by Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. | June 01, 2004

The meetings industry is never static it is strategic. Contract issues today become more important as front page headlines re-emphasize changes in our life patterns. In that light, here are some clauses that you need to consider for refining your contracts.
    Force majeure/acts of God. Since 9/11, the impact of force majeure/acts of God clauses has taken on new prominence. This part of the agreement allows either party to cancel the meeting without penalty because of natural devastation, terrorism, discontinuation of transportation and a high level of national alert, such as an orange or a red warning. The clause must specifically define what instances will excuse performance.
    Traditionally, these clauses were triggered by a total inability to meet the obligations of a contract. Now, however, an up-to-date clause should say partial performance will not be penalized (in other words, there will be no attrition charges) if the meeting host decides to go forward with reduced numbers.
     Quiet enjoyment. Our law firm represents a group of true rocket scientists who require the right to the “quiet enjoyment” of the venue, meaning they want to meet in peace. A clause addressing this can go beyond what the hotel can do to keep noise levels down, to include what happens outside, such as street repaving, a tearing down of the building next door, etc. The wording should give the planner the opportunity to revise or cancel the agreement without cost if the environment is inhospitable.
    Most-favored nation. This clause requires the hotel to provide the planner with the best available rate at the time the meeting will be held, regardless of the contract rate. The number can be decided based on the best “group” rate available before, during and after the meeting, and it can be compared with next year’s and last year’s similar dates.
    Opportunity to review rooming lists. To avoid attrition fees or cancellation, the planner and the hotel should agree to share information about registered meeting attendees vs. registered guests. Hotels have so many opportunities for selling rooms i.e., through Orbitz and Travelocity that no matter how an attendee has booked, the planner should get credit for all attendees in the hotel. This credit should extend to comps; if the planner or organization is getting a commission, it should be paid based on all attendees at the hotel.
    Cutoff. Most contracts specify a cutoff date for reservations, which allows un-booked rooms to revert to the hotel’s inventory. To refine this area, specify that if an attendee books after the cutoff date, he will be given the convention rate. Also, include that rooms booked after the cutoff date, regardless of rate, will be credited to the sponsor.
    Commissions. Many planners, both association and corporate, are requesting commissions based on room nights booked and paid for. If you want a commission, put it in the contract, and extend the wording to cover rooms booked outside the block.
    Limitation on costs. To avoid hidden charges, make sure all costs are described in the contract. For example, if there is going to be a resort charge, it should be noted in the contract. Absent that, the contract should state there will not be any additional charges. Even costs such as Internet connections and telephone charges should be negotiated.

No matter what your meeting’s special needs, they must be specified in the contract. If it is not written in the agreement, don’t expect it. Thus, if having the spa open is important to you and your group, make sure you include a provision in the contract that the spa will be open.