by By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. | February 01, 2010

We made it through the first decade of the millennium, a time of unexpected turmoil starting with the Y2K panic, followed by 9/11, economic ups and major downs, and ending with pandemics fears. None of this has been kind to the meetings and conventions industry. So what do the next 10 years hold for us? Well, I might not have a true crystal ball to make my predictions, but there are definite trends to follow and lessons to be learned from the past decade.

Hotels The effect of economic turbulence of the past several years on the hotel and convention center industry, especially on properties that were financed and built in the last half of the decade, will continue to be an issue.

In negotiations, it will be more important than ever to pay close attention to historic data, which teaches us lessons but also can be a very valuable negotiating tool. If you have solid numbers, it should give you a leg up. Give yourself the flexibility to alter commitment numbers, and don't conclude those negotiations until you get a promise from the vendor to provide you with a history report from your event.

Remember, the contract as it is written is what you will get -- nothing more and nothing less. Thus, if a detail is important to the integrity and success of your program, it should be in the contract.

Risk Management The United States provides a "sue happy" environment, so I advise planners to continue to use risk-shifting means to protect not only themselves but their programs from potential risks created by third parties. Releases, waivers and informed-consent forms will require further evaluation in this environment. The courts are loath to allow parties to escape liability even if that shirking of responsibility is provided for in a contract.

An informed-consent form needs to be very explicit as to the risks that might be involved in an activity, and should require the agreement that participants understand and are prepared to assume the outcome of that risk.

New Trends Attrition and cancellation clauses will continue to be -- and should be -- part of all negotiations. The absence of such clauses does not excuse poor performance. Rather, the group that falls short on rooms or cancels is in breach of contract.

Planners especially should be sure such clauses are consistent in all of a meeting's contracts, from the convention center to the hotel, to the speakers, to the transportation provider, etc. You don't want to be in a situation where you cancel one aspect of the program without being able to cancel another for the same reason.

Relationships Perhaps the greatest lesson we have learned during the past decade is the importance of positive business relationships, particularly with your vendors. This is key to successfully working through difficult times. A strong relationship generally leads to a positive conclusion; the lack of a good relationship can lead to disaster. As always, sharing bad news as soon as possible helps to alleviate matters in the long run.

Overall View Obviously, this next decade will see the continuing metamorphosis of the industry, the use of more social media, alternative meeting venues and all of the other "futuristic" concepts that have been brought to bear. Keep in mind, however, the law always lags behind trends and changing documents. All we can do is give ourselves enough room to be flexible. It will be a challenging and interesting time.