November 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio November 2002 Current Issue
November 2002 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM


Weighing the ultimate worth of those ubiquitous free trips and other perks

Planning a meeting is a difficult job, but it does have its perks. Depending on your organization’s rules, however, the ethics of accepting free rooms and familiarization trips can be a gray area. Yet many firms, particularly nonprofit organizations, cannot function without integrating “comps” (complimentary goods and services) and fam trips into the bottom line.

When do you gracefully accept a comp, and when do you politely decline? First, it is important to understand what is being offered.

One free room for every 50 booked. This generally is recognized as noncontroversial and a standard (yet always negotiable) comp ratio, and it is frequently written into contracts. The only time these comps cross the gray threshold is if the planner uses them for personal gain and/or ancillary benefits. For example, an unethical planner might attempt to bank all the free rooms, enabling him to spend extra time at the resort. Luckily, most hotels won’t allow the rooms to be used this way.

Site inspection comps. It is not unusual yet never a given for a hotel to comp or discount the planner’s sleeping room for a site visit. However, most planners and suppliers agree the gray area is crossed if the planner is acting alone (and thus misrepresenting her firm) and has no intention of using the property in the near future. Some firms have strict guidelines and require that an active proposal and/or confirmed dates and specs exist before the planner can accept the room.

F&B comps. It is not uncommon for a vendor to take clients to lunch or have them experience the hotels’ restaurant and other benefits (such as massages, salon services or golf).

Gifts and more. Most firms have stringent conflict- of-interest rules on gifts valued at more than a certain dollar amount, and many forbid the acceptance of any gifts. Know your firm’s policies.

Fam trips. Often encompassing all the perks listed above, familiarization trips usually are organized by one or more vendors and are an excellent way to assess properties and local suppliers. In accepting such comps, you should be evaluating the destination for a particular meeting. If you have no use for the spot, it is unethical to visit on the supplier’s dime.

If you answer yes to all of the following five questions, you might accept the comp with a clear conscience.

1. Does my company have (or has it had in the past) a contract or an otherwise important relationship with this property or vendor?
2. Is it likely I will be using this property or vendor in the next three years (five for association planners)?
3. Has my boss or client asked me to site inspect this property or consider this vendor or site for a future event?
4. Am I accepting the offer for networking, educational and comparative purposes?
5. By accepting, do my credibility and ability to make decisions remain intact?

If you answer yes to any of these five questions, just say no to the offer.

1. Would accepting conflict with corporate policy?
2. Am I taking this comp strictly for personal gain?
3. Is it likely that I will never use this property or vendor?
4. Will taking this comp jeopardize another program or colleague?
5. Will accepting this comp influence my decision-making ability and/or damage my credibility? If you are not the decision maker in the department, be sure to turn over all offers to the boss to avoid unpleasant confrontations later.

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