and don’t intend to.

It’s not the privacy issues as much as the “why-do-I-need it” issues. It may be harmless—though like anything where one’s head is down while walking or driving (Does it work in cars? I fear it may), the possibilities for accidents are great. Of course, my always-seeing-risk-for-meetings brain wonders if there is liability if we haven’t warned against or prohibited its use!

Even an adult gamer friend and my spouse, also a gamer, have said “no” to it!

In D.C., the Holocaust Museum and other locations have said “no.” Local and national news are stressing the privacy issues. If you search the term “Pokémon Go robberies,” you’ll find far more than you probably have yet heard. And there’s no doubt there will be even more news.

If you have an upcoming meeting or conference, will you have a stated policy about its use? Next up for the industry: ASAE’s Annual Meeting (I’ve already posted a note to find out). Those of you involved with IMEX or the CIC Hall of Leaders event may want to ask there too. I envision new inductees at the latter with a creature on their heads or on the lectern as they deliver thanks!

Will they have a stated policy about its use? Speakers and trainers and facilitators: what about you? An announcement at the start, in addition to the one about emergency exits and not recording your session? Or do you see Pokémon Go as a fun way to engage participants, creating ways to tie the use of the app into your meetings or even to a site inspection at your hotel?

Could Pokémon Go be useful in an exhibit hall?

Every day brings some new and interesting challenge, eh?

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.

Work Ethic and Work-Life Balance Disconnect

Originally published Meetings Today

When I read this article in the Sunday, June 19, 2016—Father’s Day—Washington Post business section, it reminded me so much of time with my dad, of blessed memory, schlepping around the state of Ohio to sell chickens! Like the younger Ted Gup’s experiences in helping at his Dad’s store, I too worked in the family stores—the Joe O. Frank Co./Tasty Bird Farms (also in Ohio)—where I learned to cut up chicken in no time flat and measure, from a huge block of Oleo, any amount requested … skills, alas, I’ve lost over the years but the work experience stayed with me.

My “work ethic” derives from many family members: my grandfathers, one of whom retired and then started another job, dying on his lunch hour at 85; my dad, who, drafted from college into WWII, returned and went to work versus finishing college and even through a cancer diagnosis, continued to work; and my own work, first as a babysitter and then, at 14, a mandatory-my-parents-said work permit and work after school and on weekends, and almost always since then with a few times of unemployment but not since 1981 when I created my consulting company have I not worked.

When I read that definition of “work ethic,” I cringed. It makes it sound as if one were lazy or lacking in character if one didn’t possess what someone thought how you worked was the same as theirs.

Recently, in work for a client, one of the stated goals was to look at who was working how and to figure out how to help the meetings staff find work-life balance. If you’re a meeting planner/professional, you’re reading that and guffawing, right? As a planning professional (and vendor to our industry), do you think you can advance (in whatever way you see it) or even get a job if you believe that balance is more critical than “work ethic”?

As I read all this and conducted the work with the client, it occurred to me, as I am sure it has to many others: Boomers and Xers talk about Millennials and their “work ethic”—well, they criticize Millennials (aka “Gen Y”) for not having a work ethic! (Worse [to me!] the Millennials themselves say it.)

So what is work-life balance? Doesn’t it depend on the worker? Is it necessity or desire that makes us work more? Certainly, many people are working two or more jobs to support themselves and their families.

From Forbes and Yahoo! are these articles about how different generations view work ethic:

This, about paternity leave, from the Brookings Institution confirmed that in the US, we talk about a work-life balance and don’t mean it to be for everyone.

We’re connected 24/7 and thus, I think, these words from that article, sum it up:

“In it [the study], we found that nine out of ten millennials say that they can access information whenever and wherever they are, and that 73% are expected to be contactable at any time of day or night. So tell me how are we to find balance if we are expected to be ‘on call’ all the time? Friends tell me that when they go on vacation, if they even take a day off, their emails are overwhelming even if they have an out-of-office message!”

If we really believe in work-life balance, shouldn’t GI Gens, Silents, Boomers and Xers stop the negative comments about Millennials and the belief they have no “work ethic”? If we really believe in “work-life balance,” shouldn’t we pay a living wage so that people don’t have to work multiple jobs?

What do you think? What’s your take on “work ethic” and generational differences? Work-life balance? Is it bunk? Oh and did you know what Oleo was without clicking the link?!

Meetings Industry Strengths and Talents Stats

Originally published Meetings Today

I was not a student of statistics. And ours aren’t scientific. Nonetheless, those who participated in the March FWJ content and survey on StrengthsFinders and took advantage of CoreClarity’s offer for learning more, gained even greater strength in how they view themselves and work.

It was fascinating to read the strengths of those who participated. To accompany the stats, in this post you will find an interview with CoreClarity about what they observed and then make sure to check out the additional interviews with Kellee O’Reilly and Sean Schuette, CMP, about their strengths and how they use them, which will help you gain further insight.

If you did submit your strengths to CoreClarity, they have a record of that and you are still eligible for individual coaching. If you did not participate by sending in your strengths previously, they are unable to provide the coaching, but you can still learn from the info below!

We are grateful to them for their generosity in providing the tools and the time in March, for the analyzing and coaching and again for this June edition of Friday With Joan. Even if you didn’t participate, make sure to check out the statistics from the CoreClarity survey.

1. Were there any patterns that emerged from this, albeit unscientific, sample of people in the meetings and exhibition industry?

CoreClarity (CC): When we look at the entire group, [more than] 50% of the individuals reported that their goal when planning a meeting or managing exhibits is about the experience gained. This speaks to the combination of the group’s top 5 talents, which we refer to as a CoreDrill. The group’s talents make up the Life Line CoreDrill which has characteristics that include servant leadership, motivating others by example, caregiving and caretaking, and more often than not, they are steady and reliable.

Meeting planning and exhibit management are both multi-faceted and require many elements to be assembled quickly and simultaneous, and often times there is an immediate need for problem solving. The Strategic talent was the No. 1 talent of the group and those naturally gifted with this talent are masterful at solving complex issues with elegant solutions.

What we can conclude from the survey results is there’s a clear support for what Gallup found to be true of successful people. There is not one specific talent that makes people successful. Rather, if you are working well in your talents and building your life upon them, you will be successful.

2. Were you in any way struck by what you learned?

CC: While we were not necessarily surprised by the talents of the group, we recognize the importance of understanding how each person’s talents show up in them.

We can have preconceived notions of what the talents are or what talents we want to see in a group. We may think we have an idea of what a certain talent is in our mind. However, even if people have the same talents, they can manifest differently.

Talents are the innate characteristics within us. We must add skills, knowledge and use to develop our talents into strengths. Because we all have different experiences, giving us varying insights and abilities, our talents will show up differently from others.

3. In the coaching, with those who elected to do so, what stood out?

CC: It was invigorating to talk with several of the individuals who completed the survey and submitted their talents. It was evident that they were in the right place for their talents. They were ready and willing to see more of who they already are. That readiness and willingness really influences the success of strengths.

Many people aren’t aware of how their talents interact and/or intensify each other. Those I interviewed were able to see that their talents don’t just stand alone. Rather, we can look at our talents as a whole in conjunction with our experiences.

Each person’s past pulls into how their talents show up in them. Drawing that into their understanding of their talents can help in putting their talents to the best use.

It was wonderful to communicate that their originality is what makes them valuable. Giving them the language to articulate that to those around them is so important.

4. What do you want people and organizations to consider about the relevance of StrengthsFinder and the work you do to help make people and places stronger?

CC: The Strengths language allows us to articulate our gifts and what makes us unique. This gives freedom to be who we are, celebrate our differences, and learn from one another.There’s power in knowing what talents each individual brings to a group.

This awareness is something companies can leverage to streamline team processes by efficiently transforming individuals into a collaborative community.

5. What did I not ask that you want to have conveyed?

CC: There are many opportunities to create stronger relationships using this material. Whether between spouses, significant others, co-workers, or other family members, this is a valuable tool that illuminates relational intricacies. For example, we become more aware of how talents can collide with one another. Working through those talent interactions can provide a language and plan for how to avoid or soften the potential collisions.

We’re always looking to grow our CoreClarity family. If this piqued your interest and you’d like more information on adding this tool to your tool kit, please visit us here.

Final note from Joan: In working with clients who use StrengthsFinders consistently, I’ve seen remarkable results. It’s a matter of being consistent in the application of one’s talents. As you’ll see in the interviews with Kellee and Sean, and in what I wrote previously, knowing and using one’s talents can make a difference in how one works and feels. It’s worth it!

As always the views expressed are my own—and in this case CoreClarity.

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