So much of my work during the 35 years of my business has been “crisis contract management”—that is, organizations discover that a signed contract contained ambiguities (see this newsletter and webinar for more) and realize they could be or were in trouble. They contracted with me in hopes of my being able to clear up contract ambiguities.
Those many experiences, two recent situations (one that may cost an individual in excess of $40,000 in attrition) about which I was contacted and provided, pro bono, questions the individuals should ask for clarity, my work as an industry expert witness, and a question in a recently taught class (“Isn’t it unethical for a hotel not to disclose all the terms?”) prompted the November 2016 edition of Friday With Joan.
I asked colleagues who were once in sales or service and who now may be planners, and those now in sales and service for hotels and DMOs (aka CVBs), to respond from both perspectives, or from the perspective in which they work. I am especially grateful to those who were willing and did respond.
Because of time commitments, some asked were unable to respond, so the group may be less representative in various aspects of human and industry diversity than intended.
How do these responses strike you? In the comments section of the blog, I hope you will voice your opinion since it appears that there is no consensus about how we should ethically do business.
Brief background information about those interviewed. They are listed alphabetically by last name.
Sharon Danitschek, owner/president, Reunion Friendly Network
Most of my 25-years-plus career has been on the hotel sales side on the local, regional and national level. In 2013, I purchased Reunion Friendly Network from the founder. RFN educates military veterans planning their reunions on how to go about it as well as connect them to reunion-friendly hospitality industry partners. Education is available through online resources as well as conferences and FAMs around the U.S. I am currently a member of MPI Washington Chapter (GO HAWKS!). Throughout my career, I held board positions with MPI Oregon Chapter, SGMP Washington Chapter and was a Snohomish County Lodging Association founding member. You can reach Sharon through RFN at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Linkedin.
Suzette Eaddy, CMP emeritus, retired conference, meeting and event management professional
After 44 years in the industry, Suzette Eaddy, CMP emeritus, retired as the vice president of conferences, meetings and events for the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), a private, not-for-profit organization that expands business opportunities for minority-owned companies.
Suzette is a member of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners (NCBMP) and a Life Member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). She is also a former member of the Convention Industry Council’s Certified Meeting Professional Board of Directors, Hilton Hotels Corporation Meetings & Conventions Advisory Board, New Orleans National Customer Advisory Council and Phoenix Customer Advisory Board.
Suzette is a former part time instructor at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies, The Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Travel Administration. She has written articles on conference and meeting management, been a speaker at industry events and has been quoted in various industry publications as an expert on conference and meeting management. You can connect with Suzette at email@example.com or here.
Angela Gaghan, CMP, director of sales, Blue Chip Casino, Hotel & Spa
A seasoned professional with over 30 years in hospitality sales representing a CVB, luxury resorts, urban hotels and casino properties, I currently serve on three boards of directors: Indiana MPI Chapter, director of membership recruitment; La Porte County CVB; Access La Porte County.
For the past 18 years, I have been actively involved with MPI, serving in several leadership positions, including past president of Michigan Chapter. I am and have been active with the Michigan and Indiana Society of Association Executives. You can connect with Angela at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @angelagaghan2.
Kathryn McDonald, catering sales manager, Hilton Richmond Downtown
Hotel sales veteran with 20 years’ experience in groups sales and catering and convention services. I have been an MPI member for 15-plus years and have most recently served as the director of education/programs for the Richmond Chapter of NACE from 2015-2016. Currently, I am serving on a EWX (Extraordinary Women’s Exchange) Meeting Committee for the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. You can connect with Kathryn at Kathryn.McDonald@Hilton.com or or on LinkedIn.
Kristin McGrath, CDME, vice president of sales and service, Richmond Region Tourism
I have been a member of the senior leadership team at Richmond Region Tourism for two years. Richmond Region Tourism is an accredited DMO. As such, we adhere to the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program code of ethics. Prior to joining the RRT team, I enjoyed working at the Providence Warwick CVB from 2005 to 2014. I served in a number of roles: national sales manager, director of sales and VP of sales and services. I also have experience in hotel and restaurant sales. You can reach Kristin at email@example.com, at LinkedIn or via Twitter at @kristinmcgrath.
William (“Bill”) F. Reed, FASAE, CMP, senior director of meetings and community engagement for the American Society of Hematology
Bill Reed, a native of Newport, R.I., and a graduate of Florida International University (FIU) with a B.S. degree in Hotel Administration, lives in Arlington, Va., and is senior director of meetings and community engagement for the American Society of Hematology (ASH), the world’s largest professional society concerned with the causes and treatments of blood disorders. In this role, Bill oversees the Society’s membership and meetings strategy, portfolio of events and operations of ASH’s conference center. ASH’s annual meeting and exhibition is attended by over 25,000 professionals and 200 exhibiting companies.
Prior to joining ASH, Bill was senior vice president for Experient, a meeting management company that managed 3,000 events per year for associations, corporations and government agencies during his tenure. Prior to Experient, Bill held sales and convention services leadership roles with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Westin Hotels & Resorts. [A personal note: Bill and I met in the ’80s when he was in catering and convention services in Seattle].
Bill currently serves as chairman of the Board of Directors for PCMA following the completion of a three-year term as director and one-year terms as secretary-treasurer and chair-elect. Bill previously served a three-year term on the ASAE’s Board of Directors, and has been recognized as an ASAE Fellow. He is an enthusiastic industry speaker and has received numerous industry awards, including the Foundation of International Meetings’ “Industry Executive of the Year.”
Sharmagne Taylor, CMP, president, On-Site Partners
Sharmagne Taylor, CMP, is president and CEO of On-Site Partners, Inc., a full-service meeting consulting firm providing technology solutions for attendees and housing and event-logistics management for large meetings and events hosted by professional and trade associations, corporations and community organizations. Prior to starting her own firm, Sharmagne worked for 15 years in hotel operations, sales and convention services, primarily with Hyatt and Hilton.
She is a 1986 graduate of Hilton College, where she is currently a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board and a Distinguished Lecturing Member of Eric’s Club. In 2003, she completed the Community Minority Business Advancement Program offered by The University of Texas McCombs School of Business.
On-Site Partners was the 2012 recipient of the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council’s prestigious E-10 Award, the 2012 U.S. Small Business Administration’s Director’s Award, the 2008 recipient of the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce Pinnacle Award in Hospitality and the 2008 Houston Minority Supplier Development Council Minority Supplier of the Year Award.
You can connect with Sharmagne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q1a. What ethical or business obligation(s) do you think a hotel (or AV or DMC or other vendor) sales person has to explain how the industry works before a proposal is offered and a contract negotiated? What do you think governs those obligations?
Responses to Question 1a:
Sharon: It is hard to say if it is an obligation or just good business to explain how the industry works. If a sales person is working with a first-time planner regardless of the market, taking the time to walk through the process of the “how and why” will result in less issues along the way. Explanations to new planners presents the salesperson in a more professional and partnership light. Military reunion planners I work with feel they can trust sales people more when conversations like this take place. I would not call it an obligation, though. Military reunion planners are encouraged to ask detailed questions about anything they do not understand about the industry, process or clauses. The salesperson does have the obligation at that point to fully answer. I do not recall any sales training session where “obligation” was discussed.
Suzette: I don’t think a supplier is obligated to explain how the industry works before offering a proposal or negotiates a contract. Nor do I think it unethical not to do so. It is presumed that all parties coming to the table know how things work. They may have various levels of experience, but they should know the basics or they should not be at the table. I am going to compare it to driving. People have varying levels of driving skills, but they all have or should have a driver’s license, which should ensure that they know the basics.
Angela: The hotel sales representative should disclose any and all information that he/she is aware of to the client that may impact the event. Even if it’s speculative at the time of the proposal and even if it may have a direct impact on whether the client commits or not.
The governing obligation is simply the fact that ALL contracts (in my opinion) have an “x” factor that includes trust. The goal of any event is for it to succeed. Both the sales representative and the client “should” share in that goal.
Kathryn: I am not sure where in the RFP process this conversation would come up with most of my clients. But if I find out during the inquiry process that the client is a “first timer” or it is a social event like a wedding where the planner is more unfamiliar, I do my best to explain the partnership of risk to them. I.e., if they are looking for just a room block and they are certain they need a significant number—say 50 or more—explain and ask if they want to be monetarily responsible for the rooms that aren’t picked up in their block. This does a couple of things: It makes them go back and really think about their true needs and if they do need that large number of rooms then they are more comfortable contracting or they contract a smaller number that qualifies them for a courtesy block. They then get we are a business and our rooms have a “shelf life” and have more insight of how this part of our industry works as well as our monetary obligation to our owners.
Kristin: I’ve been fortunate to always work for organizations that value transparency and education. DMO sales [and] services professionals are truly the experts within their communities. We are always happy to share information that is specific to our destinations. For instance, if we notice a meeting planner is under contracting to pick up history over high compression dates in our destination, for example a NASCAR weekend in Richmond, we have an obligation to mention that she might have a difficult time adding rooms, at the group rate, to the block closer to the event.
An emphasis on quality customer service governs those obligations. We do our best to eliminate surprises and misaligned expectations of both our clients and our community.
Bill: I think this is an interesting question. I have found it is a smart practice to help a new member of the profession, but I do not consider it as an obligation belonging to a vendor salesperson before a proposal or contract is offered. I do not see it as the seller’s role to train the buyer on industry norms or common practices. The seller’s responsibility is to represent their organization well, first and foremost, and seek to find customers that would benefit from their product or service in a professional manner. My experience tells me, however, that if you help another learn, the reputation of the individual and their organization increases. I think it is a smart strategy but not an obligation. When you do this, you will be rewarded in some future way, although there is no guarantee. The responsibility for knowing how the industry works belongs to the individual (buyer and seller) or their employer, or perhaps the individual is not qualified to be in the role they are holding.
Sharmagne: None. Each party is responsible to provide education and training to its own representatives or to hire professionals who understand the business.
Q1b. What are the ethical obligations of an individual or organizational buyer about the details of their meeting or meeting history–that is, new event/no history? Past cancellation and/or attrition history? Novice to the process? Other? (Please specify).
Responses to question 1b:
Sharon: Military reunion planners typically disclose as much information as possible regarding their reunions. I don’t believe disclosure is ethically motivated but rather a discussion on the piece of business. Seasoned veterans have a tendency to overshare general history if they have been planning for a long time. They can tell you where they were 15 years ago. New planners have no issue disclosing their novice status. In a way it places more responsibility on the sales rep because the planner does not know how to anticipate what is ahead in the process.
Suzette: I don’t think that there is an ethical obligation, but it is definitely a professional obligation on the part of both parties. A seasoned meeting professional (planner, sales or service) knows that meeting history is very important. If the planner doesn’t provide it, it is up to the supplier to request it. It is part of their due diligence. It is just as important as checking the buyer’s credit history—maybe more important.
One of my pet peeves has always been buyers wanting to know what you paid before for similar services. In my opinion, each deal should stand on its own. Just because my group paid $300 a night before doesn’t mean we are going to pay $300 again in your city or at your property.
I don’t think planners have to volunteer prior attrition information, particularly dollar amounts. Most hotels will ask for actual room pickup information for the past several years. Whether you had attrition or not is not their business. If you paid the attrition, you made the hotel whole and it shouldn’t be held against you.
If booking within the same chain, suppliers have the benefit of getting inside information. They know exactly what your room block, pickup and attrition, if applicable, was.
In the getting-to-know-you phase, both sides try to determine the level of expertise of the other party. If you know that someone is new, you might want to go over key terms to make sure that you both have the same understanding, but it is not mandatory. You are not obligated professionally or ethically to train the other party.
Also, refer to my response to Q2a.
Angela: The ethical obligation that I have come to expect is that the individual/organizational buyer understand that the hotel/property is a “FOR PROFIT” entity, and in return that the hotel/property will make every effort to ensure that this event is successful/profitable for the client as well. There is accountability for both sides in ensuring that the terms and/or conditions in providing that item and/or service.
Throughout the planning process, the terms and conditions should be reviewed and discussed regularly by the sales/convention services representative in making sure that the client/planner fully understands the consequences.
If followed accurately, there should be no billing “surprises” following the event.
Kathryn: I think the more information a planner can provide the better. History plays an important part of the decision process for a hotel but not for all pieces of business. It is good to have for the file and to measure performance, but the contract protects the hotel at the end of the day.
Kristin: It is our responsibility to qualify business opportunities and act as a resource to clients and our hotel partners. Information is power. People are best equipped to make sound decisions when they have all the pertinent facts.
Bill: Full disclosure of available historical information is important. RFPs are intended to help both parties to decide if the match is a good and productive one. This includes history, new or otherwise.
Sharmagne: It is important to share relevant history and to maintain complete history as a planner. To invoke a "buyer beware" clause would give me pause and I would walk away. Both parties need to act in good faith and communicate when issues arise that impact their ability to deliver as promised.
Q1c. Is it “smart business” to negotiate deals favorable to one party over another? If so, is it “just business” and/or ethical? How does the buyer beware v. the seller responsible for disclosure come into play? Or in the case of a buyer not disclosing the details of past meeting cancellations or attrition, betting that the vendor won’t check history, is it just business and is it ethical? Are we responsible to be ethical in how we do business or is the bottom line more important?
Responses to Question 1c:
Suzette: I don’t think that anyone thinks that all business deals should be equal. Business deals are based on many factors, such as supply and demand, time and place. All deals are not nor should they be equal. A hotel or convention facility might cancel one meeting for a more profitable one or switch reserved meeting rooms to accommodate a more-favored group.
Microsoft is not going to get the same deal as the Urban League. If Microsoft needs the space or vendors previously booked by the Urban League, guess who is going to get the short end of the stick. Is it ethical to bump off the Urban League, even if you pay them and find other venues/services for them? No, but it’s business. Smart business if you are the provider.
Ethically and morally, the supplier should disclose any potential problems, such as upcoming renovations, change in management, competitive group in house, etc. It is also the buyer’s obligation to ask if there is anything that could potentially negatively impact/affect your event. One of the first tenets we learn is “caveat emptor—let the buyer beware.” That doesn’t mean that everyone is out to take advantage of a situation, but that we should do our due diligence and check out things before we buy.
Today’s business climate brings even more challenges. Budgets are cut and the pressure is on to do more with less. In these tough economic times, suppliers can sometimes feel that their backs are up against the wall and they are getting pressure to meet their quotas. When resources or money get tight, people do a lot of things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Most salespeople live and die based on the bottom line. Not making sales quotas could mean that you won’t have a job. This is one of the things that forces salespeople to do unethical things in order to make a sale.
Also, refer to my response to Q2b.
Angela: I would certainly say the “art” of negotiating is that there is a hidden incentive to walk away in feeling that your deal is more favorable than the “opponent,” but in reality, the “opponent” should be your partner.
Everyone has their own line of which they consider a piece of business as “good” business. How you negotiate to get to that line is the challenge. Gathering accurate information and making educated decisions “is business.” However, I would agree that as a supplier, I am ethically responsible in how that information is utilized. Again, I always try to build a trust factor with my clients to please communicate every detail! I may not care if you had attrition issues at your last event; but choosing to leave out that you allowed 50 “walk-ins” for lunch on that date may be of concern and ultimately have a negative impact on your event.
In theory…I guess I am saying that I believe in “Karma”: if you think you got away with something for failing to disclose or overstating what you may be bringing to the table, then most likely, there will be negative consequences that will impact you that will ultimately affect your bottom line.
Kathryn: Each group and each meeting is so different and fulfills different revenue goals based on so many variables that each “deal” is different from the get go. I don’t feel an obligation to disclose or share what one group is paying vs another. Each business transaction is not an apple-to-apple comparison. When I see a group ask or demand to have the lowest rate, more of often than not it is not a good piece of business for us to book. I need to understand the other perspective.
Kristin: The bottom line is important, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be ethical in how we do business.
I often think about a story I heard when I was starting my career: the RFP said “Oct dates–flexible. Submit your best possible rate.” The hotel issued a contract, with bargain rates, for dates that fell over Yom Kippur (considered the holiest day of the year in Judaism). The hotel sales person did not mention to the client the reason for the lower than expected rate was the Jewish holiday. The meeting planner was thrilled with the rate, wondered if it was a mistake, and quickly signed the contract without realizing the date conflict.
Flash forward to October: attendance suffered, the room block under-performed, and both the hotel and meeting planner were disappointed and unhappy. Their business relationship was damaged. Nobody did anything unethical, but both parties ended up being upset.
Being up-front and transparent from the beginning might have cost a sale, or a too-good-to-be-true rate, but everyone probably would have been better off in the long run.
Bill: Being duplicitous is unprofessional. Both parties have an obligation to ask questions, seek clarification, so they are fully informed about the purchase/sale they are making. If they do not, they, not the other party, have made themselves (and their organizations) vulnerable to additional risk. If asked a question, if false or misleading answers are provided, that is unethical and not a good practice.
Sharmagne: No. Both parties should walk away whole. If not, there is a risk that either the facility or the planner is holding back something. For example, the hotel is not holding all of the rooms or meeting space promised or the way the bottom line is reached (reduced staffing, lower quality equipment, etc.) is not disclosed that is employed to reach the "number." The planner may not be sharing the full story about its current sponsorship or other factors that might impact performance. If the discussion centers on cancellation and attrition, it is critical to discuss any concerns upfront and contract appropriately.
Q2a. If the contract may obligate an individual or organization to fees such as attrition or cancellation damages, should a sales person solicit questions and explain all the considerations before signature? If yes, why? If no, why not?
Responses to Question 2a:
Sharon: There is no obligation for a salesperson to explain anything. When presented with a contract it is the responsibility of the signer/planner to be familiar with all of the terms of the agreement that includes damages of any kind. They should seek clarification. We encourage military reunion planners to have an attorney review all agreements prior to signing. In addition, the document should be reviewed with the sales rep to confirm both parties are interpreting the document the same way. A good salesperson offers to review everything prior to signature.
Suzette: The vendor doesn’t have the time nor should be responsible for educating the buyer. The vendor is obligated to answer honestly any questions the buyer may have. If it is obvious that the buyer doesn’t know what they are doing, then the seller might want to point some things out to eliminate problems further down the line. No one should be signing a contract that they haven’t read or don’t understand. It is presumed that when you are buying something that you have done due diligence and have done some research on which to base your decisions.
I don’t think suppliers are obligated ethically or professionally to explain contract terms such as attrition, force majeure, etc. No one should expect them to.
Regarding attrition and cancellation, the terms have to be clearly spelled out; there should be no room for interpretation. This is where people get in trouble. The seller meant this and the buyer meant that. By the time the contracted services come into play, you often have an entirely new set of players who were not involved when the original contract was signed.
Also, refer to my response to Q2a.
Angela: Yes, I do feel that all contractual agreements should be reviewed jointly by both parties. I do take the time to set up a “contract review” appointment ... just to make sure I fully explain the terms and conditions. So, yes, I do feel that the sales person has the responsibility in ensuring that they are fully explaining the agreement for which they are asking to be signed. However, in reality, setting aside time to do that can be quite challenging. I recently started including a “sample” contract with large proposals that I send out. However, I have found myself having to fully explain my reason for doing so (as it has been negatively perceived that I was “assuming” that I was awarded the business).
Kathryn: YES! I believe that explaining the contracting process is extremely important right from the start. As the contract is a partnership of risk for both parties, it is better to have the “bad” scenario conversation prior to a client signing. If something does go wrong or the anticipated performance isn’t there, the client knows what the monetary obligation is and can plan/budget, etc., for the shortfall. It is an easier conversation to have when both parties understand what will happen if a contract performance falls short.
I am often surprised by client’s stories of attrition “surprises.” It makes me question how seriously the client weighs the value the contract and/or read what they signed.
Kristin: Meeting professionals need to spend time asking questions and sales people need to be comfortable honestly responded to those questions. Any salesperson issuing a contract has a responsibility to understand each clause it contains. And obviously, the person signing a contract has a responsibility to understand to what they are agreeing.
Bill: Signing a contract that contains obligations that you do not fully understand is not prudent. If either party does not understand the language, its meaning, or believe it is unclear, they should ask questions and capture the clarifying information or intent in a revised document before signature. Again, if someone responding to questions with duplicitous or misleading information is not professional.
Sharmagne: Ideally, yes. Few sales people really understand what they are asking the customers to sign and the background decisions that the hotel and facilities make to deliver on the terms of their agreement. The standard response is "get director approval" or "talk to revenue management," and those decisions and analysis are done at that level
Q2b. “Upselling” is common after a contract is signed. What are the ethical obligations of the up-seller (often someone in catering or convention services) to the buyer in explaining the added items, such as a better grade of linen or higher grade of meat for a banquet, or production assistance?
Responses to Question 2b:
Sharon: If the up-seller offers upsell items as an option or choice, I am not sure if ethics comes into play here. The planner can always say no when presented with options. It would appear unethical to me if the up seller starts with the high-end items without consultation.
Suzette: I don’t know about “ethical obligations” when it comes to upselling, but it would behoove the seller to clearly outline the benefits of item(s) being upsold. The better they can articulate the benefits of the higher priced items understood, the more likely they will make the sale.
Angela: Upselling is common, but timing is everything. It should not be a hard sell, and it should only be suggested as an “additional” option that will make a noticeable impact on the event.
In my experience, to truly have success in upselling … you must have rapport with the client, and you have acknowledged that you understand their budget needs.
Kathryn: The convention services manager certainly has an obligation to provide the cost associated with any upgrade. I am not sure how they could get the higher costs by them if it is documented on the banquet event order that the planner should sign off on prior to the event. As a backup measure, I provide an estimated banquet check for every BEO [Banquet Event Order] to my clients so they know how what their costs are vs. their budget.
Kristin: “Upselling” is common after a contract is signed. What are the ethical obligations of the up-seller (often someone in catering or convention services) to the buyer in explaining the added items, such as a better grade of linen or higher grade of meat for a banquet, or production assistance?
Bill: I am unsure of this question. If the buyer agreed to an upgraded and additional fees without understanding these additional fees or benefits of the upgrade, the responsibility falls with the buyer who agreed to something they did not understand. Sellers should offer upgrades and buyers have the option to say no to anything offered. If there are questions, they should be asked and answered.
Sharmagne: Historically, a CSM [convention services manager or, more current, event services professionals] was the internal advocate for the planner at the hotel. This role has changed to the "bearer of bad news" assigned to get the planner to accept the hotel or facility's perspective. They upsell and otherwise make it difficult to work within the set minimums and contract provisions or know that these estimates and commitments are unrealistic with a three-course minimum or the current pricing.
With vendors like AV, electricity and to some extent catering, the facility feels no obligation to outline or justify hidden costs. It's not uncommon to get hit with a major surprise for something the CSM views as "out of their control."
Recently, I learned that in union cities, if the client asks for the best staff, the facility has to pay a surcharge for the staff they displace. [NOTE: Though researched, this was unable to be verified by Joan or the editors.] Based on your contracted rates, dates and space you may not be budgeted for that surcharge. You get a Cadillac site visit but your meeting staff is not the same quality. This certainly raises ethical questions.
Q3. How do the industry associations’ codes of ethics impact or how should they impact the actions of the parties? What about the sellers’ or buyers’ employer’s codes of ethics?
Responses to Question 3:
Sharon: Military reunion planners have a built-in code of ethics that comes from their time of service. There is a strong sense of integrity. If they say they will call you on Tuesday, they WILL call you on Tuesday.
Suzette: I am willing to bet that across the board, 75 percent of the membership/employees are not aware that the association/organization/corporation has a code of ethics and that 99 percent haven’t read it. The code of ethics usually doesn’t come into play until you want to get rid of someone.
When it comes to the bottom line or losing your job for not making sales quotas, more than likely a blind eye will be turned toward the code of ethics. Look at Wells Fargo as a recent example.
Angela: Like any business, if an association’s Codes of Ethics is part of the association’s day-to-day culture, then it will naturally be part of the actions of the parties. Being an independent property, I have lost business for not being a franchise property that offered a loyalty program (i.e. Marriott Rewards, Hyatt Gold Passport, etc.), which I know the meeting planner should not receive based upon their code of ethics or company policies. However, I have seen hotel suppliers being creative in giving meeting planning points to the planners’ significant other’s name. I have seen people lose their jobs over these choices, and I have seen associations turn a “blind eye” if they suspect contractual negotiations that may include personal incentives.
In addition, I have also seen hotel suppliers be awarded as well. My employer has a strict policy which clearly state acceptance of gifts and the amount allotted in doing so. I have come to learn the hard way politely declining the gift is easier than accepting (even with corporate approval). Acceptance of gifts can send an underlying message that you can be persuaded for other favors.
Kathryn: I think the industry associations’ codes of ethics should greatly impact how we do business with each other. One of the Hilton pillars is to always do the right thing and it greatly impacts our culture here at the hotel. I can’t speak for a business environment that wouldn’t want to do the right thing in all aspects of business. If you are always doing the right thing, the owners and clients/guests will nine times out of 10 have a great experience. I believe it is that simple. If we are doing business with the best intentions in mind—for ourselves and our clients, even when we have to have the difficult performance conversations—clients are both more forgiving and understanding and so are we. It isn’t all just about the monetary aspect.
Kristin: I would hope that industry associations’ codes of ethics are in alignment with individual members’ personal codes of ethics. I know I have always done my best to behave in the manner outlined in the DMAP code of ethics long before I ever read that document.
Bill: The ultimate responsibility for one's actions and behavior rests with the individual, and their employer they are representing. Breaking organizational policies has consequences, both in terms of employment status, professional reputation and possibly legal.
Sharmagne: Doing what's legal is not the same as doing what's right. Somehow that is not trickling down to those only focused on the bottom line.
I am surprised how unfamiliar the new and less experienced sales and convention services staff are with industry standards, guidelines and publications. This includes ethics and contract law. Many have to pay on their own for training and certification even at major chains.
Q4. What do you want sales and services people to consider when they are selling to in- or less-experienced people planning meetings and events?
Responses to Question 4:
Sharon: When working with military reunions, first and foremost, listen. Listen to their specific needs (They do not need a guest room for a hospitality space. They need a meeting room). Ask them about their service. It may change your perception of them.
Start from the beginning. Explain the process. Show them a blank contract and explain the terms. Explain why something cannot happen (alcohol being brought in from outside) and offer flexible solutions that support their goal.
Suzette: Every sales/service person doesn’t have the same level of experience, nor does every client. It is not the sales/service person’s responsibility to train the client. An informed client will ultimately make your job easier. It can also lead to an increase in your bottom line. A client will remember when rather than taking advantage of their inexperience the sales/service person took the time to explain things that kept them from making possibly costly mistakes.
I know a hotel salesperson who told me the story of an event organizer who obviously didn’t know what they were doing. Instead of taking advantage of their inexperience, she took it upon herself to ask one of her meeting planning colleagues to help him. With the meeting planner’s help, she was able to get the information that she needed, i.e., event specifications, from the event organizer.
One of the first things I ask a vendor is how long have you worked here? I want to know if they have been at the property/company long enough to know the ins and outs and how to get things done. If the CSM doesn’t get along with or have the respect of the setup crew, you may find your room sets being set up late or not according to specifications. I also may ask them where they worked before. If they were at a high-end venue, they may not understand the needs of an organization that doesn’t have a large budget.
If there were just one thing I would want sales and services people to consider when selling to in- or less-experienced people planning meetings and events, it would be to make sure that they understand that “if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage,” as Dee Chang would say. They should assume nothing. The underpinning of our ability to do business is trust, both in our colleagues and our industry partners.
Angela: As an “seasoned” hospitality professional, I am a huge industry advocate in teaching and training new hospitality sales professionals and I simply advise them to “paint the picture” when selling. Have the planner walk you through (via phone or better yet, a perfect transition to invite them for a site visit) the entire event from start to finish. Include arrival area, where to find the meeting/banquet room, what will they see/pass on their way to event space, etc.
During that process, the supplier can address and clarify the amenities that the property has to offer, check-in times, additional signage that may be needed, inclement weather preparation, etc.
All of the above can be addressed in the sales agreement. You’ll gain insight as to their challenges they face in planning this event and how they will be marketing and/or promoting it (which all tie into the terms and conditions of contractual agreement).
Kathryn: Everyone started out new at one point in their careers and I try to be as patient and honest with folks just starting out. The more knowledge, the more you can explain, the more you can do for a client to make them look good to their attendees and direct report, is a is a win-win for all. I find it is my obligation to anticipate, to ask the right questions, to assist in the planning, to step in and provide guidance. It is my job to be their advocate as well as the hotels.
Kristin: The first line on the DMAP code of ethics is, “Provide exceptional customer service and detailed information on destination products and services.” Providing detailed information is a key. DMO [also referred to by the industry as a “CVB”] sales and service professionals help educate those who may not have the benefit of their experience and knowledge. It is what we do daily. And we are happy to do it.
Bill: One’s reputation is built on a daily basis. Having a good reputation as someone (or an organization) that works toward long-lasting business relationships, through agreements that are mutually beneficial, is important to a long career.
Sharmagne: Many refer them to planners and consultants when they realize this is the case. Unfortunately, this happens after the contract is signed. I want those who manage sales teams and develop standard agreements to train their staff to understand their offer and to be able to explain to novice and seasoned planners what each clause means. That seems to be the missing link.