Planners Take The Points

Meeting planners love to talk about ethics, and when they are on the record with reporters, most are quite clear in their minds about what is right and wrong in matters such as the proper relationship between customers and suppliers.

Specifically: It's wrong for planners to use points earned under hotel companies' booking-incentive programs for their personal benefit; otherwise, there is a conflict of interest in selecting sites. Most everyone says so.

Unless you ask people anonymously, it seems.

In a recent survey by SM's sister publication MeetingNews, 205 corporate and association planners were asked to select their two most important features of hotel rewards programs, from a list of eight options that included using them for the meeting's benefit. But almost half say they liked the ability to apply the rewards for personal use.

Similarly, asked what statement best characterized their feelings about using such rewards personally, almost half say, "I feel comfortable using them." Only 10 percent say, "Using them is wrong."

Even among those planners who say that using hotel rewards this way is wrong, or that they don't feel fully comfortable doing so, or that they aren't sure whether it is proper, two-thirds cite the appearance of impropriety as the chief concern—twice as many as the number who are troubled over ethics.

Almost everyone interviewed for this article says that while they have not used points for personal benefit themselves, they weren't surprised to hear how many say anonymously that they do. "Many planners take the points for themselves," says one veteran meetings consultant. "They feel that airline miles and hotel stays are perks for having to travel so much."

"It's human nature—there's a sense of entitlement," says Mark Roysner of Roysner & Associates, a Calabasas, CA-based law firm that specializes in meetings-industry issues. He also says many planners feel they are not adequately compensated for their hard work. And one hotel executive who focuses on the meetings market says bluntly, "If they weren't popular with planners, we would not offer them for use in the ways we do."

A rare planner who acknowledged that she uses points for herself has what she considers a satisfactory rationale. Jean McDaniel, an Atlanta-based independent planner who organizes meetings for the SCT Education Technology Association, says that hotel meetings rewards are a form of compensation agreed to by the organization. "I'm now doing four regional meetings in addition to the one annual meeting I've done in the past, and my base fee has remained static. So we had to get a little creative with more commissions and perks," notes McDaniel. "We agreed that was the solution to our situation."