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High rollers leaving Sin City now have the convenience of jettisoning their marijuana in one of 20 green “amnesty boxes” at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and two other smaller airports in Clark County.

Although recreational marijuana has been legal in many Nevada jurisdictions since July 1, 2017, it’s still a federal crime and its possession at the international airport runs afoul of federal compliance. Clark County’s Board of Commissioners banned the advertisement and possession of marijuana at its airports in September 2017.

Bolted to the floor and housed in bright green metal boxes with the words “Disposal for Prescription and Recreational Drugs” beckoning paranoid travelers, the receptacles give forgetful fliers—and let’s face it, marijuana consumers can be a little wanting when it comes to short-term memory skills—the opportunity to abandon their quasi-legal stash before encountering the decidedly non-marijuana-friendly straights at the TSA checkpoints.


Under the Nevada recreational marijuana law, those 21 and older with a valid ID can purchase up to an ounce of marijuana and only consume it in private homes, not in public places such as casinos. Even though recreational marijuana use is legal under state law in states such as Washington, Oregon, Colorado, California, Nevada and Washington, carrying it past a security checkpoint, which are operated by federal agencies, can trigger a law enforcement action.

By most accounts, however, airport law enforcement officials who have been called in to investigate legal quantities of marijuana in states where it is legal have been lax at assessing penalties or making arrests. It’s estimated that one-in-five Americans now lives in a state where marijuana has been legalized.

Las Vegas-based Logistical Solutions installed and maintains the receptacles under a $114,059 contract that runs through the end of the fiscal year and is funded by the airport, according to an article in Las Vegas Review-Journal, so no open positions for marijuana sanitation engineers are currently being advertised.

Follow these links for a story on how Colorado is managing its legal marijuana market and a profile on the operator of a marijuana tradeshow.


The U.S. meetings industry is firing on all cylinders, further bolstering its role as a vital segment of the national economy, according to a new Economic Significance Survey conducted by Oxford Economics.

Among the key findings of the report, commissioned by the Events Industry Council (EIC) and supported by the Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC) and other industry partners, was the realization that meetings and events generated $325 billion in direct spending and $845 billion in business sales in 2016.

“These numbers represent a contribution of $446 billion in GDP and $104 billion of federal, state and local taxes,” said Adam Sacks, founder and president of Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics Company. “Our report illustrates that the meetings and events industry continues to grow across all segments as it contributes hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue to the U.S. economy and supports 5.9 million jobs.”

In total, 1.9 million meetings were held in 2016, with 251 million participants.

On average, the direct spending associated with 43 meeting participants supported one U.S. job, when accounting for both direct and indirect impacts. Direct spending on meetings expanded 23 percent between 2009 and 2016, primarily due to increases in the number of meeting participants.

Meetings supported more direct jobs than many large manufacturing sectors, including machinery, food, auto and chemicals, according to the Oxford Economics report. The meetings industry also sustained more jobs than the telecommunications and oil and gas extraction industries.

The results presented in the report show that every dollar spent on face-to-face meetings and events generates an additional $1.60—or 160 percent—in benefits for the U.S. economy.

Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO of MPI and co-chair of MMBC, said the data confirms the critical role the meetings industry plays in connecting people and growing the economy.

“The numbers reiterate what anecdotally we always knew to be true,” Van Deventer said. “No matter the industry, investing in face-to-face meetings is a smart choice.”

There’s been a critical need for information quantifying the significance of face-to-face meetings and business events to the U.S. economy, according to ASAE Executive Vice President Susan Robertson.

“Hosting an event, convention or tradeshow brings new revenue to industries across the country,” said Robertson, who is also chair of the EIC in addition to her primary role with ASAE. “So many people and companies beyond the scope of the events industry itself benefit from its reach.”

Business services was the industry most impacted by meetings in 2016, with $196.3 billion in total economic output. The finance, insurance and real estate industry followed with $141.1 billion in total economic output, followed by the manufacturing industry with $92.6 billion in total output.

Other industries that were positively impacted by face-to-face meetings and events include:

  • Food & Beverage: Meeting organizers and hosts spent $48 billion to provide food and beverage services at meetings.
  • Hotels & Lodging: Meetings generated 300 million room nights annually, representing nearly $50 billion of spending on accommodations.
  • Travel & Tourism: Meetings-related travel expenses represented 13.2 percent of total travel and tourism spending in the U.S.

Data for the Economic Significance Survey, conducted by Oxford Economics, was compiled through a nationwide survey of meeting planners, exhibitors and venues and represents nearly 9,000 domestic business travelers, almost 50,000 international air travelers and approximately 11,000 hotels.

[Click here to view or download a PDF version of the Economic Significance Study].


A strategic social media effort has become a foundational element for successful meeting and event promotion. It also is quickly developing into an important driver of attendance.

The comprehensive “State of the Event Industry Survey 2018” poll from Event Manager Blog, led by editor Julius Solaris, found that 73 percent of respondents responded that social media was their most effective tool for marketing events. Email marketing garnered the second spot, with 65.5 percent.

Using a website (59.6 percent) came in at third in the survey question, for which respondents were allowed to select their top three most effective event marketing tools.

“Social media seems to be the tool of choice, maybe because it’s more accessible or the perception that it’s cheaper,” Solaris said. “A lot of people think that social is just for customer service, and the ROI is not as straightforward, but planners are saying this is our main channel now.”

The EventMB survey, which served as the basis for two in-depth EventMB articles on Event Marketing and Social Media, was conducted between Jan. 3 and 25, 2018, and generated 1,082 responses. 52 percent of respondents said they had some sort of role in planning meetings and events.

While “influencer marketing,” which utilizes key thought leaders to spread a brand message, is the current rage, the EventMB survey found its adoption in the meetings and events industry hasn’t yet caught fire.

“Influencer marketing is not as strong as some people say—they say it’s the future,” Solaris said, pointing out that events that are highly experiential in nature are an outlier. “Actually, 75 percent either don’t use it or don’t know about it. We’re a long way from saying this is something everyone is using.”

According to EventMB's "State of the Event Industry Survey 2018," 32.6 percent of respondents are not planning to invest in influencer marketing and 42.8 percent do not know all that much about it.

And when it comes to the social platform of choice, Facebook and LinkedIn were the top picks.

“Whether it’s for marketing, customer management, and especially for building a community, Facebook is clearly the winner,” Solaris said, adding that he expects the No. 2 survey response, LinkedIn, to up its game as it revamps its groups function. EventMB actually uses a LinkedIn Group to build and develop its own audience.

According to EventMB's survey, Facebook was selected by 88.1 percent of respondents when asked what social media channels they were active on, followed by LinkedIn (80.1%), Twitter (60.4%), Instagram (58.4%), Pinterest (15.3%), Google+ (14.2%) and Snapchat (11.4%). Respondents could choose multiple channels.

“Instagram is nowhere to be seen in community management or customer management—it’s not there, and also isn’t there in the promotion [of events], surprisingly enough,” Solaris said. “Planners are active on Instagram to share pictures from the event but I would say Instagram is not living up to the hype as far as marketing and community building.”

Arriving at dead last was Snapchat, which was a surprise for Solaris.

“Snapchat isn’t really there—they have a lot of event functionality—but it’s nowhere to be seen,” he said. “It was supposed to be the next big thing, but Instagram took all of the features.”

Honing Social Strategy for Meetings and Events

According to KiKi L’Italien, CEO and founder of digital marketing company Amplified Growth and host of Association Chat, a successful meetings and events social media strategy should consider the following:

  • Understanding the role influencer marketing can play in expanding reach: People are choosing how they want to receive information and influencers can break through to more of a meeting planner's target audience. It is critical marketers learn what influencer marketing is and how best to use it.
  • The importance of having a video strategy and what that looks like: Ignoring video content is a bad idea and not having a strategy for it is worse. The barriers to entry for video content are also lower.
  • How to create content for "stories" on everything from Instagram to Snapchat: The popular "stories" feature on Snapchat has now been successfully deployed to Instagram and Facebook. Why is this content more compelling than other types of content and how can marketers create and use this type of content to fuel more buzz about their next event? Which platform does your audience prefer?
  • Facebook's newsfeed changes and how marketers must adapt to them: It should come as no surprise that the latest changes Facebook made to its newsfeed algorithm negatively impacted organic reach, but understanding how and what those changes mean for marketers is important for everyone.

L’Italien will present a free, one-hour “Powerful Social Media Strategy” webinar with Meetings Today at 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Among other best-practices and tips for harnessing social media for your meetings and events efforts, attendees will learn the following:

  • How to develop a successful social media strategy.
  • How social media can drive attendance and create engagement.
  • How to save time and money.
  • How to establish new measurement techniques.

For more information about “Powerful Social Media Strategy" and other Meetings Today webinars, visit:



The Dallas mayor’s office and city council members are at odds with the decision to allow a scheduled NRA meeting to proceed in the wake of the Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, Parkland school shooting. 17 people were killed and 15 were injured at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida.

Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway urged the NRA to find a new home for its NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits convention, which is slated to take place May 4-6, 2018, at the city's Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

"There will be marches and demonstrations should [the NRA] come to Dallas," Caraway warned.

In a statement released to the media on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, Caraway said:

“Gun violence has played a significant part in Dallas’ historical past from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the five Dallas Police officers gunned down in July 2016 to the brutal murder of a mother of six children in District 4 this past Christmas. It is time to put the heat on the NRA and demand that they work with elected officials in our country to establish gun laws that protect our children and keep our communities safe.

"...I am all for the protection of the 2nd Amendment but I am also for protecting the children and a safer Dallas," he added. "We must get rid of these assault weapons to protect the children and we must do something now.”

According to Dallas News, Caraway followed up his written comments with a news conference outside City Hall pointing toward the history of gun violence in Dallas, referencing the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy and the more recent July 7, 2016, ambush on a group of police officers during a protest against police killings.

Caraway called for the NRA to "come to the table" and be part of a solution.

"I would hope they would be sensitively moral themselves at some point," he said of the NRA. "I would hope that the NRA would be watching, as I'm sure they are, around the country what has just taken place.

"They have children. They have families," Caraway continued. "At some point, they need to understand, and I think they do, that there will be opposition when they come here."

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam stated that the NRA is coming to Dallas whether Caraway likes it or not.

“No politician anywhere can tell the NRA not to come to their city,” Arulanandam told WFAA News 8 in Dallas, mentioning that the group is ready to return to Texas in 2018. “We are already there.”

Meanwhile, in a written statement, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said:

“We’re always working to be a welcoming city for people and organizations of diverse backgrounds and beliefs.

"But of course I’m concerned about the image of Dallas as the host of this convention. I know I’m one of many Dallasites who doesn’t agree with the NRA’s viewpoints or tactics. However, they have a legal contract that was signed in 2012 and I’m not advocating that we violate that agreement. Hopefully we will take the opportunity in Dallas to engage in meaningful dialogue about how we work together to end mass killings in America.”

When reached for comment, Visit Dallas (the Dallas CVB) responded with the following statement:

“We have been in contact with the Mayor’s office, and we support the city’s position.”

Other city council members have already spoken out against the annual NRA Convention being held in Dallas, including Kevin Felder, who represents South Dallas and Far East Dallas. Felder tweeted the day after the Florida shooting: “Let me be the first councilman to oppose the NRA Convention in Dallas!”

The annual NRA event, scheduled for May 4-6, 2018, in Dallas, includes exhibits and the legal sale of guns. Caraway is calling for the NRA to stay out of Dallas and work with politicians to establish stricter gun laws.

According to Dallas News, Travis County commissioners in 2013 considered banning gun shows at the county's expo center but ultimately voted such a measure down. At the time the presiding attorney general and now governor, Greg Abbott, warned of "a double-barreled lawsuit" if the county moved ahead with the ban.

The Dallas News has since published an opinion piece from City Columnist Rober Wilonsky, which claims the NRA "is getting $400,000 in free rent," after receiving a discount from the city and the local tourism bureau.

Related Content from Meetings Today:



Dallas-based Ashford Hospitality Prime announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota for $171 million. The sale is expected to close in April 2018.

The 266-room luxury property, located on Sarasota Bay in downtown Sarasota, Fla., offers 29,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, two outdoor pools, a 26,000-square-foot Beach Club with 410 feet of beachfront, the 15,000-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Spa Club, eight food and beverage outlets, and the private, 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed Golf Club. Ashford said the property will continue to be managed by Ritz-Carlton.

"The acquisition of The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota is an opportunity for us to acquire a luxury resort property with a premier location in the upscale and growing Sarasota market," said Richard J. Stockton, Ashford Prime's president and CEO. “This property fits perfectly with our strategy of owning luxury hotels and resorts and further diversifies our portfolio while also increasing the overall RevPAR of our portfolio."

According to Ashford Hospitality Prime, the property, which opened in 2001, has been the beneficiary of more than $21 million in capital improvements over the past few years.

The opening of the hotel was considered a major development for Sarasota’s hospitality industry, ushering in ancillary development such as condominium units, retail and other tourism-related businesses.

The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota has received the following awards:

  • AAA Five Diamond Lodging Award
  • Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Award: Hotel
  • Conde Nast Traveler: Reader's Choice Award
  • Travel + Leisure (website): America's Best Beach Hotels
  • Travel + Leisure Reader's Survey: World's Best Hotels
  • Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Award: The Ritz Carlton Spa
  • Travel + Leisure: World's Best Spas
  • Zagat: America's Top Golf Courses

Other hotels in the Ashford Hospitality Prime portfolio include:

  • Marriott Seattle Waterfront Hotel, Seattle
  • Renaissance Tampa Hotel, Tampa, Fla.
  • Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines Hotel, La Jolla, Calif.
  • Capital Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C.
  • Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile, Chicago
  • Pier House Resort & Spa, Key West, Fla.
  • Courtyard San Francisco Downtown Hotel, San Francisco
  • Courtyard Philadelphia Downtown Hotel, Philadelphia
  • Bardessono Hotel and Spa, Yountville, Calif.
  • Hotel Yountville, Yountville, Calif.
  • The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas
  • Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa, Beaver Creek, Colo.


Caesars Entertainment joined other major hotel companies that are modifying their room-check policies by instituting a new protocol that requires every occupied room to be checked at least once every 24 hours.

“Historically, there have been tags that have said ‘Do Not Disturb’; we are eliminating them and instead they will read ‘Room Occupied,’” said Rich Broome, executive vice president of communications and government relations for Caesars Entertainment. “Housekeeping staff will not enter the rooms [when there is a room occupied indication], but security will knock on the door once a day and say, ‘Can I do a visual inspection of the room?'"

Broome said that housekeepers will maintain a roster of rooms where the room occupied signs are displayed and present that is provided to security personnel, who at some point in the day would knock on the door and request to conduct a visual inspection of the room. If something is amiss, security staff will implement a protocol to alert supervisors and managers to determine how to best handle the specific situation.

Broome said that the casino giant will implement the policy in all of its properties worldwide shortly.

Several major hotel companies, including Disney, Hilton, Wynn Resorts and Boyd Gaming, have altered their "do not disturb" policies in the wake of the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

A similar move by Walt Disney World Resort hotels in December 2017 resulted in a large degree of meetings industry discussion on whether such plans infringe on guests’ privacy or are even effective in preventing mass shootings and other security and safety issues.

Read more on the industry response to this issue in the follow-up Meetings Today article:
New 'Do Not Disturb' Hotel Policy Updates Spark Industry Debate.

Hilton Hotels and Resorts also recently updated its “Do Not Disturb” policy, according to hotel industry website LoyaltyLobby, and the company is encouraging hotel employees to report any “suspicious” behavior.

According to LoyaltyLobby, the new Hilton procedures list the following items as potentially “suspicious”:

  • Guests overly concerned about privacy.
  • Guests refusing room cleaning for extended period of time.
  • Those taking photos and notes about the hotel.
  • Switching rooms a number of times.
  • Requesting specific rooms.
  • Extended use of DND sign.
  • Using cash for payment.
  • Guest doesn’t leave the room for extended period.
  • Guest leaves the room for extended period.

Among the new security policy details, Hilton guest directories will include the following verbiage:

“We understand and respect your need for privacy. The hotel reserves the right to visually inspect all guest rooms every 24 hours to ensure the well-being of our guests and confirm the condition of the room.”

Unable to service room cards will add this additional language: “If service is refused for this length of time, a member of hotel management will check on the guest room.”



Visit KC, the destination marketing organization (DMO) that promotes Kansas City, Mo., named Patrick Geschwind as its interim president and CEO, effective Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.

“Team-oriented and performance-focused, Patrick is a proven leader and we’re fortunate to welcome him aboard Visit KC,” said Chair CiCi Rojas. “His vast experience in organizational leadership will supplement Visit KC’s current momentum while we conduct a national search for a permanent replacement.”

Geschwind is the owner and senior consultant for Patrick Geschwind & Associates, a Kansas City-based employment and performance consultancy. Geschwind takes over the role of president and CEO from Ronnie Burt, who resigned Jan. 31, 2018, following allegations of sexual harassment by female employees at Visit KC.

"I want to thank Chair CiCi Rojas and the Visit KC Board of Directors for affording me the opportunity to lead this great organization. I am honored and privileged to serve,” Geschwind said. “I am committed to working hard to help our team attain the goals that our Board has established, while building a work climate that promotes camaraderie and open communication. I am thrilled to be here and can't wait to get started."

Visit KC’s Board of Directors is conducting a national search for a permanent replacement for Burt.



ARIA Resort & Casino opened an additional 200,000 square feet of meeting space Feb. 15, 2018, capping a $170 million expansion at the AAA Five Diamond resort on the Las Vegas Strip.

The addition, which is integrated with the MGM Resorts International property’s existing LEED Gold-certified convention center, is spread across four floors and features outdoor space, nontraditional meeting areas and open-air verandas with retractable windows and views of sibling MGM facilities The Park and T-Mobile Arena.

The 3,000-square-foot Cypress Executive Lounge offers a stocked pantry, three private suites for workspaces and one-on-one meetings, a study and a conference room with furniture setups for groups of up to 30.

Other highlights of the expansion include three ballrooms with built-in stages, a loading dock with a “magavator” for events that require large displays, indoor-outdoor breakout rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows and prefunction spaces. The top floor offers a large ballroom with the capacity for groups of up to 2,000.

Following are expansion fast facts supplied by ARIA Resort & Casino:

  • Construction began: May 2016.
  • Opened: Feb. 15, 2018.
  • Cost: approximately $170 million.
  • Expansion: 200,000 square feet.
  • Total space after completion: 500,000 square feet.
  • Cypress Executive Lounge: 2,984 square feet, includes conference room and 3 private meeting suites.
  • Primrose Ballroom: 21,011 square feet.
  • South Primrose Veranda: 6,720 square feet.
  • East Primrose Veranda: 2,936 square feet.
  • Pre-function: 6,203 square feet.
  • Mariposa Ballroom: 23,380 square feet.
  • Built-in stage: 1,064 square feet.
  • Orovada Ballroom: 18,241 square feet.
  • Built-in stage: 1,161 square feet.
  • 15 meeting rooms: 459-5,400 square feet.
  • Outdoor terrace: 1,086 square feet.

The completion of the expansion brings the ARIA Resort & Casino's total amount of meeting and convention space to 500,000 square feet, allowing it to accommodate larger groups than ever before.

“Convention business demand at ARIA continues to grow, especially as planners discover we can accommodate larger groups, allowing us to book into 2020 and beyond,” said Tony Yousfi, ARIA’s vice president of sales. “With this expansion, we can better service our clients’ needs and increase the spectrum of events we can host.”



The Sheraton Los Angeles San Gabriel opened east of Downtown Los Angeles, offering 288 guest rooms and suites—with design inspired by the destination’s Spanish Mission history—and a local tech twist.

With the growing Chinese-speaking population of San Gabriel, Calif., in mind, the hotel partnered with Chinese social media service, WeChat (ID: sheraton_san_gabriel), allowing staff to interact with customers in real time while becoming the first Sheraton to offer WeChat pay and Alipay.

The hotel will also be the first to debut service robots from autonomous mobile company Aethon, programmed to guide guests through the hotel with GPS capabilities and deliver room service.

Guests at the Sheraton Los Angeles San Gabriel will be greeted by one “wayfinding,” four-foot high, friendly-looking TUG robot, and a fleet of seven will use the service elevators to deliver items to guests such as luggage, meals and linens. The robots are programmed to ring guest room phones on arrival.

English and Mandarin-speaking travel agents are also on-hand to organize tours.

Memorable Meeting and Event Space

For meetings, the Sheraton Los Angeles San Gabriel offers 19,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space, including the 11,341-square-foot Grand Imperial Ballroom with 27-foot-high ceilings. The ballroom can accommodate up to 800 guests for banquets, including catering and social events.

Groups can utilize 10 additional meeting rooms on-site and an outdoor Garden Terrace for 100-person receptions. The meeting rooms are designed to accommodate 10 to 50 people and include 50-inch LED screens, as well as environmentally friendly lighting for customized meetings and breakout space.

Culinary Highlights and Other Amenities

The culinary experience is also a main focus for the hotel. Prime Steakhouse and Bar, led by Executive Chef Joseph Mills, serves prime steaks alongside fresh herbs and fruits, and award-winning wine.

Meanwhile, modern Sichuan cuisine is on the menu at Ba Shu Feng, a well-known Chinese restaurant making its U.S. debut at the hotel in March 2018. Dishes will incorporate garlic and chili pepper.

The hotel lobby also hosts Afternoon High Tea every Friday through Sunday afternoon. Additional amenities include a 24-hour fitness center with yoga space, full-service spa and Sheraton Club Lounge.

“Bringing this level of luxury accommodation and service was a huge area of opportunity for the San Gabriel Valley,” said Wanda Chan, general manager of the property. “With its affluence, rapid economic growth and cosmopolitan international flavors, our associates are proud to be part of and to serve this community and will work hard to be the premier lodging, dining and meeting destination in the area.”



Dawn Ullrich, president and CEO of Houston First Corp., the quasi-public government corporation that oversees the Greater Houston CVB (Visit Houston) and other major convention and tourism entities in the city, was dismissed on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, a week after announcing her plans to retire at the end of the year.

News of the dismissal was reported by the Houston Chronicle and other local news organizations.

The Chronicle also reported that Ullrich has retained a lawyer to challenge the decision made by Houston First Board of Directors Chairman David Mincberg, which led to the early dismissal, claiming that only Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has the authority to terminate her employment.

According to the Chronicle report, Mincberg said in an interview on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, that he did not want a “lame-duck CEO” presiding over the organization for the next 11 months.

Ullrich reportedly then responded with an email that said she had notified the board of her retirement plans out of courtesy, characterizing her treatment as “unlawful, discriminatory and retaliatory.”

Besides Visit Houston, the control of which it assumed in 2014, Houston First also manages the George R. Brown Convention Center, the Hilton Americas-Houston and various performing arts venues.

Ullrich, who has worked for the city for four decades and led Houston First since its founding in 2011, has shepherded Houston’s convention and tourism industry through numerous achievements and challenges, including hosting the 2017 Super Bowl, the renovation of the George R. Brown Convention Center and the opening of the Marriott Marquis Houston convention center headquarters hotel.

She also was in charge during Hurricane Harvey, which caused extensive flooding in August 2017. Ullrich made the decision to open Houston’s convention center as an emergency shelter for flood victims.

Check out the full report from the Houston Chronicle for more information.



Hyatt Regency Bethesda completed a comprehensive, $37 million renovation. The Bethesda, Md., hotel's 390 guest rooms, facade, lobby, meeting and event spaces underwent an extensive transformation, along with the addition of The Rooftop Downtown Bethesda, a brand-new event space crowning the hotel.

In late spring of 2018, the hotel will host an official celebration of the reinvigorated property and introduce new retail offerings including one of the tristate area's largest Starbucks at 2,600 square feet opening on April 1.

"We're thrilled to see the iconic Hyatt Regency Bethesda infused with modern design, superior amenities, and innovative services that our loyal guests expect and deserve," said Selim Soliman, managing director of Hyatt Regency Bethesda. "With the transformation complete, we have a renewed sense of pride for our beacon of Bethesda and look forward to celebrating more milestones for future generations to come."

Hyatt Regency Bethesda collaborated with Gensler, a global architecture, design and planning firm, to transform the hotel. Gensler used contemporary designs with wood accents and a neutral palette of warm greys.

"Inspired by the natural landscape of the nearby Potomac River, the renovation respects the original architectural design while providing a remarkable transformation," said Carolyn Ament, design director at Gensler. "Using a combination of natural materials, lighting and comfortable, residential-style furnishings, the new design provides a welcoming atmosphere for an enhanced guest experience."

An Enhanced Welcoming Experience

A new exterior facade complete with modern architecture and an upgraded porte-cochere welcomes guests. Beyond the entrance, is the new, fresh and inviting lobby with tech-enabled mobile check-in.

The 12-story lobby atrium celebrates the grandeur and proportions of architect John Portman's original vision for the hotel while updating and brightening the space and bringing elements of the natural surrounding landscape indoors. The new design features American black walnut accents, topography-inspired custom carpets, stone flooring, arabesques' marble elements and a glass elevator.

These features all reference the natural palette of the Potomac River basin complete with sand-colored accents, white walls and warm gray upholstery creating a relaxing atmosphere throughout.

Completing the lobby is a redesigned atrium terrace for guest functions, mid-day events and cocktail receptions as well as new retail spaces with occupants to be announced later this year.

All-New Meeting and Event Space (20,000 Square Feet)

The hotel debuted The Rooftop Downtown Bethesda, an enclosed rooftop event space featuring floor-to-ceiling windows with views of downtown Bethesda and the DC skyline.

This 2,400-square-foot space can accommodates up to 180 guests for a reception, 120 for a sit-down dinner, and can host up to 90 persons for an all-day corporate meeting.

The Regency Ballroom was upgraded and is available for large-scale events. The highly coveted ballroom expands to 7,200 square feet and boasts 16-foot ceilings.

With private access to parking, this grand meeting space accommodates up to 550 guests.

The complete event space overhaul also includes 19 newly designed meeting rooms and two executive boardrooms. All meeting rooms feature upgraded, first-class technology, innovative lighting and digital displays.

For more intimate affairs, guests can choose from the renovated mezzanine level or the open-air concourse terrace, with natural lighting from the hotel's 12-story atrium while the Plaza Lawn offers a plush setting for seasonal, outdoor activities, in addition to the new rooftop event space.

Guest Room Redesign and Air Quality Update

The hotel’s 390 guest rooms and suites, including the Governor's Suite and Presidential Suite, boast modern decor and a neutral, grey color scheme. Additional enhancements include custom-designed furniture, expansive wooden work desks with hidden coffee makers and spacious baths with walk-in showers, marble sinks and a unique vanity mirror that displays the time and weather.

Supplementing the newly renovated guest rooms are 21 new PURE Rooms. Each "allergy friendly" guest room is enhanced with PURE's patented, seven-step purification process, which treats every surface, removing up to 99 percent of pollutants and irritants allowing guests to breathe easy. PURE's leading air-purification system filters out airborne irritants, and eliminates odors at the source, creating a safe and sterile zone.


The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy has been a hot topic among politicians, businesses and the individuals who are able to legally work and stay in the U.S. because of it.

The hospitality industry is known to employ a large immigrant workforce, so it’s not a surprise that the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) released a statement in support of DACA recipients.

Following is AHLA President and CEO Katherine Lugar’s statement on DACA published on Feb. 14, 2018.

“The hotel industry is fundamentally an industry of people,” Lugar said. “Our employees are as global as our guests. We are proud of our diverse workforce, which includes a large component of international workers, both permanent residents of the United States and those here temporarily for employment.

“That’s why it’s imperative that Congress and the Administration to find a permanent solution for the [DACA] recipients. The hotel industry is a significant employer of DACA recipients, and AHLA has been a leader in advocating for a legislative solution to provide them with permanent status.

“Unfortunately, we are well past the point of avoiding disruption to businesses and, more importantly, the lives of our employees and their families," she added.

“Protecting DACA recipients is both compassionate and common sense. We implore the Senate to find a permanent legislative solution that provides Dreamers with the legal certainty they deserve.

“We thank Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer for their leadership on this issue, and stand ready to support them in passing a permanent legislative solution for DACA recipients.”

AHLA also published a letter addressed to Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, a bipartisan group of senators working on immigration legislation, referred to as the Common Sense Coalition, reportedly reached a consensus on a plan that would establish a pathway to citizenship for the nearly two million immigrants that are currently protected under the DACA program.

President Trump previously said he would end the DACA program in March 2018, unless Congress fixes it. He also mentioned that he would “veto anything short of his demands,” according to



Marriott International plans to open a 4,000-room integrated resort and casino in Las Vegas, which will be its first JW Marriott on The Strip. The property will include more than 500,000 square feet of meeting space.

The Drew Las Vegas, located at 2755 South Las Vegas Blvd., across from the Las Vegas Festival Grounds and next to SLS Las Vegas, is scheduled to open in late 2020 and will herald the debut of Marriott’s EDITION brand. 

Witkoff Group, a New York-based real estate development and investment firm, will serve as its developer.

“The Drew Las Vegas will become a landmark property for Marriott International,” said Tony Capuano, EVP and global chief development officer, Marriott International. “The resort will give our more than 100 million loyalty members the chance to enjoy our brand of hospitality in one of the most exciting ... cities in the world."

Two Blackbirds Hospitality, led by former Cosmopolitan CEO John Unwin, will oversee the operations of the property, which will include a casino, luxury hotels, meeting facilities, entertainment, retail and dining outlets.


Independent meeting planner organization Meeting Planners Unite, a group that formed on LinkedIn and Facebook to combat Marriott International’s recent decision to cut non-aligned independent planner commissions to 7 percent from 10 percent at its U.S. and Canadian properties, is in the process of forming its own trade association.

David Bruce, the managing partner of CMP Meeting Services who spearheaded the social media-powered group on LinkedIn on Jan. 25, 2018, is compiling information about its membership, which was 800 people at press time, to demonstrate its buying power to Marriott at a meeting scheduled for Friday, Feb. 23.

The primary goal is to obtain the same commission rate as the so-called “Big Four,” HelmsBriscoe, HPN Global, ConferenceDirect and Maritz Global Events, for whom Marriott retained the 10 percent commission level.

“Our desire is to get a seat at the table—that’s all we can hope for; to have our point heard and hopefully gain a contract similar to what the Big Four have gotten,” Bruce said. “We will in essence be part of the ‘Big Five.’ That’s our goal going in to see Marriott.”

Bruce is currently compiling key statistics about the membership of Meeting Planners Unite that he hopes will demonstrate the value its members bring to the table and will elevate the conversation beyond just expressing their discontent with the Marriott move.

“Those numbers are going to represent a tremendous amount of business when added together,” Bruce said. “It’s important that this is a dialogue. It’s not a monologue on either side. Hopefully we can show the worth of our organization to Marriott and show them that we should be valued as a group just as much as the Big Four.

"The key is not to go in screaming and yelling about what they’ve done, but try to come to a mutual understanding where both parties can feel whole," he added.

Bruce said he and Jeff Berger, president and CEO of Chicago area-based Conference Planning Resources, are in the process of forming a 501(c)(6) membership organization that will serve as an independent meeting planner association named Meeting Planners Unite.

“This is for the independent planners who are not tied to the Big Four, because the whole point of this is to be that Big Five,” Bruce said. “What we are doing is trying to develop a fifth organization that can handle helping out the smaller planner."

According to Bruce, the association will have four goals:

  1. To deal with rates and other issues that are money-related in the industry, such as securing acceptable commission rates from hotel companies.
  2. Securing items such as a group insurance policy, legal services and 1099 tax filing status.
  3. Organize an annual business event that brings members to a location to meet face-to-face with hotel partners and other suppliers.
  4. Set up a charitable fund to provide aid to members who face crises such as health emergencies.

“That’s one of the neater things we’re planning on doing,” Bruce said of the charity effort. “There are times when everyone needs a friend, and the whole idea behind Meeting Planners Unite is that—we’re uniting to help everyone.”

He added that he will be reaching out to other industry associations and organizations to solicit contributions for the charity fund at events such as golf tournaments.

Bruce, who once ran a Parkinson’s Disease foundation, said the association would be funded by a “very small membership fee,” with suppliers such as audiovisual companies, bureaus and DMCs required to donate a little more than the independent planner members, giving them the ability to work with the planner members. The new association will likely hire an association management company to run its day-to-day operations.

Bruce said he is a bit amazed at the fast growth pace Meeting Planners Unite is on, and even that he would be involved in an undertaking like this to begin with.

“I couldn’t be more excited by this turn of events that has come about in the last two weeks,” he said. “This is going to be the first time that this group of people will ever be truly heard by the industry, and that’s exciting. Nineteen days ago I wouldn’t have bet a nickel against the San Francisco Bay Bridge that we would be doing this.”

Meeting Planners Unite has set up a rudimentary web presence for those who are interested in joining the organization:

[Learn more about the Meeting Planners Unite and the Marriott Commission cuts in our related news coverage. Industry veteran Joan Eisenstodt also shared some thoughts on the Meetings Today Blog].


AlliedPRA has agreed to terms to acquire Destination Nashville, giving the business events destination management company a presence in the booming Music City tourism market.

Nashville set a city tourism record in 2017, attracting 14.5 million visitors, representing a 4.6 percent year-over-year increase. The city is also gearing up to welcome a number of new-build hotels in the next few years.

Destination Nashville founder Rhonda Marko will stay on to serve as an active strategic advisor to AlliedPRA, with Jacqueline (Jackie) Marko overseeing day-to-day operations in conjunction with AlliedPRA COO Mike Fiber.

“Our team takes enormous pride in the business we have built over nearly 25 years,” said Rhonda Marko in announcing the acquisition. “Like AlliedPRA, Destination Nashville is dedicated to our team members, local relationships and one-of-a-kind destination experiences in the Music City with our clients.

"AlliedPRA has a fantastic reputation for operational excellence and a strategic vision for our sector," she added.

Tony Lorenz, CEO of AlliedPRA, said the acquisition is a key component in his company’s expansion strategy.

“Rhonda Marko and her team have so much to be proud of in their creation of this successful business,” Lorenz said. “Destination Nashville is the best business in our sector in the Nashville market. As Nashville is a market our clients want us to be in, Destination Nashville is an important component of our expansion strategy.

"We welcome Destination Nashville to the AlliedPRA family and look forward to building [together]," he added.

AlliedPRA now operates in the following markets: Arizona; Aspen, Colo.; Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Beaver Creek, Colo.; Chicago; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Dallas/Fort Worth; Denver; Hawaii; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Lake Tahoe, Calif.; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Nashville; New England; New Orleans; New York; Northern California; Orange County, Calif.; Orlando; Palm Springs, Calif.; Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah; San Antonio; San Diego; Santa Barbara, Calif.; South Florida; Vail, Colo.; and Washington, D.C.

AlliedPRA also has strategic alliances in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America.



Meet AC announced that Gary Musich, vice president of sales for Meet AC, will retire from from the hospitality industry, effective March 2. Replacing Musich will be Meet AC’s current senior director of sales, Sandi Harvey.

Musich has spent more than 25 years promoting Atlantic City, N.J., as a premier meeting, convention and tradeshow destination. He said he is most proud of the commitment of all of the sales and service professionals, within his organization and beyond, that make this industry successful.

“The leadership, the teams at Meet AC and the Atlantic City Convention Center, the property sales teams, and all of the support staff and service providers should feel just as proud to be a part of the success," Musich said. "We could not have grown this segment of our business without all working as one.

“I will miss the passion, comradery, and friendships that have been a part of my career and I will forever be thankful for my experience in Atlantic City," he added.

“Gary’s drive and determination to get the job done is one of the reasons why the organization has been successful, especially since the formation of Meet AC in 2014," said Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC.

"Gary has been the consummate professional and the entire Meet AC team wishes Gary the best in his future endeavors, while enjoying his well-deserved retirement," he added.

Passing the Meet AC Sales Torch

Incoming VP of Sales, Sandi Harvey, has worked in the tourism and hospitality industry for more than 25 years. She made her debut in Atlantic City in 1983 as the Manager of Hotel Sales at the Sands Hotel & Casino.

Harvey gained a great amount of experience and grew her footprint by starting at the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority (ACCVA) in 1995. From there, she worked her way up through the ACCVA with various positions and landed in the sales department, which is where Harvey flourishes today with Meet AC.

Harvey has been responsible for productivity reporting, ensuring the sales team has the resources they need to meet their goals, and managing the synergy between the Atlantic City Convention Center and property partners.

“I am extremely excited to take on this new role as Vice President of Sales and to assist our team in exceeding our room night goals," Harvey said. "Throughout the years, I have continued to believe in the destination, which makes it easier to sell. If you believe it, you can achieve it!”


Fresh, relevant speakers and energizing entertainment are two of the best ways to deliver what your attendees want from your conference or event. According to the ICCA, PCMA and MPI, the top reasons people attend a meeting or event are:

  1. To gain information and learn
  2. Networking with new and old friends
  3. Sharing experiences

Attendees come for the active experiences and to learn. Speakers who can connect with your audiences on a personal and professional level provide information and experiences.

Well-chosen professional entertainment transforms networking into a shared experience and positive memories.

Before You Start Searching

Here are some key questions you should answer before searching for a guest speaker.

  • What are your key goals and objectives for the event?
  • What are the audience’s key goals and objectives?
  • What topics, issues or information would be most relevant and valuable to the audience?
  • When is the best time for the speaker in the schedule?
  • What do you want the speaker to accomplish?

Avoid the Temptation to “Go Fishing”

Of course, the biggest consideration is budget. This is where you need to be realistic and objective. Speakers and live entertainment can represent a big chunk of your event budget so think of them as an investment.

Let’s say you have $20,000 for a guest speaker. Avoid the temptation to “Go Fishing” and see what kind of speakers you can get for $8,000. You’ll end up doubling your search time and cutting your return in half.

Your goal isn’t to find the cheapest speakers and entertainment you can find. Your goal is to find the best speakers and entertainment you can find that meets your budget.

Choosing Fresh, Relevant Speakers

That’s the “On Your Mark, Get Set” part of the process. To find that fresh, relevant speaker you need to whittle down the choices. Here are five tips that will help you find speakers:

1. Ask Your Audience

Instead of guessing or assuming, contact several audience members and ask about topics that interest them most. Also, ask about whom they would like to hear. You’ll be surprised at the insight you’ll discover.

2. Ask Members of Your Organization

Check with people in your organization or company about speakers they’ve seen and heard. They can better view them from the perspective of the audience.

[Related Content: A 'Great Speaker' May Not Be Great for All]

I have a friend who is Director of Events for an international corporation. Over 90 percent of their speakers come from recommendations from other members of the organization.

3. Check the Bookstore

Check the bookstore for the most popular books on the topic or issue. This is one of the easiest ways to target some strong prospects.

You can also do this at a site like Amazon but being able to skim the book works best for me.

4. Check the News

Check the news and news sites for articles about your topic and issue. Who are the experts that they interview or quote? This works best for subjects that are very timely.

5. Ask Your Contacts

Ask your contacts on Facebook or LinkedIn. Just post an update and ask for recommendations for speakers that they have used or heard. Do the same thing in the groups you have joined.

This usually generates a pretty big response. The best thing is you can follow up with questions.

These tips will help you prepare a short list of people or topics and use it as a starting place for your search or as options you give an entertainment/speaker agency.

Choosing Energizing Entertainment

I know you really, really want to start watching videos and listening to music but you have to get the logistics out of the way first. If you try to hopscotch this part, you might end up spending more and getting less.

Here are five tips that will help you find live entertainment:

1. Think About the Goal

Basically, this is your reason for having entertainment.

What will the audience get out of having them there? Will this be a concert, dance, mix and mingle or background music? Once you decide the goal, it’s easier to narrow down the type of performance you need.

2. Think About How Much Space Is Available

This might seem obvious, but it’s the biggest restriction you might face. Bands and performers need space for a stage, instruments, sound, lights, etc. You might want a 12-member show band but only have room for a two-person duo. Then factor in your audience. How many people will be in the space and what will they be doing?

Unless your attendees are all under 25, it’s better to have the room feel a little open than to cram them into a mosh pit in front of the stage.

3. Think About the Length of the Event

If it’s background music for a reception and a dinner you might want to end after the main course. But planning major music and dancing for three hours is on the edge of overkill.

Keep the length on the entertainment in perspective of what happens the next day. Do you want your attendees to show up for the morning session looking like walking wounded?

4. Think About the Audience

Match your entertainment to the audience. I know it’s tough, but your taste in music doesn’t matter. How old are the attendees? Don’t assume anyone over 40 is up on current music.

What’s the ratio of women to men? Let’s say the attendees are 90 percent men and you want to have a rocking dance band; dancing isn’t going to work. Just like with speakers, ask some members of the audience about what kind of music and experience they’d enjoy.

5. Think About Your Contacts

Just like with speakers, ask members of your organization and your contacts on Facebook or LinkedIn. Who have they seen and enjoyed? This is the quickest way to develop a short list of entertainment that will work for your attendees and the size of your space.

Danger Zone

Take extra time to make sure the acts you consider are appropriate. Decide your organization’s policies for performers in advance. This is where an entertainment agency can really add value.

They can help you be sure that nothing lewd or inappropriate is included in your performance.

The Truth About Searching YouTube Videos

Diving into Google or YouTube to find your own speakers and entertainment seems simple but usually ends up being about 100-times more complicated than you ever imagined. Starting to watch endless YouTube videos is like walking into a library and picking up each book to skim the first chapter. It can go on forever.

That’s why you should use your short list of speakers and entertainment that fit your conference.

Can You Do It Yourself?

The biggest factors are time and experience. If you don’t understand what a rider is or what force majeure means you may want to seriously consider an entertainment agency or speakers bureau like Aquarian. They do the legwork of reviewing speakers and checking references. They locate entertainment near your conference location; check references and all the logistical requirements. And, the best entertainment agencies or speakers bureaus have a “deep Rolodex.” That means they have extensive contacts and connections around the country.

Choosing Fresh, Relevant Speakers and Energizing Entertainment

Once again, your attendees come to your conference or event looking for the following:

  • Information and to learn.
  • Networking with new and old friends.
  • Sharing experiences.

Thoughtfully selected speakers and entertainment are essential delivery systems for those priorities. They add credibility, impact and fun to your conference or event.

It takes some effort to find them, but they generate big returns.

Stuart Danneman, Shepard AV

Stuart Danneman is the executive vice president of Shepard AV. He has more than 30 years of audiovisual expertise servicing associations, tradeshows and corporate events.

Since joining Shepard Audio Visual in 2016, he has contributed to the company’s growth and expansion across the country, including the recent acquisitions of McCUNE and Production Associates.


For planners in search of this year’s top-rated properties, the U.S. News & World Report announced its 2018 Best Hotels list, ranking more than 24,000 upscale properties across the U.S., Mexico, Europe, Canada and Bermuda.

Taking the top five spots for Best Hotels in the USA were the following:

The Four Seasons Resort Lanai can host receptions for up to 400 and offers meeting space, while the AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star Peninsula Chicago features 11 meeting venues, including ballrooms and an outdoor option, The Terrace. The Langham includes 15,000 square feet of event space.

Four of the hotels ranking in the top spot were Rosewood Hotels & Resorts properties, including:

“We are delighted to be recognized on U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best Hotels list, one of the most respected resources within the hospitality industry,” said Radha Arora, president of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. “To be included among the world’s top hotels and resorts is immensely gratifying and is a testament to the devotion of our associates and staff to provide extraordinary service.”

Mexico’s top ranked hotel, Rosewood Mayakoba, in Playa del Carmen, moved up a notch from No. 2 last year. The resort offers 3,300 square feet of indoor event space and accommodates up to 150 people for meetings and 500 guests for events. Meanwhile, The Ritz Paris claimed the No. 1 spot for Best Hotels in Europe, followed by La Reserve Paris – Hotel and Spa at No. 2 and Rome's Hotel Eden at No 3.

Meanwhile the top five Best Business Hotels included:

The ratings scored luxury hotels (4-star and higher) using a process that combines each hotel's industry awards with expert and guest reviews. These rankings are part of the U.S. News Travel channel, which also evaluates the Best Vacations, Best Cruise Lines and Best Travel Rewards Programs.

This year’s Best Hotels list did not include Best Hotels in the Caribbean or Best All-Inclusive Resorts in the Caribbean as have been included in years past due to the extensive damage across many Caribbean islands and their luxury hotels during the 2017 hurricane season. Recovery efforts are ongoing in 2018.

The Caribbean hotels will retain their 2017 score and ranking.

For more information and to see the lists, visit:


Steve Wynn, the casino mogul who is largely credited for propelling Las Vegas into a powerhouse gaming and entertainment destination, resigned Tuesday, Feb. 6, as chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts in the wake of sexual misconduct accusations.

“In the last couple of weeks, I have found myself the focus of an avalanche of negative publicity,” Wynn said in a statement, referring to a Jan. 26 article in The Wall Street Journal and a Feb. 5 article in The Las Vegas Review Journal.

“As I have reflected upon the environment this has created—one in which a rush to judgment takes precedence over everything else, including the facts—I have reached the conclusion I cannot continue to be effective in my current roles," he added.

Upon Wynn's resignation, the board appointed the company's president, Matt Maddox, as its CEO, effective immediately.

Wynn designed, built and operated the most iconic resorts on the Las Vegas strip, beginning with The Mirage, then Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore at Wynn Las Vegas. Wynn Resorts currently owns and operates Wynn and Encore Las Vegas, Wynn Macau and Wynn Palace, Cotai.

The gaming and meetings industries, as well as women’s rights groups, were swift to react to Wynn's resignation.

“While I don’t believe this will affect decisions made by meeting planners overall, I do believe this is a positive trend that executives are being held accountable,” Tracey Smith, president of SPIN (Senior Professionals Industry Network), told Meetings Today. “It also fosters a safer environment in the workplace for all employees across all industries. I am hopeful this trend empowers women to speak up and be able to stand up to this inexcusable behavior.”

Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy organization, said in a statement that "Wynn’s resignation from the company that he founded and bears his name sends an important message" that no matter how powerful someone is, they will be held accountable.

“But we should not pretend this is the end of this story,” Chaudhary added. “Much more needs to be done to protect hotel, restaurant, resort and casino workers—most of whom are women of color—not only on the Las Vegas strip, but in hotels across the country where sexual harassment and abuse are rampant.”

Meanwhile, an article published in The Las Vegas Review Journal quoted Chris Grove, managing director at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, saying he hopes Wynn’s resignation will start a new era in which the casino industry “displays no tolerance for treatment of women in any fashion other than a fair, respectful and equivalent one.”

In its official written statement, the Board of Directors of Wynn Resorts said it accepted Wynn’s resignation “with a collective heavy heart” and highlighted his major contributions to Las Vegas, calling him an industry giant, a philanthropist and a beloved leader and visionary. Wynn Resorts said it remains committed as ever to upholding the highest standards and being an inclusive and supportive employer.

“In fact, more than 40 percent of all Wynn Las Vegas management are women—the highest in the gaming industry,” the company noted in its statement. 

Wynn Resorts said it will continue to fully focus on its operations at Wynn Macau, Wynn Palace and Wynn Las Vegas, the development and opening of the first phase of Wynn Paradise Park, currently under construction on the former Wynn golf course, as well as the construction of Wynn Boston Harbor, which will open in June 2019.

Do the allegations against Steve Wynn or his subsequent resignation, and the allegations against others in the industry, influence how and where you/or your clients do business and/or book meetings and events?

Respond in the comments section below.


Got an extra $25 million lying around in the petty cash drawer you can afford to lose?

In May, a new data protection law will change the way you do everything, from collecting email addresses to marketing your next meeting, if you process the data of European Union (EU) citizens. Have an EU citizen attending your meeting? Listen up or you may have to pay up.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is meant to harmonize data protection rules across European Union (EU) member states. Regulation takes effect May 25 and applies to data processing carried out by individuals and organizations operating within the EU. It also applies to institutions outside the EU that offer goods and services to EU citizens. 

Imagine this: You are the CEO of a U.S.-based company holding a meeting in Salt Lake City. In preparation for the event, you provide a free downloadable PDF sharing the sights and information about the meeting destination in exchange for the website visitor’s email address. 

If the website visitor who just downloaded your PDF happens to be an EU citizen, you are now responsible for using and/or storing their data responsibly and in compliance with GDPR.

“In the future, if you want to keep those data details so that you can send them future information ...  you’re going to have to get that permission explicitly for anybody who is in Europe,” said Carol Tullo, an expert on data protection and cybersecurity. 

Tullo is an associate consultant of The Trust Bridge and until July 2017 served as director of Information Policy and Services at the United Kingdom’s National Archives.

“You’re going to have to say, ‘We will be capturing details of your information, and we’re using that for the purposes of this event. If you would like us to keep your data on file so that we can alert you about future events, please tick this box,’” Tullo said. “Ultimately it is each organization’s obligation to have good governance and good compliance because it’s your reputation that’s at risk.”

But it’s the painful potential monetary consequences of not meeting the law’s requirements that really have people worried. The GDPR is a data privacy regulation with teeth sharpened not just for groups in the EU, but for any entity on the planet processing personally identifiable information about EU citizens.

Failure to Comply With GDPR Could Cost You a Fortune

If you fail to meet GDPR regulations, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) or EU privacy regulators can fine violators up to 4 percent of annual global sales or €20 million (USD $24.76 million)—whichever is higher. 

David DeLorenzo is a technology consultant with DelCor Technology Solutions who believes GDPR could be disruptive in every industry.

“My biggest concern is that many organizations are looking at this as just a data and technology issue when in fact it is a business issue that will have a significant impact on many areas in business,” he said. “It is a game-changer in the way that organizations will be able to do marketing.

"It could impact revenue streams for many ancillary businesses, like list sales, and has the potential to render some of the innovative technologies that we use to serve content based on automated processing unusable because of data privacy," DeLorenzo added. "So yeah, I have some concerns.”

If you have mailing lists, collect IP addresses automatically in your third-party marketing tools or even store random Excel spreadsheets containing individuals’ personal data with your notes for later use, you must adhere to the wishes of any EU citizen about their data. You guarantee that they have control over how they want their data used.

And just because your third-party technology provider is capturing the data you use, it doesn’t mean they will necessarily be prepared to help you with GDPR-related requests.  

Visual artist Nicolet Groen admits she is concerned about the tools she uses to market to her prospects.

“The thing I worry about most is whether the SaaS [software as a service] products I am using are GDPR compliant,” she said. “I did an assessment, and there are still many loose ends.”

Somewhat concerning is the lack of conversation about GDPR for small businesses and those operating outside of technology circles. For example, the regulation is an unknown challenge for many volunteer-led or -organized events relying on third-party technology providers to handle anything tech-related. But GDPR requires both the processing and handling of data to be compliant, and the responsibility falls on those organizers—whether they know it or not. 

“Many people just don’t believe GDPR is something that pertains to them, and that worries me, as organizations typically don’t know if someone is a citizen of the EU just by the little bit of data they may have about them in a database,” DeLorenzo said.

An Alarming Statistic on GDPR Compliance, Plus Some Complications

Research by the analyst firm Gartner revealed over 50 percent of companies affected by GDPR regulations will not be in full compliance with its requirements by the May 25 deadline.

Conversations about GDPR can take a predictable path, moving from scaremongering to hedging one’s bets that GDPR enforcement would be unlikely to impact smaller organizations without egregious offenses. But GDPR will have a remarkable impact on businesses, regardless of size. 

According to a PwC pulse survey, companies have exhibited a variety of ways to try to comply with GDPR. Among those surveyed, 77 percent were using the Privacy Shield Program administered by the International Trade Administration (ITA) within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

While not a complete answer, participation in the Privacy Shield Program is a commitment from U.S. companies participating in the program that they will adhere to the Privacy Shield Framework, which has many of the same rules as the GDPR. Membership in the program certainly can’t hurt, but also won’t guarantee that non-compliance on any point won’t get you fined.

(Note: Financial organizations are not allowed to join the Privacy Field Program).

Many of the questions around GDPR revolve around permission and responsibility for data. But other possibly more complicated problems are surfacing as more people attempt to meet the requirements. 

For Peter O’Neil, CEO of ASIS International, GDPR compliance is a severe concern, but not for the reasons you might expect. O’Neil says it isn’t his headquarters he is most uneasy about, but the ASIS chapters that are operating semi-independently throughout the world.

“You’re going to hear a lot of people tell you they wonder about whether membership in an organization equals permission and what this means for the data they sell, but I’m wondering how I’m going to know what our European chapters are doing with their databases,” O’Neil said. “Our chapters are somewhat decentralized, and we’ve never really had total control over what they do or say. So how culpable are we going to be as ASIS International if and when a chapter’s found responsible for violating the regulation?”

Even if you delegate an agency or third-party provider to process the data for you, your organization is still held responsible for its safekeeping and compliance. 

“Maybe it’s a conference venue that you’re passing the data to so they can produce name badges, brochures or whatever,” Tullo said. “You’re also going to have to make sure that in collecting the data about 'Carol Tullo,' even if you’re asking someone else to process it, that they are compliant.

“You’ve got the same controls and the same reassurance that they are going to keep it secure, that they’ve got good systems, that they’re not going to pass it on to anybody else, and that they are handling that data responsibly,” she continued.

Guidance and support on GDPR-related issues could be an excellent opportunity for savvy vendors to help lead the way and make things easier for their clients and potential clients. But the path won’t be an easy one.

“I think most of the technology vendors are looking at the key requirements like consent and the right to be forgotten, which are in their wheelhouse, for providing a toolkit,” DeLorenzo said. “But these are still substantial undertakings from a data perspective when you think about having to anonymize or remove data from a transactional database.”

If the GDPR penalties start piling up, we’ll soon know if any of these efforts were money well spent.

The article's author, KiKi L'Italien, is the founder and CEO of Amplified Growth, a D.C.-based digital marketing consultancy. She also is a blogger for Meetings Today and will speak at our 2018 Meetings Today Live! events.


In response to the recent announcement that Marriott International will cut commissions paid to third-party meeting planners, some boutique hotels and independent brands are launching promotions increasing commissions with hopes of acquiring new customers or expanding on existing group business.

Marriott International announced it will cut third-party commissions to 7 percent from 10 percent for all of its hotels in the U.S. and Canada. The reduction will officially take effect on March 31, 2018, but Marriott confirmed it will pay the 10 percent commission rate for contracts signed prior to March 31.

Preferred Hotels & Resorts currently has a 60-day promotion called “We Appreciate You."

The offer provides clients with 150,000 I Prefer Reward Points and an additional 1 percent commission, bringing the end commission rate to 11 percent, for any programs that exceed $100,000 in rooms revenue and have the contract closed by July 30, 2018 (they must be sold by April 1, 2018).

“Reducing commissions may be the wave of the future for larger chains, while it is still very early to tell,” said Elaine Macy, executive vice president of global group sale for Preferred Hotels. “Looking ahead, I believe we will see that most large franchise brands will reduce commissions across the board and then have some type of back-end volume bonus for the major third-party planners to reimburse them for lost commission.

“We are maintaining our standard 10 percent commission level and staying true to all of our clients—especially the smaller independent planners, who we value highly,” Macy continued. "It will allow us to be more visible in the industry, allow us to attract business we may never have had the opportunity to bid on before, help planners get to know Preferred Hotels & Resorts as a brand and help us develop long-term relationships with our clients—small- and large-size agencies—on behalf of our brand and member hotels."

Eden Roc Miami Beach, Nobu Hotel Miami Beach and the soon-to-debut Nobu Hotel Los Cabos have also introduced promotions in response to the news of a commission reduction from Marriott International.

All have all increased commissions from 10 percent to 12 percent on new groups that book a minimum of 10 rooms per night contracted through Dec. 31, 2018. This includes travel anytime.

Eldorado Hotel & Spa in Santa Fe, N.M., is offering 13 percent commission on all new business booked by April 30, 2018, and consumed before Dec. 31, 2018. The incentive is not valid with any other offers or promotions or pending business in prospect or tentative status. It is also not valid over festivals and blackout dates may apply.

The recently renovated Plaza Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas announced a special that offers up to a 12 percent room commission with the code, “Meet me at the Plaza."

This commission rate applies to new bookings only with a minimum of 50 room nights and the reservation of meeting space is required. Additional restrictions and blackout dates may apply. 


The late January 2018 announcement by Marriott International to cut third-party meeting planner commissions to 7 percent from 10 percent for bookings at its U.S. and Canadian hotels sparked a firestorm of criticism in the industry.

The rate will remain at 10 percent for bookings in other countries.

One veteran planner formed the LinkedIn group, Meeting Planners Unite, to rally the troops to fight what they see as a betrayal by the largest hotel company in the world.

Following is a Feb. 1, 2018, Q&A with David Bruce, managing partner of CMP Meeting Services, located in the Fort Worth, Texas, area, who has a goal of rallying up to 5,000 independent planners.

Meetings Today: Why did you form the Meeting Planners Unite LinkedIn group?

David Bruce: I formed it specifically to unite the third-party market in an attempt for us to put together a united front to Marriott for the true independents, the non- “Big Four” [HelmsBriscoe, HPN Global, ConferenceDirect and Maritz Global Events, whom Marriott retained the 10 percent commission level].

[In one week] we have gained about 625 members, with a goal of between 3,000 and 5,000 by the end of February.

Our industry truly is comprised of a group of independent businesses, of which 70 percent of those are women-owned. We’re so independent of an organization or an industry that we don’t have a say and we don’t have voice as a group.

Certainly MPI, with their letter that came out, isn’t the voice of the independent. It was a very weak letter. For an organization that is by meeting planners and for meeting planners, it was sad to see [MPI] take such a soft approach, as they were worried about their own bottom line more so than the good of the industry.

[Read MPI's official statement on the Marriott commission cuts here]

That’s why we had to form, because our own industry association isn’t backing the needs of our members.

We want to put together numbers that will make organizations reconsider what their thinking is, and down the road have a voice for the little guy, or girl.

Meetings Today: Is this a boycott of Marriott properties?

David Bruce: Boycott would be inappropriate in so many different ways. However, we run businesses, too. As Marriott has the right to look at every piece of business and whether it’s good for their hotels, we as businesses have every right to look at every piece of business when it comes selecting a hotel.

That being said, if two hotels are virtually the same, and one is a Marriott at 7 percent and the other is a Hyatt, a Hilton, an Omni, whomever, at 10, then as a business I have to worry about my bottom line.

It’s actually going to cost me money to do business with Marriott.

I will lose money by going to a Marriott property.

Meetings Today: What are members of Meeting Planners Unite discussing?

David Bruce: To a person, the discussion is, “How dare they—how could they possibly have done this to the small businesses that have been an integral part of making Marriott who they are?” The loyalty factor.

I think most people in the organization are quite taken aback by the lack of loyalty displayed by Marriott. It seems like we have far more loyalty to them than they do to us.

Meetings Today: How is this related to Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts?

David Bruce: I believe had they had not been able to take over Starwood they would never have the amount of hotels to go down this road.

Meetings Today: Do you fear the other major hotel companies will follow suit and cut commissions?

David Bruce: It’s a huge concern. We’re very proud of the people who have stood by us—the MGM hotels, the Caesars organization, certainly Preferred Hotels by raising commissions to 11 percent even in the short term—for standing up and understanding the importance of what a good third-party company can bring.

Meetings Today: Any final thoughts?

David Bruce: We’re a five-day old association, 625 members strong, all with their own agendas, but with a common agenda of bettering our own organizations, and frankly the need for our organizations to stay organized. Many third parties will not be able to weather this storm.

In a time when the federal government has cut corporate taxes 13 percent, and Marriott stock has gone from $14 to $137 in 10 years, they’re making more money than ever before and they say they can’t afford to pay us.

Click here to view related content in the 02.02.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​


Having an emergency response plan in place before a meeting or event—and/or an actual emergency—occurs is seemingly obvious but not always followed advice in our industry.

Our 2018 Meetings Today Trends Survey found that an alarming number of meeting planner respondents were not very concerned about security issues and natural disasters (only 31 percent). A majority didn’t have a written security/natural disaster preparedness plan in place (70 percent).

[Read more: Crisis Management Not in Planners’ Plans]

Sustainable conference management company MeetGreen created a template to help planners take that critical first step toward developing a meetings emergency plan.

"At MeetGreen we develop an emergency response plan for all of our clients’ events,” said MeetGreen Founder and President Nancy J. Zavada. “It is a vital part of the planning process and we have had to execute the plans on several occasions.

“The hardest part is often getting started, which requires knowing what should be included in a preparedness plan,” she added. “To assist other event organizers, we developed a template to assist them in building a plan based on their specific needs.”

MeetGreen’s emergency response plan was designed to help staff rapidly react to virtually any type of crisis.

“Whether [navigating] a participant's medical emergency, an evacuation for a building fire, a weather or natural disaster, or human-caused disturbance such as a terrorist act, the emergency response plan should give your team the protocol to deal with the situation,” Zavada said. “Without pre-planning, response times may be slower and a favorable outcome more difficult.

“Our goal in freely sharing this template is to help everyone in the events industry ensure the safety of themselves and their attendees,” she continued. “Truly, the life you save may be your own.”

Following is MeetGreen’s Emergency Response Plan template for events. The company recommends that a president or CEO, or other leadership in your organization, approves the final plan before implementation.

MeetGreen's Emergency Response Plan Template for Meetings & Events


Having an Emergency Response Plan is a critical component of our responsibility to our staff and to those we serve. The hope is that these plans will never have to be used.

However, in the event that something does happen, we want to be sure staff are as prepared as possible and will know what actions to take to protect our staff and participants’ safety and wellbeing.

As an event team member, you are expected to read this plan in its entirety although some components will only be applicable depending on your role and nature of the event.


1. Select an Emergency Response Team Manager and team for each event. This should be done at the beginning of the planning phase when conference teams are assigned. The Emergency Response Team Manager is responsible for reviewing and maintaining the emergency response plan, monitoring threats and hazards, and serving as the response team lead on site in the event of an actual emergency.

An emergency response team may include:

  1. Facility appointed Emergency Response Team Lead for the facility: This person is the point person who works in tandem with the Emergency Response Team Manager.
  2. Emergency Communications Manager: Assign a person to act on behalf of the organization ensuring there are no inappropriate or unauthorized statements made to the media about the situation. They will monitor news and communicate with staff as well as manage on-site press and distribute press information.
  3. Event Housing Manager: Communicates with registration staff, transportation company, tour company, child care and housing bureau.
  4. Registration Coordinator: Communicates with temporary staff; sets up travel services help desk, provides information on airports, car rentals, trains, buses, ride-sharing; help desk for international attendees.
  5. Speaker Manager: Communicates with the speakers by phone, email and in person at the event.
  6. Exhibit Operations Manager: Communicates with general service contractors, exhibitors, and crisis team.

2. Conduct a site inspection. As part of the site inspection process:

  1. Identify emergency exits, fire alarms and extinguishers. Ask about the venue’s alarm protocol.
  2. Identify AED locations and first-aid kits.
  3. The event facilities have (or should have) emergency plans and should be contacted immediately when an emergency occurs. Their emergency response plans should be part of the plan. Review this plan as part of the pre-conference meeting.
  4. Designate an Emergency Management Room: During the site inspection for an event, designate a private room that can be locked and is not located near the main meeting space and registration area. This room may be used for other purposes during the event, but can be turned into an emergency management room if necessary.
  5. Complete OSAC’s Hotel Security and Safety Assessment Form:

3. Prepare legal contracts. Insert contract language for the safety of attendees into all venue and accommodations contracts including indemnification and force majeure. Negotiate or encourage the client to negotiate for an extension of the hotel conference rate for attendees and staff in the event attendees are unable to leave the area. Ask insurance agency for a cancellation insurance policy that covers events being canceled or disrupted due to weather conditions, terrorist threats or labor strikes.

4. Gather participant information during registration.

Ensure the following information is also included on the registration forms:

  1. “In case of emergency” section
  2. Emergency Contact name/relationship
  3. Address
  4. Phone: cell and home/office
  5. Medical conditions or allergies that the organizers should be aware of?
  6. If so, ask them to please list the physician’s name and number.


The following procedures provide a guide to work from in the event of an emergency. Although no two situations will be identical, these steps will always be applicable.

1. General Emergency Call Procedures:

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Establish the exact location of the emergency (e.g., Grand Ballroom B in the West Tower).
  3. Assign a person to call the event’s Emergency Response Team members to notify them of the identified emergency and that emergency personnel will also be called.
  4. Call the emergency telephone number (or 911) established in call procedure information.
  5. Explain the type of emergency (e.g., fire, medical emergency, etc.).
  6. Give your name and a telephone number and/or house phone extension at which you can be reached.
  7. Wait for further directions from emergency personnel.
  8. If safe, wait for emergency personnel to arrive. Have designees posted at intervals (e.g., at the door to the meeting room, outside the elevators, at every major turn between the outside door and the location of the emergency) to direct emergency personnel to the emergency.

2. Possible Scenarios. The following potential scenarios should be included in the Emergency Response Plan with procedures for each:

  1. Terrorist/bomb threat

[Partner content: Tips to Mitigate Bomb Threats in Your Facility]

  1. Medical emergency
  2. Fire
  3. Severe weather


In addition, the following will prove invaluable during an emergency and should be included in the plan.

  1. Meeting Event Summary Report. Include an updated summary for every event with dates, locations, facility plans, and emergency team assignments.
  2. Incident Report Form. A readily-accessible form to report an incident at the event both for the hosting organization and any emergency personnel.
  3. Emergency Response Communication Chart and Key Contacts List. This easy-to-use document puts all of the vital information in one place and should be printed and provided to each member of the Emergency Response Team.


Staff members should be asked to familiarize themselves with the plan prior to each meeting and be ready to take action when and if it becomes necessary.

Someone’s life—including your own—may depend on it.

For a free download of MeetGreen’s Emergency Response Plan, click here.


British company Informa formally offered $5.5 billion in a cash-stock deal for London-based event organizer UBM, which if completed, would create the largest exhibition company in the world, according to the Trade Show News Network (TSNN).

Informa, a business intelligence and events company, owns the Lloyd’s List shipping newspaper and runs around 200 exhibitions a year, while UBM organizes over 300 market-leading B2B events every year and operates in more than 20 countries.

Informa specializes in B2B events, business intelligence and academic publishing, and has a presence in North America, South America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

According to Reuters, the deal, which was first announced last month and confirmed Jan. 30, 2018, will create a global leader in business events and conferences, almost a decade after UBM tried to buy Informa (industry giant Reed Exhibitions also looked to buy Informa in June 2008).

"It is clear that the B2B market is moving to operating scale and industry specialization,” said Stephen A. Carter, Informa’s CEO in an official statement related to the deal between Informa and UBM.

“Our recommended offer for UBM promises to create a leading B2B information services group with the international reach and market capabilities to take full advantage of these trends,” he added.

Shows under the new, larger group umbrella would include everything from the World of Concrete—an international concrete and masonry industry event—to the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC).

According to Bloomberg Technology, UBM has been selling off other businesses like PR Newswire, a press release distribution unit, to focus more on events.

The company became the biggest exhibitions organizer in the U.S. when it acquired Advanstar Communications Inc., the U.S. tradeshow company, for $972 million in 2014.

Patrick Martell, Informa’s CEO of business intelligence, will take over from UBM CEO Tim Cobbold, to lead UBM through the integration process until end of 2018, according to an official release.

Martell will report to Informa CEO Stephen Carter, who will be CEO of the combined company.


With news of Marriott International’s decision to cut third-party planner commissions for bookings at U.S. and Canadian properties to 7 percent from 10 percent starting March 31, 2018, a seeming parallel event stood out in my mind from near the beginning of my travel trade journalism career.

In 1995 I was working as an editor at TravelAge and Travel Weekly magazines and news of airlines capping travel agents’ commissions roiled the industry in an even larger way than the recent Marriott news appears to be roiling third-party planners.

To up the outrage meter regarding the current news, it was soon discovered that Marriott kept the commission rate intact for the large third-party planning companies: HelmsBriscoe, HPN Global, ConferenceDirect and Maritz Global Events.

The editor-in-chief of TravelAge at the time, Robert Carlsen—who currently does some freelance work for Meetings Today, because it’s generally a good strategy to surround oneself with people who are smarter than you—led the charge in covering the momentous news, which was the biggest issue to impact the travel agent industry since the deregulation of U.S. airlines in 1978.

Here’s Carlsen’s take:

“As we reported in TravelAge West at the time, Delta was the first major carrier to cap travel agent commission to $50 domestic and $100 international in 1995, with all the other large carriers (United, American, Northwest, et al) following suit by 1996—the main reason cited as the rise of low-cost carriers such as Southwest,” Carlsen said in response to Meetings Today’s query about how the Marriott third-party commission cuts reflected the travel agent commission caps of yesteryear. “In 1999, the carriers dropped commissions to a flat 5 percent and then in 2002 eliminated them altogether.

“Travel agents, obviously, were stunned, but they eventually realized that they could use service fees to regain some revenue while actively promoting customer service, which today is still an effective plan based on online booking uncertainties and rip-offs,” he added.

How will Marriott’s commission cuts impact the meetings industry? Will other major chains join in?

As the saying goes, time will tell.

It seems the writing could be on the wall, however, for the current business model.

One eternal lesson to keep firmly in mind is to focus on customer service and demonstrate the “return on investment” you bring to your clients. While you may vehemently disagree with the Marriott decision, proving your value to your clients is always sure to be the best strategy to stay in business.


SPIN, the Senior Professionals Industry Network, initiated a petition in protest of what it deemed as Marriott International’s "special consideration to four of the largest group-booking intermediary companies by honoring 10 percent commission for them," while cutting other third-party intermediary (which it labels as meeting and event planners, DMCs, travel agents and others) commission rates to 7 percent from the current 10 percent.

“SPIN’s membership is 40 percent small business owners/third-party planners,” said Tracey Smith, SPIN’s executive director. “As other industry associations haven’t taken a stand against [Marriott's recent actions], we felt we needed to help be the voice for our members who will be impacted.”

The commission reduction will take effect March 31, 2018, but will remain at 10 percent for countries other than the U.S. and Canada. Marriott will pay the 10 percent commission for contracts signed prior to March 31.

The move by Marriott stirred further controversy because it reportedly exempted large third-party planning companies HelmsBriscoe, HPN Global, ConferenceDirect and Maritz Global Events from the decrease.

“Regardless of the pricing structure our members use, why should they get a lower commission than larger group-booking companies?” asked Shawna Suckow, SPIN’s Founder.

Meeting planners and others in the industry have already expressed outrage over the commission cut, which Marriott said was made in reaction to costs for its hotels growing at a faster pace than its group revenue.

To view or sign the petition embedded on the SPIN homepage, visit

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