Tag Archives: Events Industry Council

Epic Challenges Ahead: Expert Opinion on the Post-COVID-19 Meetings World

Originally published Meetings Today

Epic Challenges Ahead: Expert Opinion on the Post-COVID-19 Meetings World

On the April 27 WHO press briefing, it was stressed that it is not time for “mass gatherings.”

If you follow the link in the sentence above that provides WHO’s definition of “mass gatherings,” you may think that a meeting for 100 or 500 or 1,000, even a city-wide, might not be “mass” and perhaps it’s safe to go ahead with your meetings, conventions and events.

Most U.S. states and many countries still have guidelines that restrict how many people can gather. Even if it is permitted, physical distancing is strongly recommended by most if not by some leaders. What WHO recommends for gatherings is available to download. It’s worth your time to consider the recommendations.

I reached out to the Events Industry Council (EIC)—as recently as earlier in the week of the publication of this newsletter—in hopes it had developed guidelines for seating, changing capacities for spaces, and for issues, from the formerly convened APEX Contracts Panel, on what this means for contracts in place and those being negotiated, especially for room blocks, attrition, impossibility and cancellation. This is what I received just before we made this live. As an industry, we’re not ‘there’ yet.

The issues about which I wrote in April remain. On April 14 during Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID), virtual events and virtual components of EIC-member organizations, I wanted to hear thinking about the impact of COVID-19 on when we can gather again and how.

I heard little except the usual encouragement to meet. That’s all well and good if we have guidelines to keep people safe. We do not have more than what WHO published.

In discussions among colleagues in social media, including on ASAEs Collaborate and in the “Events Industry Friends” group on Facebook [to join, answer the three questions], there is frequent conversation about the how/why/when we can move forward. There is no consensus though all want the industry to recover.

None of this would be so critical if so many of us weren’t dealing with postponing meetings and determining the configuration for those to be held in the latter part of 2020 and into 2021.

While many groups are pivoting to entirely virtual meetings, others are moving forward planning their events to perhaps meet as contracted or to attempt to revise the content and delivery to accommodate physical distancing.

I am grateful to Paul Bergeron, IOM, a freelance reporter covering association management, for his contribution to this newsletter on thinking about pivoting to virtual meetings. Pivoting has been swift and I, like Paul, fear that too little consideration is going into the long-term implications.

The impact of COVID-19 on how we hold meetings and events impacts nearly every element of a meeting. Considerations include the following, and this list is just a start:

  • Physical distancing: a colleague with an upcoming meeting determined that a room that normally could hold 250 could hold at most 36 people with six-foot distancing; rounds would be impossible; and issues for people who need sign language interpreters more complex.
  • Exhibit load-in/load-out times and conditions
  • Rehearsals
  • Room blocks
  • Attrition
  • F&B minimums
  • Service
  • Cleanliness
  • Guest room availability between one guest’s departure and another occupying a room
  • Elevator use

Lots of Questions and Thoughts; Few Answers

Some of the following thoughts were posted on various platforms, others were solicited. Only one is attributed because the issues are all sensitive regarding whether or not groups can or will meet.

I am grateful to The Wynn and to Marriott Hotels for their input on some of what we are considering around cleanliness. I hope they expand their thinking, quickly, to meetings and that the entire industry does far more, quickly.

I wanted for myself, clients and for readers, other voices to be considered as we all determine what to do. Voices of vast experience help me; I hope they will help you as you consider where our industry goes and how.

If in editing the comments from colleagues, I’ve erred in expressing their views, my apologies. I am grateful beyond words for their time in discussing complex issues because, I, a “P” on MBTI, needs lots of input to get to “J!”

Why Meet?

One exchange in ASAE’s Collaborate with Michael LoBue, MS, CAE, president of San Francisco’s LoBue & Majdalany Management Group was one of the better ones. (A lengthy and rich discussion on Facebook in the above noted group was too much to post.) My edited response to Michael follows his questions and comments.

Michael LoBue: ”I haven’t read this anywhere, which surprises me, but doesn’t hurricane season officially start off the Atlantic Coast on June 1st and runs through the end of November? [Had he only been reading my mind, he would have discovered many internal conversations.]

“Given states like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are re-opening their local economies by relaxing physical distancing, and the incredibly infectious nature of the coronavirus, why wouldn’t we expect the next U.S. hot spot to shift to the South… and then if a hurricane hits … the entire East Coast will shut down again.

“Even if things open up in other parts of the country at that time, everyone will correctly want to go into physically distancing again—plus no one from the infected areas will be traveling anywhere to attend meetings.

“I’ve never been in an evacuation, for a hurricane or anything else. I’ve talked to people who have. It doesn’t seem like a desirable experience—to have it happen during a pandemic doesn’t seem to improve those prospects (he writes sarcastically).

“BTW, I heard that Germany cancelled Octoberfest this year [Correct: We tweeted it for Meetings Today.]… Why any face-to-face meetings between now and the end of the year are on anyone’s calendar is a mystery to me.

“Am I alone in this view?”

My edited response to Michael’s post:

Michael, thank you for raising these issues. They are very much on my mind and in my planning for clients and in my writing for the meetings industry.

In the off-the-record conversations with hoteliers and DMO CEOs, and with colleagues who plan meetings and travel, there is a belief that many hotels may never open again. In addition, COVID-19 (now thought to exist in a greater percentage of the world’s population than originally projected) could stick around and join whatever flu strain or mutation of COVID-19 appears later this year, so add that to the existing critical issues for which to plan for if meetings/events—or any gathering of more than a few people—are to occur.

Yes, correct on hurricane “season.” We’ve already seen that in states where tornadoes have occurred, physical distancing had to be put aside in order to provide shelter for many impacted. Convention centers and like facilities, that house meetings and events, are being used for what is called temporary shelter for either COVID-19 patients and/or those who were formerly homeless.

These same spaces are needed for those impacted by tornadoes. During hurricanes or other disasters (like wildfires), these facilities are used.

Add these issues in considering whether to meet:

  • Workers who will not want to work again in hospitality (including those who work/ed in transportation) for fear of illness and/or another round of layoffs.
  • Transportation itself (air, ground) and no idea when schedules as we knew them may resume.
  • Lack of hotels’ and cities’ policies and plans for implementation for cleaning, seating or other issues (attrition is one) impacted by distancing.

The list goes on for those of us planning for contingencies.

There are many who believe that talking about these issues is “fear-mongering” designed to scare people from planning or attending meetings and doesn’t show faith in what the hospitality industry can do. (Yes, #HospitalityStrong is trending among some.) I want to believe that we can meet again as long as we are prepared to keep people safe.

Groups, forced to make decisions now based on hotel or convention center cancellation charges, are being put in very difficult positions: choosing to stay afloat by having a meeting if states and cities say the guidelines for safely gathering have been met and the go-ahead given, or paying cancellation fees, with no registration income or less income for virtual events.

I’ve not mentioned the issue of city and state infrastructures and services that will be decimated because of lack of tax income, or the ability to obtain food with so many processing plants closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks, or the farmers plowing under crops and dairy farmers dumping milk.

I say, yes, Michael, I do not think there is much hope for 2020, but there needs to be lots of energy to plan to hold meetings and for contingencies.

What About Travel?

It’s not simple to figure out the pieces that go into planning a meeting under what were normal circumstances. In an email conversation with a colleague who was in hotel catering for years and now plans events, issues were raised about what is and isn’t open and about travel. To protect this person’s identity, I have edited some of the comments.

The hotels [in the city in which they live] are all closed. There are a few I’m sure that have a skeleton crew and some smaller ones that have restaurants trying to still do deliveries.

“It’s so hard to know what the “new normal” will be: Which restaurants will make it? Which stores? Will people want to travel? HOW will they travel? The days of non-sanitized planes and crowded flights, at least till there’s a vaccine that works, are over.

“I think flights will have to have fewer people on each plane and will need more than 30 minutes to an hour for people to disembark and then new passengers to board and take off. 

“I think airlines are going to have to do much more cleaning of the planes between flights, which will increase “gate time” and change schedules, which means that it will be way more expensive to fly.

“Likewise, hotels are going to have to figure out that housekeepers will need more time to clean each room. Hotels may consider switching from carpeting to hardwood/laminate or tile floors. Hotels on beaches or with pools will have to disinfect to the hilt. We’ve all been amused and grossed out by those “black light” reports, but now that a hotel could be culpable of murder—this ain’t so funny! It’s not bedbugs which are gross and a “problem”— people can die from this virus. So, that’s going to have people more “heebie jeebying” than before and more inclined to “tele-meet” than ever before.

“I do hope it’s sooner rather than later, and indeed that by October it will be “normal.”  

Taking this and my own conversations with airline personnel into consideration, I asked a colleague directly in the travel segment of the industry the following questions; their answers follow.

QWhen and how do you think airlines will begin to fly even half their domestic schedules?  

AMy guess is spring of 2021, at the earliest. There is too much uncertainty for the rest of 2020. The benchmark will be how well do the winter flights sell, if there is no second wave, or fear of a second wave.

Q. What do you think will make travelers feel safe in airports? On planes?

AOffer free protective face masks on request; have line space markers; announce reminders to be respectful to your fellow passengers and crew; allow passengers to change seats if they are concerned; and continue to offer flexible flight change options

Q. What do you expect the biggest changes to be in how we travel for leisure, business and to conferences?

A. For a while, we will travel to familiar places, less crowded destinations, and on shorter trips, for leisure.

For business, we’ll meet in smaller groups, for less time. We’re less likely to extend city visits, see a show, go to a group dinner, want to meet everyone in the office, for “face time.”

For conferences, we’ll radiate to smaller meetings, with more spacing between seats, fewer breakout rooms, temperature checks, and masks. It will be awkward, and there will be smaller audiences reflecting the reluctance to participate in large group gatherings.

Pre-arranged small get-togethers will be organized online before a conference, so there can be a brief meet-and-greet on-site, and no need to attend mass networking events, or spend lots of time at big receptions or crowded evening events. [I wonder what will happen to “hosted buyer events,” where the intimacy of face-to-face cannot happen for some time.]

Small and roomy will beat large and packed-in. We will see wide-scale behavior change in venue site selection. No more small nightclubs or narrow hallway receptions. Opening events will be held at outdoor sites or large museums, with plenty of room for peace of mind. Large gardens or private parks will offer more comfort. 

The crowded tradeshow floor is also endangered and may be replaced by smaller supplier group-specific exhibitor opportunities. For example, there might be a “Middle America Small Market” room and a “West Coast Top Tier” room, with room capacity controls, and delegates will stroll between them.

Q. What else do you want to tell people about the impact of COVID-19 on the meetings industry?

AOrganizers will need to relax change and cancellation policies. There will be lots of fear and uncertainty for a while. Delegates, exhibitors and (association) members will come from different geographic locations and different personal comfort levels. Some will adjust better than others to all the changes.

Planners will need to be sensitive to these changes, some of which will be expensive. CEOs and CFOs will need to accept it will cost more to draw fewer people to meetings and events. There will be less interest in promoting meetings by the numbers they draw, but instead, by the niche they serve. Some companies will get nervous and will cancel 2020/2021 staff travel out of fear, or for budget reasons, and this should not be inferred as not being a supportive or loyal member.

What About Hotels?

As noted above, The Wynn Las Vegas and Marriott hotels have put forth guidelines about cleaning. Prior to these plans being released, I asked three respected colleagues, two of whom recently retired, one of whom is soon to do so, and all of whom were with hotels in “lofty” positions, with a combined total of nearly 100 years in the industry (though they are all still younger than I am!) for their thoughts on the current state of the meetings industry.

I am grateful to them all for years of doing business together and, with our “business hats off,” friendship, and never more than now when ideas need to be explored in uncharted territory.

I am also grateful to another colleague still working with an open hotel for their input.

Colleague 1:

“Testing is the key. Hotels will have to confirm that all of their employees have been tested (multiple times) and are negative (for COVID-19.) Hotels will also have to take extra steps to show the facility is a safe place.
“Contracts are going to have to change to give planners more leeway on attrition and cancellations since no one will know for sure who will attend even when they try to hold a meeting.

“I see a reversal of the trend of leaving the hotel for F&B functions to wanting to stay in the hotel since it’s a more controlled environment.

“Since flying is a big concern, there might be an increase in regional drive-in meetings.

“Planners may need to let attendees participate both in-person and fully online to get people more comfortable (with gathering again).

“Social distancing rules will need to be established in all meeting rooms and outlets.

“Tradeshows are big problem. I see one-way aisles, limits on the number of people in a booth, more online demonstrations. (A model groceries are using now in many cities.)

“I see smaller sessions happening in meeting rooms but spaced out for social distancing and large sessions online so could you watch from your room or at a distance.”

Colleagues 2 and 3:

These two had an email exchange prior to my contacting one and then the other. I have permission to share their edited thoughts, exchanged before the three of us spoke.

Colleague 2: “Times are crazy, but my family is all good and I hope the same with you. What are you hearing in the industry for groups having to change programs/set-ups to maintain six feet of social distancing? Seems this would turn the meetings and convention industry on its head.”

Colleague 3: “What I think is that bad times are ahead for meetings. If we think that groups are just going to reschedule and put thousands of attendees at risk…the liability is huge, and associations and companies aren’t going to do that easily.

“The only thing that will save us [and the industry and meetings] is a vaccine. Short of that, it will be a long road back. Really worried for the kids. [These colleagues have children who work in the industry.] This is not the legacy I had hoped for.”

Colleague 2: “I so agree with youThe meetings and conventions segment is so critical to the hotels. Big hotels are not going to make it, especially the ones that recently opened.

“It took three years to go from peak to trough after 9/11 and 4 1/2 years after the 2008 financial crisis. I say this is going to be worse. A vaccine is key, but I think events will change for many years.

“Programs are going to have to be adjusted; the virus impact on what we know and loved is monstrous. I love the world we lived in. As I write this I think about … being at events with friends celebrating our industry and now I think it will be years before that comes back. I hope the young people at some point will be fortunate to have the same experiences.”

Colleague 3: “It seems that our path and successes may not be the same for our children. There are so darn many hotels popping up….. Big shakeout for sure.
[About going to industry events.] We sure had a great run and I hope our kids get a shot at what we enjoyed, but I worry the entire industry is going to change and not for the better…just look at how easy virtual meetings now are. Face-to-face isn’t going to be back as fast, if at all.”

Following up this exchange, one of the two above wrote to me when I asked if we were going too fast in re-opening the industry. It is edited for space and anonymity:

You are right, Joan, that hotels and airlines are hatching plans and probably too quickly. Saw the other day the ‘new’ seating arrangement for planes. Great, except that the one MOST important thing that will keep people from flying is the issue of filtered air on planes…it’s less about the seats, much more about how to keep the air that everyone breathes virus-free.

“Hotels are right in looking at the markets which can move quickly: business travel, leisure and sadly, not large group…. I’m betting 2021 or later realistically. All the [industry] talking heads will tow a [party] line but the real direction is going to come from the travelers themselves.

“Would you fly or stay in a hotel anytime soon? Every group needs to poll their members to determine direction.”

“Personally, I think we are moving too fast in reopening. A reinfection flare-up will really push us back. Just read earlier in [paper named] a column written by three lawyers who said that the liability in opening up stores, restaurants, etc., will be staggering if people get sick again.

“Our own industry doesn’t seem to be thinking this way.”

Last, from a colleague still working in an open hotel in a major market. Again, edited for anonymity, clarity and length.

Q. What will it take for the meetings industry to reopen to anything close to what it was before COVID-19?  

ATo reopen to anything close to what we were accustomed to pre-COVID-19, three primary elements will be needed: cleaning, infrastructure and flexibility.

All suppliers will need to conform to and execute CDC-endorsed cleaning standards; suppliers and planners will need to work to execute changes in physical and customary “infrastructure.” All parties—all suppliers (even if not contracted by a planner, such as airlines), planners and attendees involved will need to be flexible and adjust policies based on what medical progress has been made,

Ultimately, all parties need to ensure that guests/meeting attendees feel that steps have been taken to ensure everyone’s health, safety and security.

Hospitality chemical suppliers, such as Ecolab, were immediately proactive in reaching out to their customers regarding chemicals and CDC guidance the first two weeks of March, as were AHLA, and in our case, our state hotel and lodging association.

Infrastructure changes are going to be a big part of our ability to operate within the next year. Hotels may need to reconfigure front desks to accommodate a plexiglass shield as grocery stores have. The formerly popular open-pod front desk design will go away. There will be installation of more self-serve check-in kiosks that also issue key cards.

In addition to physical distancing reminder signage, we may need floor markers like stores are using. We’ll add hand sanitizer stations everywhere. Physical distancing protocol may require furniture removal to allow more space in lobbies and public areas.  

For meetings, physical set-up standards will have to change to 1 per 6-foot classroom at least short-term. Depending on the rooms and audience size, theater style may have to set for space for three or four times the seating as the expected numbers.

Receptions have to be re-imagined: Buffets and action stations will disappear, and bar set-ups will need to factor physical distancing.  

Meetings will need to include a virtual component for those not able or willing to travel. Programs will need to rethink networking and other social components for the next 12 to 18 months. 

Individual and group hotel reservation cancellation and meeting registration policies will need to be as flexible as possible. As flights (“lift”) have been drastically cut and are likely to remain that way for some time, planners must plan for their potential destination before finalizing plans vs. taking for granted that one can easily get to D.C. or Chicago as they used to. National meetings may go away for a few years and become smaller regional meetings due to change in air and change in our dynamics.

Q. What are the potential hazards for hotel workers and guests in returning to hotels?

AI believe it was Dr. Fauci who said, “We don’t make the timetablethe virus does.” That means we have to address a workplace/facility hazard that cannot be seen and one scientists/medical community is still learning about. [We are only four months into research.]

Until there is a vaccine, assume everyone could be asymptomatic and/or a carrier, and execute cleaning and infrastructure changes accordingly to create optimal conditions for both guests and employees.

To face the potential hazards, provide the recommended protective equipment to employees and the optimal safe layout to provide physical distancing, and supplies and services to support guests. If we put many safeguards in place and go beyond required cleaning protocols, our guests—and employees—will be shielded from hazards to the best of our ability.

Q. What has been your experience during COVID-19 with an open hotel and what guests want to know?

AHotels in our state are considered an “essential business,” but under the state of emergency/shelter at home order, we are authorized to turn away guests whose stay is not due to essential work. We have turned away guests who say they are there to simply “get away” from their house.

Most of our guests the last few weeks have been police and fire personnel working extra shifts and want to be close to their stations. We have been hosting nurses on temporary assignment at one of the three nearby “specialty” hospitals that do not have COVID-19 units.

I have been working with a domestic violence organization needing additional temporary shelter for their clients and also the American Red Cross seeking to secure a designated hotel for their normal course of business of providing families shelter in case of fires.

Business travelers right now are traveling medical professionals and other first responders. We are participating in a “day rate” promotion for locals to use rooms for a workspace during the workday—we have seen day guests for this. [On behalf of all of us, THANK YOU!]

We are running between 8% and 15% occupancy. We’ve kept guests informed by posting information regarding the shelter in-place order, changes in service and our current housekeeping protocols. We are primarily in a residential area that borders a medical campus, so we do have a great deal of options for food service—either carry out or delivery. We keep as updated as possible list regarding options.

On May 1, so far, we’ve been told hospitals are able to start non-emergency procedures (joint replacement, colonoscopies, etc), so we may see guests who want to be close to family members. Clearly this, too, may change.

I’m still wrapping my head around everything. I do not think we will return to business levels we saw in 2019 for many, many years.  

There you have it: different voices of experience. If my crystal ball, still not working the way it used to, were better, I’d have easy answers.

What we need is great collective discussions among many, including medical and scientific, emergency and other personnel, to help us figure out what to do. And we need patience as the world contends with this horrific illness.

We need to look at the inequities made more visible by this. We need to give what we can to help those who are in great need. I recommend your local food bank, World Central Kitchen, founded by the amazing chef Jose Andres, that now in addition to feeding people in disaster areas around the U.S. and world is feeding first responders and those in need in many cities, including mine (Washington, D.C.), and to Unite Here to help the many hospitality workers who are out of work and who we need to be healthy and safe so they can return to support us and our meetings.

Postscript

If you are a U.S.-eligible voterregister 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.

Because of COVID-19, many US 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.

International Women’s Day: Moving the Industry Forward

Original post Meetings Today Blog

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” – Rebecca West (1892 – 1983), author and journalist.

Each time I’ve asked women in our industry if they consider themselves feminists they hesitate. Not all of them—but enough and in different age cohorts that I think there is a fear of being a strong woman, showing you are a strong woman, and identifying as a feminist.

All my life I’ve known women who worked in and outside the home.

Women who work outside the home are known to work far more than men if their spouses or partners are male.

Let me digress briefly. Many of us are aware of the plight of women in situations far more dire than fighting for standing and pay equity in the workplace:

  • Yemeni women and their children dying of starvation.
  • Women in Venezuela fleeing or trying to provide for families in a country without affordable medicine or food—if it’s even available.
  • Women in limbo in refugee camps throughout the world.
  • Women escaping poverty and terror and traveling, on foot, thousands of miles to reach what they hope is sanctuary.

I know I’m addressing more of what are called “first world problems.”

Yes, I’d like to be able to fix the world for all people and in particular for women. I can only tackle so much while raising the consciousness of many.

So for the purpose of the March 2019 Friday With Joan newsletter, published the week before International Women’s Day, I start “at home” with the hospitality industry.

Which for our purposes here, also includes the meetings and event industry.

In 2018, more women were elected to the U.S. Congress and to U.S. State Houses than ever before. On March 8, just weeks before GMID, International Women’s Day will be observed.

Its theme for International Women’s Day in 2019 is #BalanceforBetter.

“Balance” meaning striving for a more “gender-balanced” world.

As we look at issues impacting women—including those in our industry, from sales and meeting professionals to those in catering, management and housekeeping roles—we recognize that if we fail to communicate why our positions, titles and pay matter, we will fall behind. This is a reality that has held true for all women.

Yes, even event planners, who are predominantly female and are given the authority to negotiate multimillion-dollar contracts and provide updates to boards of directors on the financial impact of meetings, must explain their worth or suffer the consequences.

Where Are All the Women Leaders?

An MPI blog post titled “Reinforcing A Sense of Belonging,” declared that the organization I call my “mothership” will now provide a “pipeline of women to lead MPI.”

This statement made me stop and think. I served on my MPI Chapter Board, as Chapter President, and on the International Board, when women including Marta Hayden, Beverly Kinkade and Anna Chabot were leading MPI. That’s quite the pipeline of women!

I was asked for input prior to MPI launching their first women’s leadership initiative, and I saw its demise. Which, based on the above blog post, held no discernable lasting power.

MPI, like most of the EIC member organizations, has not had a woman CEO in its history—though I know of women who applied.

Why is that the case in an industry where anecdotally there are a majority of women? What I’ve noted about MPI is not a knock on MPI—they are trying again.

It’s a question posed to an industry that we believe is populated mainly by women.

Why do we still hold so little visible power?

In compiling the results of its “A Sense of Belonging” study, MPI asked “In what ways are women treated differently than men at work?” The responses from women were as follows:

  • 64% I have limited or capped career opportunities.
  • 54% I am treated as less capable or intelligent.
  • 54% I am paid less.
  • 46% I am not taken seriously.
  • 11% I am subjected to unwanted sexual attention.
  • 4% I am given less flexibility with time-off requests.
  • 4% I am bullied or mocked.

14% of respondents chose “Other.”

As one who grew up in a world where women fought for pay equity, I am painfully aware of and pay attention to what may hold us back. Is it the way we speak, the image we present and the images of us that are presented? We often apologize for saying something.

We’ll say “I just wanted to say” and negate whatever it is with “just.”

We use upspeak or uptalk, even when declaring what we know.

Should we applaud MPI and others for again focusing on women or be dismayed that again there is a focus on women in leadership when we didn’t make it stick before?

A Day I Will Never Forget

Doug Heath, MPI’s second executive director, heard me when I asked why MPI’s three representatives to the (then) CLC Board of Directors included no women though around me at MPI meetings I saw a majority of women in the audience. It wasn’t unusual—most of the delegates from the industry organization members were men.

Doug appointed me to be one of MPI’s three delegates knowing I would speak up strongly for MPI and what the industry needed.

And here’s what happened at my first meeting, an event that, though long ago, is in my head as if it were yesterday: I prepared for my first CLC Board meeting. I read my CLC board book and discussed the relevant issues with Doug and others in MPI’s leadership

Then I spoke up at the meeting.

At the first break, a man, not much older though considerably taller than I, patted me on the head and said “just wait until you’re older and more experienced. You’ll understand why…”

He was conveying this message: “don’t speak up ‘little lady’—know your place.”

This explains how women hesitate versus speaking their minds.

I did not equivocate in anything I said.

You too know how men often take credit for what women say or “translate” women’s words to their own. You’ve certainly witnessed it in interactions at meetings and events.

Case in point: I was co-presenting with a male colleague at an industry meeting and after each thing I said, he said “What Joan means is…” and then repeated what I’d said in his words. He swears he meant nothing by it and yet this happens to women all the time.

Then too, women are interrupted by men when speaking and we let it happen.

Here’s some advice from the above article to take to heart: “Women, if you are interrupted for any reason other than someone asking for clarification, say to the interrupter:

“’There are a few more essential points I need to make. Can you delay a moment while I do that?’” or ‘I know I will appreciate your feedback, but can you hold off until I’m done?’”

This may also come in handy when you’re negotiating for a pay raise.

Or while you’re in a negotiation with a buyer or seller.

My Advice to Women, Men and Our Industry

Here’s what I hope, individually, you who identify as female, will do:

  • Know, use and shout your strengths.
  • Use a voice that has authority. If you are unsure if you can, emulate others or take voice/speaking lessons (For my voice—literal and figurative—I thank my mother (z”l) and James Payne, my high school speech teacher).
  • Use your body with authority when speaking. If you are able to stand, do so.
  • Be assertive and support other women.
  • Mentor up and down. (See part 2 of the newsletter for thoughts on mentors and mentoring from a variety of people all of whom I met through professional affiliations).
  • Call yourself a feminist. Refer to yourself and others as “women” not girls or guys or ladies. What we call ourselves matters.

Those who identify as male, please:

  • Check yourself and ask those with whom you work to check how you support women in the workplace, at home, in communities.
  • Call yourself a feminist by supporting ideals that are about respect and equity.
  • Promote women in the workplace.
  • Stop interrupting women and “interpreting” what they say! Praise their ideas; give back credit for ideas you may have presented as your own.

For our industry: 

  • Work toward greater Inclusion. That means inclusion in gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, age, ability and economic status.
  • Don’t continue to start and stop initiatives until or unless they become part of the fabric of the industry. Once you set a goal to better the industry, keep working to reach it.
  • Check print and digital images and ensure equal and appropriate representation.
  • Set the standard for programs by partnering with GenderAvenger and like publications and programs and show others how easy it is.
  • Invite Rachael Van Horn to speak. She’s part of our industry and an example of a strong woman succeeding in a traditionally male profession.

Tell us more … about your experiences by completing the poll and commenting on the blog and within the comments on the second part of this newsletter.

What do you think can be done for women to gain equal footing at the least in an industry where we predominate but don’t get the pay and recognition we deserve?

And consider this: “Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in full equality of men and women or you do not.”

– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (“Genius Award”) and author of “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.”

Related Reading From the March 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 03.01.19 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Our Industry’s Reputation and Yours Are at Stake: Help Is Needed!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Our Industry’s Reputation and Yours Are at Stake: Help Is Needed!

When the meetings industry first introduced the CMP—referred to as “Certified Meeting Planner”—it was to help ensure that those who planned meetings be considered professionals.

As the program evolved, it became possible for suppliers in our industry to be tested and to receive the designation, which as a result was changed to “Certified Meeting Professional.”

For most of the years I’ve been in this industry, I’ve questioned the business practices that are considered “standard” or “normal” and sought evidence of those practices being ethical and professional.

I’ve looked to other professions—accounting, medicine, law, journalism, association management, counseling, among them—and saw that there were standards of conduct that must be adhered to in order to maintain one’s license to practice in that profession.

No such thing exists for planning, sales, or convention services in our industry.

In preparing to write this blog post—one of two (or more) that will look at practices and perceptions of those of us who plan and supply services and venues for meetings—this part of the definition of “professional” struck me:

characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession.”

In fact, in the 9th Edition of the EIC Manual,  subtitled “A working guide for effective events, meetings and conventions”, there is no separate chapter on “ethics.”

Instead, it is included in “Domain J: Professionalism” where “Sub Skill 30.01” is “Demonstrate Ethical Behaviour.”

Relaxing Standards in the Meetings Industry

APEX, The Accepted Practices Exchange Initiative, and the CMP give us the technical “standards” of the profession. To be a member of the Events Industry Council (EIC)(founded in 1949 as the “Convention Liaison Council,” then renamed “Convention Industry Council”), it was, for years, a requirement to have a code of conduct or ethics.

Now, it is required to submit a code but it is no longer a requirement for membership. No one could tell me when and why the requirements for membership changed.

In talking with staff of a number of EIC member organizations, I learned that some don’t have codes of conduct or codes of ethics at all.

And if they do, many, like that of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)are, for all but Certified Association Executives (CAE), aspirational. Only for CAEs is there an enforceable code of conduct referred to as “CAE Standing Rules and Policies.”

If one has attained and maintained the CMP designation, one agrees to abide by the CMP Code of EthicsBut (and I do mean “but” not “and” as improvisation teaches) it is rarely used to strip someone of their CMP for unethical behavior.

I was told by EIC that the ethics complaints are almost always about a person using the designation who has not been attained or maintained and not for behaviors that violate the code as I believe those in the stories below do.

Who’s Enforcing Our Industry’s Ethics Policies?

In e-mail exchanges and voice conversations with staff members of EIC member organizations, there seems to be little done now if there are ethics violations.

MPI, which used to have an enforceable and lengthy code of conduct, changed it years ago to the Principles of Professionalism for which there is no reporting body.

It seems, an already existing program—MPICares—was created to advance service projects and report and examine issues of sexual harassment and ethics violations.

(Interestingly, featured in the news recently and also reported on this week by Meetings Today was the MPI Foundation Executive Director who has been accused of a crime, who has since resigned from her position but claims innocence).

There is a fine ethical/legal line that I am sure will be sorted out as this proceeds.

Why write now—again—about these issues?

Why I Choose to Write About Ethics

There are multiple reasons:

1. I’ve been asked repeatedly what I want my legacy to be. I hope that a) it’s that we learn to create interactive, well-conceived and executed meetings with no more theatre or schoolroom sets, and really, b) we all agree to operate in a manner that reflects well on us individually and on our profession which, I believe, means working ethically.

2. Colleagues and strangers have for years and continue to contact me to sort out ethical issues. Most recently, some have discussed the quid pro quo of booking meetings: suppliers want their numbers to gain their bonuses or keep their jobs. Planners or others who sign meeting contracts are often willing to sign multi-year or exaggerated room-block contracts or make up fake and contract meetings to “help a seller friend” achieve their goals to earn more money or bonuses, knowing full well that what they both are doing is not ethical and may, in fact, be illegal.

Strangely, the example most often cited as unethical behavior in our industry is of sellers who offer and planners who accept familiarization (“fam”) trips (or hosted buyer invitations) for destinations and/or properties the parties know are not in the pipeline for use, justifying that “someday” they may work elsewhere or that “someday” they may convince someone to book the city or site because they were once there.

Forget that the wining and dining and gifts that come with many of these trips may have dollar values above what one’s employer’s code of ethics note is permissible.

Real-Life Examples of Questionable Behavior

Over the many years I’ve worked in the industry, I’ve seen the results of unethical behavior and the cost to organizations as a result.

Here are but a few specific examples, never reported to the CMP Board, in which planners and suppliers who were CMPs (or in one case a CAE) were involved.

Story 1: Full-time planners at an organization created their own side company to receive commission on meetings they booked for their employer. The commission agreements were inserted after the contracts were signed. Adding to the behavior, the planners often used the CEO’s electronic signature to sign these bogus contracts.

The hotels? They got the numbers they wanted as did the sales people who received their bonuses. The planners? Perks for getting the business signed and an expectation of commission.

Though these planners were eventually fired when an audit uncovered the fraudulent meetings, I know the planners were hired by others because, by law, a past employer cannot ask about such behaviors. Because nothing was reported to the CMP Board, even the CMP designation wasn’t stripped.

Story 2: An organization’s CEO, a CAE, and planner, a CMP, booked a future meeting with a vastly inflated room block. The contracted block was not remotely achievable given the group’s pattern and expectations. The hotel salesperson, if history had been submitted by the group or checked by the hotel, would have questioned the numbers.

What did the CEO and planner receive for contracting this meeting? Super Bowl tickets and other perks.* What happened to the organization? They paid more than $100,000 in attrition and almost went bankrupt. The salesperson? Bonus and promotion based on the nights booked even though they were never actualized.

[Yes, this is a discussion for another time—how our industry sets up conditions for incentives for salespeople. It was a conversation, in research for this blog that surfaced with many hotel personnel.]

*Both were eventually fired though no charges were brought. The planner went on to tout expertise in the job and was praised by suppliers for good work.

Story 3: A planner wanted to help a supplier partner who was having trouble booking enough business to meet their year-end goals. The planner made up multiple meetings that were not on anyone else’s radar—basically fake business.

The planner, a CMP, received trips and other perks for themselves and for their family. The supplier? Made their numbers and received a bonus. The organization? Hefty legal fees, some cancellation fees, and a new meeting created to mitigate what would have been additional millions of dollars in cancellation fees.

Uncovered in an audit and review of emails, the planner was fired.

When the action was reported to the hotel company, despite their ethics’ code, the salesperson remained on the job.

Story 4: A planner needed promotional products (aka “tchotchkes”) for a meeting.

When ordering it was not specified that the items could not come from China—just that the price had to be “the lowest.” The lowest priced items were made in China and were ordered by the promotional products company.

When received, the planner told (not asked!) the supplier to remove all labels on boxes and other packaging indicating that the items were from China. It was the supplier who came to me with the story of the issue and the dilemma: does one report this action to an employer or to the CMP ethics review board and risk losing a good client or comply?

[I know the outcome—I’ll let you suss this one out and consider what you’d do].

There are many more situations I’ve seen and about which others have told me. Included in the current issues are those about third parties who receive commissions and about which I wrote previously for a Friday With Joan newsletter and blog post.

I was told directly by someone doing this that they and others are going to the franchise properties’ owners and demanding the higher commission and in some cases getting it.

In talking with an industry attorney, I was told that in an audit, when discovered, the franchisee could be in jeopardy.

Among stories known to many are those surrounding what U.S. government planners faced over one particular Las Vegas meeting that was reported in national news and by our industry’s press. As a result, all of our industry and all meetings were made to look like boondoggles.

Advancing Integrity in Our Industry

Where do we go from here?

If we are to be thought of as professionals, regardless of our job titles or in which industry segment we work, is it appropriate to look more closely at behaviors?

Consider, as you chew on the stories noted above and your own experiences, these questions:

  • What do you do when a client or employer asks you to do something that violates a specific written code or your own moral compass?
  • What guides you ethically in life and in business?
  • When you heard Jiminy Cricket say “Let your conscience be your guide,” did you consider what that meant and what to do if your conscience and “standard practice” were in conflict?

Will you help me and help our profession? Either in the comments section below or in the comments area in the sidebar interview with Paul A. Greenberg who is a professor of journalism and was in our industry, or to me personally at FridayWithJoan@aol.com, write and tell me what guides you ethically. Answer the poll questions.

Read the codes of ethics for the industry segment to which you belong. And watch for the continuing discussion based on input from a variety of industry professionals in the next weeks about hiring and interviewing with ethics in mind, specific language and reaction to that in the CMP Code, and more.

If we can’t get this right, what then is the point of pretending to be professionals?

And Just One More Very Important Thing!

November 6, 2018, is the U.S. midterm election.

I, and those affiliated with Meetings Today, encourage you to vote. There are issues on ballots throughout the U.S. that will impact meetings including taxes and initiatives important to how and where we do business.

There are elections of individuals who you may want to question at town hall meetings about their stands that impact your particular employer or clients and their meetings.

Having written about what happens when laws are passed that cause groups to reconsider where their meetings are held, it’s a time to be more informed. For those who are not U.S. citizens, we encourage you to vote in elections of your own countries.

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 October 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 10.05.18 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!

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