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by Loren G. Edelstein | June 01, 2012

M&C's June 2012research poll asked planners to reflect on the GSA scandal and meeting planner ethics in general. Given the opportunity to add comments, here's what respondents had to say:

• This is a difficult topic, as it can be a Catch-22 situation. Using site inspection rooms as an example, it is very easy to picture the following headlines: "Meeting planner mismanaged the budget by paying for site inspection rooms!" OR "Meeting planner stays free in luxury resort!" Either can be sensationalized by the media while overlooking the more pertinent details.

• It is important to stay at the hotel where your meeting is...even if you need to hear the train station noise at 3 a.m. But you could make the rule that your room would not be upgraded above the average room of your room block (no presidential suites). Really, if you are doing a site visit, you should not be in the room enough to enjoy it.

• I wouldn't call a site visit "personal use." When I have an active RFP for a site, I will accept one night of a complimentary site inspection, which is business-related.

• I think it is great to have the perks as a meeting planner, but people should be responsible and use them wisely.

• We are not allowed to accept comps outside of the scope of the meeting/event.

• I would prefer that words other than "perks and freebies" be used when describing the stays, service and dining hospitality that we need to experience in order to make reliable recommendations on properties and destinations. If I am experiencing these things in regard to relevant business, they are neither free nor perks, they are part of my job and I give up my time and money in order to experience them. Yes, people abuse these offers, but it is not different than any other industry that needs to have people experience their product or service before purchasing.

• This survey is too bare-bones. There are too many nuances to this scandal. You also should have asked about third-party abuses, which are rampant.

• I look at the comp policy two ways: First, if a meeting is booked at the hotel, the cost of the room for a site visit is credited to the master at the event; second, if meeting is booked and a site trip is planned after contract signing, then comp nights for those purposes are typically negotiated into the contract or applied during the event based on performance of the pick-up. So, instead of the typical 1/50, I ask that they look at a 1/25-30 at the time of contract signing.

• I think the GSA is an aberration and the entire organization should be disbanded. I'd say it's an abuse of power and a case of very poorly led, managed and trained heads of department, administrators and meeting planners, rather than a reflection on the meetings industry as a whole. The folks at the GSA are textbook examples of to how NOT to lead/organize/attend a meeting.

• Our association would not be able to make a site visit unless it was comped. We pay all other charges, but sometimes food is accepted because it is a tasting. We do not have a policy, but we consider our members' policies and try to keep all awards, promotional items given at meetings, room rates, etc., in line with those policies and at a modest level.

• I think that the general public is more concerned with the rampant overspending and budget excesses than with perks the planners received.

• When I accept a comp room, it's because I'm serious about the venue, and I know this because I've done my homework. If I get a small gift, I usually take it back to my assistant who has helped me.

• People, from both the planner and supplier side, who are in the business solely for perks are a part, if not all, of the problem.

• There is nothing wrong with comps as a "get business" decision.

• Your question says personal use, which I am against. I do believe that I am entitled to a free room and meals (not elaborate) when I do a site visit. Site inspections are not vacations for me.

• We are certainly not on-site for a vacation! This is as much about due diligence as anything else; spec sheets can be out of date, site reps can selectively communicate. Because this visit is directly related to the process of verifying the site's appropriateness for my meeting, the cost of my visit is and should be considered the cost of doing business for the site. I keep a close eye on the value of my comps and certainly would never accept comps in excess of more than a small proportion of the business I represent. These GSA employees were exploitative of the system and as unprofessional as any person paid to do a job could be.

• The industry needs standards, and all the so-called membership organizations (MPI, Site, etc.) have done nothing in this regard.

• I take site-visit comps as it helps the overall meeting budget. Other than that I would not take them. I believe in comp rooms for sites. They are trying to win your business, and you are trying to become familiar with their product. This is a good thing. But for personal use -- never!

• If there are reward programs, the points are redeemed for prize drawings where all employees are eligible.

• I also decline any comps or cost reductions unless I am sure to bring business to the site.

• As a corporate meeting planner, supplier comps are utilized toward the program costs -- never for personal use.

• I assume you mean accept comp rooms for personal use; never have and never would. I accept comp rooms when I am visiting a hotel to determine if I will use it for a meeting. Usually the planning meetings that take place years later are charged and paid for but usually discounted. I do accept gifts from hotels with their logo or brand on them as they really have no value.

• I would not sign a contract without reviewing a location.

• When I am offered a comp room for a site inspection, I make it clear that the hotel will be treated like all the rest of the proposals. I don't take free rooms for personal use.

• We do not take anything comped. We will, however, try to get upgrades or perks that do not have dollar value attached.

• I am the CEO and do not do site visits. We have rigorous ethical standards, and hotels giving expensive gifts or massive frequent-flyer points to meeting planners is simply unethical. It's called bribery elsewhere. Meeting organizations and magazines look the other way and don't confront the issue, as these are your advertisers and sponsors. Very unhealthy and dangerous for the industry. Exposure of this problem might be the good that comes out of this scandal.

• The GSA showed poor supervision. Government employees should be held financially responsible for the excesses.

• The planners involved in the GSA scandal are completely to blame for this fallout. They looked for and manufactured ways to get around their employers' guidelines in planning this conference. They absolutely abused their positions.

• A modest fee for site visits is fine.

• Your questions are not fair and do not represent the industry at all. Also, a 300-person CIO meeting is much different to plan than a 300-person association meeting.