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Lofty Conversations on the Road to PCMA in Boston

If coming to the annual convention of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) is all about learning and innovation, then taking the JPdL bus from Montreal to Boston was the perfect initiation for me.

Never mind that the bus got us from Montreal to Boston faster than flying because of the nasty weather (only a 5 1/2 drive), and had a much lower carbon footprint for the 21 passengers it carried.  With a two-hour conversation about changing practices and trends in our industry led by Mitchell Beer, CMM of The Smarter Shift and Rachel Stephan of Sensov Event Marketing, I truly felt this mode of transportation had been worth my time in the quality of the conversations alone.

One exchange focused on the use of Twitter to promote a city, attraction or venue to incoming convention delegates. I was postulating that tweeting may be a way to get around Canada's  Antispam Law; because tweets are in effect "public" messages, they likely would not be misconstrued as spam in the same way that unsolicited email would be.

I cited the example of the Boston hotel tweeting me when they saw I was coming to the convention; I mentioned this could even be used to extend special offers or even rates.

This generated a rather passionate conversation about the ethics around this kind of practice. One hotel representative pointed out this could unfairly lure away attendees to book outside group blocks, making it difficult for associations to fulfill their room commitments and possibly costing them extra fees.

She rightly pointed out that this cost could make it difficult for associations to invest in programs and education for members. We both agreed that consumers' constant quest for cheaper rates  (the Walmart effect) puts undue pressure on many associations.

While I do believe professionals should support their association, I thought it was naïve to think that people aren't going to think of their own interests first, whether it's to rack up loyalty points or get a cheaper rate. This is especially the case if they are a small business owner, or if their organization cannot afford higher hotel rates.

We both agreed PCMA has it right. The way they structured fees for this conference made it attractive to book within the room block because of a $200 differential; I know I would have been hard-pressed to find another hotel outside the block for $50 less per night (as I'm staying in Boston for four nights).

Unfortunately, in the view of one planner who was on the bus with us, hotels only have themselves to blame for this trend towards booking out of the block. He observed that if attrition causes weren't so punitive, associations probably would not be in such a situation. And privately another hotel sales representative admitted to me that she constantly fights with her hotel revenue manager, advocating for lower rates, so that associations don't encounter these room block pressures.

The final word? There really wasn't one except that conversations at events such as this are vitally important to the health of the meetings industry.  And unless we can slow down a bit, and perhaps take a bus or two, we are not likely to be able to gain a better understanding of each other's points of view.