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Howe Returning to Speak at SMMC 2015

The Internet is pretty important to all meeting planners, so why aren’t more planners inquiring in detail about the Internet capabilities at the meeting venues that will be hosting their events? That’s what meetings expert Jonathan Howe asks.

Howe will educate meeting planners about such matters and much more as a guest speaker at the sixth annual Small Market Meetings Conference (SMMC), September 27-29, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Howe is a founder of Howe and Hutton, a Chicago law firm that deals with the meeting, travel, hospitality and trade show industries. His seminar last year at SMMC in Mesa, Arizona, was so popular that he was asked to return to the conference in 2015.

“The lifeblood in many meeting contracts ought to be ‘What is the Internet connection like?’” said Howe. “That’s whether the event is in a convention center, hotel, restaurant or any other venue. What is the broadband capability there?”

Howe said some meeting attendees get upset when they can’t use multiple devices in a particular setting like they are used to doing elsewhere. Even when there is a meeting going on, attendees have other matters to attend to and problems to solve back at the home office.

Hotels may say they’re giving planners free Internet, but it may be the old dial-up, for all some meeting planners know.

“Unless you ask first, are you sure?” Howe said. “Maybe they’ll upgrade you for an additional $14.95 per person. That’s what people don’t pay attention to — the cost. When negotiating, take this stance: ‘Here’s what I want; here’s what I’m willing to pay and not a penny more.’”

Contracts are a big part of Howe’s talks. He says the reason contracts have gotten so long is that planners have complained about past issues and demanded written protections in their next contract. “I got burned once; I’m not going to get burned again,” said Howe.

Contract complacency and glossing over “routine” contract items are dangerous, said Howe. “It’s just as important as the number of rooms you’re getting or the rate you’ll pay.”

Shifting liability is another important but neglected item. Howe said it’s likely your vendor uses contract language to avoid liability for things that go wrong at events. How do you, in turn, shift that liability away from you, contractually speaking? Howe recalled a golf tournament where a man driving a golf cart was charged with DUI. People have flipped carts. Another golfer drove a cart through the pro shop window. Someone has to pay when these things happen, and your contract language could be the key that protects your organization from that liability.

In smaller markets, hotel personnel may not be as seasoned as you’d like, and that’s a potential problem. For example, you ask if your rooms are accessible. The hotel says yes, but what exactly does that mean; in what way are they accessible? “You’ve got to kick the tires,” said Howe. Remember, in smaller venues, when costs have to be reduced, training can often go out the window. Does the venue have an emergency plan? If so, what is it?

“Give me a copy. How often do you train in it?” Howe suggested you respond.

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.