Key findings from the APEX contracts report, released earlier this year by the Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange initiative, came to light at a recent webinar. The report recommends industry best practices for handling attrition and other contracting challenges, establishes guidelines on how to format a meetings contract, and creates standard definitions of meeting contract terminology and clauses.

In the July 25 webinar, representatives from the contracts panel discussed how meeting planners can apply the recommendations, and talked about the long, three-year process of developing this seventh and final APEX report. “I was never big on this [the idea of a contracts panel] from the beginning, but it turned out to be something good,” said Larry Luteran, vice president, groups sales and industry relations at Hilton Hotels Corp., one of three panelists on the webinar along with Gregg Talley, CAE, president, Talley Management Group, and Tyra Hilliard, Esq., CMP, meetings industry consultant and educator, who also chaired the contracts panel. The forum was hosted by Betsy Bair, editorial director, MeetingsNet, and moderated by Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, president, Concepts Worldwide.

One of the major recommendations of the 44-member contracts panel--which had representation from planners, hotels, facilities, other suppliers, and industry lawyers--was to create a recommended format for meeting contracts, with all the elements in a specific order. “This is huge,” said Talley. “How many times do we go blurry-eyed reading contracts when we’re not even on the same page, talking about the same terms? Working from the same type of contract has the ability to make our lives a lot easier.” It’s a recommendation and not mandated, but over time, the panel hopes the format will be commonly used by suppliers and planners.

One hotel chain that is committed to the new format is Hilton. “We’ve already made the change to the new format,” explained Luteran. “We want to make it as easy as possible for groups to meet with us. If contracting stands in the way of that, it’s not good.”

In the question-and-answer portion of the hourlong webinar, an audience member asked what it would take to get other hotel chains to adopt the new format. “This will gain traction when customers demand it,” said Luteran. “You can’t dictate that hotels use it, but they will when enough customers demand it.”

The contracts report also put forth “approaches to consider,” which are, essentially, best practices. “In several instances, we put a stake in the ground of what best practices should be,” said Talley. Among the best practices, the report states: Any attrition clause should include what charges are included and how they are calculated. There are also best practices related to commissions and rebates. Some recommendations include sterner language, saying “should” instead of “may,” which is an important distinction, said Talley. “In six to 10 of these (approaches to consider) we used ‘should’ to bring issues out of the fog and bring clarity to these issues.”

The panel stopped short of recommending standard language for contract clauses—and for good reason, said Hilliard. “Contracts offer a competitive advantage,” said Hilliard. Recommending standards clauses for attrition or force majeure would ultimately take some negotiating power away from planners and suppliers. “Market variations dictate different terms at different times, so it’s hard to come up with one-size-fits-all clauses,” Hilliard added. “It would have been a disservice all the way around.” Talley concurred: “You can’t possibly account for all of the variables that go into a clause;, that’s why you can’t have standard clauses.”

Finally, the report includes standard definitions of meeting-contract terminology, such as attrition. “This wasn’t something we just slapped together. This was hard-fought battleground to come to consensus on these definitions,” he explained, stating that the eight industry lawyers on the panel sweated over every word. Having standard definitions takes away any disagreements over what a term can mean, as negotiators will now be able to refer to the APEX definition as the standard. “It takes away a lot of the ‘back and forth-ing’ if you can say, ‘I’m working from the standardized APEX definition,’” said Talley.

The webinar is the final in a series of three, organized by MeetingsNet in cooperation with the CIC and sponsored by Palace Resorts. All are available online for review 24/7 at meetingsnet.com/webinars. To download a copy of the contracts report, go to the CIC web site.