7 Predictions and 6 Resolutions for 2015

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

When I began drafting this blog, I ran the idea by a colleague who has been a hotel CSM and sales manager—with a third party—and is now a director of meetings at a major medical association.

He laughed with me as I said, “Whatever I predict could have an opposite and equal prediction!”

And so it is.

Predictions

1. Hotel rates will go up in some markets and down in others.

2. Non-U.S. individuals and entities will continue to buy and own hotels which may cause more brouhaha (like it did when the Sultan of Brunei purchased the Plaza in New York) among some groups opposed to various entities or individuals owning hotels.

3. Hotel owners will demand even greater profit; some will continue to oppose an increase in the minimum U.S. wage.

4. The US Airways/American Airlines merger will be fully implemented in 2015; we’ll lose more lift for secondary and tertiary markets. That won’t be good for tourism, or for state or regional meetings.

5. Gas prices will stay down for a bit; airlines won’t lower ticket prices.

6. Most every meeting will still be set in straight rows—theatre or classroom—with some considering crescent rounds innovative. Few will be experiential even when the opportunity presents itself. The fear of change will continue.

7. Our industry, collectively, will think it’s smarter because of the use of technology; alas, it will remain the same unquestioning business it has been for too long.

My Professional Resolutions

1. I will continue reading and disseminating information via Twitter as @joaneisenstodt and for @meetingsfocus.

2. Even when a hotel puts forth a badly worded contract, I’ll maintain my calm and cool and realize it’s another training opportunity as we negotiate.

3. I’ll continue to promote Paul Radde’s book, Seating Matters to as many hoteliers and planners as I can, in an effort to help others realize the options in setting rooms for meetings. Insist hotel sales people and CSMs read it and practice different room setting.*

4. At any industry or other program in a hotel or public space, I’ll test the ADA capabilities and capacities and challenge the entities that are not in compliance or not accessible (Join me at ExhibitorLive in March to learn more about “Inclusive Hospitality”).

5. When I attend a program that is just not working for me, I’ll practice what I teach: the rule of “motion and responsibility” apply and I’ll leave.

6. I’ll promote—to legislators, family, friends, strangers—that what we do is critical to bring people together to explore, create, think, and act. Every “it’s not brain surgery or rocket science” comment will be challenged immediately with the facts. I’ll show ’em that meetings do mean business.

Your Professional Resolutions

Write a few. Think about why they are important to you and what you can do—what we all can do—to support change in each other and our industry. Grow in what you do by reading more and experimenting more with meetings. 2015: let’s make it a revolutionary year!

The Hot Seat with @JoanEisenstodt

Originally posted Greg Ruby’s Gems 4/30/14

This is, hopefully, the first in a series of regular posts at Greg Ruby’s Gems, where we get to know some of the characters and personalities that make up the meetings and events industry.  I am pleased that Joan Eisenstodt was willing to be our first victim, errr, subject for this series.  – GR

The name of Joan Eisenstodt is one of the most recognized in the world of meetings and events. The Chief Strategist of Eisenstodt Associates, Joan has been a familiar face at many educational conferences and has been a frequent contributor to industry periodicals and online communities. I had the honor of first meeting Joan in Seattle during the 2008 PCMA Convening Leaders conference, where she facilitated the Train the Trainer session I attended for those that wanted to be Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) study group leaders. I consider Joan to be the Grand Dame in our industry.

Now, onto the questions –

GR: How did you start in the meetings industry?

JE: Before I knew it was a profession, I arranged street fairs to raise money for polio in the ’50s. Then I organized things through Y-Teens in high school. I worked at an art museum arranging events. When I moved to DC in ’78, I didn’t know this was a profession – I had no name for what I did.  After not getting another job (volunteer coordinator/grassroots organizer) at a not-for-profit in DC, I volunteered there. The ED hired me in my first meetings job and from there, it took off. Over the years, I’ve learned my strengths and moved from ‘pure’ meeting planning to what I do now: consulting on contracts, meeting design, departmental staffing; training; facilitation.

GR: What is the last book you have read or are reading now?

A Tale for the Time of BeingJE:  I just finished a most marvelous book, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It had a huge impact on me as I read it and still has. It’s a story about a story about a girl in Japan who had lived in the US and how her life is upended when her family moves back to Japan. It’s about her ancestors and about a journal she keeps and the woman who finds it. Or does she find it? The storytelling is beautiful. The great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, spoke about so many issues that were contemporary. I find myself meditating “seeing” the great-grandmother. I sent it on to a friend with whom I hope to have many discussions when she’s completed reading.  Waiting to be read is Harlan Coben’s latest book. My tastes are eclectic!

GR: Coffee or tea?

BusboysJE: I love chai tea lattes made at Busboys & Poets at 5th & K in Washington, DC. And I’m thatspecific. I love coffee and just don’t drink it much now. And water .. a big glass of tap water with ice makes me very happy!

GR: What is the biggest issue facing the meetings industry today?

JE: Repetition.

Someone wrote to me the other night and asked how I felt about all the those, much younger than I, who are getting attention for things I’ve been saying for nearly 40 years about changing meetings’ formats, delivery, measurements. We don’t seem to change and the same issues keep resurfacing. HOW many times can we set a room straight theater before people wonder why they are uncomfortable? How many sessions that don’t match the description can be done? How many networking receptions with too-loud music keeping people from talking can be held?

BUT wait.. I have more than one:

Sustainability.

Whether one believes that the climate is changing, they have to see the drought that is devastating the US and the world. It is causing prices of all products to soar because they can’t be grown or sustained. It is causing people to die and more will. Yet, cities and properties and meetings say they care about ‘sustainability’ by which they mean “no handouts” to be green and they don’t look at the bigger implications of all the change. In all the discussions of sustainability, there is no talk about people – those who are not making a living wage, those who are being oppressed in their work, those whose jobs are in danger b/c hotels say they are “greening” by paying guests to not have their rooms cleaned while these same hotels/hotel companies lay off many in housekeeping.  When we have no workers or very under-appreciated and rewarded workers we will lose the hospitality of our industry.

GR: How do you unwind after work or an event?

MBTIPreferencesgreta garbo i want to be aloneJE: I’m an “I” on MBTI and so during an event or a day or a week of conducting training, I have to go to my room where I “vant to be alone” – have to be alone. It is how I re-energize. After a day of work, I watch news, read, play “words with friends”. Those all help me unwind.

GR: Favorite destination to attend an event?

JE: It used to be a favorite conference center in California until the owners and then management co. looked at profits more than people – long-serving people – and fired too many. I loved it for the ambience, the people, the food, the atmosphere.  I really hate attending events so it’s a tough question to answer.

GR: What is must see TV for you?

JEMSNBC and “All In With Chris Hayes” – he’s smart, interesting, lives and talks about his principles .. which appear to match mine. And anything on which Melissa Harris-Perry appears .. tho’ I confess to not getting up early to see her own show. My guilty TV watching but it’s not ‘must see’ is “Say Yes to the Dress” which I find is all about psychology.  It’s the only reality show I watch now. (Loved Queer Eye when it was new.) I miss smart shows like “The West Wing” and “M*A*S*H”.

Tho’ I’m of the generation that came of age when TVs were new, I stopped watching much. It’s all violence, inanity, and a strange reality.My Cat from Hell

My Cat From Hell” – which started again on 4/26 with a new season.

GR: If you could go back in time, you would want to see what?

JE: When I was 16, I desperately wanted to come to DC for the March on Washington. A friend’s church was coming and they required written permission from parents. My parents were worried and wouldn’t give permission. I was a ‘good girl’ and should’ve disobeyed. I went this past summer to the anniversary March and I went to programs to learn from those who’d been there. And I wish I’d been old enough or brave enough to leave home and go South to register voters in the ’60s.

And I’d like to go back to Russia and parts of Poland where my ancestors came from and experience the shtetl and see how my ancestors lived. I think it would have made my thinking so different or would have reinforced what I know and believe.

GR: Finish this sentence – Nobody knows this about me, but I……

JE: I was a guest on the Donahue Show, on a show hosted by Arlene Frances in NYC, a guest w/ Bill Bixby on a show in Chicago,.. all for the cause of parenthood-by-choice not by mandate.

TEMPO030715C2GR: Joan, thanks for participating on The Hot Seat!

JE: Thanks for asking! This was a good time to be introspective.

Meeting CRISIS Management: The Elephant in the Room

Originally posted CMP Today enewsletter

The Urban Dictionary defines the saying, “elephant in the room” as “n. A very large issue that everyone is acutely aware of, but nobody wants to talk about. Perhaps a sore spot, perhaps politically incorrect, or perhaps a political hot potato, it’s something that no one wants to touch with a 10-foot pole. Sometimes pink elephant in the room.”

“And the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition for this sense of ‘elephant in the room’ and variants thereof: ‘A significant problem or controversial issue which is obviously present but ignored or avoided as a subject for discussion, usually because it is more comfortable to do so.’

“The OED’s first published reference for this usage is the title of a 1984 book, ‘An Elephant in the Living Room: A Leader’s Guide for Helping Children of Alcoholics,’ by Marion H. Typpo and Jill M. Hastings.”

What’s the first significant event you remember that caused a disruption to a meeting or to guests at a meeting in a hotel in which you worked? Was it a CEO who was walked? A speaker who was a no-show? Shipment of materials that never arrived? Food poisoning of an entire group after a banquet? Death of a participant, staff or Board member? Hurricane – Katrina or Rita or other named storm? After this event, what did you do to change how you assessed the risk and planned for contingencies for your meetings?

Certainly 9/11/01 is remembered even if one had not yet been in the industry. It was a day of catastrophic events that impacted everyone worldwide. In the D.C. area, many of us met weekly once we were all safely back after getting participants at meetings safely back to their homes. We even met with airport security personnel to understand more about our responsibilities as things changed rapidly.

It’s an assumption that any emergency occurrence at one of your meetings or in a hotel or convention center or destination in which you worked would ensure you and those with whom you work would implement different strategies and protections for “the next time.” And yes, I know what “assume” does!

Thus, our first “elephant in the room”: Few meeting destinations and venues are assessed for safety prior to selection and contracting and fewer meetings have written contingency and emergency plans that are consistently and thoughtfully prepared and staff and vendors, on site and back in the office, trained on procedures.

Assessment basics include:

  • Before completing your RFP, research safety and security issues that concern you or your group, making the research destination and time of year specific.
  • Write an extensive RFP to be completed by the DMO (aka CVB) in the cities being considered about the safety and security of the destination, their plans for evacuation, with whom those plans are coordinated and implemented (City? State? County? Federal government?), how the hotels and other venues are involved, and what their experiences are in practicing and/or implementing those plans.
  • In your RFP for hotel/s or other venues, include questions about all safety issues including back-up generator capacity, water source/s, number and location of AEDs, number, experience and hours of security personnel, their evacuation and shelter-in-place plans, to name just a very few.
  • When conducting a destination and site inspection, focus less on what’s cool and pretty and more on how people will be safe and sound.

Those who do prepare usually look at the obvious: health and medical, transportation, accidents in and outside the facility, speaker no-shows, demonstrations against a speaker for your group or another or the facility itself.

What about the less obvious (!) elephants? In the session Brad Goldberg and I will facilitate on Monday, September 8 at from 9:45 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., we look at three even less obvious elephants that are in the news.

Why should you attend? As CMPs, you are held to a higher standard of care. And as Jeffrey King, esq., a former Counsel to the CIC, said to me years ago, “It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, you can still be sued.” At the very least you want to have a good defense in what you learned and did.

Recommended: google alert for the city, convention center and hotel/s you’ll use; subscription to the local business journal at www.bizjournal.com.

 

Upcycling Casinos, Hotels and Convention Centers

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

In 2008, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) convened the Global Summit on Social Responsibility, created for association professionals and business partners to talk about the UN Global Compact (that was signed by many organizations and companies, including Meeting Professionals International (MPI)), the future and our roles in it. The Global Compact’s Ten Principles is worth reading again if you did before; especially so if you haven’t.

It was a privilege to be invited to participate in these three intense days of face-to-face and virtual interaction, and it was exciting to focus on any number of issues within the 10 principles.

One issue that some of us wanted to discuss (that didn’t make the in-person cut) was what would happen to the hotel and convention center buildings in cities if a) hospitality business diminished and b) if the cities in which these buildings existed became somewhat or totally deserted.

As shopping malls around the U.S. have been abandoned, cities and suburbs have faced similar issues–what to do with large, empty, abandoned buildings. You can view more on this topic from a number of sources including Buzzfeed, DeadMalls.com, The Daily Mail and Mental Floss. And that just scratches the surface of content available.

I was reminded, again, of this issue after reading about the latest hit to Atlantic City and the questions about use of an empty casino. I hate that this is happening to Atlantic City–a place of childhood trips where, as a young Midwestern girl, I relished the visits to the East to see grandparents and enjoy the Jersey Shore.

Atlantic City is not the only place that has to deal with abandoned buildings. We will eventually see abandoned buildings once purposed for meetings and leisure throughout the U.S. as more virtual options allow groups to meet in different ways, including smaller satellite locations.

What will become of these buildings? When there is such a crisis in housing and places to grow food, when there are so many people unemployed in our industry [3,200 will lose jobs with the closing of Revel Casino], when services are needed for many people under one convenient roof, when we are upcycling clothing and other items, why isn’t our industry having big conversations about how to repurpose spaces now rather than waiting, like Revel did, until it’s too late?

There are ideas and realities now that are in place and are being put into place: repurposing an abandoned school; repurposing an abandoned Wal-Mart; repurposing of other big-box stores;repurposing for offices; repurposing into community services.

My dream: Find investors who want to turn an abandoned mall into a creative space to house meetings where the design is intentional, flexible, accessible, and simply just cool. As well as ones who will turn an abandoned hotel into a home for aging meeting professionals who still want to practice their craft or just want to live with others who were part of their earlier lives.

Let’s try to keep our industry healthy. While we do that, in the comments area of the blog and elsewhere, let’s use our experience and future-thinking about how to use these spaces differently when they are abandoned. And they will be when the newer, cooler, fancier place comes along, or perhaps more simply, when supply outweighs demand.

What sort of facility would you create from an abandoned casino or hotel? An abandoned convention center? What spaces would advance your city if its hotels or convention centers go away?

Is an Industry Veteran Also a Professional?

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

Professional Dictionary Definition

For years, our industry has struggled to develop programming for the “veterans” of the industry. When I served on the Meetings & Exposition (“M&E”) Council of ASAE, and on education committees for MPI and PCMA, we struggled with defining veteran.

Did it mean the number of years in the industry? One or multiple roles in one organization? Increasingly more responsible roles in one organization? Working in different areas (planner, hotel sales, DMC, exhibits) of the industry? Is a veteran someone who has done the same meetings or sold the same property or service the same way over and over and over? (Read again the definition of veteran, linked above).

And how would an organization determine, even with the CMP, what parts of the body of knowledge were needed, and if the body of knowledge then was still relevant and would be in the next year? Is a veteran also a “professional?” And what defines a professional? If you read the words below about what a professional is, does “have the highest standards” mean the person’s ethics are beyond reproach? Or just in line with industry practices?

In a Linkedin group that is not directly related to our industry, there is a discussion of what “professional” means. One of the participants posted this, which I offer for your consideration and parsing (Reposted below).

_____________

WHAT IS A PROFESSIONAL?
By Brian Rigsby.

“One definition might be getting paid to do something. Another might be a commitment to performing at the highest level, to give your best at all times. Yet another may be exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace. While all of these are partially correct, there are many facets to being a true professional.

A professional has specialized skills and knowledge that required independent erudition and effort on their part to attain. They engage in a process of constant evaluation and improvement. A professional makes decisions based on their dedication to the craft and not the current circumstance. The characteristic that separates the professional from the dilettante is an uncompromising commitment to excellence – doing what is required to get the job done at its highest level, even when it is inconvenient. An amateur is capable of doing some things well under the right conditions, but a professional, as a matter of course, does it well regardless of the situation.

A professional is passionate, motivated and punctual. A professional respects the respectable, but admires the inspirational. A professional is a seeker of knowledge but also a teacher. A professional is disciplined, has the highest standards, and is engaged in the constant pursuit of unattainable perfection. A professional is restless and never satisfied, always evaluating and re-evaluating where they’ve come and finding ways to do what they are doing better now, today, moment to moment.”<<

Join me in trying to figure this out. It’s a bit philosophical perhaps or maybe not! Perhaps you’ve defined the words for yourself and within your own organization or about those you hire or with whom you contract. Please share your definitions and your thoughts. I really am puzzled.

5 Tips to Safer Outdoor Events

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

Wine Glasses on Outdoor Table Setup

Outdoor events can be great for lots of groups and in conjunction with meetings. Finding the venue, determining the activity or activities, I’ll leave to others. Ensuring safety is more my bailiwick. Whether you’re planning a company picnic, an incentive program, an off-site activity, high school reunion, or other event, the safety of those attending is your main concern.

1. Consider your audience

  • Many people on certain medications or with certain illnesses cannot be out in the sun. Period. Not with sunscreen. Not in the shade which still allows sun through. Determine how to include them indoors while others are out.
  • People with different abilities may be unable to easily participate because of mobility, hearing or sight. It’s much more difficult to hear an interpreter, for example, in bright light! And using a wheelchair or scooter or other mobility device may prove a challenge on rocky, sandy, or other terrain. Everyone wants to be included; determine ahead of time how you will.
  • Different abilities and cultural differences may prohibit some from participating in an outdoor activity. Consider everyone so that they are included in some way.

2. Environmental issues

  • Consider the impact on the environment of people tramping around. Work with local agencies to ensure it’s a smart thing to do.
  • Have recycling containers for items and trash containers so you don’t leave a mess (As a D.C. resident, I am horrified at the messes people leave on the Mall after an event). Make sure you’re prepared.
  • Drought and other environmental issues can equal lots of dust which may cause a breathing hazard and certainly can bring a dust storm that would pose a hazard for travel.

3. Food & Beverage: Preparation and consumption

  • My mom and grandmom told me never to eat food with mayo or any food that was sitting out in the sun. I haven’t deviated from that rule and have (so far!) remained healthy when attending outdoor events. Determine how a caterer or venue will prepare and serve food and what will keep it hot (other than the sun!) and cold. Food poisoning could ruin any event, indoors or out.
  • Alcohol and sun and heat do not mix. Oh sure, “everyone” does it and if it’s your event, consider if the alcohol is really necessary and how you will ensure safety for everyone.
  • WATER and lots of it (if possible). Of course in the areas where there’s drought (which means a whole bunch of the world right now) there may not be enough water to be served. Consider how you will keep people hydrated to ensure their health and safety and limit your and your meeting sponsor’s liability.

4. Medical and other emergencies

  • When selecting the venue, find out, just as you do for a hotel in any area, where the closest emergency facilities are and how easily they can (or cannot) get to the site of your event. If your activity is off-shore, literally, know how quickly can the Coast Guard or other water rescue personnel reach your group and how to reach them.
  • Determine what first aid supplies the venue has and what you need to bring. Know how many people responsible for the event are trained in CPR. At the very least, have an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) with you and a well-equipped and updated First Aid Kit.

5. Prepare participants

  • Some people don’t know enough about their health to know that exertion may hurt or even kill them. Even healthy people may not know. Get activity waivers (some great examples are found online in a search; they are not presented here because of…liability) which help limit liability.
  • Explain to people ahead of time what they’ll be doing and suggest that if they’re not sure they can participate, they should get a doctor’s note.
  • Tell them what to bring (sun screen, insect repellent, hats and visors, long sleeve shirts, jackets or sweaters, etc.) and what not to bring OR how you’ll protect their valuables. I’m a fan of these kits from the Red Cross as amenities for meetings generally and certainly for events where someone may need emergency tools. Scroll down to the area of the Student Emergency Kits for more.

I hope many of you will add to this beginning list of what to do–which may include how to check references on vendors and facilities to find out their safety record.

Enjoy the summer…and be safe!

3 Ways to Make Meetings Marketing Relevant with 1 Bad Example

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

For years, I’ve been fascinated¹ by photos and copy in print and electronic marketing; by the photos used by hotels, DMOs (aka CVBs) and other industry vendors on their websites and in marketing pieces; by the copy in emails received to market a service or facility. One received recently took me by surprise more than most, so much so that I posted the copy on social media and said it had made me howl with laughter.

Before sharing and dissecting the language in what I received, here are the first two of three things that keep the industry the same in its practice, because these items do nothing to show a difference between facilities and they don’t help customers buy what is being sold.

1. Room set and meeting room photos: Facilities of all kinds – hotels, conference centers, convention centers, restaurants, other ‘off-site’ meeting spaces – post photos of some of their larger or largest rooms, so buyers can see how a meeting might look. For years, I’ve railed against the ‘standard’ (and boring) room sets – straight theatre or classroom, crescent rounds in straight rows – and find little changes or if there are, no one is showing it through marketing. This is what is shown in photos: A large room, with a small stage and too-small screens only at the front. The look is cavernous! Think of how hotels could change how their space is viewed and contribute to changing perceptions of how people can meet with different photos and illustrations! Using Dr. Paul Radde’s insights and his book² Seating Matters: State of the Art Seating Arrangements,” hotels could transform our industry in reality and in visuals!

2. People in photos: Most of us identify with those who look like us. For years in training about meeting planning, I’ve laughed saying that most hotel brochures and websites show young, gorgeous people, who look nothing like me, around pools and in cocktail lounges. There is sometimes some diversity by using people of color; there is almost never diversity in age, ability (how many people using electric scooters or videos of meetings in hotels where sign language is being used, have you seen?), visual ethnicity, or body type. To attract a diverse clientele, visuals matter.

3. Marketing copy: So now what triggered this blog. The email³ was sent from a company that markets multiple properties of different brands. Here, in its entirety, is the copy:

“No Strings Attached” Offer

  • Zero penalty if group is cancelled at least 60 days prior to the event.
  • 50% of cancellation will be credited to a future group to be held prior to December 31, 2014.
  • Attrition charges waived on consumed groups.
  • Group must be booked by August 31, 2014 and consumed by December 31, 2014.

Does not apply to existing bookings and restrictions apply. 

Let’s dissect:

Bullet 1: “… if the ‘group is cancelled’ …” that means the hotel is canceling the group and they are right: the group would owe nothing. What they meant (I think) was “if the group cancels”. But wait – there are never “penalties” anyway; it’s “damages” the group would pay.

Bullets 2 and 4: I hope they meant 50% of the cancellation fee (which they called a ‘penalty’ in bullet 1) will be credited. If the meetings booked using this offer have to be completed by December 31, 2014, to receive what I think are the promoted benefits and one can cancel within 60 days and the future meeting has to be held by December 31, 2014, … well, this is a “two trains running” word puzzle I can’t solve!

Bullet 2 continued: I think they meant the credit could be for a future meeting by the same group, but it says “future group,” so maybe not.

Bullets 3 and 4: Yep, no attrition on “consumed groups.” Well, I hope not! Once the groups are “consumed” there’s no one left to charge! Sure, “consume” can mean “to use” but most of us think it is to eat or drink. And even so, I’m unsure what the meaning is.

Then there’s the caveat: “restrictions apply.” Those aren’t listed anywhere in the email and are nowhere to be found at the link with more information. And it’s not even “restrictions may apply” it’s that they do. That is not encouraging for me to get more information I can’t find immediately.

If the agencies working with our industry vendors are not paying attention to what the industry is discussing or to changing demographics, shame on them. If the companies purchasing copy and illustrations are not proofing, more shame on them. We’re smarter than that…us buyers…and we want to see what’s best and can be versus what always has been.

Let’s do it! I’m available to consult as are many planners and copywriters I know!

¹ This is the word I use when I am really shocked and appalled. It’s like when my Aunt Rose (of blessed memory) used to say, when she saw a baby that really wasn’t cute, “Now THAT’S a baby!”

² I wrote the foreword for the book because I believe strongly in what Paul has done, is doing, and is encouraging the industry to do. I received no payment nor do I for promoting the book and the concepts or sales of the book.

³ I wrote a nice email back to the company that sent the message stating that perhaps this was written by someone who spoke English as a second language and that the terms and concepts were unfamiliar. And I said that someone still should have proofed it. So far, no response has been received. I’ll update in the comments section as soon as I hear — if I do.

Site Selection: The Questions Continue

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

In a recent blog on destination selection, I covered tips on what to look for in air and ground transportation and local activities were covered. In the April 30 webinar (scroll down to “On Demand” webinars and the one titled “Site Selection Best Practices”), destination and site safety and security (including destination infrastructure issues), labor conditions, sustainability (of people and the environment), CSR – corporate social responsibility, and accessibility for people with disabilities were discussed with tips about what to do when a group is seeking destinations and sites. (You can listen to the webinar at any time and send questions to me here as comments at the end of the blog.)

There are so many more considerations when selecting a site – some dependent on a group’s demographics, objectives, and program, and others more generic – that we want to present more to include in your RFP, your questions, and if possible, to see when you conduct a site inspection.

Guest Room Types and Locations

One of my favorite industry expressions: rooms described as having a “partial ocean view”! I’ve always thought those were the ones that, if one’s head and part of her or his body were stuck out a window turned to the side, you might see a bit of water! Knowing what you may be buying and what your meeting participants will receive is critical to the happiness of their stay and the success of the meeting even if participants are only in their rooms to sleep. Ask:

  • How many floors are in the hotel and on each floor, how many rooms? How many rooms have one bed and what type and how many have two beds and what type are those? Does the hotel own roll-away beds or cots (which) and how many for use for additional people per room? Asking the maximum number of people allowed per room is critical especially if your participants bring family members or if there is greater triple or quadruple occupancy.
  • Many hotels in the United States are non-smoking; don’t assume all are. Find out if there are any rooms in which smoking tobacco is allowed and how many there are, their location, and the ventilation system between floors if smoking is allowed. Ask for a full description of ADA-qualified rooms – if they have roll-in showers, different configurations for HVAC controls and controls to operate window treatments; if all ADA rooms are equipped with Deaf Kits or if those are separate, and how many ADA rooms have connectors.
  • Speaking of connecting rooms, it’s nice for those who want to be next to their children or a relative or friend. These are not so nice, because of lack of sound-proofing, for other guests. Find out how many connecting rooms exist and how informed the front desk is about room types to advise people when they check in.
  • That last bit of advice is also about distance from elevators. Some people want to be far away; others (like me) want to be closer for easy access. Distance, I’ve found is subjective! Ensure the front desk has maps and can show guests exactly where their rooms are and know if the room is a connector.
  • People with allergies want to be in rooms that are designated hypo-allergenic. That usually means there are no feather products and no scented amenities and the HVAC vents are cleaned more often than others, tho’ cleaning of vents is critical to everyone’s health. Determine how many are in the hotel or what can they do to make a room friendly for those with allergies and how much time it takes.

Guest Room Amenities  

Travelers take it for granted that guest rooms will have a flat screen TV, a “comfortable” (based on someone’s taste) bed, bathroom amenities of shampoo, soap and perhaps other items. Don’t assume it! Ask about those items and others:

  • Is there an in-room safe in each room? Is there a charge to use it and what is that charge? If there is a mini-bar and how is it operated? Is there a restocking charge if anything is used? If so, what is that charge and is there a service charge and tax applied to the cost of the item and restocking? Ask if the mini-bar refrigerator is a real refrigerator or a cooler: those who want to store their own food and/or medicine will need to know. And if refrigerators don’t come with the room, ask how many the hotel has and what the charge is to use them. (If you know many in your group need refrigerators ask how many the hotel can rent and if there is both a charge-back to the guest or group and a mark-up on that charge and the amounts.
  • We all want free Wi-Fi and as much as we want that, we want a good desk, with outlets above the floor and plenty of them. My favorite “amenity” are the bedside lamps with outlets in them – great at night for all kinds of devices – especially with my “outlet adder”.We also want an adjustable good desk chair. Many “lifestyle hotels” have cool and funky chairs at the desk or no desk at all. Consider your audience when looking at the business needs in a room.
  • Are there landline phones on the desk, bedside, and in the bathroom? Many hotels are eliminating one or more of those which can be inconvenient if one’s mobile device doesn’t work in the room or additional help is needed. Not everyone gives out their mobile number and in an emergency the hotel (and meeting planner) may need a method of reaching a guest. Ask too about the voice messaging system and if it’s accessible outside one’s guest room.
  • There are many people who do not travel with all the electronics that some of us expect they do. Ask about radios with or without a port for an MP3 player. Are there other electronics in the room for entertainment and/or business use? If a coffee maker is in the room, ask if coffee (tea? other beverage?) and condiments are complimentary, or if is there is a charge on the first use or on subsequent uses, and a restocking fee. If there are fees, what are those fees? Then there’s the ironing board and iron. Even we short people may have long clothing and some ironing boards are mini ones. Nothing more frustrating to learn that until after one is attempting to iron.

Guest Room Safety

There are some obvious areas that most planners consider when looking at guest room safety. Those include: internal or external (outside) access to guest rooms; location of exits, fire extinguishers, emergency exits. Many hotels have eliminated house phones in hallways or only have them near the elevators. Find out. If an emergency occurs near a guest’s room and one’s mobile device is not in hand, lack of house phones could add to the emergency.

Other areas to include in your questions:

  • Smoke and CO2 detectors in all guest rooms; in hallways
  • Audible or visual smoke detectors in ADA rooms; Deaf Kits for other rooms with those included
  • Sprinklers in all guest rooms; in hallways.
  • Fire extinguishers in hallways; how often tested
  • Automatic fire doors
  • Auto link to fire station
  • Auto recall elevators
  • Ventilated stairwells; stairwells with emergency lights
  • Visible emergency information in all guest rooms
  • Safety chain or bar on door and doors with viewports (“peep holes”)
  • Deadbolts on all guest room doors
  • Restricted access to guest floors
  • Secondary locks on guest room glass doors
  • Room balconies or patios accessible by adjoining rooms/patios/balconies (if applicable)
  • What are the SOPs for power outages? What is the power back up? How many generators are on property and what do they power?
  • If a guest has an emergency, should they call “911” or other local emergency number or the hotel front desk or help line? Is the front desk always staffed to answer the phone? How many rings does it take at noon? 6 pm? Midnight? 3 to 7 a.m.?

And our favorite: bedbugs. How are guest rooms checked and protected? How often? What does the property do to ensure elimination of bedbugs?

The items in this blog, the previous blog and the webinar are a fraction of what I include in the RFPs and the questions I ask when helping clients select meeting destinations and sites. It pays to be this thorough. If you were buying an electronic device, you’d want to know more than what’s on the outside, right? It’s even more important to have a complete picture and details of what you are ‘buying’ for a meeting.

Next time I’ll delve into on-property amenities and services. Those continue to change rapidly.

Destination Selection – But Wait…There’s More!

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

In the April 2014 issue of Meetings Focus and online, industry veteran planners shared their expertise on site selection.

It was just the tip of…well, I was going to say “iceberg,” but they are melting. So let’s say it scratched the surface!

In this blog and during the 4/30/14 Site Selection Best Practices webinar, I’ll explore other areas and issues often overlooked when meeting destinations and sites are considered. I’ll use a technique called Q-storming® within each area to provide some questions you can ask.

Use the following content as a guide to start your own list of questions. I hope too you will add to the discussion items you consider important, especially ones that you learned just when you thought you knew it all, and questions we all can use.

Destination Selection

  • Transportation: Air

Lift & Access:  Airline mergers have meant that many cities have lost service entirely or have curtailed service now or they will, especially when the USAirways/American merger settles. How many seats are available into and out of the destination? From what cities? How many stops/layovers will it take most of those attending to get to the destination? Will participants be comfortable with and/or accept the travel times? What might impact the amount of lift into that destination and how will that information be tracked internally?

Cost: You’re right – we don’t know from one minute to the next what airline tickets and add-on fees will be. We can, at least at the time the destination is determined, look at current costs and provide input about what might impact future costs for those booking more than 6 months out. What is the current average airfare from “hub” and non-hub destinations? Of the airlines that service the destination, which ones have the most add-on charges? What will most impact the cost of airfares in general and into that destination? (See note on “other activities.”)

Airport: Some airports are expanding their runways and others are adding new or remodeling current terminals. What’s planned for the airport(s) into which our participants will fly? How many airports serve the destination? What is the lift into each?

  • Transportation: Ground

Types, Times and Costs: If you live in a city with great public and private (cabs, car service, shuttle) transportation, you may not realize what others cities have to offer. What are the current options to and from the airport? Are they all accessible for people with disabilities? What are the costs? Is public transportation available 24 hours/day? Is it safe? Are all car services allowed to come into the airport to pick up passengers? What are the current costs for each type of transportation? If one wants to travel by train, how many trains per day arrive and depart and from and to what destinations?

Timing: What is the average time to get to or from the airport/s and the site of the meeting and/or hotels? If one has to walk to and from the start and end points of public transportation, how far is the walk and is it safe? If there is highway construction or if there are accidents, what are the options to go around the area to get to and from the airport/s?

Driving to and from the destination: What is the drive time for those who are in a radius most likely to drive? Is it cheaper, faster, better for more people to drive? If many people are day guests, will they use and will you encourage public transportation? What is the cost and access for its use? How many parking spaces does the facility have? Are they attached to the facility or nearby? If nearby, how far are parking garages and lots? Is the route to and from where a car is parked to the facility well-lighted and safe? Who owns the parking garage or lot? If it is not owned by the facility in which your meeting or participants are housed, are the prices negotiable? Is valet parking available?  Does the destination anticipate new parking facilities and/or tearing down current garages or lots?

  • Other Activities:

It’s so easy to forget that all destinations have more than even the city-wide you may be booking on their calendars. In some cases, cities have regularly occurring yearly events; in other cases they are booking events and meetings short term.

Regularly Occurring Events: What events are already on the books or are likely to occur over the dates you are considering? What are attendance records? Are participants usually local to the area and driving or using public transportation in and out of the area/s of the event/s sites? What has been the experience with traffic and parking options? Do these events draw a national or international audience that may increase air traffic (and airline fares and crowds at the airport and on the roads going and coming) into the destination? How has the city handled safety and security for these events? What has been changed after an incident occurred? Is this an event that our participants are likely to want to attend? Will want to bring family or others to see (And will that impact our room block)?

Other Events: What is the city currently trying to book for the year and dates over which we want to hold our meeting? What is the expected impact on the city – air and ground travel? Media? Security? Hotel room and other facility usage? What will take precedence for the space – their event or ours? What other meetings are currently booked and into which facilities? How many people will that bring into the city?

Other Events/Other Impacts: When there are other meetings or events in town, it means that there is competition for services. You might find that all DMCs or transportation providers are already booked or if they aren’t, they may not have enough local drivers. (From where do you hire drivers? How do they learn or know the area? Will they be contractors with your company or employees?) Do local cab or car companies do surge pricing when there is high demand? If your group likes to eat at local restaurants or you have exhibitors or others who entertain clients, will there be private dining and/or reservations available at the preferred restaurants? (Do those restaurants accept reservations? How far in advance?)

Oh there are more concerns and questions! I’ll cover more on Wednesday, April 30 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time in the Webinar or you may listen to this webinar (after its live date) and access others On Demand at the Meetings Focus web site.