share
by By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. | September 01, 2010

In May, the Inter-Pacific Bar Association held a conference at the 950-room Marina Bay Sands in Singapore; it was one of the first groups to meet at the brand-new resort. Delegates at the conference complained of a number of problems, and the group now is in litigation with Las Vegas Sands, owners of the property.

When my clients say that they're getting a terrific deal at a new or renovating property, I shudder. The frustration of expectation hangs over a hotel when the lobby bar or coffee shop still is unfinished, the front desk can't find your reservation because the computers aren't hooked up yet, or numerous other problems crop up because the property isn't quite ready. I much prefer that my clients arrange to be the second meeting at the hotel, but, of course, somebody has to be the first.

Lower Expectations You just can't be the first group in and expect the level of service and training to be up to par at opening. It takes time for the staff to become acclimated to the culture of their new employer or revitalized space. Similarly, often at brand-new hotels, many of the staff members are fresh entrants in the hospitality industry. They might be eager but not experienced.

If you are adventuresome and still seek to be first instead of waiting for the kinks to be worked out, here are some thoughts.

Keep up to date.
Be sure your contact provides continuous updates on the status of the construction or remodeling of the property as you approach the day of reckoning. This should be done on a monthly basis leading up to the time where the planner has the opportunity to say, "Gee, you are ahead of schedule -- that's great!" or "We are out of here." There must be a drop-dead date in your contract allowing you to make this final decision. Your agreement also can have a requirement that the property keep you informed of the project's progress.

Feet on the ground help this assessment. Several years ago, a client asked me to scope out a convention center where her meeting was scheduled two weeks away. I reported, "I know where every meeting room is -- I saw the chalk markings on the floor."

Get written assurances. Representations and warranties should be in your contract, ensuring that the property will be in full code compliance in time for your event. Imagine the horror if the kitchen has been closed by the health department or, worse yet, the building has a certificate of occupancy for only two of 30 floors. Partial completion of the property, e.g., the sleeping rooms are ready for guests but the pool isn't, could be unacceptable to some groups.

Check the staffing.
Make sure the employees are in place and trained. Insist that all the service levels and amenities that are requisite to a successful event are up and running before your group enters the property.

Have options. Find an alternative venue that is able to take on your event if the property is not ready. Your contract should require the original property to relocate your group at its expense to another equally comparable property if it is not able to open or meet your needs. Failing that, all costs, such as nonrefundable airline tickets, etc., should be part of what you are entitled to recover, but you must specify in your contract what the property's responsibilities are if it is not ready. Include what remediation you will receive if the property is open but not to your satisfaction.

Check the news.
Keep up to date with what is going in the community, as well. If the bricklayers or painters strike, that's going to push the timeline back. Set up one Google alert for the city and one for the property.