October 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio October 2003 Current Issue
October 2003 lawandplan.gifPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner

By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.


Third parties are booking room blocks and filling them with your attendees

When it comes to planners’ problems with hotels, avoiding attrition fees for unfilled room blocks is only part of the headache they face. There’s a new phenomenon in the industry that I refer to as “the interloper.”

Who is this interloper? Suppose for the moment that a planner has blocked 100 rooms at hotel A and, unable to fill the block 30 days prior to the meeting, releases all remaining rooms back to the hotel. A few days later, the planner finds out someone is broadcasting online to members of the association that he has rooms at the same hotel at a much lower cost than the rate offered through the association. That individual is the interloper.

In another scenario, the interloper finds out, far in advance of the event, when a meeting or trade show is going to be held in a certain city. She takes room blocks at the key hotels in some cases even before the association gets its block squared away thereby forcing attendees to book through her.

How can meeting professionals protect themselves against interlopers? Following are some strategies.

• When negotiating the hotel contract, always check what other contracts or pending contracts the property has for those dates.

• Make sure to put a clause in the contract stating that, regardless of the room rate negotiated, attendees will get the lowest group rate the hotel provides before and after your event and you’ll be credited for filling the rooms. (This is what I call a most favored nation clause.)

• Another contract must: Include a requirement that, regardless of how an attendee reserves his sleeping room whether online, via central reservations, through the interloper or through the official meeting block the group gets credit for the occupied room.

This means the planner might have to cross-check the attendance list against the hotel rooming list. It is wise to add a clause that requires the hotel to share its housing lists (on a confidential basis), so the planner can verify the count and obtain proper credit for those who stay at the hotel specifically to attend the meeting.

• Protect membership or attendee lists, as interlopers will frequently mine them to contact attendees directly. In one situation, a member of the organization began to use the membership list for purposes of interloping. He made it clear, however, that he was not affiliated or endorsed by the organization, a disclaimer that helped protect him from legal action for violation of trademark.

There’s also a way to legally halt this practice. Meeting professionals can establish a license agreement between themselves and users of their organization’s directory or attendee list by posting a disclaimer on the cover of the document (or, if the information is available online, on the opening screen) such as, “Before opening this list or directory, the user must agree to the following terms and conditions&”

The terms and conditions should clearly state that the contents are copyrighted and all rights are reserved. The disclaimer should also state that by opening the directory, the individual accepts and agrees to be bound by the terms that forbid the information to be copied, disseminated or otherwise used except for personal use, unless authorized by the organization.

If the interloper tries to convey that he or she is “endorsed” by the association or is the “official” supplier of the hotel rooms when such is not the case, it might be possible and advisable to seek an injunction against such false representations.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at askhowe@cahners.com.

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