Category Archives: Hotels

Don’t Throw the ADA ‘Baby’ Out With the COVID-19 ‘Bathwater’

Originally published Meetings Today

Don’t Throw the ADA ‘Baby’ Out With the COVID-19 ‘Bathwater’

Oh, you bet I want to write about—think about—something else…even something frivolous like summer plans that might include a walk around the block; what you’ve done to manage your “crown of grey” or whether you or someone in your life grew a beard; and how tired you are of take-out food…if you are fortunate enough to have shelter and food—and toilet paper.

But as noted by the WHO and written and discussed in many arenas, this virus is likely to never go away. It will eventually be controllable, yet potentially never out of the possibility of contagion.

Thus, as I work through and around for clients I continue to write about the issues related to COVID-19, or accurately, SARS-COV2.

I began writing as the U.S. returned to work after a holiday weekend where we saw thousands of people, without masks, not physically distancing, putting their lives and ours at risk.

When The New York Times in print arrived Sunday morning, the front page and into other pages caught my breath and attention. On the day the U.S. reached 100,000 deaths, many news organizations headlined their stories about this terrifying number. I’m grateful that the healthcare workers in my life are well, especially the young ER doctor son of friends who survived COVID-19.

We won’t know for some time if antibodies or a vaccine will in fact protect us. We’re a long way off from the knowledge we need.

I can’t stop dealing with COVID-19 because though I’m fortunate to have work, I’m helping clients and colleagues wade through what we must consider to work (many from home), conduct meetings and events now and in the foreseeable future.

I’m pleased that finally, hotel brands and the AHLA and UniteHere created cleaning policies. Others are beginning to create seating and attendance guidelines, including the latest guide from the WHO for how to hold a ‘mass gathering.’

We still need to figure out the issues of potential outbreaks of the virus at an event, helping groups navigate from “we’re a hugging, hand-shaking, close” group to distancing everywhere to keep safe. And yes, it’s confusing because cities, states and countries have “until further notice” on the numbers and the methods.

This CNBC “Global Traveler” article, “What will hotel visits be like? Here’s your room-by-room look at the future” threw me for a loop. This, for Miami Beach, is not unlike other guides to cities and their hotels. All of this is now in what we must do to have meetings and events.

Please read the linked CNBC article before reading on. As you read that article, note what may, because of new policies and practices in hotels, be obstacles for you or those who attend your meetings or events.

Read? Good. Now read on…

Arrival Experience

My usual arrival experience requires an airport or train station wheelchair and attendant to get me to transportation to a hotel. Before arrival, I arrange for a mobility scooter (often through Scootaround that doesn’t discount nor is this promotion for them or others—it’s simply a resource) to be held at the bell desk and brought to the door on my arrival. The transportation provider asks the bell or door staff to bring the scooter to me.

Those who drive—whether in their own or a rental vehicle—may want assistance parking their car, especially if the parking is remote from lodging. They may have luggage or, if exhibitors, displays, to schlep from their cars.

Either no valet to park the car or no bell staff to help even guard luggage will be an impediment and perhaps a danger. I’m trying to find out what the alternatives may be. (Yes, limited service hotels do not provide bell or valet service. I also know that most of them do not have space for meetings.)

Check-In

I prefer check-in with a front desk person who knows the property and can assure me that getting to the guest room is an easy route on the scooter, and that, sans friends  or colleagues to help, there is a staff member (usually bell staff) to help me with luggage to my room.

Just for arrival this article notes: no valet, no bell staff, no front desk staff. A person with a disability traveling alone may face obstacles just arriving and checking in.

Staff may no longer escort you to—or show you around—your room, and elevators are being limited to just the people in your party.”

Anyone arriving with no knowledge of the hotel and a desire for safety may want assistance.

I like having a staff member escort me to my guest room to explain the layout, the emergency procedures and to assist me getting into my guest room. (If you’ve not had to or tried, getting into a room using a mobility device is difficult. Consider that not everyone has use of their arms or strength to hold doors open, or the ability to discern directions; others may have low vision and the lighting at the property is insufficient to see room numbers.)

[Read also: Here’s What Hotels and Resorts Are Doing to Enhance Health and Sanitation Standards]

In-room Amenities

Reading the changes in the above-noted article and in this information from Miami Beach, I am not sure what to expect. Because I have chemical sensitivities and most in-room toiletries are scented, I travel with my own soap. And because I watched Monk and the news stories showing blacklights and germs, I’m very happy with the changes in guest room cleanliness and removal of many items that make it more difficult to keep the room germ- or virus-free.

Not all guests will be. If people are paying premium rates, much more will be expected even if they know that it’s smarter and better for cleanliness. Planners and hotels should communicate, before arrival, changes to expect.

Some removed in-room items are not, however, “amenities” and are, rather, necessitiesRead on in Part 2 with comments from the Rev. Cricket Park and Shane Feldman about both what’s in the room and generally the experience many will face without assistance and assistive devices. (Not noted in what I’ve read is how hotels will ensure cleanliness of assistive device cases. I’m trying to find out and will update when I do. You may be more familiar with the cases like this. By posting this link we are not recommending any of these items. They are shown only for example.)

Food Service and Sustainability

I hate not having room service. For some reason—cost being one that I do understand—hotels began doing away with room service, believing that “most of us” were happy ordering via an app and going to the lobby to get our food, or preferred going out to eat. Sadly, in many cities, restaurants are closing, and not all of us have the ease of ability to get to the lobby to pick up food.

I heard on a Web event that a hotel will, to make the experience at higher-end hotels more elegant, use non-sustainable containers. It was said that for a while, we’d just have to “deal with” that. I was disappointed—especially now that we’ve cleaned the air and water by keeping cars and people off the road. I hope that either guests or hotels will see that long-term sustainability is far more important.

Conclusion

I have no idea what’s next. No one does–even those who are prognosticators for a living. It’s best to have plans “B to Zed” at this point, for 2020 and onward.

Go review all that is being written by hotels and convention centers and cities with which your meetings are contracted. Ask deeper questions: “tell me more” and “Yes, and” will serve you even more now—and then confirm changes in writing. Read the updated WHO Guide for Mass Gatherings.

We are all moving through this together, and in order to ensure we all move and participate, let’s not throw the ADA baby out with the COVID-19 bathwater. And please remember not all who have disabilities will disclose their needs, or perhaps they acquire a disability on the way to a meeting.

Regardless of what you think, we all—groups and facilities and transportation providers—must consider all those who may attend our meetings and make accommodations.

More from Joan:

Postscripts

It is impossible not to note the horrific death of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the safety implications for all of us as diverse people. It’s time for our industry to speak up on inclusion and racism and other “isms” that are harmful to all, including the “ableism” that seems to exist in thinking about meetings during and ‘post’ COVID-19. It will be time for us all to consider the safety of residents and meeting participants when we select destinations.

If you’ve not, have the conversation with your customers, your participants and your providers of services and facilities. Let’s be safe and inclusive.

If you are a U.S.-eligible voter, register or check your registration. Many U.S. states and territories have “cleaned” their voter registration rolls. Check, too, to see if in fact you are registered and where you should vote. 

Vote in upcoming primaries and national elections. There are ballot issues and people running for office who will impact what we do in this industry. On Twitter at @meetingstoday, we post links to issues in upcoming elections that impact our industry. Voting is a precious right fought for by many. It is a responsibility of us all. Because of COVID-19, many U.S. states and territories have changed their primary dates and/or have added special elections. Please check your state’s or territory’s dates at their board of elections.

Sales May Sell But It’s Event Services That Brings Repeat Biz

Originally published Meetings Today

Sales May Sell But It’s Event Services That Brings Repeat Biz

When meeting planners express frustration with the CSMs (convention services managers) (aka ESPs, event service professionals) who don’t call or email in a time frame that is acceptable to the planners, or who suggest that the CSMs don’t know enough about properties, I bristle.

Many of us who’ve been in the industry for some time know that sales will sell the world and that those in service must make it happen, regardless of the realities of what has been sold.

That’s not just an opinion, it’s the reality of the current and former CSMs I interviewed.

My First Professional Experience with CS and Sales

I moved to Washington, D.C., where I still live, in 1978. My first job here was as an association planner for the association’s 10th anniversary meeting. Although I had planned meetings and events around the U.S. prior to my move, I wasn’t schooled or trained in the profession.

On my first visit to the already-contracted hotel, I met with the sales manager and convention services manager and said, “Tell me everything.” They did and it was the beginning of my “love affair” with convention services and all they brought to the process and execution of meetings.

This convention services manager and all those who worked the back—or heart (Thank you, Mark Andrew, for the better term.)—of the house to set and service meeting and event space ensured my employer’s 10th anniversary meeting, celebration and related events were flawless.

I could not have done it without them.

I’m guessing that you planners could not manage without them. And I know that those of you in sales depend on them to deliver the magic you sell.

Who Plays What Role

Those in sales and marketing do lots to woo planners and groups to come to their properties. They are given budgets to entertain and attend industry events to schmooze planners. CSMs must produce what sales sells and it is not always easy. And in the end, they do it, sorta like the analogy of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire—backwards and in heels. Well, not exactly—rather, they do it working very long hours and days for much less money and far less respect than those in sales receive. In fact, I’d compare their role with ours as planners; we make it look easy even when it’s not, and get far too little credit.

Many planners will understand when I say that too often the salesperson shows up on day four of a five-day meeting to see when you’ll book the next meeting at their property. The CSM is there with you from the start of the pre-con(vention meeting) and through the post-con, and every day and evening of the event. And if they can’t be there that late, they ensure someone who knows the meeting will be.

If it goes well and the group rebooks, the CSM, unless we planners specifically say it, won’t get the credit for the return booking. If it goes badly, and it can, the CSM is blamed (sometimes fairly as in the one with whom I worked who showed up at 9 a.m. for the 7 a.m. general session rehearsal and left by 3 in the afternoon) even if they executed their role magnificently.

Relationship of Planner and CSM

Like some of you, I, too, have been frustrated when a phone call is not returned “promptly” (which some believe is within 10 minutes!) or an email is not answered with the information urgently requested for a meeting in a few months or later. When a CSM is working with an in-house group, their “desk-time” (as noted in the interviews I did) is limited. They are giving their attention to those in-house. We’ve all seen the domino effect of one planner late with their meeting specifications (“specs”) on upcoming meetings: No one gets what they need on time.

In 2019, when I spoke at a conference, the CSM was the person who, with the client, helped me the most. The CSM managed a complex in-house meeting with many demands while begging the next groups to please send their very late specs. It was all done with a smile and kindness.

I know and you do, too, that we get very cranky when our employers or clients or volunteers with whom we work don’t tell us what they need or do it very late or make changes—frequently! We all depend on each other.

CSMs must be part of site inspection.

Intuitively, I knew that. Experience confirmed that too often those in sales, who usually conduct site inspections, don’t know the intricacies of the space and its use. They are not exposed in too many circumstances to the intricacies of set-ups and flow that a CSM has that can then benefit the planning of our meetings. And if the CSM is also responsible for all or aspects of catering, they can add their knowledge at the time we are still considering which property to use

Wait…are you bashing sales?

Nope. I wish all hotel, convention center, conference center and other venue salespeople had convention services and operational backgrounds. In fact, I think it should be mandatory for anyone selling space and its use to have first been part of a service team. The industry doesn’t understand or work to ensure complementary roles and training.

Salaries and incentives, too, may be part of the issue. Salespeople are tasked with booking quotas that can push them to book more without explaining all that a planner needs to know. Too often those who plan are not trained, and we need to have partners who understand all aspects of their properties and how our meetings and events will work. You’ll read in the interviews of situations where CSMs saved everyone by their attention to detail.

When it’s not working

An experience with a client meeting at a major convention hotel taught me to ask many more questions in the RFP about the CSMs’ experience, including whether they are members of ESPA. On a site visit with just the CSM, I was surprised when they—a director—who had been with the hotel many years never, as we walked through, addressed any of the set-up people by name. I want to see teamwork from the first experience.

About 15 minutes into the inspection, and with other hotel options from which to choose, I stopped and asked why they were not addressing the staff by name. I was told, “They work for me. I don’t need to know their names.” My response? Buh-bye—I want to see a team that respects each other and works with respect to make meetings happen.

The relationship starts with the first call or visit and asking about experience and how they work with the entire staff. If there is not knowledge and cooperation, the meeting can suffer.

Training is available

I served on the customer advisory boards of a number of hotel companies, and on the (then) CIC (now EIC) Board as one of MPI’s delegates.

During service on the hotels’ advisory boards, I repeatedly asked why CSMs were not sent to industry meetings to meet and learn with planners and with salespeople, and why CSMs weren’t part of the tradeshow team. It made sense since I knew they were the reason groups rebook.

When I served on that Board, I got to know both Keith Sexton-Patrick and the now-late Bill Just, he the founder of ACOM, now called ESPA. Spending time with them was invaluable. They worked hard, as do all now on the ESPA Board, to persuade hotels, convention centers and conference centers to support their CSMs with ESPA membership and for attendance at industry meetings to learn and build relationships.

Alas, too many service departments are understaffed and those who do the work are too often stretched too thin by the planners who don’t provide their specs on time, and so getting away is difficult. See what Deidre Reid, ESPA Treasurer has to say about the support she receives.

Hmmm… a vicious circle?

What can be done

  • Salespeople and planners must promote—even insist—that the CSMs in the properties in which they work be made members of ESPA. (I gain nothing for this promotion.)
  • The industry must elevate the standing of CSMs. Thankfully, of those inducted into the EIC Hall of Leaders (I’m a proud 2004 inductee.) are some from convention services. I was thrilled that Keith Sexton-Patrick was honored, with Jim Daggett, the late Doris Sklar, and me, by HSMAI, with the Pacesetter Award in the 1990s.
  • We all need to establish and meet deadlines to help each other shine.
  • Meeting planners can help train CSMs just as they have helped train us. Help them learn more about adult learning and the work we do.
  • Planners must write specific praise of CSMs in real letters to GMs and owners.

This blog and edition of Friday With Joan is dedicated to a number of people, all in convention/conference services, some who have passed away, and all of whom made clients’ meetings and events great and made my life richer and my work smarter: Alvin A. Brazile, Jr., Michael Conod, Bill Just, all of blessed memory; and Devon Sloan, Kim Peterson and Linda Tudor.

Postscript

  1. Keep up to date on novel coronavirus/COVID-19 and the repercussions around the world. We are trying to tweet from @meetingstoday as often as information is available. Wash your handsDon’t touch your face. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Read information at CDC and WHO. Assume nothing about the spread and impact of this virus. We are seeing more cases in the U.S. now that testing is available, and more deaths. As I finish this, more deaths have been reported in Washington state.
  2. If you are a U.S.-eligible voter, go to this link and register or check your registration. Many U.S. states and territories have “cleaned” their voter registration rolls. Check, too, to see if in fact you are registered and where you should vote. Vote in upcoming primaries and national electionsThere are ballot issues and people running for office who will impact what we do in this industry. On Twitter at @meetingstoday, we post links to issues in upcoming elections that impact our industry. Voting is a precious right fought for by many. It is a responsibility of us all.

Balancing Parenting and Caregiving While Working in Hospitality

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Two articles that I read recently—one on the “science of cuteness” from The New York Times and another about “parenthood-indecision therapists” from The Washington Post—took me back to my younger days of deciding whether or not to have children.

In my 20s, I learned, in TIME magazine, of a new organization called, then, the National Organization for Non-Parents (later, the National Association for Optional Parenthood) founded by Ellen Peck and Shirley Radl. I was intrigued.

Like many young people, especially women, our route to adulthood was to graduate from high school, then college, and then marry and have children, with maybe a job along the way. Look, I’m a child of the ‘50s and ‘60s! It was different then.

I’d always thought I would have 1.9 children and then adopt “thousands” and be a true “earth mother,” never giving a thought to how I’d care for or support those. We were the beginning of that part of the women’s movement who thought we could have it all.

Choosing Not to Have Children

When I chose to not have children, the route to ensuring it was arduous: at the time, a woman’s age times the number of children she had had to equal 120 in order for a woman to receive a tubal ligation, or permission from a spouse and at least two psychiatrists.

It wasn’t law but it was policy at hospitals.

I met one of those criteria and had to go through hoops to meet the other. I was certain that parenthood, after giving it much thought, was not something I wanted to do.

“What if you regret it?” I was asked that question in numerous appearances on national radio and TV shows what I would do if I one day regretted my decision.

My response was that it was better to regret not having children than to regret having them once they were there.

Balancing Parenting, Caregiving and Work

Those of you who are parents and work full or part time, from home or in a hotel or convention center or office—or those of you who are caregivers for someone—have multiple jobs. I do not know how you do it. And sadly, I don’t have a convenient list of tips for you.

On days when, at my home office, the two cats are particularly needy, I think about you and wonder how in the world you find time to breathe.

If you are single—that is, without a spouse or partner or someone sharing the responsibilities—the work you do is overwhelming.

And the hours required of us are often obscene.

Those of you in sales have talked to me about the evenings when you have to entertain. Planners often work late, take work home, or feel an obligation to go to events held by those with whom you are doing business.  Event Service Professionals (aka CSMs)?

OY! Simply OY. You are never not on call.

No Easy Answers: Analyzing the Research

There is academic research like this “Parenting Stress and Its Associated Factors Among Parents Working in Hospitality …” in which it says:

“The service industry is common for long working hours and shift works. The current study investigated parents working in six types of service industries, including hotel and food & beverages, wholesale and retail, gaming and entertainment, medical health and social welfare, education, and as housewife/man.

“The work nature is further classified as on-shift or non-shift, and whether the family is single-income, double-income or single parent.”

A Horrifying Path to America for Hotel Workers” shows the nightmare faced by immigrants, women in particular, who are being exploited to fill gaps in hospitality jobs:

“In today’s fragmented, contractor-heavy economy, many hotels, restaurants, and other facilities no longer directly employ their workers. This employment arrangement may seem strange, but ‘it is very common for hotels in the U.S. to contract with labor recruiters in the Philippines (and other countries like Jamaica) to recruit temporary seasonal workers on H-2B visas,’ said Laura Berger, formerly of the City Bar Justice Center, a New York–based pro bono legal organization that represented [one named person] in her immigration case.”

[Related Content: Why Women Are Ideal Hospitality Leaders]

Now the hotel industry is seeking parents to fill post-Brexit staffing gaps, assuming that all plays out as planned (will it or won’t it is still part of the question).

Had I held off on the topic of parenting and caregiving for a Friday With Joan newsletter, where I often interview industry colleagues or others, I know that interviewing parents and caregivers in our industry’s many segments—planners, hotel sales and service, heart-of-the-house hourly workers, and others—would have been one more thing to do to add to their list. I chose to do this separately and let you weigh in at your leisure. How do you balance the demands of parenting or caregiving while working in the hospitality industry?

Additional Reading for Your Consideration

Here’s some additional reading on parenting and hospitality that I discovered:

Weigh in With Your Advice and Stories Below

I hope that those reading this—parents and caregivers—will weigh in below in the comments. We need to know what the industry can do to make working in the industry and having children and/or marrying more sensible.

What can the industry do to support you and make life better?

If there are Global Meeting Industry Day (GMID) events in April 2019 addressing the issues of parenting and caregiving, please let us know. I’m pretty sure that combining marriage and/or children and/or caregiving and/or aging in hospitality is not on the radar of enough.

And if you would prefer to have me post a comment anonymously for you, write to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I’ll do so without any identifying information.

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.

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.

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.

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Meeting professionals—planners in particular—are hardworking, often selfless people who put others first. It’s our role, isn’t it, to ensure all details of a program will go off without a hitch and to put in place a safety and security plan to protect those who attend the meetings and events we do? Alas, we often don’t do the same for ourselves.

I’ve had “that” bug on and off for five weeks. Even hearing from others that it is widespread and even those of us who got our flu shots are “getting it” is not making it easier to endure. I’m in round two, the more serious one, because I, like many who a) are self-employed and aren’t paid for time we aren’t working; b) are meeting professionals with deadlines often missed by others so we have to scramble to get things done; c) are invincible because how could we possibly be too sick to work … took too little time off.

It’s simple advice; I know you know it.

The question is do you follow your own and others’ advice to:

  1. Rest. Get plenty of it. You can skip social events, telling friends that you simply need to rest and will see them another day. Instead of staying up to watch one more episode of (fill in the blank) or respond to one more tweet or Instagram or other social media post, go to bed.

Consider what my very healthy aunt, who did yoga before it was “in,” did at work: insist that your work place have a quiet room that can be used for naps for those who need even 15 minutes to rejuvenate. More meetings and conventions are setting up quiet rooms for those who want to pray, for use by nursing mothers and for people who just need a time out and can’t get back to their guest rooms.

Offices can do better in helping to keep people well by scheduling breaks versus back-to-back meetings and allowing people to do what will keep them healthier in the long run.

  1. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water (Mixed alcoholic drinks don’t count!). Especially when you are on-site and racing around or doing training and know there’s not time between sessions for bio breaks [insist on at least 15 minute breaks for the health of everyone!] or in back to back to back to back meetings, just say sorry … I need to hydrate and that means bio breaks. You’ll be considered heroic and everyone will thank you—they need the breaks too.
  2. Keep it clean. Keep antiseptic wipes handy and clean your keyboards—all of them—and your phone(s) and other devices. Germs stick around longer than we would like. Oh, and take those wipes with you on planes and trains and wipe down surfaces. So what if others look at you strangely. Better that than sick.
  3. See a doctor. Don’t delay. “It’s just a cold,” is what I said and treated it that way. Although I’ll never know if the flu shot and an earlier doctor visit would have kept this from getting worse, it couldn’t, as my late parents would have said, “hoit” to see a doctor!
  4. Stay away from others … except medical professionals …  because you need to stop spreading germs. It’s why schools close when multiple children and/or teachers are sick—they know that germs spread person to person and by staying home we can stop the spread more easily. This means that if you work in an office outside your home, call in sick. You may be well liked and appreciated; your germs are not.

This year’s bugs—respiratory and other—are making the rounds. Schools are closing because children and teachers are passing the viruses around. Those same schools are wiping down surfaces with disinfectant (I wonder if hotels and airlines do the same. Somehow I doubt it is nearly as thorough. I may become my mother—of blessed memory—and “Monk” and travel with even more disinfectants than before!).

Friends have provided all kinds of other advice, some of which includes whiskey (which I don’t drink), chicken soup (that was done via mail order*), and other home remedies. Most have said that rest and hydration and a visit to the doctor made a difference.

Flu shots? The verdict is out. My primary care doctor said the stats show this year’s vaccine was only 49% effective. Friends and I who got the shot and those who didn’t have had mixed results.

I don’t know that we’re the worst at taking care of ourselves, just that we are bad. We want to appear in control (!) and show that no one else can handle the intricacies of meetings. I thought I’d learned that lesson years ago but this time around, deadlines and “stuff” made me think that over-the-counter meds and a day or two in bed would make me all better! HA!

Although this is addressed to planners, it goes for you too, suppliers! You have quotas to meet and sales calls to make and lunches and dinners you’re required to attend. Maybe we should call “time out” and make the industry healthier by saying it’s OK to crawl into bed and get well and let those who set the quotas know that being healthy is far more important in the long run.

As for me, it’s a Saturday as I write this. I’m going back to bed and maybe tomorrow to the ER depending on what my doctor determines. That, meds, lots of water and rest, I hope will make this stop once and for all.

You? How are you putting on your own oxygen mask? What tried and true remedies have you found that you’ll share in the comments section.

Most of all, stay well!

*I received nothing for posting a link to Grandma’s Chicken Soup.

What’s Wrong With Hotel Contracts?

Originally published Meetings Today


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

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

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

Why do I care so much about contracts?

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

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

Having learned from some great attorneys, I offer:

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

Reading Agility

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

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

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

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

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

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

My questions about this one simple sentence included:

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

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

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

Some of the questions to ask about No. 4:

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

Starting questions to ask about No. 5:

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

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

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

I recommend you:

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

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

Pokémon Go (or No-Go) at Meetings

Originally published Meetings Today

Person Using Pokemon Go App

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could Pokémon Go be useful in an exhibit hall?

Every day brings some new and interesting challenge, eh?

10 Tips for Better Site Inspections

Originally published on Meetings Today blog

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

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

1. In Person or Virtual Site Inspection

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

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

2. Prioritize and Allow Adequate Time

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

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

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

3. Schedule or “Surprise” Site Inspection

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

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

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

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

Usually we don’t have that luxury.

4. People You Should Meet

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

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

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

5. What to See and With Whom

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

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

Representative Guest Rooms and Suites.

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

All Meeting and Public Space.

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

Furniture

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

Audio Visual (or AV)

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

Accessibility

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

Sustainability or “Greening”

6. Food and Beverage

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

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

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

7. Staffing and Service

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

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

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

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

8. Paying for the Site Inspection

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

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

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

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

9. VIP or ‘Regular’ Treatment

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

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

10. What if …

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

Most importantly:

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

RESOURCES:

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

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

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt