by Sarah J.F. Braley | January 01, 2017

With a new presidential administration, heightened concern about security, global health scares and other factors, meeting contracts are becoming increasingly complex as planners attempt to mitigate worries in their agreements. In view of this challenging time for the U.S., and a world in flux, M&C asked several industry attorneys for their insights and opinions on issues affecting the meetings industry.

For a "reader roundtable" of concerns, visit our Research column at mcmag.com/research.

> How will the Trump Administration affect the meetings industry?

 TYRA HILLIARD: Any new administration has an effect on business, and the meetings industry is like any business in that sense. Where I think Donald Trump's administration will have a more significant impact than prior administrations is in the radical conservatism that Trump espouses and the Republican-majority Congress that might amplify this. In addition to the alleged Muslim registry that Trump keeps talking about, I am concerned that we will see more discriminatory laws like HB2 in North Carolina or the so-called "religious freedom" act that passed in Indiana and nearly passed in Georgia. These laws might find more traction than they have to date, given the overall conservative bent in the federal administration. 

I also worry about what Trump, with his lack of foreign-policy experience, might get the U.S. involved in, and whether international meetings could be affected by other countries' inability or unwillingness to do business with the U.S. under the current administration. I worry about the value of the U.S. dollar. I worry that a great number of U.S. citizens and residents are going to feel disenfranchised and the effects that might have on the meetings industry.

 LISA SOMMER DEVLIN: The obvious possibility is that if his administration and policies impact the economy, that will ripple into the meetings industry. Beyond that, it is impossible to say until there is more clarity on exactly what he will try to do, and whether he can get the support of Congress to do any of it.



 NATHAN BREEN: I expect that the uncertainty about how the administration will handle such a wide variety of issues will be a positive development for the meetings industry. Each industry is uniquely grappling with the future impact of the Trump administration. In light of this, there's much to discuss, and meetings can serve as a means of sorting out these developments across all industries.

 JOSHUA GRIMES: Because Trump is in the hotel industry, one would expect that he would be sensitive to laws and trends affecting hospitality and avoid decisions that would hurt that industry. Given his statements to date, I would expect a tightening of visa requirements and stricter scrutiny of persons traveling to the U.S. from abroad, positions that could hurt attendance at meetings here. There could also be reduced travel by Americans to certain countries that have been targeted by the president-elect as hurting American interests, thereby helping the domestic meetings industry as well as meetings in countries that are close U.S. allies. 

In addition, the new administration's policies of restricting immigration could cut down on the number of non-Americans working in hotels, restaurants and on farms, thereby increasing some costs for products and services integral to meetings.

> Are you seeing risk management and security addressed in contracts? 

 STEVE ADELMAN: As a result of actual attacks and greater coverage of security issues generally, both real and perceived, security is a more prominent concern than ever in the U.S. But I am not seeing a change in contracts so much as a greater focus during negotiations on issues such as whether people can bring weapons into a meeting, sign-age regarding concealed and open carry, number and placement of security guards, and when and how exterior doors are secured in large venues. 

HILLIARD: I don't think most meeting planners are addressing this issue enough in their contracts. The changes I have seen are broader force majeure clauses, which allow a planner to terminate the contract without liability in 
the event of not just an occurrence of terrorism where the hotel is located or where the meeting planner's office is, but also if there is an "atmosphere of violence" such as bombings, active-shooter scenarios and/or snipers in the city where the meeting is to be held. It bears repeating that what we are often battling is fear caused by something that has already happened. Fear is not a force majeure issue, so it's something that has to be put into the contract -- as it has been with the Zika virus -- to be a valid reason for terminating the contract without liability.

What I would like to see in contracts are more proactive questions regarding safety and security. Some years ago, I had a client who would send a security questionnaire to a hotel along with her RFP. She would not consider a proposal until the director of security had completed the questionnaire and signed it. It asked things like: How many security personnel are on each shift? What kind of training do security personnel have in regard to CPR, first aid, automated external def ibrillators, etc.? Are there AEDs on-site at the hotel? If so, where are they located and who is allowed to use them? Does the hotel have a shelter-in-place plan? What is the procedure for evacuating persons with disabilities? And so on.
Questions could be added to address any number of current-day issues -- 
active-shooter protocol, procedures for suspicious packages found on property and contact information for the local emergency-management agency.

DEVLIN: I don't see a lot of changes in contracts on these particular issues. Hotels are being more vigilant in requiring groups whose meetings might create security risks to provide additional security. Otherwise, the obligations of the hotel to protect guests are pretty well established under the law, and hotels take it very seriously. 

Groups also have potential liability for their activities within the hotel that cause injury or damage. There has been a trend for a few years for groups to request "mutual indemnification," which I feel is not helpful to either side. Almost all lawsuits settle without a trial or determination of which party is at fault, so there is no determination of which party has to indemnify.

BREEN: It seems like each side is digging their heels in on risk-management issues. I'm seeing pushback on some clauses like mutual indemnification, which used to be taken for granted. Insurance requirements are expanding, and minimum amounts are increasing. Entities with substantial negotiation leverage are attempting to extract substantial risk-management concessions.

GRIMES: There is an increasing focus on shifting responsibility for risks from one party to another, sometimes irrespective of which party has the most control over a situation that could cause injury or damage to occur. For example, even though hotels might have ultimate control over what happens within their properties, they try to shift responsibility for anything that happens onto the group. 
Also, we are increasingly seeing attempts to cap liability to some low amount. It is incumbent on planners and suppliers to discuss risk management and security during the contracting phase, and to make sure that all risks are assumed by the party best able to handle a situation. It is also essential to make certain that all risks will be covered by adequate insurance. And if attendees are asked to sign waivers, it should be done properly so the waivers will be effective.​