An apology from the G.M. and an amenity (such as a bottle of wine).
• Transportation to and from the meeting hotel, based on on-demand need.
• Referral of phone calls received for walked guests to the alternate property.
• Priority for the first available comparable room at the original hotel within two days. After that, the walking hotel will be responsible for all costs at the second hotel, or provide a room at the original hotel, per the guest.
One of an attendee's most frustrating moments is arriving at a hotel only to learn that her reservation is not going to be honored and she is going to be "walked" -- sent to a different property because the host hotel is full. From a planner's point of view, imagine how you'd feel if a VIP was walked. Not good.
Worse yet is when the hotel decides to walk all or a portion of your attendees or to "relocate" your meeting space or one of your events to accommodate another event that the property decides should take precedence over yours (in other words, it will bring in more money).
When faced with the prospect of walking -- whether it affects an individual, the whole group or your space -- immediately turn to your contract. Did you make it economically difficult for the property to push out your business?
When designing the walking clause in your agreements, outline very specifically what it will mean for the hotel should it not be able to honor its obligations. Consequences should include accommodations at no charge at a similarly rated hotel nearby for anyone who is walked. If you are at a five-star hotel, you are walked to a five-star. (For more attendee compensation, see "Also Request..." at far right.)
Considering the embarrassment you and your group are suffering, the contract should state that the walking hotel will credit a set damage amount to the master account. That amount should be agreed to up front.
With these protections in place, if I am a front-desk manager and I have the choice of walking one of your attendees vs. an attendee from a different group, guess who walks?
WHEN THE GROUP OR SPACE GOES
Now the more serious issue: walking the group, or relocating or canceling the meeting space or an event. Essentially, the same rules apply, but the contract also should state that the facility cannot relocate or cancel your space without your express written consent. Then specifically delineate the obligations of the hotel. You should be able to cancel the entire event, especially all sleeping rooms, as a result of the contract breach. Spell out exactly what the damage amounts will include (but not be limited to), such as the following:
• All relocation costs;
• All incidental and consequential damages;
• Third-party vendor costs and fees, which might include airline ticket change and/or cancellation fees;
• All differential costs between what would be paid vs. what the new costs might be, and
• Attorneys' fees and costs.
Make sure your contract is specific with more than dollar amounts, showing what your group is entitled to recover in this situation.
Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner of the Chicago, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton Ltd., specializing in meetings and hospitality law. Email questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.