Meeting Mentor Magazine

September 2020

ConferenceDirect Profile: Carla Aho

Minimizing Risk for Clients Is the Name of the Game

With market uncertainties everywhere you turn, Carla Aho can claim no better objective for her corporate and association meeting clients than to “minimize risk.” It’s not an easy course of action, though, when clients and hoteliers bring different expectations to the negotiating table.

So ConferenceDirect’s Vice President of Global Accounts walks a fine line between the two. “My consultant role calls for me to get the best deal for everyone, while mitigating risks that can ruin the relationship,” she said. The pricing intelligence and informational tools available to ConferenceDirect associates help all parties simplify the decision-making.

For a new association account, Aho is exploring “out-of-the-box” thinking — drawing on ConferenceDirect’s 11 years of history and experience. By staying vigilant with housing, additional incentives, and room block audits, she can protect this association’s future citywide events from housing “piracy,” which could impact room block numbers significantly.

“The association is particularly susceptible because of the openness of exhibitor information on the meeting’s web site,” she explained. “An unethical company can easily present a ‘hotel sold out’ situation and create real dysfunction.” (Watch for more on housing piracy in the Summer 2010 issue of ConferenceDirect Meeting Mentor.)

Offsetting this case of too much information is the association’s prior requests for proposal, which presented far too little information. A more extensive and strongly written RFP, said Aho, who cut her teeth at Marriott’s national sales office, will paint a true picture of the potential value of the association’s business to the local economy and hotels.

Similarly, a corporate client needed to more effectively demonstrate to convention bureaus and hotels the $12 million impact of its citywide events that draw as many as 20,000 attendees, and in the process gain leverage in negotiating arena contracts. In the past, it would only contract with the headquarters hotel, leaving the vast majority of attendees to book anywhere. No history, no negotiating power.

Aho and a 10-person team at ConferenceDirect put technology in place to streamline the complex housing process for the client and ensure a smooth and successful event. With it, they can monitor the blocks, access reports, identify sell-outs, and manage sub-blocks. “This was history the company badly needed,” she noted. They now have two years of data on the front-end to represent why the events merit citywide services, better amenities for attendees, and additional support from the host city.

“Challenging situations too often overwhelm corporate and association staff without the time or support services to resolve the potential risks,” she added.

That’s exactly why Aho stepped in last year when a corporate client — in the wake of the AIG effect — canceled just 30 days prior to a high-level event, the first year of three-year agreements with multiple hotels. Her immediate goal: protect the client from damages. Since food and beverage had not yet been purchased nor staff added, Aho was able to renegotiate the agreements by offering alternative terms and conditions: rescheduled the event to happen within 12 months of original contracted date, modified room rate to current market, adjusted food and beverage performance, and added a protective lowest rate clause. The end result: the client paid no penalty, and the hotels were able to secure the business for future years.

Risks averted and a “win-win” for everyone…exactly the outcomes Aho likes to see. — Maxine Golding

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About ConferenceDirect
ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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