Meetings & Conventions: Planners vs. Hoteliers - May
Planners vs. Hoteliers
Here's what your "partner" is saying behind your
BY CHERYL-ANNE STURKENA
nother 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...
IN THE HOTELIERS' CORNER
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
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."
IN THE MEETING PLANNERS' CORNER
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
"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
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
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
"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
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