June 2013
Making Your Contract Work For You

Sponsored by Starwood Hotels and Resorts

Making Your Contract Work For You

Meeting planners have so many details to keep in mind when organizing an event— everything from F&B pricing to room rates to audio-visual concerns—but no detail is more important, and potentially confusing, than contracts. How can planners best protect themselves, their companies and their groups through more persistent attention to contracts? How vital is it to dot every "i" before you sign on the dotted line?

Jonathan Howe, founding partner and president, Howe & Hutton, Ltd., Chicago, an expert on meetings contracts and general counsel to Meeting Professionals International, cautions the need to proactively delve into contract language—while acknowledging the challenge that presents. "If you don't understand something, ask," he says. "You'd be amazed at how many people look at a couple of things and say, oh, that looks fine, and don't do anything beyond that. There are parts of contracts where the wording and the nuance of wording can have a very serious legal effect. Like the word 'shall' vs. the word 'will.' Shall is mandatory; will is discretionary."

The task only grows more complicated when language covers anything from varying clauses of the Americans With Disabilities Act, to questions of jurisdiction if anything goes wrong.

But one potential aid in the process can come through booking more than one event at a time. In a recent survey of 178 meeting planners and executives conducted by the Starwood Convention Collection and Northstar Travel Media, 51.5% of those questioned see a benefit in booking multiple events simultaneously; 67.5% have already booked multiple contracts simultaneously with the same vendor.

Doing so has several advantages, not least of which is allowing planners to negotiate rates and concessions that will continue through multiple meetings over several years. "You don't have to review every single paragraph of the contract," says Howe. "You get down to the things that are going to be considered negotiable at each hotel, like the date, the rate, the block, and the pickup on the F&B."

"Value" was the most important buzzword among those surveyed, with 82% naming it as their chief reason for planning multiple meetings at once. A program like the Starwood Convention Collection will already have leveraged the hotel network to bring some of the best concessions to the table. You're offering more quantity to the hotel company, so the payback in concessions can be lucrative, with maximum efficiency for you in the contracts.

"The convenience is surely in knowing that you can be locking in your costs in advance and when done properly, it offers the opportunity of getting a better deal," says Howe. "This creates a partnership between the property and the organization and that's what you want to have, along with the recognition that both share in the risks and rewards."

The further advantage of using a multiple meetings offer—such as Starwood Convention Collection, which allows planners to book multi-year, multi-city meetings at Westin and Sheraton properties— could be a heightened level of personalization. Starwood Convention Collection comes with the use of a personal consultant (Convention Service Consultant), a person whose job it is to keep your best interests—and satisfaction—in mind may from meeting to meeting, including the streamlined paperwork. This may be the biggest value-add.

"That person becomes almost a personal concierge," says Howe. "In this situation, you want to know who your partner is, and you can become very dependent on that one person. When you have a go-to person, it makes life easier for both parties."