Category Archives: Destination Selection

Are There Stupid Meeting Questions? It Depends!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

blog post and also share your “silly” or “stupid” questions in the comments below.

We won’t judge and the more examples we see from each other, the better!

*If you’d like to be among those asked for your input for future newsletters, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com with your name, your title, employer, years of experience, and any topics about which you know lots and/or have strong opinions about.

I would to help get your thoughts included, attributed or not.

Hearing experiences and opinions of a wide-variety of current and retired industry practitioners is a value to readers and to me.

**Participants at meeting or events are still called the “audience” or “attendees,” which means we really don’t want them to be involved.

***If you’d prefer your comments posted unattributed, please email them to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I’ll post without your name or identifiers.

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be … Planners!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be ... Planners!

Did you know early in life that you wanted to work in the hospitality industry? Maybe you did—depending on your age and family or other influences in your life.

As the school year begins, and for some of us, a new year with Rosh Hashanah, it is a time of reflection or even, for some, declaring a major. It is a time of renewal as the leaves turn. And many are considering what now or what’s next in their careers.

And I, having discovered yet another parent-child duo both in hospitality, began thinking about that song: “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To be Cowboys.”*

Although I’d never heard the song in its entirety, the title always made me smile. Then I read the lyrics and thought how apropos for our industry! (Do note that clearly some part of me wanted to be a cowgirl … and perhaps a detective—thus the garb in the main photo for this blog post from my early years!).

Liz Erikson Marnul, an industry icon and someone I’ve known for more than 35 years said “You should really tell people how you got into this industry.”

I was surprised somehow that she didn’t know.

Other than the very early years of wearing clothing that seemed to reflect two possible professions, I thought I wanted to teach—I loved “playing school”—and then I considered social work. If I had had “school smarts” rather than being a life-long learner who learns by reading, observing, discussing and practicing a craft, I might have been a social anthropologist or, because I love words and how they fit together, a lawyer.

As a meeting professional, and in the areas in which I’m involved now in our profession, I think that I have been able to incorporate some of my passion for those areas.

As a child in the ‘50s, I put on street fairs to raise money for polio research when the boy next door was diagnosed with polio. In grade and high school, I helped organize events. Later, I helped plan and run city-wide ones and national events for a museum and then for an organization.

After dropping out of full-time college after a year—even working while in school didn’t provide the financial resources, and the learning by sitting and absorbing lectures and spitting back information was not my learning style—I worked a variety of jobs: ad sales at a newspaper, bookstore sales, in the family poultry business, and as a teacher’s aide. Until I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1978, I didn’t know there was a profession for what I was doing.

What influenced me? Did I truly fall into this profession—this industry? Was it pre-destined? Was I, in a past life (if you’ve followed me for any time, you know one of my favorite films is “Defending Your Life” on which John Chen and I based a discussion) was I one of “those” meeting participants who, at a bad meeting, said “Sheesh, I can do this better”?

My parents, of blessed memory, worked in various professions including sales; some cousins were lawyers; others teachers. One branch of the family founded a successful chain of restaurants and though I visited that part of the family, I don’t remember that they influenced my choice of profession. Unlike those interviewed there was no one to guide me into a hospitality career.

In conversations with many who choose to go into our industry, I hear the influencers are still the love of people, travel and details.

Those already in the industry are seeking more fulfillment, whether it’s moving away from logistics only or putting a spin on logistics or finding a way to better serve customers.

If love of people, travel and details were the main reasons to be a planner, I’d not be in this industry. An introvert, I like people in small doses; a mobility disability has made travel a greater challenge, and details? If it’s contracts and words, yes. If it’s meeting logistics, not so much anymore.

When I read the articles linked in the additional reading, none of them applied.

There are studies to show why being an entrepreneur may run in families. The number of self-employed people in various professions—lawyers, doctors, small business owners—prevalent in my family is evidence. And there are lots of teachers among my first cousins and a niece. There was also a rabbi—a profession I once considered and as Rod Abraham, an MPI Founder, said about me when he introduced me when I received an award, I was a “rabbi”—a teacher.

I’m grateful to have learned how those interviewed—parents and children, sisters, and a granddaughter—were influenced to go into and stay in the hospitality industry. There are others not interviewed (Steve and Adam Ferran, Patti Shock, Vanessa Vlay and Michele Koch Hansen among them) who I hope will share their stories in the comments section below this blog post.

I hope, as you consider what now and what next, you will think about your Strengths[yes, capital “S” because it refers to a specific tool], and read Barbara Sher’s marvelous books (in particular, “Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want” and “I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was”) to learn more about yourself.

I think this industry has opportunities (careers in eldercare for example) galore that we are only beginning to discover and certainly one where there aren’t enough people (hospitality law); and areas of privacy and technology for use in learning and serving customers. The sky isn’t even the limit, is it? Some will need to be the pioneers to plan the hotels and meetings in space!

Keep this story in mind too: an actor who has had great roles also needed income to keep going. He took a job bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. The story is inspiring. If you want to start in a position or as a volunteer that others think are “below” you, do it anyway.

Experience is what gets us where we need to be. And the more broad our experience is, the more we show our desire to work, the better our chances are, regardless of lineage, to find the job or next job that is best for you.

As you read these stories of careers intentional and unintentional that brought people to our industry, I hope you’ll reflect on the influences and influencers and then share yours.

This is an industry that can make a difference in how people learn, work and serve others.

What’s next in your future?

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

Related Reading From the September 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 09.07.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Taking Steps to Keep Events Safe (podcast)

Direct link to article & podcast

Taking Steps to Keep Events Safe

Joan Eisenstodt

If you pay attention to the news, you can’t miss what should be warning signs: hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings such as the one in Las Vegas, and other tragedies like the recent Branson Duck Boat incident.

But when was the last time you paid attention to the news to discern what lessons you can learn and apply at your events?

Today’s guest expert is Joan Eisenstodt, who guides us through the “what-if’s” of risk planning. Scroll down to listen as she provides tools to reframe this thought process by:

  • Determining what is truly a crisis vs a “paper cut”
  • Looking at the history of your event’s location (especially as it relates to natural disasters)
  • Storyboarding the various aspects of your event with strategies and procedures
  • Developing a communications plan, should the worst happen

Disclaimer: Neither Joan or I are attorneys, nor are we providing you with legal advice. We are simply making you aware of things to consider as you work with your legal advisors to create your own risk management plans.

Joan has also provided several additional resources for meeting planners, show organizers, exhibitors, and event venues:

Joan Eisenstodt has been in the meetings industry for more than 40 years, and has had her own business since 1981. An honored teacher at the university level and at industry conferences including EXHIBITORLive, she is passionate about safety, among other aspects of meetings and events. She also writes a monthly newsletter and blog for Meetings Today.

Why Unions, Planners and Suppliers Need to Get Along

Originally posted Meetings Today

Why Unions, Planners and Suppliers Need to Get Along

If you were looking for a job or negotiating the conditions under which you’d work, of these, which would you not want?

  • Fair and equitable wages/salary.
  • Working hours and conditions to meet your needs and those of your family.
  • Vacation time (and time to use it).
  • Overtime compensation (whether in dollars or “comp” time).
  • Protection from sexual and other harassment by management, coworkers, customers or members, and vendors.
  • Job security against outsourcing.
  • Training for new technology and assurance your job would not be outsourced to a robot.
  • Training to keep up with changes in your job responsibilities.

As I finish the edits for this blog for the June 2018 edition of Friday With Joan, we wait to see if the Las Vegas hotel companies, including Caesars, MGM and others, will settle with the Culinary Workers Union whose contracts expire on May 31, 2018.

Editor’s Note: On June 1, a tentative agreement was reached with Caesars.

99% of those in the Culinary Union eligible to vote, voted to strike if their contracts were not renewed to include or expand upon many of the conditions noted above.

If they walk out, 50,000 workers who serve meeting-goers, business travelers, tourists and sports fans will not be on the job, and easily 100,000 people in the families of affected workers will be impacted. In addition to many of the items noted above, these workers also want to share in the profits of the hotels and casinos for whom they work and of the tax benefits afforded corporations from the new U.S. tax bill.

In fact, one need only look at the salaries of the casino CEOs in Nevada to see the discrepancy in what is being paid and wonder why the contracts have not easily been settled. In one article, one of those who voted to strike was quoted as saying:

“I don’t want to go on strike, but I will. The company is more profitable than ever because of the hard work we do, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure we have a fair share of that success,” added MGM Resorts International guest room attendant Adela Montes de Oca.

My research causes me to wonder if planners do not want decent wages and working conditions, including safety from harassment, for our supplier partners.

Or do we not see as “partners” those who change our sheets, prepare and serve our food, wash the dishes, make the drinks, and do the work that enables meetings to happen?

I talked with a former hotel concierge who loved the job at which they’d worked for years, and who saw others being treated badly by management, owners and guests. In attempting to organize for better conditions, this person was penalized.

Thankfully, the now former concierge went on to do work that is helping others achieve protection in their jobs.

I talked with and read about many who faced hardships in the last strike in 1984 and who know that by voting to strike now could be endangering their livelihood.

Hockey fans wonder if the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals [yes, I have a favorite!], all part of the players’ union, will cross picket lines, even informational picket lines, if a walkout occurs.

[Follow @meetingstoday on Twitter for updates on the strike].

Our industry overall (meetings and hospitality), and as reflected in some of the comments in the Q&A, has seemed anti-union, or at least anti-union for their meetings. I find it ironic that the overall industry, and some in particular, have not spoken in support of the Culinary Union workers. Some of the ironies I’ve noticed are noted below.

Irony 1: Some hotel brands have cut commissions for some third parties/independent planners who work on commissions about which I’ve written.

There are now at least two groups organizing, in essence, for collective bargaining for those third parties not affiliated with what have been called the “favored four,” the larger companies whose higher commissions will last a bit longer.

These two organizations have not yet spoken out in support of the Culinary Workers.

Irony 2: Industry associations say they are putting “teeth” into anti-sexual harassment policies. To the best of my knowledge, these organizations did not stand behind the Seattle initiative for “panic buttons” for hotel workers or sign on to the UNITE HERE-supported #HandsOffPantsOn ordinance in Chicago.

There has not been industry-wide support for this demand from the Culinary Workers Union to protect its members and others in the industry from being sexually harassed.

Irony 3: Our industry touts the contributions to the economy of tourism, travel and meetings but I’ve not seen support by industry associations for unions.

In particular, I have not seen support for the 50,000 people whose lives are made better and who can move toward financial stability who are part of the Culinary Workers Union.

Interestingly, studies show that Millennials are supportive of the labor movement. Maybe we have to wait for them to move into management for this to take hold.

Or, as with previous movements, it’s possible they just need to start voting.

UNITE HERE’s Side of the Story

Look, I know that UNITE HERE has angered planners and organizations because of the calls to planners and to organizations’ boards of directors encouraging some groups to not book properties or cities where the contracts with union labor are in dispute.

Like others, I have questioned the practice and wondered if it were the best way to reach out to planners and organizations.

I asked Levi Pine, Boycott Organizer from UNITE HERE, who though not an unbiased party, is someone who has given me reasons to trust him, how to explain this. This is a portion of his response, edited for length and clarity, and in some cases paraphrased.

We always attempt to communicate with meeting planners first, by phone and email. When we do reach that person, we try to convey the seriousness of the labor dispute and make a follow-up plan with them about relocating their event.

“Sometimes it’s really hard to find out who the meeting planner is [suppliers will verify this], or hard to find accurate contact information.

“And, even if we can find the planner, often they try to cut off communication with us. Thus we have reached out to other organization staff or sometimes boards of directors.

We know there are many who want to support workers, and even more who would be upset to arrive at their event and be faced with a labor dispute especially if a hotel or DMO had not informed the group, or the planner had not asked, in selecting the site and contracting, what labor issues were on the table.

“Groups have chosen to relocate their events to avoid a boycott. Some organizations look back on a decision to relocate as a real defining moment that demonstrates their integrity.

“When customers use that form of economic advocacy, it really does have a big impact. Boycotts have contributed to settling good union contracts that helped workers.”

[Joan’s note: oh the many gray areas of and the other discussions of boycotts for reasons of laws passed and commissions changed. We do need much more discussion].

“We suggest that groups incorporate the strongest protective language in event contracts to protect themselves and their events against the unforeseen.

“Our lawyers have written language that incorporates protections against various forms of a labor dispute, and that is available here.

“Meeting planners should [during site selection and after for groups booking far out] check the list of hotels and labor disputes at www.fairhotel.org. If you don’t find a property on the “FairHotel” list, a labor dispute is possible there. Planners can also call a FairHotel representative for the most current news on hotel labor disputes.

“Meeting planners can reach a representative at 773.383.5758.”

Making the Case for Unions

So yes, I’m pro-union. No one in my family of mostly self-employed people were, to the best of my knowledge, members of unions.

Maybe it was the Pete Seeger songs played or the general attitude about respect for all workers or the neighbors who were part of unions at the General Motors plants in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, that made me aware of the importance of organized labor.

Maybe it’s because without the Labor Movement, children might still have to work, and hours would be far greater than 40 per week [yes, I know you work more than that—imagine if you had a union representing you to help you!], or the conditions under which those in the U.S. work would result in more Triangle Shirtwaist Fire disasters.

I’ve been self-employed for nearly 40 years and with my own company 37 as of Friday, June 1, 2018. I had to negotiate for salary and working conditions before I was self-employed, and for fees, expense reimbursements, specific work and conditions, since I became self-employed. Having an organization to support me and others might have resulted in a better standard of living and conditions for us.

So what do you do if the Culinary Workers in Las Vegas, or any other workers where you have a meeting booked, do walk out or if you learn that there may be a walkout or informational pickets taking place?

In 2011, this Meetings Today article explained what planners could do in the event of a strike. While some references may be dated, it still is relevant and important to consider.

Consider this too: Become a FairHotel Partner just as others are, and negotiate the Model Protective Language provided here into your contracts just as you are considering the language we’ve come to call the “ASAE Clause” regarding non-discrimination.

Take time to read the second part of the Friday With Joan Q&A—featuring one of the FairHotel Partners—to understand more.

I am grateful to those with UNITE HERE and with the Culinary Workers Union (Levi Pine, Jeremy Pollard, Rachel Gumpert and Bethany Khan) among those who first helped me research the #HandsOffPantsOn Ordinance in Chicago, and for the #MeToo blog here at MeetingsToday. I’d also like to thank Christine Busiek, CMP, of INMEX, for information.

I stand with you, Culinary Workers Union Local 226 (and those workers outside the union as well) in solidarity. I hope the contracts are settled and that your families—and our industry—will not suffer.

Additional Reading

Following are links to the growing concern about technology and robots taking hospitality jobs. Planners, don’t assume your job is not at risk!

Already with the ability for automated site selection, why would our jobs entirely not be among the 6% that may be automated by 2021?

A Final Note From Joan: If you are someone who would like to be on my list of those to be considered for expressing opinions on a variety of Friday With Joan and Meetings Today Blog subjects, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com with the subject line “Blog Interest” and in the body of the email, your expertise and issues about which you care about that relate to meetings and hospitality. Let’s get in touch!

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

Related Reading From the June 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 06.01.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Marriott Planner Clash: What’s Commission Got to Do With It?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

Marriott Planner Clash: What's Commission Got to Do With It?

In Houston and Puerto Rico people are still homeless and without power. Though I have no statistics, I imagine some of those people are in the hospitality industry.

Flu is spreading around the United States and killing people; many cities are without shots or medicine or IV bags, the latter made in Puerto Rico.

Among those getting the flu are workers who don’t get paid sick leave and some, no doubt, work in our industry or the wider hospitality industry.

There is talk of war with North Korea that few take seriously.

Housekeepers and others in hotels are demanding “panic buttons” in cities where they are not currently mandated because of the attacks that are real and were documented in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers” issue and also noted in the January 2018 edition of Friday With Joan.

Wildfires, drought, floods and other natural disasters; refugees crowded into camps; the United States proposing to deport hundreds of thousands of people among whom we are certain are people who work in hospitality jobs.

All of these people and issues occupy my thinking.

With all that as a backdrop, let’s examine the extensive industry energy and conversations that are focused on Marriott’s reduction of commission from 10 to 7 percent for those who work solely or partially for commission from hotels.

It’s a greater amount of energy than I’ve seen directed toward the other issues.

First, some background and a disclaimer: I founded my meeting planning/consulting business, Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, in 1981 after working for an art museum, then full-time part of the year for a not-for-profit in D.C.

During off-time from the not-for-profit employment, I did contract meeting planning work for organizations in and outside D.C., my home base.

In all but one instance since then (when a client had already negotiated a rate with a rebate that would off-set fees from a third party and then hired my company), I have been paid hourly or daily or project fees from clients.

How did I determine what the source of payment would be?

When I started Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, I talked with others—there weren’t many “third parties” or “independent planners” in 1981—and all, except one, with whom I spoke said they worked on a fee-for-service payment system.

It was a model that made sense to me and didn’t present a conflict of interest, which proved to be a smart move in light of recent (and previous) events.

This blog post is not intended as legal or business advice.

It is opinion based on 40+ years in our industry and additional research. It is also based on my experience testifying as an expert witness in industry disputes and in a dispute in which I was directly involved, a situation where, had I not been paid fees versus commissions, there might have been a very different outcome.

Here’s that story, illustrative of the commission versus fee dilemma:

In 1984 I was a defendant in a case that involved a canceled and relocated meeting, the site selection and contract negotiation for which were done by an in-house planner at the time the site was selected. The judge found that, though the suit was against the group, me individually and my company, I had nothing to gain because I was not receiving commission or higher commission as a result of the move of the meeting.

Thus the cases against me and against my company were thrown out.

Because of that and other experiences, I have, for years, on the issue of commission paid to third-party/independent planners or companies from hotels and other industry suppliers, which is certainly not a new concern for our industry, engaged in discussions.

Most recently, on the issue of the Marriott commission structure change, the discussions have been across social media, in interviews by numerous industry publications—including Meetings Today for which I write regular blog posts that are featured in a newsletter—and in conversations with people on different sides of this issue including various third-party models, attorneys, hoteliers and DMOs.

In fact, the discussion around the “agency” model of commission pay versus fees has been one on the list of futurists and others as a model that is not sustainable.

It even contributed to the demise of many travel companies.

AND I get it—the anger and frustration … why a cut in one’s projected income is a blow, in any situation. And while I understand the anger, I think that we are long overdue in discussing the model and even more overdue in showing how our segment of the hospitality industry has changed and why the commission model as we’ve known it may be outdated.

Our industry has no standards of how one is to be paid; it has been left to individuals and their clients to figure out. Right, we cannot discuss specific fee-setting amounts. But the equity or appropriateness of commissions for varied levels of services is verboten except in private conversations … in hushed tones especially when it is verified that someone will pay higher guest room rates or other costs because others received commission. Thus we each negotiate the scope of work, time and fees with clients directly.

While the voices are loud over a change in commission for some, I also know that no one has fought for those of us who work for fees—who conduct training (being told that instead of an appropriate honorarium we should “do it for the exposure”), select sites, design meetings, negotiate contracts and provide site management—to be paid what we’re worth by clients versus depending on room pickup to determine what we earn.

Though I know I’m not alone, it appears others that share my experiences and views on the problematic commission payment model for third-party planners are a minority.

Or at least, other than in a few examples I’ve seen, many are not speaking up.

My objections to the Marriott commission brouhaha and boycott center on these key points:

1. Not all third parties are equal: I’ve seen the work of many who do site selection only and in fact, do only “lead generation,” and who are not providing other services such as contract negotiation, meeting management, on-site management, etc.

I know that not all third parties have contracts with their clients and thus are not protected or even smart in how they work. I know because I’ve seen it—and been told by many—that people are in for a quick buck for even just recommending a property and expect to be paid and have found that being paid by hotels is a far easier way than doing more, such as contract negotiation.

(An incomparable example from years ago on an industry listserv: planners would post asking for recommendations of properties and third parties would copy the request, put it on letterhead and send to hotels as if it were their client and expect and receive commission for the lead generation).

Of course, it’s not all and yet, it seems to be a growing number. Without standards of operation or adherence to industry ethics policies (see point 5), there is no regulation on how people operate.

2. Legal and tax implications: As noted above, in the lawsuit in which I was involved as a defendant and in ones in which I’ve testified, commission can clarify or cloud the outcome. If it appears that one is making more as a result of a commission because a meeting cancels and moves or one hotel is selected over another because the commission is greater, it can if not in fact, in appearance, be a conflict of interest.

In talking with a third party that accepts commission and then rebates some or all to the client, I was curious about the tax (and ethical and legal) implications for both parties. The initial recipient of the (usually) larger amount is taxed on that amount. Those to whom a portion of that amount is rebated, are taxed on the lesser amount.

It’s not “free money” in any case.

In talking with Josh Grimes, Esq., an attorney on the group side for our industry, he said: “In terms of the boycott, I suppose that planners can do what they want.

“But if they are going to ignore Marriott [properties] in favor of other properties that pay higher commission, then planners may have an ethical and legal (i.e., remember Sarbanes-Oxley – SOX – accountability rules?) obligation to let their clients know that they aren’t going to evaluate properties solely on the basis of what’s best for the client, but that planner compensation will also be a factor.

“The client ought to consent to this different way of sourcing properties.

“I remember the days when I did SOX presentations, when planners rejected any notion that some might choose one property over another based upon the amount of commission paid. I was told repeatedly that professional meeting planners would never let commissions be a factor,” he added. “It appears that something has changed.

Lastly, I fear that with the deadline of March 31, 2018, for contract signing (when Marriott will pay less commission to some third parties than they had been), there will be rushed, bad contracts. Is there anyone still in the industry who doesn’t know what happens when contracts are rushed?

“Do-overs” are not easy when the terms are not well vetted.

3. Professionalism: Some have said that by paying some third parties less it means we are not well-regarded as professionals. C’mon! We have, sadly, never been.

And though platforms of various organizations have demanded we work harder at getting a “seat at the table”, by demanding commissions versus the seat, we are demeaning ourselves into commodities not professionals.

4. Boycotts: When a number of groups, including some of the clients with whom I work (and PCMA pre-emptively for Texas), said they would boycott cities or hotel companies or cancel meetings over the anti-transgender aka “bathroom bill” or other like civil and human rights policies and laws, there was much pooh-poohing that we were hurting cities, hotels and workers who were most impacted.

Somehow the “Say No to Marriott”—or #SayNotoMarriott if you’re on social media—boycott movement that is entirely about finances is acceptable.

In the case of the principle of cutting commissions to all but a few companies, it may in fact be principle. It is not being positioned as such.

5. Ethical implications: One of the organizations at the forefront of the protest about this change in commission amount does not have an ethics policy for its members though I, a past Chair of ASAE’s Ethics Committee, offered to help write one and the offer was refused (If I’m incorrect and one was created, my apologies. I couldn’t find it. Please provide the link in the comments).

Excerpts from major meeting and event industry organizations’ ethics policies could impact how the boycott of one brand is perceived:

The CMP Code of Conduct/Ethics is similar to others. In the CMP Code it says:

“As a recipient of the CMP designation by the Events Industry Council (‘Certificant’), a CMP must pledge to…

“Never use my position for undue personal gain* and promptly disclose to appropriate parties all potential and actual conflicts of interest.”

MPI’s Principles of Professionalism says this in the first section:

Avoid actions which are or could be perceived as a conflict of interest or for individual gain*

PCMA’s Principles of Professional and Ethical Conduct has among its principles:

  • Respect the policies and regulations* of those organizations with whom I deal.
  • Refuse inappropriate gifts, incentives and/or services in any business dealings that may be offered as a result of my position and could be perceived as personal gain.*
  • Avoid any and all conflicts of interest* and advise all parties, including my organization, of any situations where a conflict of interest exists.

Emphasis is the blog author’s.

There are also ethical and business implications for those cities and properties marketing higher-than-Marriott’s new commission and the “woo-hooing” of such offers on social media. How sustainable will this be?

Will these offers be applied across the board to all third parties? What about groups that have internal planners and want a discount that would reflect what a commissionable agent would receive? Or want a rebate to equal what others might receive?

Or an internal planner who doing the same work a third-party might do believing they are due perks for the work?

I think the waters are being muddied even more with these offers.

6. Do what you say: I’m mainly looking at the third parties who have always maintained that they do not book based on what they make in commission and instead book based on what is best for the client. If one rules out an entire company—or is it the ownership of hotels or the management companies as well as the brand?—because the person or company booking isn’t making enough, then can this be true?

7. When other hotel brands or owners follow suit: What then? Will there be a boycott of all brands? Will only brands—or owners of particular hotels who agree to pay the highest commission be considered?

Can a sustainable business model for brands and owners be groups who use a commissionable agent plus a housing company that receives a share of the room rate plus groups who want rebates to off-set their costs plus concessions that, in fact are not “free” but have a dollar value? When and where will it stop?

I understand economics and earning a living and the arguments in favor of the “trickle-down” effect as it relates here—those who don’t earn more can’t employ others or spend more to grow the economy. But where then, is the outcry for a higher minimum wage for those in our industry, especially for back-of-the-house workers and servers?

Some have cited the new U.S. tax laws and Marriott’s profitability as a reason they should pay third parties more or at least what they were paying. Why should commissionable agents receive more than those doing the, literal, heavy lifting in hotels? Or is it that some want everyone paid and the owners and brands to take the hit?

Could Marriott have handled this differently?

You betcha! IF instead of a letter sent without, it seems, warning, there had been conversations (which it appears there were not or at least not that anyone is disclosing) with large and small third parties to discuss this.

IF owners (where is AHLA’s voice?) were saying what we think they must be—that they are demanding greater ROI, would that matter to the protesting voices?

Or is this back to let them take the hit—they are getting tax breaks?

IF this had been applied across the board and not exempting four companies, who have allegedly been granted an exclusion from the commission cut until 2020, would it have been more palatable?

IF those 4 companies said “whoa—let’s do this across the board versus just for some” because “what’s good for all is best for the industry” would this have been more acceptable?

Is it that those who are contractors for some of these companies, especially among those exempted, and groused before about their smaller share of total commission and now will get even less, adding fuel to this fire?

Is a boycott for financial reasons for oneself now Kosher?

Really. I am trying to understand all the different viewpoints … and how the focus is so much on this issue and not on, say, Puerto Rico and the suffering of so many including many in our industry. I’m seeking answers and ethics versus rancor.

I know this is a tough topic and that you may want to contribute comments and prefer to do so anonymously. Comment below and if you prefer to comment anonymously, please send your comments to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I promise to add to the discussion here and to ensure your privacy by, as always, not disclosing your identify to anyone.

Finally, here are some additional resources for planners to consider when confronting issues of ethics, payment and more:

How to Network and Ethically Do Business in a Relationship Industry
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/306/how-to-network-and-ethically-do-business-in-a-relationship-industry

‘Ethical Negotiation’ – An Oxymoron?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/288/ethical-negotiations-an-oxymoron

What’s Wrong With Hotel Contracts?
http://www.meetingstoday.com/newsletters/friday_with_joan/2016_08_05.html

Seven Keys to Hotel Contract Success
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Magazines/ArticleDetails/RegionID/0/ArticleID/28848

Is the Meetings Industry Corrupt?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/191/is-our-industry-corrupt

When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?
https://www.meetingstoday.com/Blog/PostId/280/when-laws-and-meetings-intersect-go-stay-or-boycott

Contracts: Accommodations (Meetings Today Webinar)
https://www.meetingstoday.com/News-Events/Event-Details/ItemID/4093

Contracts: Critical Clauses (Meetings Today Webinar)
https://www.meetingstoday.com/News-Events/Event-Details/ItemID/4091

4 Ways to Strengthen Your Negotiating Skills

Originally posted Meetings Today

“Unless you wake up in the morning with a script next to your bed and on that script is everything you’ll say and do and everything those with whom you will interact will say and do, you’re doing improv(isation).” – Izzy Gesell*

Hold that thought.

Because right now, December, it’s that most awful time of the year (sorry Mr. Pola and Mr. Wyle—you did it better), when groups and hotels, in particular, are champing at the bit to get year-end contracts signed.

Sadly, when negotiations are rushed—whether month or quarter-end or in particular, year-end—they are negatively impacted and we end up with a product (contract) that may or may not reflect the intentions and understanding of the parties to the contract(s). Ideal negotiations involve patient listening and responding that moves the discussion forward in a productive fashion.

Added to the complications of rushed negotiations are the phrases “It’s our policy” (or “It’s not our policy”), “No one’s ever asked us/wanted that,” “I have to have that or we can’t sign,” “You’ll have to talk with legal or procurement or revenue management [you know, the Great and Powerful Oz!] and we don’t have time” and “If you don’t sign by (date), you’ll lose the whole deal.”

It’s as if everyone is scripted to say what they are told to say—the “Stepford Negotiations” perhaps we can call them!—and we do in fact revert to script versus listening and responding to what is being said. And as I learned from Izzy Gesell, none of us wake up with a script for who will say what and when.

*Gesell’s quote is paraphrased at the start of this blog.

I had one of those awful negotiations this past spring—one of the most miserable experiences ever … and in a 40+ year career, that’s saying something!

Sadly, because of the antagonistic attitude of the vendor parties (not my client but those with whom I was negotiating on their behalf), all my improvisation training and knowledge went out the door! Stress, because of critical issues and deadlines, can get the better of even the most experienced of planners.

This is the first December in years, kinehora, when I’m not faced with contract deadlines (Thank you, dear clients!). There are of course, other deadlines and the usual year-end workload when everyone else seems to be mentally or physically away (out of the office messages abound!), but no contracts … so far!

For many of you, the deadlines loom and it’s not really Dec. 31, is it? It’s more likely Dec. 20 before everyone leaves on vacation. Take a deep breath and read on. This blog can help you now and for future negotiations.

In numerous discussions on social media and elsewhere with colleagues, and in training I’ve conducted for classes in the industry and for a risk and contracts class for the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the issues of how best and what to negotiate are always part of the conversation. How much can we get? What do we ask for? What are the hidden charges? (For this one, if you haven’t, tune in to the free webinar that Kelly Franklin Bagnall, Esq., and I presented for Meetings Today in October 2017).

What’s covered in force majeure protection? If concessions are first on our list of needs, are we getting enough? And on and on.

[If you are interested in receiving a checklist of items I think are critical to consider during negotiations or to include in a contract, email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and put “Negotiations and Contract Checklist” in the subject line. I’ll send you the checklist I use to develop contracts and for teaching others.]

What is usually taught in our industry about negotiations is to prioritize what is needed including the meeting content and delivery needs for the group and to present the group’s needs in an RFP, and for the vendor or facility to provide a proposal (often called a contract and, in my opinion, too often signed as is with no negotiation or counter-offer).

The how of doing so—negotiating—is written about in many books and online articles. For me, the best training I ever received was when I took my first improvisation class after, a few years prior, a dear friend (Librettist James Racheff) tried to teach me improv saying it was a tool that the business world needed. I confess to being too self-conscious to let go and really learn. But the improv bug had bitten. When another opportunity arose, I grabbed it and signed up for two improv classes at the International Association of Facilitators conference. I told everyone I’d signed up so that I wouldn’t back out!

I was still convinced that improvisation was “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” or Second City—as many still do—and I sure didn’t want to be on a stage no matter what my great high school speech teacher, Jim Payne, thought!

Facilitation and improv classes have taught me numerous lessons.

The two most important are to say:

  • “Tell me more,” a classic facilitation phrase that moves a conversation forward while getting the information needed.
  • “Yes, and…” versus “Yes, but…” Izzy Gesell and Bob Korin detail more about these in the Friday With Joan sidebar. “Yes, and…” carries the conversation forward and, in negotiations, acknowledges one’s own needs and wants while learning of and acknowledging the needs and wants of the person with whom you are negotiating.

When I think about successful negotiations, I realize how much the parties to the negotiations use improv to make them successful. And I know that the least successful of negotiations are the foot-stomping, my-way-or-the-highway ones where there is no give and take, all “Yes, but…” versus “Yes, and…”

Here then are four specific ways—and a bonus precursor—to better, more successful quality negotiations and ultimately, contracts:

  1. Determine what you need, want and must have and detail those in writing in an RFP.
  2. Ask those with whom you are negotiating for their needs, wants and must-haves.
  3. Acknowledge each other’s needs, wants and must-haves, whether it’s wording (not just because “legal said so” or “we’ve always done it that way”; more because it makes sense in the context of the business), terms and conditions (specific numbers and dates versus percentages and days out), and all the other specifics that the parties discuss and agree to.
  4. Move it all forward with “Yes, and…” and acknowledge at the start of the negotiations that those with whom you are working will help to keep the language in use.

Bonus Advice: take improvisation classes and practice the tools you learn. They work in all relationships and business dealings. And they allow you to laugh at yourself when you say something unintended so perhaps that’s a double bonus.

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

 Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. How do you support and protect your employees?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only by sharing can we become stronger at contingency planning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Destination and Site Selection Tips Updated for Our Times

8 Destination and Site Selection Tips Updated for Our Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there’s this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until I couldn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Check guest rooms for accommodations.

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

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

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

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

5. Know what the Amendment to the ADA included.

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

6. Make no assumptions!

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

7. Prepare for everyone.

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

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

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

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

Originally published Meetings Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I know we have to do:

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

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

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