Tag Archives: Site Selection

Are There Stupid Meeting Questions? It Depends!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Wrong With Hotel Contracts?

Originally published Meetings Today


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

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

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

Why do I care so much about contracts?

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

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

Having learned from some great attorneys, I offer:

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

Reading Agility

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

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

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

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

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

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

My questions about this one simple sentence included:

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

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

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

Some of the questions to ask about No. 4:

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

Starting questions to ask about No. 5:

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

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

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

I recommend you:

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

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

10 Tips for Better Site Inspections

Originally published on Meetings Today blog

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

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

1. In Person or Virtual Site Inspection

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

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

2. Prioritize and Allow Adequate Time

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

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

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

3. Schedule or “Surprise” Site Inspection

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

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

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

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

Usually we don’t have that luxury.

4. People You Should Meet

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

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

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

5. What to See and With Whom

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

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

Representative Guest Rooms and Suites.

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

All Meeting and Public Space.

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

Furniture

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

Audio Visual (or AV)

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

Accessibility

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

Sustainability or “Greening”

6. Food and Beverage

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

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

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

7. Staffing and Service

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

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

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

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

8. Paying for the Site Inspection

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

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

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

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

9. VIP or ‘Regular’ Treatment

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

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

10. What if …

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

Most importantly:

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

RESOURCES:

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

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

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

10 areas of site selection to question and learn

Originally published Meetings Today

Each meeting, and the circumstances under which it is created, is different. There is no one-size-fits-all site selection checklist.

The checklist I use for clients, excluding demographic and day-by-day meeting details, is easily 15 pages long. The responses to the questions asked in the RFPs (requests for proposal) are used to develop site inspection checklists and to determine what will be included in the contract.

Site selection (of a hotel, convention center, conference center or other venue) and the information gleaned form the basis for our recommendations and contract contents.

1. Safety and security of people and property: No matter how great the meeting content is or how stunning the venue, if people and property are not safe, nothing else will matter. Start with these questions and expand to include guest room and other safety concerns related to the specifics of your particular group.

  • How many AEDs are on property and in what location?
  • How many staff members per shift are trained in CPR?
  • Are there landlines in guest and meeting rooms to notify security of emergencies? How quickly can they respond?
  • What are evacuation procedures from each area of the hotel?
  • When was the hotel last fully inspected for building safety? What were the results? What new efforts has the hotel put in place?

2. Owners, brand and management company: It is possible your organization or company cannot meet in a hotel with non-U.S. owners, or in one with owners who are competitors of your company. It is the one area I consistently see unchecked by planners. Even if there isn’t a dispute that results in legal action, the name of the owner, the management company and the brand (flag) are critical to learn. (Follow the news so you know who may merge with whom, as this can greatly affect hotel procedure.)

  • Who owns the hotel and where are the owners incorporated?
  • What is the management company name?
  • Under what flag (brand) does the hotel fly?
  • What is known about an anticipated change of ownership, management company or brand?

3. Competition for space and attention: Other groups or events in the hotel, or the city, can interfere with your group’s ability to operate smoothly, to secure additional space or the availability of off-site venues or services—think a city-wide event while your 100-person meeting seeks ground transportation—or to have the full attention of the CSM. It’s easier to adjust your planning needs if you calculate this information ahead of time before selecting the site.

  • What groups are already contracted over the dates desired or proposed for your meeting in the venue and destination?
  • What other events are going on in the city or the venue immediately before, during or immediately after your dates?
  • When will a convention services manager (CSM) be assigned? How many other groups will that person manage at the same time?

4. Staff and staffing: Long ago, we could be sure that those who worked in a hotel (or other venue) were employees of that entity. No more. Many positions are outsourced and the reporting structure, though you will be told it’s seamless (and it may be), may not be appropriate for your group.

Understanding that the hotel hires people reflective of your group’s participants will help you meet potential diversity guidelines of the meeting sponsor.

  • Are all staff employed by the owner, brand or management company, or are some services outsourced, and if so, which ones?
  • For how long have line and management staff worked in this property?
  • What percentage of the staff—and in what roles—are members of minority groups? Does the company provide fair wages?
  • How are staff (“internal guests”) treated?

5. Meeting space and meeting sets: We select sites based on what we know will work for our meetings. After providing our program and design needs, we expect the venue, in return, to explain to us how they will meet those needs and what, if any, charges there will be for doing so.

Moreover, we want a hotel that knows how to be as creative and smart in the use of space as we are!

  • What meeting rooms will be confirmed in the contract for our use?
  • If any, what are the charges for furniture use and/or regular and unconventional set ups of rooms and other spaces?
  • If additional furniture is needed, is it secured by the hotel at no charge to the group?
  • Do you use Dr. Paul Radde’s book Seating Matters to maximize room sets and content delivery?

6. Labor: Everyone has an opinion about union labor. Even if workers are not organized for collective bargaining, they will work under agreements. To plan based on possible contingencies, know history and deadlines up front.

  • Which staff are organized for collective bargaining? When are their contract renewal deadlines?
  • What is the history of labor (organized or other) contract negotiations? Are any contracts up for renewal or adjustment?
  • In the destination, what workers have contract deadlines within six months on either side of your meeting dates?

7. Policies: The word “policy” is often mentioned in contracts without the policies themselves included. Planning and execution can be severely disrupted if a group violates, because they didn’t ask up front about, policies. Ask now or suffer the consequences!

  • Ask the hotel to provide, during the selection process, a full list of all policies that impact meeting operations and charges.
  • Request policies for use of outside vendors, BEO language, food donations, charges for meeting rooms and public space, use of electricity and contract language.

8. Food and beverage: See above and remember: BEOs (banquet event orders) are a separate contract, the language of which is not often in the body of the meeting contract.

  • How far out will food and beverage prices be guaranteed?
  • What additional charges—and at what percentage—are added to menu or negotiated prices: tax and service charge (“++”) or tax, service charge and administrative fees (“+++”)?
  • If there is a food and beverage minimum, what can be included or what is excluded from what is considered in the minimum?
  • How are banquet and kitchen staff trained in cross-contamination and other safety procedures?

9. Stoppage of meeting and dispute resolution: We hope nothing will interfere with a meeting going forward. It can, and disputes that we can’t resolve by conversations among the parties happen. Factor in the conditions during the selection process.

  • Under what conditions and could the meeting not be held?
  • What is the hotel’s force majeure and/or “impossibility” language?
  • Does the hotel automatically include a dual cancellation clause, and what is the language used? If it does not, under what conditions might the hotel cancel the meeting and what will they do for the group?
  • What is the hotel’s preferred method of dispute resolution?

10. Renovation: You want a hotel that looks and is as nice for your meeting as it was during the selection process. New owners, new brand or new management company; fire or flood; simple wear-and-tear: anything can happen between selection and execution.

  • What is the hotel’s history of renovation of hard and soft goods?
  • Are there any anticipated or planned renovations? What is the extent and timing of those renovations?
  • In what way will the group be notified of any renovations and what examples can be provided of conditions of those renovations?

11. Lagniappe: A little something more, as they say in New Orleans.

  • What have I not asked you that you think I should know so I have all the information I need to make or help guide the making of a fully informed site selection decision?

Soft Terrorism Targets and Events: How Do You Prepare?

Originally posted on Meetings Today Blog

Washington D.C. Capitol District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

6 Dots to Connect to the Industry’s Future

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

That was the title, minus the number, of a session I delivered for an industry meeting in January.

I agonized about what to include up to, during and after the session. What I wanted to say at the start was, “The industry’s future is bleak except for some hotel company owners, and maybe a few others. For the meetings and sales and marketing professions, for the service segment of the hospitality industry, we have exceptional challenges.”

I believe that statement because I see jobs lost to automation, interest in big issues like safety and security wax and wane depending on the events of the day, and a general sense that we are still an industry focused on logistics not content, delivery of content, and people.

So why didn’t I? <shrug> Because. I simply didn’t. It had been suggested that people want upbeat thoughts and easy-to-use information and avoiding politics would be best.

So now, here, I add to the “dots” and hope we all can take this information and move forward to energizing an industry that is stuck in so many ways, that believes that “hosted buyer” programs solve the buyer-seller relationship issues, that cool apps will ensure we connect with others—even though our eyes are looking down most of the time at apps, missing the world and people and ideas and inspiration around us, and that hotels will listen to all customers not just Millennials.

(Who, it turns out, want desks in rooms after all!)

1. Demographics

People are on the move. The population of almost every country is blended because of the ease of travel and the desire for new experiences or a hoped-for better life. The crises in Syria and so many other countries have forced people out of their homes.

The United States is much more a “melting pot” or “tossed salad’ or “stew” than ever before.

There are five generations alive, and in some cases, working and attending meetings; they are certainly traveling and staying in hotels. In the workplace, Boomers, many of whom are at “retirement age” want to continue working because there are more contributions to be made and in some cases, they can’t afford to retire. But they are being forced out of jobs or not hired for new ones because they are thought to be “too old” or too expensive and Millennials, hungry for work, are willing to take jobs at lesser pay.

Boomers and Xers are being managed by Millennials and are not always pleased.

We talk a good game of “diversity and inclusiveness” and yet, exclude many from jobs. People with disabilities are frustrated with the lack of accommodation and inclusiveness in travel and at meetings. The meetings and hospitality industry could (and should) be on the front line of adapting to demographic changes.

What we can do:

  • Get back to meeting (and marketing) basics: “know your audience” or your potential audience or customer.
  • Once known, determine what can be done to attract and include the diverse audience you have or want. Do speakers reflect a diversity or are they all alike in appearance, opinion, experience?

    Will the images and colors used to market your venue, service or meeting be those that will not offend? Are there dates over which holding a meeting or marketing your facility, because it’s wide-open, will be inappropriate? (Think religious, national or local holidays or festivals).

    Will what a guest at a hotel or participant at a meeting see or experience be reflective of a broader population?

  • Be inclusive in language and attitude. The term “politically correct” has been thrown about frequently during this U.S. presidential election season. C’mon—being caring and empathetic, including others in our language, is a smart way to market and work.

    I mean, referring to Boomers as “little old people” seems so yesterday! (One of my favorite columnists wrote this about the difference in politically correct and inclusive language).

  • Design meetings differently. My colleagues, Jeff Hurt and Jeffrey Cufaude, both write frequently about how to do so. Follow them, read and incorporate what they suggest.
  • Hire and retain a diverse workforce ensuring they reflect a diverse population. Know that those who are of different generations, ethnic and other backgrounds, gender identity—and all that makes us unique—have good ideas to add to the conversation.

2. Climate

Regardless of your belief in what scientists are saying, the climate has changed and has impacted travel, tourism and health. 2015 was the warmest year on record. El Nino has caused flooding rains, massive snow fall, tornadoes “out of season” and other weather events.

The Zika virus that is spreading and considered by the World Health Organization an emergency—and is now believed to spread through sexual contact—may also be a result of climate.

What we can do:

  • Consider climate’s impact on your meetings and travel to and from them. You can’t avoid weather and you shouldn’t avoid all places where climate could have, or has had, an impact! You can plan for contingencies.
  • Advise meeting participants on what they need to do to plan for weather contingencies. Not everyone is a frequent traveler and knows to pack an extra jacket or sweater (also useful for over-chilled rooms) or umbrella, or of their rights or what to do if flights or trains are canceled at the last minute because of a “climate event.”
  • Understand the impact of climate on the cost of food and beverage and other aspects of your meeting operations. Plan accordingly. When you budget, don’t use last year’s plus or minus 10 or other percentage. Consider where you are going and what you are serving and what the impact of climate may be on those costs.
  • Read the CIC’s APEX report on sustainable events and change how meetings and meeting venues operate to stop waste of energy, food, people and resources.
  • Read all that Nancy Zavada, friend, colleague, and “Queen of Sustainability,” writes for Meetings Today (Here’s her latest on what the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly did).

3. Infrastructure

The United States is falling down and apart. Literally.

While the crumbling infrastructure has political and tax implications, and you can try to influence the votes of your senators and representatives, the concern for meetings is great. Roads and bridges that are inaccessible can impact how people arrive, depart and traverse the destination you select.

The toxic water situation in Flint, Mich., is also part of the aging infrastructure made worse by the source of their water. Don’t count on other U.S. cities avoiding similar issues or even having access to water. When a water main breaks—which they are with frequency in the U.S.—we’re out of luck.

The American Society of Civil Engineers issues a report card every four years on US infrastructure. You may not have read it. You should.

What we can do:

  • Ask tough questions of DMOs and do your own research about cities you are considering for your meetings. If you work for a DMO or a hotel, be honest with groups who want to book. Show creative ways your destination is managing the infrastructure challenges.
  • Create alerts for the cities (I use www.bizjournals.com and am city specific) and even for “infrastructure” or a specific city’s infrastructure so you are steps ahead in information.
  • Connect this dot to “climate” and see how destinations’ infrastructure is impacted by budgets used to combat a weather emergency.
  • Create emergency and crisis plans for all contingencies.
  • Find out what back-up (generators, bottled water, transportation, communications, safety, etc.) plans the venues you are considering have for any emergencies.
  • Take nothing for granted.

4. Biz Models

The sharing economy, co-working spaces and hotels, job sharing, contract or temporary workers—there is nothing the same as it was when some of us started in the industry even if you started just a few years ago! We will continue to experience changes in how work is performed, by whom and where. Technology of course has contributed to these changes.

Look at the impact of infrastructure and transportation and climate on just this one “dot” and you’ll see how the future of how we do business has changed. Why fight traffic when you can work at home or from anywhere because you are connected? (Of course this assumes good and free connectivity which can be impacted by infrastructure!).

The opportunities new business models open for different demographics—people with disabilities, parents, people who want or must work multiple jobs—is great. And it also means a change in how people are paid which could have a negative effect on the economy as it will on individuals.

It’s just not going to be the same any more. And those who work in a sharing economy may not have the financial or time resources to attend meetings. Another dot connected.

What we can do:

  • Decide how you’ll work within the changing structures.
  • If you are a “temp worker” or hire temporary workers, know the rights and responsibilities.
  • If you hire or outsource to individuals or companies that use new models, determine what liability you or they may have for any errors and omissions.
  • Read this article and understand this still new peer-to-peer economy.

5. Laws, Policies and Politics

Whether it’s taxes or civil rights or marijuana legalization, politics, policies and laws impact all we do including the meetings we present.

What the 2016 presidential candidates have to say about our industry and policies that may be enacted with new municipal, state or Federal lawmakers are likely to have great impact on the meetings, travel and tourism—the collective hospitality—industry.

What we can do:

  • Be informed about the laws of the destinations to which you plan to take meetings.
  • Know your company’s or organization’s bylaws and mission and if there are any hot-button issues that could cause a meeting to cancel if a law or policy were enacted, or, like a corporate planner friend, where your off-site events could and couldn’t be: hers can’t be near strip joints or marijuana dispensaries for appearances.
  • Be informed about impending laws.
  • Register to vote and then vote.
  • Participate in actions to be held on April 14, 2016, for Global Meeting Industry Day. If you’re involved in planning these events, request that it be more than a celebration and rather a day of action about issues that matter to and impact our industry. Engage others in conversations about these issues.

6. Technology

Technology is usually considered the greatest thing to happen to our industry ever! While I think it has an impact, it’s one that can have both positive and negative impact.

It does impact outsourcing of jobs (see “Biz Models”); automation of front desk procedures that may eliminate jobs; automation of site selection and meeting planning processes, again a potential job eliminator; virtual and hybrid meetings some of which may cause people to not attend face to face. Technology can help us do our jobs more efficiently, connect with others to learn, create communities before, during and after meetings.

Technology also keeps our noses in devices when we could be interacting with others when we are f2f at meetings! And technology is (one of) the greatest threats to privacy and security. We can’t live without it and sometimes we fear living with it.

What we can do:

  • Determine how to effectively use technology to enhance the meeting and show experiences. Don’t use it as a crutch!
  • Consider technology just one more tool in your creative kits.
  • Have contingency plans for data breaches, and outages. If it hasn’t happened to you, it will!

6. Terrorism

This is the one, at the January program, I called “The Elephant in the Room”—something we all think about and rarely address directly until there is an attack somewhere. When, recently the CEO of a major international hotel company, said that the acts of terrorism in Paris, Egypt and elsewhere hadn’t really impacted tourism and hospitality, I wondered in what universe he lived!

Statistics do show that people, though they didn’t stop traveling entirely, did think more about where they’d travel. After the Paris attacks, school groups said that they would not come in—even from the distant suburbs—to the District of Columbia, the U.S. Capital, for their usual school trips, so uncomfortable were they with the possibility of terrorism.

What we can do:

  • Don’t assume that your meeting, regardless of where it is held, is safe.
  • Be aware and know what you will do if there is an act of domestic or international terrorism.
  • Create a plan to protect people and property, to shelter in place, to move people to different locations.

Are there other dots and connections of which we should be aware? Yes. Do I think the meetings industry will continue? Yes. Do I think that we need to be more aware and do more to connect dots to other dots to move the industry ahead? A resounding YES!

And we can if we make a concerted effort to connect these and other dots … together.

6 1/2 Practical Steps to Emergency Preparedness … Right Now!

Originally published Meetings Today 

Right, there are many more steps that should have begun at the destination and site selection phase and while you planned your program. But we’re about to have a blizzard in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern regions of the United States and I’m guessing that some of you are both personally not prepared and, in my opinion, worse, have meetings that are going on now or scheduled over the weekend or early the week of January 25 and aren’t prepared.

Your local media have told you some of the logical things—stock up on batteries, keep flashlights at the ready, have plenty of bottled water and blankets; if you live where you’re responsible for shoveling or putting out de-icer, be ready to do so. If you aren’t listening or reading local media or social media, here’s a great U.S. government resource where you will find more information.

For your meetings going on now or early next week (or the next time a weather or other emergency happens):

  1. People First: Whatever you do, consider people and their safety first. Nothing is more important! How you will shelter in place or how you will help people depart—or not arrive if your meeting is upcoming—is the most important part of what you will do. Because you follow my blogs and those of others like Tyra Hilliard, you made an emergency/contingency plan long ago … right? … and know this. In case you didn’t, you will put into place the following aspects and people will be foremost in your thinking and actions.
  2. The Show Will or Will Not Go On: Discuss the alternatives with management or clients, with your venue(s) and vendors. Remind them “People First” as you plan. Decide now—and I mean right now—if you will attempt to get people out of harm’s way now or postpone the arrivals for next week or plan for people to not arrive at all and what the contingencies are for each potential action (See item No. 4).
  3. Communicate!: As soon as you’ve determined No. 2, communicate in all ways possible (in person at face-to-face meetings today, via email, phone, text, via app if you have one for the meeting) your recommendations for those who are at a meeting or those planning to travel today, tomorrow, or in the days following the emergency, in this case, the blizzard.

    If your office/agency didn’t make individual’s travel arrangements, communicate via email and text and app (multiple ways not just one assuming people will see it) how and what people should do regarding leaving including contact information (airline, rail and bus company phones and URLs), best methods to get to their mode of transportation. If people drove to the meeting, provide information about road conditions and do not send people on their way if there is a better than 30% chance they will be in harm’s way.

    Recommended: follow tweets for local police, municipalities, and travel providers. I like Joe Brancatelli (@joesentme) because he has lots of good information about airlines and trains.

  4. It’s Not Force Majeure If It Hasn’t Happened: Postponing a meeting today for next week is pre-mature if you hope to invoke force majeure. Nothing much has happened. In D.C., where I live and work, we had the “rehearsal snow” last night that caused icy roads, road and school closures or delays. (I’ve not checked to see if there were flight delays and cancellations last night or this morning).

    If you have a meeting for which people plan to travel beginning Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday—or even Tuesday—you should talk with the hotel and other venues and vendors immediately to determine what considerations there are for all parties. After a blizzard, nothing will operate immediately. Making plans for postponement or holding a meeting with fewer people (including speakers who may be unable to arrive) is a plan to put in place.

  5. Work On Shelter-in-Place Plans: It’s possible that people will have to stay longer at the hotel in which your meeting currently is being held and locals may also want to stay there, taxing the facility and staff and their supplies. Determine what rates will apply to those who need to stay longer. Those “three days before and three days after” clauses may not help because their conditions may not apply in an emergency or they weren’t specific enough (This, we’ll discuss later in a webinar on contracting for accommodations!).

    Find out what supplies the hotel has ordered in today, before the blizzard, and how they plan to accommodate staff who volunteer to stay in the hotel to serve guests or what their plans are if staff cannot arrive. Reconfirm (because you asked at site selection, right?!) what their back-ups are for power and water. Find out what emergency plans the city has. News stations here reported that in Omaha, Neb., the other day, police stopped responding to emergency calls unless people were injured, so bad were the conditions (It is expected in the D.C. area that we will have winds up to 50 mph and severe conditions and though the sun is shining as I write this, I’m a believer in what the forecast says).

    If you’re in a hotel that doesn’t allow AEDs, and if you think that emergency responders may not be able to get there, see if you can—if you don’t already travel with one—find an AED to purchase at a local store to have on hand just in case. It’s the one item that may really save a life in an emergency.

    Oh and don’t think that serving alcohol freely to those who are sheltered is a good idea! During one emergency (a tornado) a facility at which I did training did just that in the one building where they had an operating generator. Drunk people in emergencies are potentially more dangerous to themselves and others. You too need a clear head!

  6. Don’t Leave Without Ensuring Every Detail is Covered: One of my best learning experiences was when a colleague left without telling me and I had to handle arrangements for a class on 9/11. YOU have a responsibility to the people and meetings you plan. Don’t leave without ensuring all things are in place to protect people and property, or put in place plans for what may happen for next week’s meetings.

    I know you’re worried about yourself, family, friends. You want to get home or to the grocery store to get supplies. But if you are on-site today reading this or you’re getting ready for a meeting for next week, put all plans in place for the people who count on you.

6.5 And when this blizzard is over, you’ll revisit your contingency planning and start again to fill in the blanks for what wasn’t done and what you can do better, beginning with site and destination selection. Be safe. Be careful.

Check in here via the comments or on Twitter @meetingstoday to let us know what you do, did, and how you are. Ask your participants to do the same when they are safely home.

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!

Defining the Meeting Professional (Who We Are, Where We Came From)

Originally posted on Meeting Focus blog

What was your reaction the first time you said you were a “meeting professional” and the response was “Oh, you’re a party planner?” Not that there’s anything wrong with being a party planner; social events are often a component of what we do. It is however a fraction of the whole of who we are and what we do. And as many of us have said in interviews and to each other, even our families and friends don’t fully understand what we do!

Does meeting planner or event planner, conference coordinator or meeting architect, or meeting or exhibit manager or designer sound better? More, is it understood?

Even in our own (Meetings? Convention? Hospitality?) industry there is no agreement on the term(s) to use to refer to what we are or do.

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” ~~ Michael Crichton (thanks to Goodreads quotes for this).

From what tree do we come? In this and future blogs, we’ll explore more about our “tree” to help us consider the steps we can take and education we need to become more professional and to gain the recognition for the complexity of what we do—that I hope will take us beyond negative media coverage and congressional hearings.

I remember when former U.S. Representative to the United Nations and former Atlanta Mayor, Andrew Young, spoke at a Meeting Professionals International (MPI) meeting in Atlanta years ago. He said a meeting professional had to have been around to plan the Last Supper! There’s no documentation, but of course he had to have been right.

To prepare to write this blog I relied on history of the Convention Industry Council (CIC), our industry’s umbrella organization. Thanks to Karen Kotowski, CAE, CMP, CIC’s Chief Executive Officer who sent two documents showing some of the history.

I talked and emailed with industry veterans and MPI founders, Howard Feiertag and Rod Abraham (link to interview), and with another MPI Founder and MPI’s second executive director, Doug Heath; industry attorney Jonathan Howe, Esq.; and DeWayne Woodring, long time Executive Director of the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA).

In the first of what Karen sent—written in 1953 and the second, an updated version in 1956—both titled “Group Business Unlimited! … from 20 rooms to 2,000” it is written:

After many years of exploratory study and informed meetings between those concerned with group business problems, the Convention Liaison Committee was formally organized in 1948, as a coordinating group made up of three or more representatives of each of the following organizations:

With the general goal of coordinating the best interests of the organizations represented, the Committee has set for itself the following objectives:

  1. To bring about a sympathetic understanding and acceptance among these organizations of the responsibilities of each to the other.
  2. To create a sound and consistent basis for handling convention procedures and practices through a program of study and education.¹
  3. To conduct educational and other activities of mutual interest to the participate organizations.”²

This appears to be the first “Manual” preceding the one titled “Convention Liaison Manual” first published in 1961. I have a copy of the third and fourth editions of the latter manual.

From the initial “Group Business” Manual to the 1961 manual, the industry realized that in addition to those who supplied the industry there were customers. In “Group Business,” the skills needed focused on sales and marketing skills and building relationships among the venues and CVBs.

In the edition of the CLC Manual I have, the skills began to incorporate more about areas (site selection, housing, air transportation, function room setups, and all of four pages on contracts (Compare that to the APEX Contracts Panel report!) of expertise needed for those planning meetings and conventions.

In “Group Business,” “he” and “him” predominate; in the early CLC Manuals, it was “he/she.” In the former, illustrations are only of men; in the 1956 version, a few illustrations include women, and the cover of the early Manual shows what may be one woman in the lower right hand corner.

In conversations with many of those who served as early or earlier than I—I served on the CLC Board of Directors in the early ’90s, thanks to Doug Heath, who, after my noodging about so few women representing an industry that even then, on the meetings side, appeared to have a majority of women, appointed me to be one of MPI’s 3 representatives—was told that in the early days, the meetings were really more about entertaining the industry associations’ delegates and providing gifts to them. Though there was some of that in the first years of service, we did delve into bigger issues with speakers about music licensing and the ADA.

It’s a brief start to the history, to which I will further detail in coming blogs. More, in addition to what Howard Feiertag and Rod Abraham have to say about their histories and skills needed then and now, we’ll look at skills needed today and into the future for those who call themselves “meeting professionals.”

Add to the history in the comments. Ask questions about where we came from and spread the word of the history of our industry (At the recent CMP Conclave, I asked in what year CIC was founded and the answers didn’t go back far enough!).

¹ The CMP—first known as the Certified Meeting Planner—designation was not instituted until 1985. This Committee had, other than ATAE and, in 1956, the addition of the National Association of Exhibit Managers (the forerunner to IAEE), no organizations representing customers so it made sense that the focus was on hotel operations.

² In 1956, a fourth objective was added: “To acquaint the public with the fact that conventions are essential to industry and to the economy of the community and the nation.”