It was back to school for the 300 registrants at the Second Annual Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Summer Conference, held in Cincinnati, June 20 to 22. Registration was down slightly over last year's inaugural conference in Toronto, which drew 350 participants.

The opening general session featured a panel of planners and suppliers discussing critical issues in the industry. At the top of the list was the changing buyer/seller relationship in today's hotel market, characterized by tougher contract clauses, higher rates, and fewer guarantees from hotels. Beverly W. Kinkade, vice president of association sales for ITT Sheraton, acknowledged that, "With publicly traded companies such as the Sheraton, we definitely have to maximize our shareholder value." Panelist Mickey Schaefer, CAE, director, meetings and conventions division with the American Academy of Family Physicians, Kansas City, MO, pointed out that today's seller's market is particularly difficult for small meetings.

These same themes were discussed in "Taking The Mystery out of Hotel Pricing," one of the 25 workshops and concurrent sessions. Presenter Gail Wargo, associate regional director, Marriott Hotels, Resorts and Suites-who led the same session at the 1996 PCMA annual meeting-focused on why the hotel market has tightened up. (She cited the issues of supply catching up with demand, and pressure from hotel owners to see improved return on investment). Some trends Wargo identified:

Lead times are getting pushed farther out, especially for prime season availability, while lucrative short-term business is growing from the corporate market.

There is an increased premium on hotel meeting/function space.

More and more hotels are trying to manage the costs of "controllables"-such as laundry expenses-to increase profit margins.

An informative session on the Internet, led by presenters James R. Daggett, CAE, CMP, president of CME Unlimited, and John Folks, director of sales, national accounts, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, offered some insights about 'net economics, including a discussion of the value of association home pages as advertising vehicles for suppliers-even when those suppliers have their own home pages.