Tag Archives: hospitality

Are There Stupid Meeting Questions? It Depends!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balancing Parenting and Caregiving While Working in Hospitality

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

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

Choosing Not to Have Children

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

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

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

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

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

Balancing Parenting, Caregiving and Work

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

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

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

And the hours required of us are often obscene.

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

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

No Easy Answers: Analyzing the Research

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

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

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

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

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

[Related Content: Why Women Are Ideal Hospitality Leaders]

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

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

Additional Reading for Your Consideration

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

Weigh in With Your Advice and Stories Below

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

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

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

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

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

5 Meeting Functions Enhanced by Knowing What’s in the News

Stack of newspapers

We’re all busy. The news is often painful to read, watch and/or listen to, but our work is so impacted by what’s in the news and the potential consequences that if we are not paying attention, we are negligent in our duties. It’s all part of life-long learning*, which many, after they secure degrees or any letters after their names, forget.

Here are five areas of conducting meetings that are impacted by what’s in the news and why you should pay attention. In the comments, add yours and your sources—newspapers (print or digital), periodicals and other media go-tos (including social).

1. Destination Selection and Use: The greatest buzz (groan … I know!) is about the Zika virus, its origin, where and how it’s spreading, and what is being done to stop the spread of the virus. Airlines are issuing waivers to passengers and changing some employees’ schedules of those who are afraid of traveling to areas where Zika-carrying mosquitoes are prevalent. PCMA’s Convene had this to say about it.

Knowing what airlines are doing and the impact that may have on the accessibility of all destinations, especially second and third tier ones, matters to our selection and use of those destinations. Cleveland, that was for years a Continental hub and then a United hub, has cut back more nonstop flights to numerous destinations. One wonders what the impact will be on the Republican National Convention to be held in Cleveland this summer. Perhaps, if gas prices continue to be low(er), more will drive.

(I’m not saying don’t go; I’m saying be aware, informed, and plan for contingencies … whether they are health related or otherwise).

2. Site Selection: Will our choices narrow because of the mergers noted in No. 3 below? Will you have the information you need about labor contracts? What about the impact of fire safety if you hadn’t read about the fire and investigation of a hotel in Las Vegas? Or if you had not read my blog about safety, you might not have asked about the presence of AEDs or other safety features. You might not know that many hotels are considering eliminating in-room phones (you’ve noticed how there are fewer in rooms now, right?), which may be a safety hazard or are considering using robots versus people to serve.

3. Hotel ContractsIHG (InterContinental Hotels) merged with Kimpton; Fairmont and Raffles merged. From what these hotel CEOs say … there will be more. What is the impact on contracts in place of these mergers and those upcoming? Or future contracts? Are you aware of who owns the hotels (the buildings) and who manages them as well as the brand on the door?

What are you following to keep up with all that may change and the impact on your contracts and contract negotiations? (On April 27 and August 31, I’ll do webinars for Meetings Today—the first on site selection; the latter on contracts for accommodations. You can also find past webinars at that link). Clearly the industry press is covering these mergers just as they are with the airlines. (After UA and Continental, American and US Airways, who will be next?) Follow the business press too. I subscribe to the print editions of Bloomberg Businessweek and Fortune, local business journals for cities to which clients are considering or taking meetings, hotel-related reading, Crain’s for various cities, and more. You can read online or in print. Just read!

And then there was this that should be a concern for all planners, Starwood employees, and individual hotel owners about what Starwood’s new CEO says about the safety of most Starwood brands under a Marriott merger.

4. Meeting “Stoppage” and Individual Cancellation Plans and Policies: If, because of a pending snow storm or other weather issue, the airlines start to cancel flights days in advance (follow Joe Brancatelli, @joesentme, on Twitter) … or if because of the Zika virus people decide it is not safe to attend a meeting you’ve planned or one you plan to attend … or if, like in Cleveland, an airline pulls flights and it’s no longer easy to get to and from the destination without multiple plane changes, a person says “enough” and wants to cancel attendance, what are your policies? What’s in your contracts with venues and vendors about stopping the meeting?

Is it force majeure if a storm hasn’t hit and you cancel a meeting? What about Zika which reports say is spreading, but like SARS, may not actually impact the meeting? All the things that could impact a meeting being stopped—by the venue or by weather or by an individual who just doesn’t want to schlep more than she’d planned—are impacted by what’s in the news. To not pay attention means to be caught off-guard or to make assumptions and we know what that does!

5. Liabilities and Meeting Risk: What if you had been, as part of your job, responsible to send people on an incentive cruise and they’d been on this ship? What if you book a group into a Zika-infested area and someone needs, for reasons unrelated to Zika, a blood transfusion? What must you consider when updating your risk and emergency plan for each meeting? What in that destination or facility might cause harm for which you must plan?

I know that there are those who think I overthink it but here’s what I know: to under-thinking and under-planning puts people, the meeting sponsor, and you at risk. And if you’d like the table of contents to a risk plan, go to the “Resources” section of my website or email me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com for a copy.

Another thing you might also like: if you don’t read, you wouldn’t know about the wearable chair, which seems a perfect thing for exhibitors at tradeshows, or that two songs in popular use finally settled a copyright case (Hint: one is sung at least once a year to or by most of us).

And an asterisk to the title: learning from lots of different sources enhances your life. You are able to start and continue conversations with almost anyone, enabling lots of opportunities; you gain insights about your life and you continue your education.

*In the February 8-14 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, quoting Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist at Columbia. “He says societies need to emphasize life-long learning not just school.”

Planners vs. Suppliers: Why Can’t We All Learn Together?

Originally published Meetings Today

Unable to stay for PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2016 in Vancouver this week, I did speak at and attend the Event Service Professional Association’s (ESPA) Annual Conference and was thrilled to be with colleagues and friends to discuss the operational side of meetings.

CSMs, or as we now call them Event Service Professionals (ESPs), are the lifeblood of what happens once sales turns over the contract and planners begin to put together the content and logistics of meetings. They’ve saved many a planner’s tush when the meeting specifications (“specs”) were completed on the plane to the meeting and turned in—even for meetings of 15,000, I hear—when the planner lands, sometimes a day before a meeting is to begin.

Somehow, the ESPs, with the respect and coordination of a facility’s staff, pull it off.

So why aren’t we learning together and talking about the issues that impact us? Oh, ESPA had a planner panel that I was unable to attend because I moderated the Student U. at PCMA. PCMA used to partner with ESPA with ESPA (previously known as ACOM) participating on the PCMA Annual Meeting Program Committee, and there were shared sessions. Having moderated some of those shared sessions, held at PCMA’s  Convening Leaders, I know the value. And they were always full, so great was the interest in how we could work better together.

Now, there is no partnership. Because there was one, and because some of ESPA’s members stay on to attend PCMA, ESPA still holds their meeting prior to PCMA. But no more is there an offer to hold joint sessions, which, for me and our industry, is a lose-lose situation.

But wait … there’s more: locally (D.C.), and, I hear, elsewhere, meeting planners don’t want “supplier partners” at all the educational events held by industry association chapters. I’ve asked and heard it’s because our partners (maybe we need a new word?!) only come to sell to the planners. When I asked in a Facebook group of senior planners about having ESPs/CSMs as part of the group, there was the same strong opposition.

I’ve questioned that perhaps we need to help our partners learn to learn and to develop skills that go beyond “My name’s Julie and I work for X hotel. What meetings do you have to book?” I’ve been told that’s the role of the suppliers’ companies.

C’mon! Learning together in the same room, on topics that impact us all—which is what PCMA does at Convening Leaders because there is no tradeshow—helps us appreciate the needs of our partners and they of our concerns. Learning together helps us build relationships in what I hear is still a “relationship industry.” Teaching others how to learn and how to network beyond selling and buying is something we can do and have an obligation to do. If we can attend a session like those Michael Dominguez of MGM does on how hotels make money, why can’t our partners learn about what we planners go through with changes.

And I’m not talking about those (horribly named) sessions about planner or supplier gripes! I’m talking about the sessions, like one I conducted for our local PCMA chapter about risk management. Sheesh, if our partners don’t know why having AEDs, for example, in their hotels is a planner priority, then how do we keep everyone safe? And it’s not just PCMA. No one is partnering well on education. Hosted Buyer sessions are doing their best to kill partnerships and joint education.

Some of my best friends really are people who were and are suppliers (from sales and service.) Bill Reed, the new PCMA Chair, is a great example of someone who began on the service and then sales side and moved to the planner side. I don’t know that he’d be as stellar as he is had he not had the broad work and educational experiences. A corporate planner colleague only hired former CSMs to be planners in her department because of their knowledge of how hotels, conference centres and convention centers operated.

This is when I want to use the three letters that ask why we aren’t partnering and what the fear is. Instead, I’ll ask, what is keeping us apart and why? What are we afraid will be disclosed that is so secretive that we can’t sit and discuss it?

Why are we really not partners?

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.

6 Considerations to Better Destination Selection

Originally published Meetings Today

Groups tend to focus their site selection efforts on finding the specific venue/facility in which their meetings will be held. Selecting the destination, the city/state and country—is at least as important. And I’ve got plenty of other considerations, including sustainability (human and environment)! Here are six major details to reflect on during the site selection process.

1. Taxes and Additional Charges: Too many people think the rates and prices they are quoted are “the final price” and that nothing more will be charged. On top of a room rate, there may be a state or local sales tax, a tourism tax or fee, and other charges. Some are flat fees and some percentages. For food and beverage prices, the tax (usually sales), always added to the price of the meal, can also be added to a service charge (different than a gratuity). Often the venue will charge an administrative fee, which can also end up being taxed.

2. Laws. In your RFP—in addition to asking the current tax rate—ask what laws are being considered to raise taxes. Research the “best and worst” U.S. cities for hotel taxes; and it can be extremely helpful to keep an eye on and subscribe to business journals.

Following the business journal and news outlets for the destinations you are considering will allow you to know what’s on upcoming ballots or what’s been passed or defeated that may impact your meeting and those who attend it. For example, we recently saw the defeat of Proposition 1 in Houston, a proposed law supported by the Houston CVB, Marriott, United Airlines, and others that would have prevented discrimination against any number of groups of people.

We have to be sure the laws of cities to which we take our meetings are in line with the bylaws, missions, and policies of our organizations to ensure there are not conflicts.

3. Climate and Weather. Sure we all think we know about “hurricane season” but outbreaks of storms have been erratic around the U.S. and the world. Severe droughts in California and Brazil, in particular, have caused shortages of water. If you plan a winter meeting, snow or the lack thereof could be a positive or a problem! El Nino is expected to wreak more weather havoc.

4. Infrastructure. It’s remarkably on few minds when a destination is considered. Although the U.S. Congress passed a new highway bill, the roads, bridges and water infrastructure of the U.S. are aging horribly. Even here in D.C., where I live and work, the water main breaks are legendary, shutting down roads and causing many to be without sources of water.

This 2013 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers is a good place to start.

5. Accessibility. This is a broad and complex area—everything from airline access to access for people with disabilities has to be considered. Recent experiences at an airport taught me that not all airports (even in first tier markets) have sufficient services for people with disabilities.

And airline mergers means lift has been cut to many markets. If people can’t get there or it takes two or more changes of plane, they may reconsider. The U.S. Department of Justice is doing random checks of hotels; many cities, like Boston, have offices on disability awareness and can give you stats about, for example, how many taxis are accessible.

Check with them for help with accessibility issues.

6. Safety. How could I write a blog on site selection without acknowledging the horrors in Paris, the threat to the U.S. and a recent threat in Germany that caused a soccer match to be canceled? And there are ordinary safety concerns about which we all should care: access for police and other emergency services to the facilities in which you’ll hold an event; lighting in areas people will frequent (Check out the following blog post for more about safety in a facility).

The U.S. Department of State is, for planners taking meetings outbound or in, a good resource for country safety, including weather and human factors. And use DMOs (aka CVBs) for additional info. This is not to say don’t go if there are obstacles or concerns. Certainly we won’t stop travel to Paris or D.C. or other cities in the world. Rather, factor in these and other issues when selecting destinations. Know what you will do to manage and counter the issues that could have caught you by surprise if you hadn’t looked closely in the selection phase.

Be smart and aware when selecting destinations!

When the Political Becomes the Practical, Part II

Originally published Meetings Today

It’s tough to separate the political from the professional whether in last week’s Friday With Joan blog post on professional development, the linked Q&A with Sekeno Aldred, Charles Massey and Jean Riley, or in this previous blog post “When the Political Becomes The Practical.”

While many are many speaking out—including these legal opinions—I look to our industry for a voice against what Donald Trump has said about restricting Muslims from entering the United States for any reason including as tourists. Can you imagine being a Muslim who works for a Trump property?

Or can you imagine being invited to attend a meeting at a Trump property … especially if you are a Muslim or someone thinks you are? Will activities or discussions of those attending your meetings have to be reported if this new law goes through?

Will we or will we not be as inclusive as the policies of all our industry associations say? Even The Washington Business Journal is asking the question about boycotting Trump properties, services and products with, to me, surprising results.

Where are the voices in our industry speaking out against hate? Even if it means using the “business case” as has been done to promote multiculturalism and diversity and inclusiveness.

 

Professional Involvement: What’s In It For You?

Originally published Meetings Today

I moved to D.C. in 1978 and in early 1979, discovered the newly formed chapter (Potomac) of Meeting Planners (now Professionals) International.

At my first meeting, while wall-hugging—such an Introvert, I was observing the scene!—(the late) Bill Myles introduced himself and immediately got me involved in a committee. From that initial involvement, I became active: serving on and chairing committees, then to the Chapter Board where I served as President twice, and then to serve our chapter as one of two representatives on the MPI International Board before being elected by petition to the re-tooled, smaller Board.

I had experiences, especially on what was then called the “Program Committee” planning education that, in my work to that point, I’d not done. I honed my leadership and speaking skills. And I made friends for life.

Since then, I’ve maintained memberships in, and served in many capacities for, MPI and its Foundation, PCMA, HSMAI, DMAI, GMIC, and ASAE. I’ve also been a contributor by writing for and presenting at the meetings of ESPA*, IACC and SGMP. I’ve paid personally for my memberships and involvement, never, in 37 years, calculating the outlay of time or money. It was the smart thing to do.

The reasons I joined and why I continue to be a member of a number of these organizations include wanting to:

  • Learn with and from peers through face to face, and now, social media, interaction.
  • Support the industry in which I work and the organizations that have honored me**.
  • Contribute to the industry and the growth of others.

There’s not been a year when I’ve not been involved; I’m not a good ‘check-book member’!

(If you’re attending ESPA, come to the session I’m moderating on Saturday. PCMA student? I’ll moderate a program for you the Sunday of PCMA).

From my memberships and, more from active engagement, I’ve gained experience and knowledge, friends, a support network, and clients, paid and pro-bono.

Today, opportunities for professional involvement abound:

  • Joining a CIC-affiliated membership organization like those noted above. Here, you can find a listing of and links to all the CIC member organizations (At those sites, you can explore history, membership qualifications, ethics standards and more).
  • Lurking or actively participating in what appear to be hundreds of industry social  media groups affiliated with the membership organizations and informal.
  • Joining one of the newer organizations like SPiN and AWE, neither of which is (yet?) a CIC member, and both of which are restricted to different categories of members. [Note: SPiN, in a bold and good move, has waived membership fees and charges to attend their educational offerings for 2016.]
  • Remaining “independent” and learn via opportunities like Meetings Today blogs and webinars, as well as reading in print and electronically.

Like a number of veteran—older? more years of experience?—colleagues, I’ve begun to question the financial commitment because of disappointment when industry associations, with winks and nods, work against their own codes or standards of ethics, when there are fewer opportunities for involvement; because of the dependence on supplier/vendor dollars; and when, as I’ve seen too often, long-time, active (and honored) members drop their membership and never receive any follow up.

In addition to many informal conversations, I asked three respected colleagues—all of whom I met because of our industry involvement at different stages of their careers—what they see as reasons to be members of industry associations and what they expect from that involvement and the associations themselves. Interviews with Sekeno Aldred, CMP, Charles Chan Massey, CMP, and Jean Riley, are part of this month’s Friday with Joan newsletter.

I want to know about you—planner, supplier, student or faculty: please respond to the poll and tell us more in the comments about why are you a member—or are not—of any of the CIC-member organizations. If you were a member—and I know many of you!—and are not now, what caused you to drop your membership? What would you advise for those new to the industry? Those at mid-career? To those “veteran industry” planners and suppliers (or as my friend, Charles Chan Massey refers to himself, “Supplanner”), about being part of an industry association?

Note that once you vote, you can view the poll results here.

*If you know an event service professional, also known as a CSM, encourage them to join ESPA. More, tell their GMs and corporate offices why we meeting planners want CSMs who are active and involved.

**Among the honors I’ve received are MPI International Planner of the Year; PCMA Teacher of the Year, PCMA Foundation honor for lifetime achievement as an educator; HSMAI Pacesetter Award and two from IACC (Mel Hosansky Award and Pyramid Award) all three for contributions to education. CIC inducted me into the CIC Hall of Leaders in 2004.

Funniest thing ever: When MPI honored me in 1990 or 1991, another industry professional came to me and said “Well, now you don’t have to volunteer any more since you’ve been honored.” Stunned, now as then, I said “I’ve never done it for the honors.”

4 Ways to Express Thanks and Thanks-giving

Originally published Meetings Today

This week, I offer a professional and personal blog written for a variety of reasons, one of which is the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday (or this); another is because this week my family buried my uncle, my father’s (of blessed memory) only sibling.

The time with family allowed me to learn more about where we came from, when and why pogroms and the Holocaust, cast us out of many lands bringing us to the United States.

Another reason is because the Thanksgiving holiday as celebrated is—or can be—an act of hospitality in a time when the world is inhospitable to so many in so many places. Stay with me please and allow me some personal reflections on hospitality, Thanksgiving and thanks-giving.

What are children today taught about the U.S. Thanksgiving? What is discussed at home and in school or in home schooling, about the meaning of giving thanks as well as the holiday? (In grade school, I remember drawing photos of turkeys using a hand to outline a turkey. Do they still do that? Now, with greater awareness, what do they do to help children who don’t have all their fingers or two hands or the use of their hands?).

I wonder too, more this year than others of recent memory, if the meaning of being refugees—and acceptance and rejection by those who are native to a land in which a refugee finds her or himself—is discussed. Do families and groups of friends, gathered around a table, discuss the situation of refugees from wars and violence and thank each other for the gift of family and friendship? Are strangers welcomed to the neighborhood? To the table?

Or is this just another holiday on which retailers get ready to sell-sell-sell after a day of eating and football for many? And do we give to the many who have no table at which to eat or no food on which to put on a table?

(A friend posted this on Facebook. With humor, it is a perfect discussion-starter at your table … with humor. Also recommended, for the creative humor of the beginning of the United States, “Stan Freberg  Presents the United States of America,” portions of which you can listen to here.)

To this industry, into which I was destined to work and yet into which I fell because of Karen Mulhauser, who hired me into my first professional job in DC, I am grateful.

To Meetings Today and Stamats Communications [whose views may not always be reflected in what I write and speak and still allow me to do so.] To an industry to which I’ve devoted more than 45 years of my life, and in which I’ve been afforded and accepted opportunities to lead, teach, grow and help others grow, I am thankful.

Yet, I puzzle, especially on this holiday of hospitality and thanks-giving, at how those in charge of this industry—the staffs and Boards of Directors of the CIC member organizations—withhold hospitality by their lack of action, despite statements of diversity and inclusion, on issues such as inclusive housing, jobs, and other accommodations for people who are older, immigrants, LGBTQ, and/or have different abilities.

[See here the coalition http://houstonunites.org/about/, including the Houston DMO, United Airlines and a few other hospitality companies but no industry associations, who supported Houston’s badly defeated-by-misinformation-generated-fear Prop 1. The “crickets” from MPI (“Embrace and foster an inclusive climate of respect…”), PCMA (see number IX), ASAE (delve a bit deeper here), and others who say they are proponents of inclusion make me wonder to whom are we hospitable if we do not speak out and act on hospitality and inclusion.]

As you finish reading you may wonder why I’m posting something that some will perceive as political. Because it’s not. It’s about human rights and welcoming and accommodating, being hospitable, something about which I was taught the holiday of Thanksgiving—and our industry—was about. It is about how each of us determines to represent ourselves, our work, and our industry to others in what we do.

So to help you give thanks and show hospitality, you can:

  1. Say thank you. To the server or bus person who brings or takes away plates; to the setup staff who works an overnight shift to ensure your morning meeting is ready to go; to the person who holds the door open for you; to the many people who do small acts to ensure your safety and security. We can’t all be like young Zachary Becerra but we can emulate him.
  2. Express acceptance. Don’t repeat hate or rumor or support those who do. Become aware of another’s history and accept them for who they are. Help promote them in the workplace, your neighborhood, all places of your life.
  3. Reflect on times you were excluded from any group or neighborhood or club. Once you reflect, remember how it felt and then vow to include others. Which leads to…
  4. Take (inclusive) action. Don’t just say you support “diversity and inclusiveness,” live it and ask others to join you in doing so.

To each of you, my thanks, for reading and learning and taking action.