Anyone remember the good ol' days? $49 room rates in season in Florida, a handshake agreement on room pickup, comps that weren't part of the yield-management formula, and least but not last, no charges for meeting rooms?

Changes are incumbent in any industry. Recent trade publications speak of a shift from the supply-side market back to a buyer-side market. Some hotel-industry analysts have gone so far as to mention another overbuild situation--too many rooms and not enough heads in beds. My own experience tells a different story. A recent short-fused meeting caused us to look for rooms as far away as Milwaukee. Meeting participants don't normally get treated to that kind of a transfer unless the destination is at least a sporting event--not an insurance meeting! The Chicago market continues to be supply-sided.

When will the cycle end? I don't believe that's the right question in today's meetings business. The question that matters is whether supplier/planner relationships will withstand this latest market test. The survivors on either side can learn from this journey, but only if both realize the value of their partnerships. The strength of such partnerships, regardless of the current state of the market, is displayed by events like the Insurance Conference Planners Association Annual Meeting. The list of sponsors clearly shows that hotels, CVBs, and other meeting-support companies continue their investment in the partnering concept, even as their businesses are booming.

With insurance industry meeting expenditures well into the billions of dollars annually, intelligent partners continue to recognize their dependence on each other. We provide the market. DMCs, airlines, and travel suppliers move market to product. (Yep, a little backwards.) Hoteliers and support companies provide beds for heads and space to meet. Entertainment and production companies give meetings their punch. None of the participants in this feeding frenzy can effectively do their part and successfully make a living without dependence on the other. Partnering!

Yes, I will aggressively negotiate my next contract 'cause that's my job. But when asked by a senior Trustmark client recently why I couldn't get more free rooms, I asked when was the last time we gave away free insurance? (It pays to be a company officer with 25 years tenure and fully vested!)

I believe the supply cycle will shift beyond the Year 2000. Partnering should not come and go in cycles. Planner/supplier partnerships are long-term propositions. I feel privileged to be able to call the national sales directors of many hotels and hotel companies directly on a first-name basis. I'm proud to be part of their ongoing quests for quality and information dissemination to their marketplace. I'm indebted to them for courtesies extended to me, my company, and ICPA . . . not just for the in-room amenities. And I'm pleased to call many friends as well as partners.