by Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. | June 01, 2013
• Know in advance who is responsible for handling problems on-site or has approval rights to make changes during your program.

• Build expectation levels that can be measured into your contracts.

• Evaluate up front what areas at the hotel and in the contract are sensitive to problems.

• Resist the temptation to lay blame. Look for solutions and try to find out who can help solve the problem.
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Surprises are wonderful at birthday parties, but they are not wonderful at events. If the hotel messes up your program big time, how do you recover?
No property intentionally (we hope) will go out of its way to ruin your meeting, but it does happen. Your people might get walked, the food might be inedible, rooms set up wrong, Wi-Fi down and so forth. What recourse does a planner have?

First Step
Right away, let your displeasure be known to the general manager and certainly to your salesperson and convention services manager. If the venue is a major brand property, let your national contact know of your dissatisfaction as well. Tell everyone that you are looking for a major adjustment in the master account. Failing that, arbitration or the court system will be your recourse to heal this breach of contract.

Unfortunately, when the hotel screws up, the person who normally gets the brunt of the blame is the organization's planner. "You should have anticipated this! Why did this happen? What are you doing about it?" So, you will want to have the hotel do some PR for you. If someone gets walked, for example, get a letter from the general manager saying it was the hotel's and not the organization's fault that the individual was inconvenienced.

When there is a major problem, we also have been able to obtain significant concessions, financial and otherwise, from the property. While you might not want to go back there again, sometimes the best remedy is to have a free future program there or one at a greatly reduced cost, in lieu of other compensation.

Preventive Measures
Your contract can help mitigate the chances of problems in a number of ways. Here's how to fend off common issues.

Walking registered guests. Have a walk provision in your contract. The clause should require that, before anyone is walked, the hotel will consult with the meeting host to determine which individuals should not be walked under any circumstances. The contract also should make the walking of a registered guest attending your program economically unattractive to the hotel, requiring the property to pay for the new rooms and transportation.

Wrong setup. You walk into the meeting room to see a classroom setup, not the crescents you ordered. To avoid this, go visual: Attach a picture of what the room should look like to the requirements.

Wrong group at the wrong time in the wrong place. Sometimes hotels are insensitive to the juxtaposition of the groups they've booked. Control this by requiring the hotel to let you know the character of the groups that might be there during your dates.

Wrong food. Yes, once in a while banquet event orders get switched or products are substituted. Put a requirement in your agreement that you must approve any menu changes.

Noise from construction.
A clause requiring notification of construction well in advance does much to remove the sting of the jackhammer going off next door.

Wrong room. Never sign a contract that allows the hotel to move your program without your OK.