Friday, April 27, 2012

GSA Scandal Backlash Hurts the Hospitality Industry

When the Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported the spending excesses, contracting missteps and ethics violations related to the 2010 General Services Administration (GSA) Western Regions Training Conference in Las Vegas, there was immediate media uproar and the wonderment of what was to come for our industry. There was no doubt it would be a negative impact similar to that of the AIG Affect from four years ago and Muffingate less than one year ago.

Since the OIG report was released on April 2, 2012, nearly $1 million worth of meetings have been cancelled in the GSA alone and every other government agency is feeling the pressure to cancel their meetings and thus avoid the scrutiny and investigation that could ensue.

During the backlash following the scandal, acting GSA Administrator, Dan Tangherlini promised to take “strong action” and improve internal controls and overnight in the agency. He has already cancelled the 2012 Western Regions Conference in addition to 34 other 2012 GSA conferences. All remaining conferences have been placed under review to evaluate their legitimate business justifications before approving their execution. The 35 cancelled meetings total $995,686 of federal funding.

This $1 million is just the tip of the iceberg. After the iron-fisted internal review of all other GSA conferences, many more are likely to be cancelled. Additionally, all other government agencies are already cancelling meetings and will continue to do so in the coming months. Tightened government regulations and review processes will further deplete the future government market in our industry.

While there is no doubt that better internal practices were needed to prevent outrageous abuses like the 2010 Western Training Conferences, many meetings continue to prove their necessity. While virtual meetings and tele-presence are gaining popularity, face to face meetings will remain paramount for their invaluable networking, training and motivating potential.

Our industry has and will continue to see the devastating aftereffects from this scandal. More than ever, responsible third party planners need to hone in on their ability to not only deliver exceptional and well run meetings to their clients, but also concentrate on their ability to negotiate enough overall savings to bring down the bottom line and justify their own fees. Third parties know better than anyone else the ins and outs of the industry- how to negotiate the best deal, how to justify a meeting’s legitimate business purpose with objectives and evaluation tools, and it’s our responsibility to share these best practices with our clients.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Going for the Green!

With the entire world focused on foggy London town, officials have set a high standard for making the 2012 Summer Olympic Games eco-friendly.  In fact, they are setting out to make this year the first “truly sustainable” Olympic Games.  From public transportation, fleets of electric cars and ‘mobile’ buildings all the way down to waste management, Game officials are setting out to make every patron feel green friendly.

London is famous for their “tube,” a massive underground subway system that connects the entire city as well as the suburbs.  During the 2012 Summer Games, the Tube will be working overtime and patrons will be able to use the easy stored-value Oyster Card to zip through lines and get on their way to the events.  For those who want to enjoy the fresh summer air, Barclay’s Cycle Hire will have bicycle rentals with pick up and drop off stations all across the city.  London has also announced a fleet of cars that will cater to the Games’ VIP guests.  While most of the BMW’s will run on clean diesel, 200 of them will be BMW’s new electric-only cars. 
Sustainability supporters will be cheering for the waste management efforts that will be implemented for the Games.  Food vendors in Olympic Park must use compostable packaging while Coca-Cola plans to try a new waste management system for large scale events along with collecting and recycling all plastic bottles used. Not even the arenas will go to waste!  Some venues, like the arena for the basketball tournament, can be dismantled and reused after the Games are finished.

It seems that almost every aspect of the games is “going green.” The United Kingdom has created an independent audit system for hotels that have eco-friendly features and fit sustainability standards.  In Olympic Park, there will be an area that resembles a nature preserve with a large wetland area that will be able to gather the rainwater runoff.  With all of these efforts, organizers are hoping that all of the green initiatives will raise environmental awareness for the 2012 Summer Games and future games as well.

Happy Earth Day!

For more information, please click here!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Meet Me in Wine Country

How would you like a glass of wine at your next meeting? How about an entire vineyard?  Meeting spaces don’t just have to be confined to hotels and conference spaces anymore – vineyards all across the country have opened their vines to meetings and events. 

California’s Livermore Valley, located about 45 miles southeast of San Francisco, and is home to over 50 wineries, numerous wine shops, and the Palm Event Center.  The Palm Event Center has 20,000 square feet of event space surrounded by the vineyards of the area.  Close by, at Ruby Hill Winery, the Casa Real has many elegant meeting rooms for smaller groups.  Home to over 400 wineries, the famous Napa Valley also boasts over 150 properties that can offer almost 5,000 and 200,000 square feet of meeting space throughout. 

Further south in California, the Four Seasons Resort Biltmore Santa Barbara, located in Montecito, has over 200 guest rooms and 15,000 square feet of meeting space. The upscale Hotel Corque in Solvang has 122 guest rooms along with 7,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.  While you may feel as though you are at the beach in Santa Barbara, the area is actually one of California’s largest wine regions.

To travel off the beaten vineyard path, you can also expand your meetings to areas in Washington, Oregon, New York, and even Virginia.  The Omni Hotel in Charlottesville, VA hosted a Wine Bloggers Conference last July, surrounded by over 30 wineries.  On Long Island in New York, there are over 60 wineries and wonderful meeting venues including The Paramount, a restored1920’s concert hall that can hold up to 1,600 guests.

So when you are looking at destinations for your next meeting, think outside of the glass and take a trip to one of our country’s celebrated wine regions!

For more information, please refer to Smart Meeting Magazine, March 2012- Pop the Cork- The Best Wine Regions in North America by Jennie Nunn.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Basket Full of Fun

Look what the Easter Bunny brought us this year! Egg hunts and baskets are not just for kids anymore.  Hotels around the world are offering unique and fun Easter activities for adults that will bring you back to the days when you still believed in the Bunny!

In London, there was a 40-day long Easter egg hunt that brought scavengers to every corner of the city searching for the grand prize: the Diamond Jubilee Faberg√© Egg, a treasure encrusted with 60 gemstones celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s reign.  Each three-foot-tall egg had its own unique QR code which led to the grand finale, and included a stop at the Dorchester Hotel, where guests could enjoy quail egg and black truffle consomm√© while checking out Sir Peter Blake’s Pop themed egg in the courtyard.  It’s an adventure for all ages around London!

At the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach they have taken their own distinctive take on the Easter egg hunt.  While the kids can enjoy the traditional hunt on Sunday morning, adults can enjoy a glow-in-the-dark on Saturday night! Also on Saturday night, parents can send their children off to night camp at the family entertainment center while parents have their own fun at a fruit and wine social overlooking the ocean.  Then, on Easter Sunday, the entire family can enjoy a wiffle ball tournament, where the generations battle for the win.

Wherever you are on Easter, you can put your own interesting spin on classic activities like these hotels have. Now, go enjoy your chocolate bunnies and jellybeans and have a wonderful holiday!

GSA Scandal Hurts the Hospitality Industry

As public relations disasters go, AIG's was truly epic and this story of General Services Administration's (GSA's) abuse rivals it.  Clowns, mind readers, red-carpet events, lavish parties and expensive team building activities have turned into a huge scandal for employees of the GSA this week.  After the release of an investigative report on April 2, 2012, conducted by the Office of Inspector General revealed that an estimated $800,000 was spent on a 2010 training conference in Las Vegas, several top officials were forced to step down from their positions.

The report describes the costs of the conference as “excessive, wasteful, and…impermissible.”  Included in these outrageous costs was $130,000 for 8 pre-planning trips to Las Vegas including 5-31 GSA employees for each trip.  Another $146,000 was spent on catered food that included semi-private parties in individual hotel rooms and $75,000 was spent on a bicycle building training exercise.  Over $6,000 was spent on commemorative “Recovery Act” coins that were presented in velvet boxes to all attendees.  Taxpayers, lawmakers, and even the President are outraged by the GSA’s excessive spending on their conference.

In this era where the public debt is spiraling out of control and many American families are struggling to put a decent meal on the table, a scandal of squandered dollars hurts everyone involved- the government employees, the taxpayers, the institution and the hospitality industry in general. There is no doubt that the GSA representatives and the third party meeting planning company they hired to plan this meeting should have known better.
Amid the torrent of bad press this is just one other story of bad judgment and poor ethics. GSA abused its power and acted irresponsibly; however, this is not representative of the rest of the industry. Most are diligent about saving money, managing perception, and ensuring overall compliant meetings.