Is the Meetings Industry Corrupt?

Outside the Metro D.C. area, you may not have been following the recent trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife on bribery and corruption charges. You should give it a look, not only for the sordid details and innuendo, but for the bigger ethics issues for those who hold elected office, those who are state, county or municipal employees, and for all those who work in our industry.  

Why? Because none of this is clear:

  • Why meetings and hospitality industry ethics policies are aspirational, except for the one governing CMPs and its disciplinary procedures.
  • How our industry does business by giving gifts (usually from supplier to a client who is often a meeting professional), some lavish, some personal and for personal occasions (birthdays, births, engagements, weddings, etc.).
  • In what ways giving a gift for preferential treatment in a bidding war is appropriate.
  • How accepting gifts of any kind is appropriate, even if what may be a friendship exists (see McDonnell trial for more on friendships) as a result of a business relationship, or is appropriate if business is still on the table or might be.
  • In what ways we view the exchange of gifts for influence or business (booking a vendor, as an example) differently than they are being viewed in this trial, and how this is viewed by HSMAI and DMAI and what they discuss about ethics with their members.*

Over many years in this industry, I've seen planners (including CMPs) solicit gifts for considering or booking properties; suppliers who give gifts for a planner's bookings and more for their repeat bookings (that may have not gone out for bid); planners whose company or organization's ethics policies are known to be "strict" (not able to take any gift over $25.00), accept prizes in drawings for items like beds from a supplier company. I've wondered, questioned it in columns, blogs, and classes, and asked industry associations why we do business this way?

All I seem to get in response is that "it's what we have always done," or "it's what is expected and accepted."

Do you think now that the McDonnells are convicted, it will impact how, at least in Virginia, corporations and government agencies monitor the booking of their meetings and what is given in return? If hotels and other vendor companies—in and outside our industry—question their practices and complicity in creating unethical situations with customers?

Or do you think I'm destined to die with a) these questions still lingering and b) no changes in our industry after so many words and examples?

Oh that last question? It's not rhethorical. Feedback please. If you are someone who is not allowed to comment publicly or is uncomfortable commenting with your name attached, e-mail me and I'll post it anonymously and hold the comments in complete confidence.

* HSMAI and DMAI: I'm available to lead ethics sessions that include lots of discussion at your meetings. I know it's not being discussed at all or enough.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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