Category Archives: Liability

Taking Steps to Keep Events Safe (podcast)

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Taking Steps to Keep Events Safe

Joan Eisenstodt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Originally published Meetings Today blog

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Immediately upon hearing about the Branson, Missouri, duck boat catastrophe, in addition to feeling a profound sadness for the families, my risk management thinking went into high gear.

Tyler Davidson, content director with Meetings Today, and I agreed that something must be written to help us all grasp the responsibilities in what we review—for our individual leisure plans, and for the activities often enthusiastically suggested to us by a hotel concierge or convention services staff.

Not to mention additional recommendations from DMOs, DMCs, colleagues or salespeople.

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

I’m also grateful to a duck boat franchise that provided answers to questions I had about safety and operations. Respecting its privacy, I am not including the contact’s name or the location of operations.

“I certainly understand the hesitation [about riding duck boats after the accident]. What happened in Branson was so unfortunate and has sent shockwaves throughout all of the duck companies nationwide.

“[In response to your query about the photos on the website] the reason you don’t see anyone wearing life jackets … is not because we don’t have them. At any time during the tour you are welcome to put one on. If you want to put one on, you can. The pictures on the website are from a photo shoot last year. And no one [among the passengers at that time] wanted to put their [life jacket] on.

“I cannot speak for what the Branson ducks did, but here’s what we do and what we have done for the past 15+ plus years [that I’ve been associated with this company, although it has been in business longer].

“Every morning, the captains come in at 7:00 a.m. The first thing they do is pull up the weather.

“In my opinion before Branson and after Branson, our master captains (all of them have a masters’ captain license) are better meteorologists than those you see on TV.

“Weather is what our captains deal with every day. There is ALWAYS a captain set aside to watch the weather. That’s all they do that day. No tours, just weather watching.

“They have two computers, one TV and four phones. They are obsessed with the weather.

“The other captains scheduled on that day then do two pre-trip inspections. One that is DOT required and one that is Coast Guard required. Any discrepancy, the duck doesn’t go out. Any issue, the duck doesn’t go out.

“We don’t go out when the wind is high. We don’t go out when the tide is high. We don’t go out when the tide is low. We don’t go out when there is lightning and thunder.

“And no captain works for more than 12 hours per DOT rules.”

Use the above responses, in addition to the checklist questions that accompany this blog post as a separate article, to ask about the duck boat or other like operations for a personal or group activity.

Given this information and what was said in interviews with the survivor, Tia Coleman (that the passengers didn’t have to wear life jackets), and from emails and posts on social media from friends and colleagues who have been on duck boats, and in looking at photos on websites of different cities’ duck boat operations … I am not confident that it is suggested that one wear life vests aboard all duck boats.

Pay attention to the follow-up articles and read what the investigator from the NTSB said about the storm that was predicted. Note the mention of another duck boat that went out about the same time and returned before the storm worsened.

And here’s a former NTSB Chair calling for a duck boat ban.

Read the list that Tyra Hilliard, who shares my passion about risk and contingency planning, and I compiled of questions to ask before taking part in any sort of boating or other water-based transportation activity. Think how these or like questions apply to any form of transportation or venues you book.

Consider that what happened in Branson could have happened to you or your family while on vacation or to those attending your meetings whether as a sponsored activity or as one recommended by you. If not recommended by you, maybe by your supplier partners with DMOs or hotels or DMCs.

In the initial Meetings Today article, we shared five key areas to consider when assessing transportation risk (with questions). Those are now expanded in the accompanying checklist presented in the Friday With Joan newsletter. Please add your safety precautions for any of these areas in the comments. We all are safer because of the experiences of others and by sharing information.

Be safe. If you are out on the water, wear a life vest or jacket. If you are on land and riding a bicycle or motorcycle, wear a helmet. If you are planning to be in or hire land vehicles—car (private or contracted) or bus—ask if they have a seat belt, then tell your participants to do what you do: wear seatbelts. When you are on a plane or a train, no matter how many trips you’ve taken, put down your reading materials and listen to the information about safety. In a hotel or other meeting facility? Count the steps from your guest room to the nearest evacuation area; look for evacuation and shelter-in-place areas.

Pay attention to all that will keep you and your participants safe.

As you inspect the car services and other companies with whom you contract, channel me! Each time I ask and want to contract safety issues, I’m told “no one has ever asked that before.” It is high time others did ask! In talking with industry attorneys, it was said that yes, those who hold designations such as CMP are likely to be held to a higher standard in the due diligence they perform in their recommendations.

CMP or not, make it safe for everyone.

I offer my continued condolences to those so horribly impacted by this tragedy—the families, their friends, the employees of the franchise and all others. How can we help but feel for them?

As I reflect on all the life-ending events suffered in our world and in our industry in particular, I ask as I have for years: How can we not put safety first in all we do as professionals on any side of this industry?

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 August 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 08.03.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

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

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of these people and issues occupy my thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It even contributed to the demise of many travel companies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not “free money” in any case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emphasis is the blog author’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could Marriott have handled this differently?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is a boycott for financial reasons for oneself now Kosher?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#MeToo in Meetings and Hospitality: What’s Next?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog    Friday’s with Joan

#MeToo in Meetings and Hospitality: What's Next?

I remember receiving a call years ago from someone important in our industry threatening me and my business if I were to dare speak of something about which I knew nothing about until the call. This person was threatening me based on an incident about which it was believed I’d spoken.

I remember the appointment with a new doctor whose exam of me seemed “not right” and the looks on the nurses’ faces but I didn’t know what to expect, so I said nothing. And I remember so many other incidents as do you—as someone who experienced them or as someone who was the perpetrator.

The current wave of accusations of sexual and other harassment in the workplace and at meetings are not new. This research paper from 1998, titled Sexual Harassment Issues in the Hospitality Industry by David Gilbert, Yvonne Guerrier and Jonathan Guy, may very well verify what the informal poll numbers, and, separately Meetings Today—through the January 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter poll—will find.

Yet we begin the new year where we left the old: discussing harassment and bullying with the daily breaking stories including this one—Companies Hit by Sex Misconduct Target the Dreaded Holiday Party—published at the end of the last year, from Bloomberg, about the impact on holiday parties amid fear of allegations of harassment, stating that if alcohol were limited, it would cut down on harassment.

And then there’s some of you who may have even considered, while planning “holiday” gatherings, whether to play “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in light of the #MeToo era, as discussed in this recent Washington Post article.

While alcohol and song lyrics may contribute to thoughts of harassment, they do not cause it. Power is what spurs people to harass others. I asked, among those in hospitality social media groups, for their stories.

These are (edited for length and to eliminate identifiers) some of the stories I received.

From a meeting planner: WOW! As I read [other articles] it is so reminiscent of what our team went through. The entire staff complained to the Board about our supervisor’s verbal abuse.

We were sent to what might be called “team therapy.” At the end of the session, the facilitator announced who the person—in attendance!—who caused the harassment was and about whom the complaint was made. The verbal abuse grew much worse. Jobs at my level were hard to find so I kept working even when others left.

I was finally fired with no reason given.

From a meeting vendor: I had a boss sexually harass me in front of several people at a job retreat at which there had been lots of drinking all day and I was clad only in a swimsuit. I was asked to sign a paper saying I would not discuss the incident.

I don’t think it was really a sexual thing with him. Much like [many of the more famous people accused], it was a power play. Hookers can be hired for sexual desires, but power is real the driver. They can do what they want to their employees.

After he did what he did to me, a co-worker sitting next to me said. “Don’t be mad. It is like a dog humping your leg.” I will never forget that comment. Like he does this to everyone and he is the boss. Like what they said about Charlie Rose.

“That is Charlie being Charlie.”

The other owner of the company came to my office, and closed the door and [asked], “How much money do you want to make this go away?” I told him I didn’t want money.

This company [then went] through my emails to try to find something on me and fired me. I then got a lawyer who said it was a moot point (to try to argue [against] this).

From a (now) third-party contractor: My first experience [with harassment] happened when I was very young and starting out in the industry. I was physically attacked on an elevator at a major convention hotel in the city I represented. The attacker was a prominent person with an association that was considering our city for their meeting. What was so shocking is after it happened was that my boss at the time required me to continue working with this group. I was young and naïve; I did as I was told.

I eventually left that job and returned to the same organization years later. This was all before computer records. The paper files of the incident were gone.

No actions were taken against the attacker.

From a third party: A couple years ago I was sexually harassed and because I’m an independent contractor, I was told there was nothing I could do legally even though I told the company to whom I contracted about it. The client was a big one and important to the company [for the revenue it produced]. The complaint resulted in the client leaving the company and because there was no contract with the client, there was nothing that could be done to support me or to bring in the revenue from which I’d also benefit.

After a few days of discussing what happened with my family and friends, a decision was made to inform [the harasser’s] supervisors. There was never a response from them; he continues to work there. I still enjoy working independently but having more support would be nice.

From a meeting planner: I unfortunately have a story to tell. Mine is slightly different: my boss harassed me in front of colleagues for being a nursing mother.

We were on site at our annual meeting and the boss made various comments regarding me nursing my child while at the meeting. Because of this, I no longer felt I could trust this person and was uncomfortable in other situations. I explained it to this person and nothing changed. I told HR and nothing happened. So I quit.

This issue of bullying touches on hot topics: breastfeeding, working mothers, mom-shaming. I’ve been trying to figure out how else I can share my story and help support other working mothers because our industry is unique with the amount of travel we have to do.

From a corporate planner: In a new job in a small company, one of the bosses, while we were alone in the office, asked me into his office. He asked me to sit on his knee. He said if I didn’t, he’d fire me. I didn’t [sit on his knee] and he did [fire me].

I was still new and needed the job and no, I didn’t take further action and wish I had.

From a planner: I was in a large North American city about to begin a two-day conference. The night before the start of the conference, as was the company’s practice, there was a private dinner for speakers. When the dinner concluded, I went to my room, did some work, and got ready for bed. The phone in my room rang. I answered to hear one of the speakers say he wanted to give me his presentation so that it was off his plate before the morning presentations. He asked me to come to his room. Not thinking this was deceitful, I groaned to myself because I had to get dressed respectfully. I slipped into my usual conference “uniform”—a business suit I’d worn for dinner—even putting on pantyhose. I knocked on the speaker’s door. I was greeted by this person holding an open bottle of wine covering his genitals and wearing nothing except a smile on his face.

He invited me in.

As I turned to quickly get back away, he shouted “if you don’t come in and ‘come across,’ I’m not speaking tomorrow.” Obviously I left, yelling back that I was going to tell my boss. I got to my room, quite shaken and eventually fell into a restless sleep.

The next day, I wasn’t as full of self-confidence as I hoped I looked. Once my boss got there, I explained the situation.  He was obviously (imagine if he wasn’t?) on my side. We put a panel in place in case this speaker didn’t show. The speaker did show up but never apologized to me. He never spoke for the organization again.

If this were to happen today, I’d immediate advise security [of the incident that occurred] and ask them to keep an eye on my room. I’d complete an incident report for the hotel and for my employer.

I’d call a meeting very quickly with my boss and ensure security was around the event.

This marks the final story presented here sharing real examples of sexual harassment.

What constitutes harassment was a question on my mind when I traveled, in December, to visit a hospitalized family member. After “one of those days” of awful travel (via O’Hare International Airport, instead of my canceled non-stop flight), I arrived at the hospital, exhausted, during a snow storm, and walked slowly toward the entrance. The valet parking attendant offered a wheelchair. I readily agreed.

He put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed it, and said “You’ll be OK.” I was comforted and appreciative and only later thought “should I be? Is this a type of not asking if it were OK to touch me?” Really! In that setting, when I was in need of the comfort of touch, which is considered healing, I questioned it.

All because of the endless allegations of sexual harassment.

Despite statements from industry associations such as this one from MPI, shared by Meetings Today, and this article, from PCMA Convene, our industry has been remarkably quiet about these issues, until recently.

Update: Here’s another related article published by PCMA Convene.

And then there’s also this, from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), a statement sent to me with permission to publish after I reached out to them on the issue: “The hotel and lodging industry has made the safety of both employees and guests a top priority. For this reason, our properties have in place safety standards, our employees receive comprehensive and ongoing trainings, and AHLA has partnered with nationally recognized non-profits and developed tailored trainings for the industry.

“As headlines over recent weeks have shown, no industry is immune to dealing with sexual harassment. Our industry has in place procedures and protocols for employees around reporting and prevention, and these are continuously reviewed and updated. As an industry, we will continue our work, day in and day out, with a focus on ensuring America’s hotels are secure places for all those who work and visit them.”

Sexual and other forms of harassment and bullying have been whispered about for as many years as I’ve been in this industry and from what I hear from those older than I, for much longer. More prevalent is sexual and other harassment in the broader hospitality industry of which meetings are a part.

It hadn’t escaped me when, in October, I interviewed Dr. Vivek H. Murthy—the immediate past U.S. Surgeon General—and wrote about the importance of creating welcoming environments at meetings to help curb the loneliness epidemic that clearly, those welcoming environments should be appropriate.

I think the stories I received from a variety of people are the tip of the iceberg. Like with politics, media, and entertainment, and with the publication of allegations against one DMO (aka CVB) CEO [for which we’ve not found updated information since this was published, outside of a refusal by participants of a closed door meeting to comment], one wonders if more allegations will come forth. Or will the fear of job loss, like what the women at Ford Motor Company experienced, keep people from speaking out?

What should happen next? Will your organization, if it hasn’t yet done so, create a code of enforceable conduct in the workplace and for meetings and conferences? Will you report or intervene when you see harassment happening to someone else?

If it happens to you, what will you do—especially if you know your job could be on the line and you can’t afford to lose it? Will there be a demand that such conduct will not be tolerated and if so, what would the consequences be? Will groups ask in their site and vendor selection RFPs about sexual harassment suits or allegations and their settlement and policies, and determine not to book meetings in potentially hostile environments? Will members, staff, or customers who act against policy be terminated?

I know that too few of us were aware of the lawsuit by employees of The Plaza in New York or the housekeeper at the resort in California, both of which were featured, with the women who spoke out, in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers” issue, even though we knew the actions of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and tut-tutted but there was no general outcry then as there is now for people who work in hotels or those of us who plan meeting or market and sell space and services.

Two colleagues, Ben Yalow and Sherry Marts, have offered examples of policies their organizations offer on handling bullying and harassment.

As I finished writing this blog, there are more important developments to note, in particular the @TIMESUPNOW movement because it says its aim is to help those who, like Ford’s line workers and hotel housekeepers, may not have the financial and other resources to support their reporting of abuses.

Read more on the Time’s Up movement in this article from NPR. This article from Harvard Business Review is about why harassment persists and how to stop it. This is about the impact on black women of harassment and reporting it.  And this from the Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary about the fear of job loss in reporting harassment is insightful.

Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roberts said courts will examine protections against sexual harassment. There is much to consider when one decides the next steps.

Allegations without actions will change nothing. Read what Sherry Marts and Jessica Pettitt have to say in the January 2018 Friday With Joan sidebar.

Share your story below or if you’d prefer, I promise confidentiality, and I will, if you write to me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com, change any identifiers and post here for others to learn. If your employer or clients have policies to combat harassment in the workplace and especially at meetings or events, please, if permitted, share the links.

We can change the culture if we speak up and act.

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.

Click here to view additional content in the 01.05.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

 

Is Alcohol Needed at Meetings & Events?

Originally published Meetings Today Blog
The stories from Russia about the lives lost to alcohol poisoning (from both vodka and less traditional “beverages”) are devastating but no more so than this article about the how heavy drinking for women has been “normalized” or even romanticized.

I’ve written before about this topic and will continue to talk and write about it because it is a health and a safety issue—for those who consume alcohol, those who are in their paths when they drive and all those who surround them.

It’s an issue of host responsibility and liability when one has a holiday* (office, friends and/or family) party or a meeting or event or invites others to events as suppliers in our industry do. It astounds me that we still consider an event not “festive” enough if alcohol is not served. Given the make up of our industry (believed to be mainly women) you’d think we’d be more careful about wanting to not poison people.

I drink now and then. In my immediate family, alcohol just wasn’t consumed so I never developed a “taste” for it and I’m fortunate to not be an alcoholic, active or in recovery, as so many friends and colleagues are. I’ve always said I’m not “anti” alcohol consumption but after reading the above noted story about women and consumption, I may change my mind.

These guides from MADD and FindLaw cover dram shop laws; another from the Global Gaming Business Magazine provides more information. It’s always best to talk with your organization’s or client’s attorney and those involved in risk management to learn more about you and your organization’s responsibilities for alcohol service.

Laws vary by country. If you’re conducting a meeting or business outside the United States, learn more about customs and laws to ensure safety and protection and appropriate behavior.

Whether it’s New Year’s Eve or an industry event, a family gathering or a meeting you’ve planned, plan responsibly for alcohol consumption and consider if you really need it at all.

*If you’re already looking ahead to next “holiday season,” please try to be inclusive of all: not everyone is permitted to attend parties; not everyone celebrates the same winter holidays; and if you’re decorating in red and green, considered traditional Christmas colors [Hanukkah’s are silver or white and blue; Kwanzaa’s are red, black and green], call it a “Christmas party” since the decor won’t fool anyone!

I wish a safe and healthy new year to each of you. Watch for the Jan. 6 Friday With Joan newsletter for hopes and predictions from me and others in our industry.

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?

Soft Terrorism Targets and Events: How Do You Prepare?

Originally posted on Meetings Today Blog

Washington D.C. Capitol District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

32 Questions About the Industry

Originally published Meetings Today

There are so many things about which I wonder—and guess you might too—regarding our profession, industry, hotels, air travel and service. Ending the year and starting a new one with questions will stimulate our brains and perhaps give us new information in the answers some may have. If you have an answer to any of these questions, please share in the comments!

Hotels and Decor:

  1. Why do hotels do cute flowers folds with facial tissues? Who uses the tissues that are in the folds? If they are all thrown away, isn’t this an anti-green practice?
  2. If the table/desk is right under the flat immovable TV screen, does anyone watch?
  3. What decorator thought this giant clock on a wall of a hotel room was a good idea? (Right … I thought the same…).

Hotels and Service:

  1. What will it take for CSMs (or Event Service Professionals as they are now known) to a) be given recognition? b) receive better compensation for rebookings since we know it’s their service that brings us back and not the sales?
  2. In what ways can planners encourage the hotels with which they work to have the Event Service Professionals join ESPA? Would you negotiate it into contracts?
  3. When and why did hotels start outsourcing bell service, security and housekeeping? Does it matter to you?
  4. Housekeepers work very hard especially with the better (heavier) mattresses. Why are they not compensated well for this hard work? Would you do this job for less than $20/hour? Until what age? And why don’t guests say anything pleasant to housekeepers they see in the hotel hallways? (Do you?).
  5. What percentage of guests do you think tip housekeepers? Does this surprise you? Do you encourage meeting participants to tip? (Also see story in the question No. 9 below about what guests tip … at a luxury hotel). What do you tip?
  6. Do you think this hotel—touting their service—compensates its service workers better than others?

Hotels and Amenities:

  1. Why are bathroom products highly scented? Why not unscented ones that anyone, especially those with chemical sensitivities or allergies, can use? Why is there a “war” on bathroom products?
  2. About that non-dairy liquid “creamer” for the in-room coffee, what is it really?
  3. First it was in-room irons and ironing boards which were, if you’re new to the industry, not a standard in hotel rooms. Then “amazing” mattresses. Then flat-screen TVs. Then cooler tech. What’s the next cool thing that will be useful for all? Is it no tables or desks in rooms?
  4. And as a colleague asked, where will one eat? On the bed? And if on the bed, who will change the sheets and covers when something is spilled?
  5. What’s the one amenity (rechargeable flashlights? Clorox or other wipes for the remote and hairdryer?) you still want in a hotel room?

The Meeting Profession:

  1. Who started the rumor—and when—that this (planning) was a glamorous profession?
  2. If this is glamour, how does it compare to other professions that are also considered glamorous?
  3. Andrew Young said, at an MPI meeting many years ago, there had to be a planner for the Last Supper! Who were the innkeepers and planners then and what did they do? How have the professions of innkeeper (hotelier) and planner evolved other than use of technology?
  4. What keeps us doing this year after year? At what age do you think a meeting planner/professional should retire?
  5. What do you prefer to be called: meeting planner? meeting professional? supplaner (with thanks to Charles Chan Massey)? Other?

Meeting Logistics:

  1. Why have the inventors of “air walls” not been held criminally accountable?
  2. Do any hotel bars have lower areas to accommodate people using mobility devices? Where are these places?
  3. In what year do you think hotels will begin to set rooms to maximize education and learning and interaction versus basing space allowance on numbers?
  4. How many planners, in addition to me, have gifted “Seating Matters” to hotels, conference centres and convention centres to ensure learning and interaction matters? (Disclaimer: I wrote the foreword for the book and was not compensated nor am I compensated for recommending it or its sales).

Travel:

  1. When you think of early days (’50s) of commercial air travel, what do you think most people remember? (Me? Dressing up. Walking out on the tarmac to board the plane).
  2. What’s the liability for airports that serve alcohol unmonitored and flight attendants who serve liberally, especially in First Class, when a passenger misbehaves on a flight or harms her/himself after deplaning?
  3. When did the custom (law?) for traffic to stop for funeral processions end and why?
  4. We tip “redcaps” who take us to trains and tip service personnel on trains. Why don’t we tip flight attendants?
  5. And did you know that flight attendants are paid hourly and that layovers are not paid time? (Thanks to my friend flight attendant, Tim, for sharing all about this).

Sharing Economy:

  1. Would you share a hotel room with a stranger?
  2. How can meetings capitalize on the sharing economy other than reusing flowers from another meeting? Or piggy-backing on a tradeshow for carpet use? Could two or more groups work with hotels and do (continuous) breaks like conference centres?
  3. Will your group(s) book more rooms with Airbnb than hotels?
  4. How are corporate and association policies changing to accommodate use of sharing economy services?

After going through the Chief Question Officer training, my SOP became even more about questions than answers. If you have more questions—or answers and resources—to share, drop them into the comments and refer to the question number to make it easier for others to follow.

Watch for “Friday With Joan” on Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, along with a link to the Meetings Today #Meetings2016 trends survey results. And in case you missed it, here’s a full recap of the 2016 Meetings Trends Twitter Chat, which I moderated for Meetings Today.

Here’s to a healthy, safe new year of learning and supporting each other in the profession we’ve chosen or that chose us.

Safety is Not a Meetings Industry Priority

Originally published on Meetings Focus Blog

Very recently, I learned that a major hotel company’s Loss Prevention Department does not allow Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to be purchased for their hotels because, they say, it exposes them to more liability. I learned this when I spoke—on risk anticipation and contingency planning—for an industry event at a hotel owned and managed by this company, and then asked a GM with another in this brand’s portfolio who confirmed it.

Even though the hotel at which I spoke has done extensive renovations and is spending another $1 million on meetings upgrades, they aren’t using the money to make people safer.

I was curious to find stats on how many hotels had AEDs and/or policies for or against having them. I turned to a researcher at another industry organization who found the last articles written on AEDs for and in hotels were in 2005 and 2006, and this Wall Street Journal article in 2009.

I’m also gathering stats on how many convention centers, conference centres, and other related facilities have AEDs (I know that D.C.’s Ford’s Theatre does! I’m pleased to see each time we attend a performance). I also found this 2013 article from Forbes about the “life saving device that is largely ignored.” And since 2004, U.S. jets must have an AED on board. But not hotels?!

In the previously mentioned Wall Street Journal article, you’ll read that the American Heart Association said it would not hold meetings at hotels where there were no AEDs (As this goes live, I was unable to verify if this policy stands today).

The importance of AEDs was made clear to me in my reading and in a post years ago on an industry listserv by industry attorney, Jim Goldberg, whose friend died while playing tennis at a club at which the AED was too far from the court to be useful.

In the last few years, I got to know colleague, Julie B. Walker, CMP, of ChoiceMeetings, whose college age daughter, Peyton Walker, died as a result of not having an available AED in her dorm.

Julie provided some basic background on Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA):

  • SCA kills more than 300,000 people each year in the US alone—most are in the prime of their life and have little or no warning prior to their SCA event.
  • For those who are lucky enough to receive CPR right away, their chance of survival is 2%.
  • For those who have paramedic/emergency room advanced care—survival rate increases to 5-15%.
  • For those who are fortunate enough to receive CPR & AED caresurvival rates increase to 50-75% (emphasis mine).

According to the Initial Life Support Federation, “The solution to the growing dilemma of premature cardiac death is the availability and rapid application of an easy to use AED—a simple and inexpensive device that can help to protect and extend thousands of lives.”

CPR alone will not save someone in cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association says we could “save 50,000 lives per year with broad deployment of AEDs.”

So tell me, hotel owners, management companies, and personnel, why do you think the liability is greater to not spend the money to have multiple AEDs on property versus spending it to make the guest rooms prettier? And planners, tell me why we are not demanding AEDs, or like my friend and meeting professional, Terry Blumenstein, CMM, who has for years taken AEDs (yes, they’re portable) with him to programs (even if hotels have them), taking them with us?

If you have AEDs, though they are pretty foolproof to operate, knowing where they are and how to access them must be SOP for all hotel and other venue employees.

You know, it doesn’t matter how cool the venue is or how great the meeting: If people are not safe, nothing else matters. What part of this area of contingency planning does our industry not understand? And why do we not put people and their lives first before anything else?

Some resources to consult as well as your own organization’s legal counsel and risk management professionals:

I’ll expand on this and other topics in upcoming blogs and editions of Friday With Joan, to which you can subscribe. I’d love your input below, or if you prefer to be quoted anonymously, email FridayWithJoan@aol.com with comments for posting or just for me.

Joan

Let’s Go to the Videotape! Verifying Someone’s Story

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

If you are following the news, you have probably heard that NBC is fact-checking Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News regarding his telling, differently, a story when he was embedded. This post from Alan Bean, someone I trust when it comes to ethics and justice, though our religious beliefs differ, provides enlightenment about something referred to as “false memory.”

This is shared not to debate what Mr. Williams and others may have done. It is provided for the “false memory” references from Mr. Bean. It was brought to mind because of the many interviews I have conducted for clients with those they are considering for positions in their meetings departments and the stories I’ve heard that just didn’t ring true or entirely check out.

Sometimes it’s one’s role in saving millions of dollars on a meeting, or developing systems to enhance meeting operations, or negotiating “more than anyone else,” that caused me to question how much that person could have really done. When probed, one can learn that yes, the person had a role; however, the candidate was not the initiator nor more than someone with a bit of input.

It probably happens long before the interivew too, right? The resume with enhancements that would not pass a deeper check; the vitae that exalts one’s experiences and is never verified. So many shortcuts lead to hiring people or putting them on boards, etc., without delving deeper because we want to believe and they believe, with their “false memory,” that they are telling the truth.

In the situations Alan Bean cites, there are videotapes to review. And unless one’s life has been duly recorded (a la Defending Your Life) there is no way to know.

The percentage of those calling for Mr. Williams to be fired is remarkably high. What do you do, in hiring someone or checking the veracity of a supplier who tells you how fabulous their service is (even with examples that to that person are true), to verify?

And what do you do if you find out, later, after hiring or contracting someone that it just isn’t as they said… that in fact, ‘false memory’ may have been at work? Or if that person is a CMP, bound by the CMP Standards of Ethical Conduct? Or if you feel a need to enhance what you’ve done—do you stop to think about what you really did? Do we really need to be bigger-better-best all the time? Or can we be real?

If it matters…especially after reading what Alan Bean said and some of the information provided in the links, I still trust Brian Williams.