May 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planners vs. Hoteliers - May 1998 Current Issue
May 1998
Planners vs. Hoteliers

Here's what your "partner" is saying behind your back


Another profitable piece of group business snagged; another great meeting pulled off. On the surface, all may seem rosy and warm in the hotelier/meeting planner relationship. But when these "partners" are out of earshot of one another, the gloves go on and the accusations start flying. Both sides charge their counterparts with poor business practices, shoddy work habits and unprofessional behavior.

While hoteliers lob accusations of last-minute specs, disorganization and sloppy planning, meeting planners counter with charges of disrespectful sales staffs, unreturned phone calls and even foul play. Is the sparring justifiable? You decide...


They Need It Yesterday
"These days with fax and e-mail, everyone waits until the last minute, and then we have to move heaven and earth to get them what they want," complains Michael Harrison, director of catering and conference operations for the Four Seasons Resort & Club in Dallas. "Like when someone wants a special kind of Nova Scotia salmon and they tell us the day before. We have to fly it in from somewhere and we can't always pass along the cost, so it affects our bottom line," he adds.

"I was once dealing with a client who wanted to sell New York City's big pretzels as part of a program - but hadn't ordered them," recalls Lisa Marie Candido, CMP, assistant director of meetings and conventions for The Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. "I had to run down the street early on a Sunday morning, find a pretzel vendor, buy 50 of them and run back to the hotel!"

A Little Respect (Very Little)
"Absolutely nothing peeves me more than when we're at a trade show and meeting planners come up to our booth and they don't have business cards, or they say they just ran out. Right then and there they've disqualified themselves to me," says Kevin Rosa, national sales manager with The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. "I get the feeling they don't give us the respect they would give their peers." Rosa adds, "Let's face it, we created them. We give them gifts, wine and dine them and hospitalitize them, if that's a word. We service them with the hope they'll remember us and bring us a piece of business down the road. All we're asking is that they remember our name when a destination comes up."

About That Letter I Sent...
Nancy Feely, conference services coordinator for Copper Mountain Resort in Copper Mountain, Colo., is frustrated when planners fail to read event orders sent out by the hotel - or they don't really understand what they mean. "It's not that the information from the property is the word of God," she says, but it is what the hotel staff will be following.

Call It Optimism
"My biggest gripe is meeting planners who block a lot more space than they actually need because they don't understand their group's needs, and we're left holding the empty bag," complains Miami-based Susan Ashmore, director of sales for Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada, Fla. "Even when you have an attrition clause in the contract, it's hard to get people to pay. And then they get mad if you hold them to it."

The Old Book-and-Run
"What really bothers me are the ones who block space and never call back, and then we have to track them down," says Charleston, S.C.-based director of incentive sales for Orient-Express Hotels. "They call up, shopping around, and say, 'I'm looking for this and this, here and there,' you block it for them, and then you don't get the courtesy of a call back."


Why Do I Get the New Guy?
"They always put the youngest, least-experienced person to work on government groups - the automatic assumption being you can't make money off of government business," complains Claire Donovan Rusk, CMP, public affairs officer with the Farm Credit Association in McLean, Va.

"I book more than 2,000 room nights a year, and I have a big food-and-beverage budget. When you shunt me to inexperienced salespeople, it's obvious."

Just Do It
"The convention service person needs to be empowered. When I say jump, I want them to say, 'how high,' not, 'I need to check with my manager,'" argues Santa Clara, Calif.-based Cynthia Dugan, CMP, corporate meeting coordinator for 3COM, a computer technology manufacturer.

Another pet peeve: "They [the convention services staff] don't think out of the box, and you, the meeting planner, have to think for them. That makes me mad."

The Invisible Client
"When you're an independent planner, you are the hotel's client. You brought them the business. They didn't come to you," says Maureen Moroney, CMP, president of BA Associates, Inc., a meeting planning firm in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

"Recently, a convention services manager spent two hours discussing with my client, in front of me, all the details of the contract that "I had put together - telling her what she considered wrong and suggesting alternatives!" And angering an independent may have far-reaching consequences, insists Moroney: "I can bring them 50 pieces of business a year. I'm a multiple buyer."

She adds, "Once the contract is signed, some hoteliers even go around us and call the client directly. That undermines the meeting planner's credibility and jeopardizes the hotel from getting further business from that client."

Take My Business, Please
"My biggest complaint is when I call hoteliers and they don't return my call, or they call me a week or two later," says Springfield, Ill.-based government planner Roger Schlatter, staff development specialist with the Illinois Department of Public Health.

"Those are the ones that I mark off my list. Sometimes, these same suppliers will call me looking for business, and I have to remind them that I called, but they never got back to me. It has always been a problem," says Schlatter.

Fran Jaffe, program administrator for the University of Connecticut's Center for Real Estate and Urban Economic Studies in Storrs, Conn., has actually been stood up by a hotel staffer during her search for a meeting site. "I'm doing a conference next month at a property where it took me a while to get the hotel contact to even commit to a date to meet with me," says Jaffe.

"Last week I happened to be on site at the same hotel, helping out with another conference and asked if she could try to meet with me. You know, she never even bothered to show up. I gave up and left."

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