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In our high-tech age, for better or worse, it has become almost a necessity to update one's smartphone plan or Internet service every year or two. Planners are now finding that the same is true of hotel contracts. Fast-changing technology is requiring planners to review and modify a number of aspects of their contracts, clarifying the speed of Wi-Fi, agreeing to clauses that limit third-party room resellers, or bolstering rules on digital security.
But with tech changing so quickly, this can prove challenging to planners trying to set terms years in advance or trying to figure out how their attendees' broadband needs may change from one year to the next. With this in mind, Successful Meetings spoke with several contract experts and planners to find out best practices for navigating this changing technological terrain.
The first point planners must keep in mind is that when it comes to technology, change is a constant. Even standard tech tools are serving more or different purposes than just a year or two ago. For example, Mark Cooper, chief executive officer of the International Association of Conference Centres, points out that it is not unusual today for an event to have five or more dependencies for its Internet access -- not just delegate emails and videoconferencing, but also live streaming, event apps, and (increasingly) virtual- or augmented-reality tools.
"Meeting planners should know what they need in relation to bandwidth, and the promise to provide a minimum level is something that is not unreasonable to include," says Cooper.
Corbin Ball & Co.
Corbin Ball, owner and founder of Corbin Ball & Co., agrees, emphasizing that planners should have a good idea of what their technology needs will be for the event -- based on tracking past usage -- as well as other technical details. From the perspective of the property, it must clearly understand the projected needs of the group meeting there and commit to these specific expectations.
All that seems pretty obvious, Ball grants. But, "the challenge, especially for larger events that tend to be booked several years out, is that the technology and demand drivers are changing rapidly," he says. "Prices (per bit) will continue to fall while demand will continue to increase. It's a significant challenge to estimate requirements and costs for an event five years from now."
For those reasons, contract clauses should address these potential shifts over the years.
D. Benson Tesdahl, an attorney with Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville, P.C., suggests including a "technology review clause," which would allow prices to be renegotiated based on changing needs of the attendees and the new technology the hotel may have introduced since the contract was signed.
"A 'technology checklist' should be used in negotiations with hotels to make sure all costs and items are covered prior to signing contracts so this does not leave surprises," he says. "This must be discussed with the group's in-house technical department to make sure all items are accounted for."
Beyond Wi-Fi speed, technology is impacting other areas of contract negotiations. For example, a growing point of attention for IACC in its contracts has been to ensure inclusive pricing, providing delegates with the same high-speed Internet access in guest rooms, meeting rooms, and public areas.
With more than two decades representing hotels and resorts, Lisa Sommer Devlin, attorney with Devlin Law Firm, P.C., finds that one of the biggest impacts of technology in hotel contracts relates to booking and contractual commitments.
"As the technological avenues for booking rooms, and alternatives like Airbnb proliferate, groups are trying to manage their risk when making hotel commitments," she says.
The common negotiation point Devlin sees in the industry tends to be over "rate integrity" or "no lower rate" clauses requested in response to the many ways that rooms can be booked with changing technological tools. The hotels often see it as bad business to restrict booking opportunities by agreeing to such clauses. At the same time, meeting planners are increasingly trying to use technology to better control attendees' booking methods -- rather than encouraging attendees to take advantage of the many ways to book rooms.
"Event apps, websites, and booking policies that require the attendee to book in the official group block in order to attend the event eliminate the challenges posed by the alternative technologies," says Devlin.
Related to this are concerns about new technology that also allows "housing pirates" to find out the identity of potential meeting attendees and attempt to sell them rooms, luring them away from agreed-upon room blocks, and creating headaches for all parties.
Another issue that Ball expects to continue to grow is that of Internet security.
"Hackers are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and numerous," he says. "Details or at least a discussion about how the venue manages cyber threats, viruses, etc. on their system should be included [in contract negotiations]."