Meeting Mentor Magazine

June 2024

Your Burning Legal Questions, Answered

When the audience at this year’s CDX peppered industry attorney Joshua Grimes with their top legal questions, he had the answers they sought.

What’s the number-one thing meeting professionals need to know to ensure they’re getting the most out of their contraction negotiations? “Get everything in the contract,” industry attorney and speaker Joshua Grimes, Grimes Law Offices, LLC, told a rapt crowd at the ConferenceDirect CDX event held in late summer in Nashville. And don’t just cover what you know about from past experience, he added. “Anticipate what could happen if the legal or social situation changes, as well as any possible fees that could come up. Ask questions, and make sure you have buttoned up your contracts as much as possible.”

And whatever you do, even if your CEO has her heart set on a specific venue, don’t publicly announce you’re having the meeting there before the contract is signed, he added. “That takes all your leverage right off the table.”

Here are a few of the burning questions the audience posed to Grimes, and his answers.

What is legally acceptable for a hotel to share with the event organizer?

“I love this question because I hear it every week,” Grimes said. Despite what the hotel may tell you, there’s no legal reason they can’t share room pickup data with the meeting organizer. To make sure that’s understood by all involved, he recommends incorporating an audit clause in the contract that clearly states that the organizer can audit the hotel guest data in the event of attrition so they can compare the group’s list with that of the hotel to ensure everyone who should be included is included, even if they book outside the block.

The hotel may say they can’t share that data because of privacy laws. “My response as a lawyer is, ‘show me the law that says you can’t do this.’” They may come back that they aren’t allowed to do that, but that’s simply not true. “If we were to have a lawsuit, mediation or arbitration situation, your lawyer has the right to get a copy of the law during the discovery process. So you can tell them they have to give it to you now or give it to your lawyer later.”

The hotel also could say that providing the rooming information would put it in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a European law designed to protect European individuals’ data privacy. Grimes pointed out that it’s important to know that GDPR doesn’t say they can’t share that information, only that you need permission from the attendees to share that information for a specific purpose — which most hotels have on their websites anyway nowadays. “It’s not a bar. It’s a matter of getting consent,” he said. You can also include a box attendees can check during registration that provides consent to use their information to confirm with the hotel that the charges are correct.

How can we avoid getting hit with surprise fees and cost increases?

Again, it’s important to clarify all potential fees up front, he reiterated. Get in your contract what fees you will agree to, and what you get in return for those fees. “Having said that, once you agree to whatever fees you agree to in the contract, you should also have a clause that says there will be no additional mandatory fees other than those set forth in the contract unless the group approves.” That way, he said, if you later see an event fee that wasn’t included in the contract — including meeting room fees, resort fees, etc. — you’re not required to pay it.

One to keep a close eye on is service charges, he added. Some contracts may say something along the lines of, “Group agrees to pay a service charge that currently is 26%. The emphasis is on the word “currently,” he says — who knows what the current fee will be at the time of your meeting? It’s fine to agree to pay the 26% service charge, along with taxes, etc., but cross out the word “currently.”

And do keep in mind that your group may be OK with some fees, even if they aren’t customary or even if they appear to run counter to the group’s best interest. He gave an example of a client who had booked events at local restaurants to be held during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2020. When that event was canceled due to COVID-19, the client could have gotten out of paying for an event that was impossible to hold at the time. But they decided to pay, to the tune of millions of dollars, because they wanted to maintain a good relationship with those businesses for future events. “It was a business decision, not a legal one,” he said.

Stay tuned for part 2 in the November newsletter, when Grimes will answer questions related to changes in contract law post-COVID, labor strikes, so-called “junk fees,” hotel renovation clauses, and more.

What are your top legal questions? Email your questions to Sue Pelletier at sue.pelletier@conferencedirect.com and we’ll get them answered in a future article.

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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. www.conferencedirect.com

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. www.meetingmentormag.com

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