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How to Make Sure Your Contracts Are Fool-Proof

Monday, May 9th, 2011


In a conversation over dinner with Joan Eisenstodt, a leader in the hospitality & meetings industry and a knowledgeable resource in contract negotiation, I learned meeting planners often receive one page contracts and sign on the dotted line; the contracts are a meeting disaster waiting to happen without the inclusion of very important food and beverage or space details. Intrigued, I told Joan I wanted to talk with her more about contracts and essentially, “pick her brain” to share and teach others about what to look for in a contract and the signs of red flags. A month later, Joan and I spoke again on the subject – this time with ten fingers feverishly typing on a keyboard and a phone glued to my ear…

What are the main clauses to look for in a contract?

[JOAN]: Specific space and dual cancellation clauses. “A client almost signed a one-page contract for a meeting for 200 people. They said, “Joan, what do you think?” People think that a long contract isn’t necessary; it doesn’t matter the length is, it should be inclusive of all the terms. It’s a complicated process.

What are red flags in a meeting contract?

[JOAN]: Non-specific language. Any contract that says something could or may be charged with no specificity – you should negotiate the amount in that case. Joan’s examples of non-specific language:

  1. Is the venue a smoking property? Attendees could be allergic to smoke, this needs to be on the contract as a smoke or smoke-free property either way.
  2. Up to 15 staff members can receive 50% off their room night. It’s either 15 or it’s not and what dates does that apply to?
  3. Round-trip transportation provided from the airport to our DC hotel. What airport? There are 3 in the DC area!
  4. For catered events, contracts should never be based on “Chef’s choice”. Again specificity is the key.

What do you feel strongest about when it comes to meeting contracts?

[JOAN]: When a facility sends a proposal, it’s not negotiated, it’s not a contract, and it’s not signed. If a hotel promises a certain service in a proposal the facility considers a contract such as an on-site restaurant or a bar and it closes – one could consider that a breach of contract. And though it’s covered by law, I prefer to have cancellation, termination, and attrition clauses spelled out with specific dates and dollars not days out and percentages.

Meeting planners must ask, “If x happens, what will happen to this contract or the performance of the meeting?”

If you consider your contract negotiation on a worldwide level, what’s happening in Japan could impact vehicle parts and operations for a facility’s transportation, food supply and availability, and electronic parts for al the tech devices we use. If there is an airline or trucking union strike, your meeting may be impacted if participants or speakers or supplies cannot reach the meeting destination.

When most people negotiate a rate at a hotel or at a conference center whether a la carte or Complete Meeting Package (CMP), they tend to look at the given price. They should consider taxes, service charges, other fees and when and whether those charges will be increased. The price of food is going up worldwide. Someone said they negotiate food prices 9 months to a year out, which is great for the planner and not for the venue.

Today, it’s about looking at the whole package and understanding what exactly you need, why, and what’s important to you.

Joan said “If I look at a site for a client, I will note specifics they need for their meetings. The facility may say that the group can have that space only if they move the meeting by a day or pay a different rate. When you look at proposals and negotiate contracts, know your priorities and know where you can negotiate.

Top 3 non-negotiable should be…

Specific meeting space named and shown on an attached diagram; dual (not mutual) cancellation clause; and specificity of information. No one wants contracts where terms and language are open to interpretation; it can make for a very sticky situation.

When I think of specificity for a meeting contract, I think about how people buy smart phones or appliances: you don’t buy the case; you buy the case, features and service. Too many groups will contract with hotels and vendor services without knowing and contracting specifics for their meetings.


Thank you for the fabulous interview Joan! You not only enlightened me with your knowledge of contracts and the negotiation process, but as you always do with an abundance of ways the hospitality industry is intertwined into events happening on a larger scale across the globe.

Joan, a hospitality and meetings industry consultant, trainer and facilitator, is willing to send her contract negotiation checklist to anyone who emails her at

As either a supplier or planner, what do you feel the strongest about in a contract? Do you have any have red flags to be aware of in meeting contracts? Share them below in the comments section.


Helping Meeting Planners Understand the IACC Value

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Closing Reception at IACC 2011 in The National Conference Center Ballroom

As a 30 year veteran of the meetings industry and a recent honoree of the Mel Hosansky award, Joan Eisenstodt has a true passion for conference centers. When honored with the award Joan said, “…[She hopes] IACC conference centers would continue to be true to their mission, that they would be places where true learning would happen” (Hotel-Online).

At the 2011 annual IACC conference, we learned more about our mission as an IACC member. Here are the most interesting findings – you’ll be surprised to know some are sitting in front of us on a daily basis:

  • Define a Conference Center – Don’t assume all meeting planners understand what a conference center is because there are many who don’t and choose to book at hotels instead. Joan best said it during the Customers Panel on the opening night, “A small portion of meeting planners and particularly Generation Y planners don’t book at conference centers because they don’t understand conference centers. Explaining the conference center concept and the value of productive meetings at an IACC conference center is our job in educating the meetings industry.”

  • Utilize IACC – Use IACC to help meeting planners understand certified IACC conference centers. Explain the 32 point universal criteria to being a IACC conference center from a personal conference planning manager on staff to the Complete Meeting Package. In a case study, there was a division of meeting planners who understood the certifications of an IACC conference center and those who didn’t know what it was. The study found that meeting planners who weren’t explain the 32 criteria of an IACC conference center could care less about meetings at a conference center. However, the case study found of meeting planners who were explained the 32 criteria of an IACC conference center loved hosting meetings at a conference center.

  • Focus on the visit or site-tour, THEN the meeting. According to a session at IACC 2011, explaining membership as an IACC conference center and the value extended the meeting planner will help sales managers in bringing the meeting planner to the property. At that point, the sales manager can then focus on bringing the meeting to the property. “Sell the visit, THEN sell the meeting.”

  • Return on Investment – As mentioned in “11 Takeaways from IACC 2011,” ROI is not necessarily reducing cost but the value delivered. If meeting planners understand the product more, then that’s also a form of ROI. In this case, helping meeting planners understand conference centers, Complete Meeting Packages (CMPs), and the 32 criteria of an IACC conference center are all part of the daily ROI for your conference center.

If you’ve hosted meetings in the past at a conference center, what influenced your decision? As a meeting planner, what do you value the most from the 32-point IACC criteria?

11 Take-Aways from IACC 2011

Monday, March 28th, 2011

The 30th annual conference for the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) was held at The National Conference Center this past week. Each year, a chosen conference center hosts the annual IACC conference, we were honored to host the 2011 IACC  conference. Here are 12 take-aways from the 2011 IACC Conference:

  • Social media makes a large breakthrough – at the IACC conference before, during & after. The twitter hashtag #IACC2011 made its debut in February and gained momentum in the days leading up to the conference. During the first session which featured a web-casted Thought Leaders Panel discussion, tweeps could direct their questions to panelists by tweeting to @IACCthought. Throughout the conference, attendees and non-attendees tweeted about sessions using the hashtag #IACC2011 or tweeting discussion questions to @IACCconfcenters.
  • Apps are used to engage attendees – aside from engaging attendees through social media such as LinkedIn questions and Twitter walls and hashtags. IACC members on-site could play SCVNGR, a Google app with challenges. IACC developed their own SCVNGR game where attendees could interact and meet others with challenges, points, and rewards on their smart-phone.

  • ARAMARK Executive Chefs know how to impress! – On the opening night, 7 Executive Chefs came together to create the IACC Road Trip: A Taste of ARAMARK. The National Tour showcased items specific to regions around the United States including West Coast, Pacific Northwest, Southwest, New England, Deep South, Bayou, and Chesapeake Bay. Pictured above is Executive Chef Rannae Hamlet’s Smoked Canadian Salmon and Idaho Trout with Smoke Bacon Foam, Fresh Dill, over Quail Egg.
  • 5 Stages of Meetings – From the Thought Leaders Panel discussion,the panelists discussed 5 Stages of Meetings. Attract, Entering, Engaging, Exiting, and Extending all which make up the 5 key concepts conference centers should know in creating compelling meeting experiences for clients.

  • IACC Copper Skillet Judges awards U.K. Executive Chef - In an intense competition, IACC Executive Chefs from around the world competed for the title of “2011 Chef of The Year.” With 15 minutes to review their ingredients, 5 minutes to brainstorm, and 30 minutes to cook, the 7 Executive Chefs raced to create the best dish and become the 2011 IACC Chef of the Year. Executive Chef Jamian Lewish of the Devenport House in the U.K. was awarded this year’s title.

  • A Universal Conference Center Goal - as best stated by Joan Einsenstodt, a 30 year veteran of the meetings industry, a portion of meeting planners and event professionals aren’t aware of the benefits a conference center; they may mistake a conference center as a hotel with meeting space. However it shall be every conference center and meeting planner’s goal in 2011 and beyond to explain the conference center value and the 32 universal criteria of IACC.
  • Join the #eventprofs community on Twitter – coupled with Joan Eisenstodt’s statement about educating on conference centers, joining the #eventprofs on Twitter is another strong suggestion from Joan. As discussed during the “Joan Eisenstodt Show” with Camille Paluscio from VW and Bill Reed from Experient at the IACC conference,by joining in the #eventprofs conversation, you’ll increase the ROI of your conference  center.  ROI is not only defined as reducing costs – “It’s the value delivered. If that means understanding the product better such as a conference center, then that’s also the ROI [with using social media].”
  • Technology and Room Set-Up Play Key Roles – Design of a room can be the biggest factor in the success of a meeting. Meeting projectors should be set in the left corner of a room, with the speaker presenting in the middle and the entrance/exit at the back of the room. Distraction-free meetings that are appealing to the eye and the mind.

  • Apps will make a breakthrough – Apps in the hospitality industry are becoming increasingly popular. As hotels develop their own apps as a channel of customer service, those who seek real-time information on their smart phones are early adapters of this technology trend. Conference centers should be next to pick up on the trend with property information, shuttles times, meeting agenda, and more.
  • Food is where the mind is – Andrea Sullivan of BrainStrength discusses her compelling research on how food affects the mind by enhancing mood, performance, and learning. Attendees created their own meeting menus for successful learning and discovered what works best for meetings and what should be avoided. For instance, honey helps memory and garlic and ginger create clarity. Andrea recommends using all three!
  • Award Wrap-Up – The following awards were given during Thursday night’s evening reception. The Pyramid Award Winner was Melissa Fromento, Group Publisher of MeetingsNet, Award of Excellence was given to Robert Sanders of Hospitality Resource Group, Conference Center Industry Award 2011 awarded to Leah Bernick from George Washington University, Doris Sklar Award to EJ Lee, and last, congratulations to Joan Eisenstodt of Eisenstodt Associates who received the Mel Hosansky Award – the highest honor in IACC.

What was your favorite session from IACC 2011?  If you didn’t attend this year, we hope to see you in 2012!