Black & White…Or Gray?


Ethics isn’t a topic we often discuss, so for this month’s Smart Planner column we drew on a panel discussion focusing on “Ethics in Today’s Meeting Industry,” held at a MEETnow! MPI regional conference. As part of his introduction, moderator Rick Weaver, said “Oftentimes when considering the concept of ethics and the role that it plays in our professional lives, we’re confronted with a dilemma of what I have the right to do versus what is the right thing to do.”

It goes back, he said, to the fundamentals of our ethical codes: the relationships that bind us together. “Who are my neighbors and what do I owe them?”

Weaver posed several ethical scenarios to the panel (see sidebar for participants) and raised potential questions and red flags for consideration. We’ve condensed a couple of them here as a starting point for thought. Visit our website,, for some panelist input, and feel free to offer yours (plus any other thorny situations you’d like to submit). And be sure to check out the update on Sarbanes-Oxley in our February issue!

An association meeting planner has just been told by a hotel sales manager that if she books his hotel for her meeting, he will give her 5,000 hotel points and her meeting will earn another 25,000 points that can be used for the association or personally, it’s her choice.
She has already narrowed the field down to two hotels and has a family reunion coming up that summer for which she needs some additional points for her comp hotel stay, which she mentions. The sales manager, knowing how competitive the environment is, suggests he can give her an additional 5,000 points if she adds a little more F&B—perhaps take the lunch from a buffet salad bar to a full-service hot meal.

Is this scenario widespread in the industry? Is she just negotiating for the best deal? The best deal for herself or for her association?

If the supplier community puts it out there, isn’t the opportunity there? Is there an ethical issue about offering it if you know that it causes an ethical issue on the other side?

If she takes the points, does her boss know? Does she disclose it for the sake of transparency? Does that make it right?

Couldn’t you—or shouldn’t you—consider individual incentives as gratuities and as permissible as any other gratuity? Aren’t they just a “thank you for your business”?
A salesperson at another hotel, a competing hotel chain, finds out that the competition is offering personal bonus miles and other personal incentives to book these pieces of business.
Do you, as a hotel sales manager, think that the piece of business is worth it to match or exceed the offered incentives? Do you go back to your boss and say this is what the competition is offering and you want to make your department’s sales goal? Is that right? Is that just good business? Do you just hope the meeting planner makes the right decision and hold the line?

Do you have a responsibility as a planner of setting the stage as to what is acceptable ethically or not?

A planner has given a hotel a significant amount of business over the years. She has always joked with the DOS that if she ever got married, she would love to spend her honeymoon, or even part of it, in the gorgeous penthouse suite. She has just run into this DOS at an event, and he notices her engagement ring, then asks if she will be honeymooning in the penthouse suite she has always dreamed of, at the hotel’s expense.
Do you as a planner accept the offer—you do have more business coming up with them in the future. You’re not asking the hotel for the opportunity; they offered it to you.

What if they came back and offered only a discounted rate? Would you accept that instead of a comp? Does that make it right?

There are many gray areas in planner/supplier transactions: what’s right for one person may not be right for another. But when you’re getting into those gray areas, you should check with your organization about its ethics policy. According to panelist Bruce Harris, “If you don’t work someplace that has a code of ethics, you ought to get one so you know what is considered right and what is considered wrong.”

Or, as Weaver said, “Ask yourself this question, ‘If this were on the front page of my local newspaper, would I have a problem with it?”