Beware of That Group Next Door

Almost no group wants a business competitor in house when it holds a meeting. But now, planners also are finding themselves sharing facilities with groups that champion "alternative lifestyles," a situation that presents its own challenges.

A purposely vague term, "alternative lifestyle" often refers to the varied sexual interests of such people as swingers, cross-dressers, and leather fetishists. The groups mainly consist of heterosexual couples, although gays and lesbians are also often classified as having an alternative lifestyle despite their greater acceptance in American society.

Many of these groups are increasingly coming out of the closet and into hotel meeting rooms. A case in point came in November, when a planner for a corporate group claimed her meeting at the Alexis Park Hotel in Las Vegas was substantially compromised by such a group.

Hannah Greenberg, conference services director of Voorhees, NJ-based Meeting Mavericks, says many of the 75 people at her meeting of automotive fleet managers at the Alexis Park were deeply offended by the behavior of some attendees at an event also going on there, called "N'awlins in November." The N'awlins in November event stages erotic events for couples.

"My attendees were exposed to people running around in the nude, people groping each other, and other explicit displays in the lobby and other public areas of the hotel," says Greenberg. "I'm not happy, and my client is not happy with me," adds Greenberg, who declined to name her corporate client.

Greenberg asked about the other groups booked into the hotel before signing her contract in June. But the hotel had not yet booked N'awlins in November. The event is produced annually in New Orleans by French Connection Events of Covington, LA, but was displaced to Las Vegas by Hurricane Katrina.

"If they had kept to themselves and not been so obvious, we could have lived with it," says Greenberg. "But people were walking around with nothing more on than chaps, or a shawl and high heels."

The president of French Connection, Bob Hannaford, and other producers of alternative-lifestyle events say the phenomenon is growing. There is greater societal acceptance of these groups, they say, and the Internet makes it much easier for like-minded people to meet.

"It's been around for several years, but it's more visible now," says Tina Greene, a Los Angeles-based independent planner, who has planned alternative-lifestyle events for the past 15 years.