Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
NEGOTIATING CITYWIDE CONTRACTS
When an event has a host of suppliers, it’s crucial to make
sure all deals are in sync
It’s one thing to plan an event that takes over
a whole hotel, and another when the group needs to take over an
entire city. Citywides involve myriad agreements with caterers,
transportation providers, destination management companies and a
convention center, not to mention a lot of hotels. For planners,
coordinating the details is crucial.
The single most important rule is to make sure all contracts track
together. When you are dealing with issues like cancellation and
attrition, each contract must give you an out should conditions
change, and these clauses should be as similar as possible from
contract to contract.
This means providing for all contingencies that might make your
program impossible to complete.
Contingency plans. For example, one of our
clients runs a major citywide convention. The organization requires
a substantial number of first-class rooms within walking distance
of the convention center. To ensure this, each contract has a
specific provision stating that, in the event a given number of
first-class rooms is not available, the organization can cancel the
contract without penalty, and any advances will be refunded. The
same applies if the space at the convention center becomes
Contracts with such providers as destination management and
transportation companies should have similar provisions. It’s like
a game of dominoes; if one falls, all the rest must fall in
Room blocks. The program cited above is held in
the winter, so a provision is added to cover the vagaries of
weather that might keep people at home. This provision triggers a
reduction in room-night obligations, relative to potential
attrition charges. If attendees can’t get to the convention, the
host organization isn’t adversely affected.
Planners of citywide conventions contract with a number of
third-party suppliers, raising some new issues.
Housing. The availability of a housing bureau
in your chosen location becomes extremely important when planning
citywides. Make sure you understand how the bureau charges for its
services. Will the fee come from the hotel? Will the organization
be charged directly? This should be discussed and negotiated at the
Ground transportation. When you use more than
one hotel, you are likely to need buses to transport people to and
from various activities. Often, planners try to pass this expense
on to the hotels, who then recoup the money through the room rate.
This is generally negotiated up front with the hotel and with the
participation of the convention and visitor bureau. Planners might
be able to negotiate concessions from the hotels and/or the city in
exchange for placing such a large piece of business.
Often, before the program gets under way, a planner becomes aware
that a potential problem could affect the citywide agreements. In
such circumstances, the key element is good communication, which
can be dictated in the contract with a clause that calls for
periodic review of the status of the event. I urge planners to
enlist the aid of the convention and visitors bureau for this.
While the CVB should not do your negotiating, it can facilitate
communications between all contracted parties.
Also, in hotel contracts, state that you will be given credit
for everyone who is registered for your event, regardless of how
the reservation is made. Otherwise, you might not get some of the
complimentary rooms you have earned, and attrition conditions might
kick in.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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