November 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions HISTORY LESSONS November 1999 Current Issue
November 1999
Chris Carr Chris Carr of AAA enforces a powerful contract clause: Hotels must deliver postmeeting data within 30 days or a $1,000 fine.


Frustrated with shoddy post-convention reports, planners are learning how to get what they need

By Maria Lenhart Photograph by Michael I. Price

The last attendee has checked out and the last box has been shipped home, but for a growing number of planners, the meeting is far from over. The event does not end until an accurate and comprehensive post-convention report is firmly in hand.

Under increasing pressure from hotels and convention and visitor bureaus to prove the value of their meetings business, many organizations have come to realize that knowledge especially the kind contained in a post- convention report is power. A thorough meetings history, one that examines everything from room pickup to purchases made in the hotel gift shop, is an invaluable tool for negotiating with hotels and ensuring better rates and service the next time around.

No one believes this more fervently than Chris Carr, director of conference services for the American Automobile Association in Heathrow, Fla. Six years ago, Carr and his staff developed a customized post-convention report form that stipulates what kind of data AAA expects to receive from hotels after every meeting. Each of the estimated 350 hotel contracts AAA signs every year contains a clause that requires the hotel to provide the requested data. In some cases, the contract also stipulates that if the information is not provided within 30 days, there will be a $1,000 fine, which AAA will deduct from the hotel bill.

"Hotels have mixed emotions about our contract clause, and some don't like the $1,000 hit," says Carr, adding that AAA has collected the penalty several times in the past. "But it gives me a good indication of what to expect. If someone has a problem with the clause, that tells me I probably won't get the information I need."

It is not a chance Carr is willing to take. Like many planners, he has grown weary of one of the industry's most aggravating catch-22s: Hotels expect planners to provide post-convention reports from prior meetings, yet many of these same hotels do a poor job of providing the reports to planners. Says Carr, "We started insisting on post-convention reports for the simple reason that we were being asked for them during negotiations with hotels. However, getting the reports is a constant fight."

Also doing battle is Barbara Collins, meeting planner for the National Urban League in New York City. "Last year, when we met in Pennsylvania, the hotel refused outright to provide me with a report," she says. "I am looking for the same information that the hotels are asking me for." Collins also has begun to address the issue in a contract clause.

Some hoteliers admit planners' gripes are justified. "The potential value of the business becomes critical in a tight market," says Christie Hicks, vice president of national sales for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts in Chicago. "Unfortunately, we often ask customers for information that we're not giving them."

In some cases, the hotel does provide the data eventually. While many hotels promise to deliver reports within 30 days of the meeting, planners say it can take up to six months.

"Hyatt's policy is to supply reports within three to four weeks after the meeting," says Dean Petersen, Hyatt's assistant vice president of catering and convention services. The process sometimes is delayed, however, if information from subcontractors, such as audiovisual or transportation companies, is also to be included, he says.

Start early
"The time to let the hotel know what kind of information you want in the post- convention report is when the meeting is booked, even if it's several years out," says Mark Ledogar, director of commercial accounts for the convention and trade show division of Smith, Bucklin & Associates, a Chicago-based association management firm. "A few days or even weeks before the meeting, it may be too late for the hotel to set things in motion."

Although some organizations, like AAA, have designed their own post-convention report forms, in most instances the hotel supplies the form and directs its content. However, meeting planners can examine the hotel's form in advance and make modifications, points out Hyatt's Petersen. "Planners can request to have certain areas of the form enlarged and advise us about what kind of information should be tracked," he says. "If the planner knows anything in particular about the group and what services they will use at the hotel, we should know about it, too."

Pre-meeting input from planners is especially helpful when it comes to identifying how heavily the hotel outlets gift shop, health club, restaurants, room service and the like were used. "Tracking the use of hotel outlets can be very hard, especially if the guests pay in cash," says Mary Blanchard, director of event management development for Marriott Hotels, Resorts & Suites in Bethesda, Md. "However, if the planner alerts the hotel about any areas that may be used heavily, we can figure out a way to capture that information."


In an effort to standardize the compiling and sharing of meetings information, the Convention Liaison Council has developed a four-page post-convention report form that is used by many hotels, including all Marriott properties. The CLC forms cover areas such as room pickup, the pace at which rooms were booked, food and beverage functions, and the use of hotel services and outlets.

On an industrywide level, the CLC has organized a task force on post-convention reporting, headed by San Diego Convention and visitors bureau president Reint Reinders, as part of a larger program to standardize practices within the meetings industry. Among the goals of the task force is to encourage CVBs to adopt a standard procedure for gathering and sharing information on large meetings held in their cities. According to Reinders, about a dozen bureaus have agreed to adopt a standard form. The form, developed by the Philadelphia CVB, covers group impact on hotels, convention centers, off-site venues, local transportation and other areas. "This information should not be a mystery, but readily available," says Reinders.

Among the major hotel chains that have a companywide, standardized system of post-convention reporting in place are Hyatt Hotels & Resorts; Marriott Hotels, Resorts & Suites, and Hilton Hotels Corp. These hotels automatically provide post-convention reports for all groups using 100 rooms or more on peak nights; the service also is provided for smaller groups on request. While Westin and Sheraton also have standardized forms, parent company Starwood Hotels & Resorts is developing a new form to be used throughout its hotel brands.


Daily chores
In addition to advance preparation, it is critical to keep tabs on the information-gathering process during the meeting. When planning a large annual meeting, Ellen Pinter, programs director for the American Bar Association in Chicago, sets the post-convention reporting process in motion 10 months in advance by sending the hotel a copy of ABA's most recent post- convention report. "The idea is to provide them with an overall picture of how the group uses the hotel," she says. A month prior to the meeting, Pinter sends blank copies of ABA's customized post- convention report form to the hotel. The form includes sheets to be distributed to various areas of the hotel, such as the front desk, security and the business center. "The forms have sections for each department in the hotel to fill out on a daily basis," she says. "That way no one has to scramble for the information at the very end."

Pattie Leithead, managing director of Resource One the meetings management division of HelmsBriscoe, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based meetings and site-selection firm also believes in tracking information on a daily basis, but she does not leave the job up to the hotel. Instead, she enlists the help of her own on-site support staff to monitor the group's activity throughout the hotel, including room check-in, attendance at food and beverage functions, and use of the health club and other hotel services. Her staff confers with hotel outlet managers each day, noting attendance and usage figures in evaluation forms supplied by HelmsBriscoe. "We know what the room pickup is, how many people attended each banquet, each breakout session," says Leithead.

At the end of the day, Leithead and her staff enter the information from the evaluation forms into a computer database set up for the meeting. "The database contains a mixture of actual numbers and our own observations about the meeting," she says. "After the meeting, we sit down with the hotel staff and go over their numbers and ours to make sure that we match up."

Independent planner Teri Anticevich, vice president of L&A Meeting & Management Services in Elk Grove, Calif., also does a lot of on-site legwork to get an idea of the revenue her group is bringing in. She assumes that if her group is using a certain percentage of guest rooms at the hotel, then they account for about that same percentage of revenue throughout the hotel. "I can't say exactly how much we brought in, but I can still glean some information that indicates, yes, there were a lot of people in the restaurant or the shop when our group was at the hotel," she says.

Another tactic is to encourage attendees to charge whatever they can to their rooms, suggests Hyatt's Petersen. He admits, however, that this is an imperfect strategy. "Because people are going to pay cash in some instances, the most you can hope for is an estimate," he says.

Pick up the pace
Although the elements included in post-convention reports vary depending on the nature of the group, information on sleeping rooms usually the most expensive element nearly always tops the list. A thorough post-convention report will track not only the meeting's total room pickup but the pace at which the rooms were booked by attendees.

"It's very important to track the pick-up trend," says Marriott's Blanchard. "How many rooms were booked at 60 days out, 30 days out, at the cut-off date. How much short-term or long-term pickup there was, and the actual pickup vs. what was projected."

According to Blanchard, post- convention reports that track the pace of booking enable the hotel to know what to expect from the group and to better manage the room block. "If I'm the convention services manager and I'm looking at zero pickup at a certain date, it's useful to know that this group historically books at the last minute," she says. "Conversely, if the group has a history of booking early, then I know not to expect a lot of activity at the last minute."

The information can be equally useful for planners. "For us, it's very important to know how many sleeping rooms were utilized vs. the size of the room block and where the booking stood at various stages before the meeting," says April Martin, manager of meeting services for the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons in Park Ridge, Ill. "It gives us a good picture of what our room blocks should be at future meetings."

Blanchard adds, "If the planner wants a larger room block than last year, prior reports might show that attendance has been growing each year and that the request is justified. Conversely, the information could indicate attendance is slipping and the group doesn't need as large a block."


If you want to get an accurate, comprehensive post-convention report, be proactive and follow this advice.

Make it legal. Put a clause in the hotel contract that stipulates the hotel must provide a post-convention report or else the master bill will not be paid. Atlanta-based meetings industry attorney John Foster, partner in Foster, Jensen & Gulley LLC, also recommends a clause that gives the client the right to an audit of the hotel's room-pickup figures if the numbers seem low.

Dictate the content. Among the basics normally covered in post-convention reports are room pickup, hotel outlets, meeting rooms, and food and beverage functions. Data pertaining to any ancillary meetings held during your meeting should be included as well.

Start early. Set a post-convention report in motion at the time of booking. Let the hotel know what kind of information you would like emphasized in the report. If your organization has its own post-convention report form, supply copies to the hotel well in advance of the meeting. If not, ask to see a sample copy of the hotel's form and, if necessary, make adjustments.

Keep watch. Gather information daily during the meeting. To gauge the group's economic impact, visit various areas of the hotel, such as restaurants and shops, and ask managers if they have had a lot of business from people wearing badges from your meeting.



Keeping a database of post- convention reports from prior meetings is well worth the trouble, particularly for organizations that do a lot of meetings.

At Smith, Bucklin & Associates Inc., a Chicago-based association management firm that manages more than 600 large meetings and trade shows per year, specifics on each meeting are stored in a central database that is cross- referenced by year, group, location, time of year and other factors. "This way we can know at a glance how much business we've given to each hotel chain or what we've done in each city," says Michael Ledogar, director of commercial accounts for Smith, Bucklin's convention and trade show division. "It helps us capture our buying power."

How about an online database that serves the entire meetings industry with information on thousands of past meetings? That is the idea behind the Convention Industry Network, or CINET, a database developed by the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus in Washington, D.C., that contains the histories of more than 20,000 past meetings held primarily in the United States. Using information from post-convention reports supplied by CVBs, the database profiles meetings that used 50 or more hotel rooms on peak nights. Although CINET is designed to be used primarily by CVBs and suppliers that subscribe to the service, planners can obtain printed copies of their own meetings data by contacting IACVB ( or the CVB in the city where the meeting was held.


Everything counts
Beyond room pickup and other big-ticket items, such as meeting rooms and food and beverage functions, dozens of other areas can be addressed in post-convention reports. The nature of the meeting and profile of attendees will determine what to track to get the most accurate picture of a group's impact on the hotel.

Susan Holtzman, an independent planner who specializes in medical meetings, knows her attendees are likely to watch a lot of in-room movies, use the hotel's valet parking service, shop and entertain in the hotel restaurants. So she makes sure these areas are covered in each post-convention report. She also knows her meetings tend to spawn ancillary meetings, and she wants post-convention reports done for those as well.

"If [a drug company] decides at the last minute to have a sales meeting within my meeting using hotel meeting rooms, audiovisual, catering and so on, that is all part of the revenue I have brought to the hotel," says Holtzman, president of Complete Conference Management in Miami. When it comes time to negotiate, she says, "I can tell the hotel, 'Look, I'm bringing in 800 doctors, and your gross room revenue will be this, your restaurant expenditures will be this,'" she says. "I can say that my docs are going to watch movies, entertain and shop, so cut me a break."

AAA's Carr says such thorough reports do more than bolster negotiations; they can help improve service. Carr's reports include information about how much the group used the concierge desk, business center, room service, parking and restaurants. "When planning next year's meeting, I can tell the hotel that on the third day of the meeting, I will have X percentage of people calling room service between certain hours. I want to make sure room service will be adequately staffed to handle the requests."

Tracking usage also is a good indicator of the quality of hotel services, adds Holtzman. For instance, if valet parking is not heavily used, service in that area may not have been up to par. "If my docs have trouble with valet parking, that's a major issue," she says.

Data for all
So important is this kind of leverage that many organizations now require post-convention reports for every meeting, no matter how small. "We were doing reports only for our two large annual meetings, but we're starting to do them for all meetings," says Martin of the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons. "That way, we can get a picture of our overall business and demonstrate our value to the national sales reps of hotel chains. It helps us get better rates for all our meetings."

Additional reporting for this article was done by Cheryl-Anne Sturken

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