Welcome to the Events > Forward Podcast by Meetings & Incentives Worldwide. In this episode, our host, Jeff Naue, Special Projects Marketing Lead, catches up with Denise Farrell, Director of Procurement and Vicki Schmitz, Senior Manager of Procurement, to discuss the changes that event managers and meeting stakeholders should consider as part of their sourcing and contracting process to be sure the goals of the event can be met while also ensuring the personal safety and security for all of their participants.
Join us for a 15-minute conversation to learn what questions you need to ask when it comes to hotel sourcing and contracting your next event.
Denise, can you tell us about the role of the procurement team and how it is being implemented within the Events > Forward Task Force?
Vicki and I are representing our team of buyers on the task force. The goal of the Global Procurement Team is to consult with our clients during these unprecedented times as well as provide feedback we are hearing within the meetings industry to the rest of our team and our clients. For example, because of our long-standing relationships, we are in touch with all the major chains and independent hotel brands around the globe to get updates and timely information on their new cleanliness plans and re-opening dates.
We are also tracking specific regulations for destinations that are being considered in the near term as well as what those regulations might look like for sourcing and contracting programs in the future. Our involvement also helps us understand all aspects of the meeting life cycle. During calls, we learn of concerns that may arise which allows us to think through them and find ways to address them in the procurement process. As we know, the venue is not only the beginning of the planning process, it is a big part of the entire event. Having as much information as we possibly can is important.
Vicki, this may be a challenging question, but can you help us understand or pinpoint, what exactly is different now? What changes do event managers need to be aware of when sourcing?
There are huge differences now and they are in every aspect of the meeting journey. Our intent is to be sure the goals of the event can be met while ensuring we are following all local physical distancing requirements, and most importantly, the personal safety and security for all participants.
Some areas where we have seen considerable changes include:
- Meeting Room Requirements: Working with each venue to ensure the meeting space offered is large enough to accommodate physical distancing in the proposed meeting room; such as 3- 4 chairs per round table rather than the standard 6-7 or, 1 chair per 6’ table rather than 2 or 3. We have also invested in a technology platform that allows our Event Designers to create 2D and 3D diagrams of specific meeting spaces that adhere to safety protocols, but also create the right experience and flow for the attendees. In our new environment, it is about more than tables and chairs. There is an art and science in creating inviting spaces, especially when attendees physically distanced.
- Food & Beverage Events: We are working off the assumption that self-service buffets are out of the equation and all foodservice should be presented individually. So, of course, we need to consider the F&B setup and space needed to accommodate safety requirements, servers, and presentation. F&B plays a big part in the hotel contracting process, and we need to understand the F&B minimums will still apply. In fact, we anticipate there will be additional costs with safety changes, packaging, services, etc.
- Hotel Check-In and Cleanliness Procedures: Confirming the hotel can accommodate contact-free check-ins ensuring the safety for each guest and if they are providing other safety measures like facial temperature readers. We are also interested in COVID-induced changes that benefit our clients. For example, on a recent key client discussion, an executive from one of the major hotel chains shared that they are rolling out a new cleanliness plan over the next few months to more than 7,000 hotels which will include sanitizing sprayers and UV lights for another level of assurance.
All these questions, in addition to others, would be asked in the initial RFP process and all information shared with our clients prior to hotel venue selection.
As we look to programs for the Fall, what suggestions are you providing to your clients that have programs booked?
Jeff, that is a great question! It is important to understand and review the goals of the program to see if they can still be met. Can the objectives be achieved with less “in-person” participation or does it require a hybrid event? It is also important to assess the attendees’ willingness and ability to attend. For example, are they in a high-risk group or they are medical professionals who will not have the time to leave their roles?
Also, it is imperative to review the event location to see what state or local requirements apply. The phases are different for each destination and continually changing. Thus, they need to be monitored regularly. Nothing is more important than engaging with the venue to understand their new procedures as well as how with meeting space and F&B are impacted post-COVID-19.
We have seen some hotels offer video calls to showcase the experience your attendees will have at the hotel. Taking a deep dive into your contract terms will also be key, including attritions and reviewing space already confirmed, F&B minimum. You will need to be proactive in discussions with the hotel and review any possible adjustments that will need to be made.
What has the learning curve been like for you and your team working with hotels and event space during these changing times? Are there particular challenges you are seeing today, that were not previously in play?
The learning is happening on all sides – agency, hotel, and client. We are learning about risk management all the way from contract terms to distancing to cleanliness and even air filtration systems. Initially, we worked very closely together to review contracts and navigate the best outcome for our clients as they needed to cancel or postpone their events. But things were changing so rapidly that we had to make sure that we stayed on top of the latest developments and understood the intricacies of each destination, whether domestic and international. The timing of the cancellation notifications is crucial to determine if force majeure applies to the specific case.
Now, we are focused on events moving forward. Many are referring to it as our “new normal.” However, in our industry, we have always had to change, innovate, and continue to evolve as a result of external factors. This is undoubtedly is more complex and nuanced, it is about making sure we are bringing for our experience and knowledge to the table when consulting with our clients on their best options at this time, based on what we know. We also are staying abreast of the changing environments and responding to the phases of re-opening that vary by location.
Lastly, we are excited and look towards the future. Our clients are anxious to be able to safely return to in-person, face to face. It is our job to ensure they have all the information and facts they need to make the right decision for their organization and attendees.
What has been your biggest takeaway or learning?
Our team has a very strong understanding of contract language and clauses. More than ever, it is important to communicate with our clients the level of risk they are agreeing to if they accept a less than favorable clause or one that is open to interpretation.
For example, force majeure is not just a catch-all safeguard depending on the way it was written in the contract. We work hard to ensure our clients have a full understanding of the meaning of the clauses and compare it to the organization’s threshold of risk when negotiating with venue contacts.
As part of our services, we also redline hotel contract addendums and provide recommendations we feel should be reviewed by their corporate legal department. We are also taking extra time with contract templates to make sure any new clauses minimize risk and provide the right level of protection based on the value of the program. For example, we are expecting that hotels will increase meeting room rentals, resorts fees, etc. It is our role to be fully transparent and provide our clients with all that information prior to contracting especially when there is an impact to the client’s budget.
As we wrap up our interview, tell us more about M&IW’s Global Procurement. What is it like to work with your team and the value they provide to your clients?
Vicki and I are blessed to be working with a group of full-time industry professionals dedicated to procurement. The average experience of our team is 18 years working with both associations and corporations. They have a vast knowledge of needs associated with life science and pharmaceutical companies. This team is dedicated to hotel procurement; and thus, are entrenched in understanding client needs and matching them with appropriate destinations and venues. They are consultants to assist in the decision-making process and have a wealth of knowledge surrounding contracts, addendums, and master service agreements. They have built solid industry relationships through their years whether working on placing a program, attending a tradeshow, engaging in networking as well as constant learning.
The entire team is in the process of completing their Cvent Venue Sourcing certification. We’ve already been able to congratulate quite a few of our colleagues.
Learn more about M&IW’s Procurement team. To stay up-to-date on M&IW’s efforts on safety initiatives and protocols for returning to in-person events, be sure to tune into our Events > Forward Podcast Series. In each episode, we interview M&IW subject matter experts on relevant and timely topics. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.