The New England chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association, in conjunction with the New England Society of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, took on the topic of just how risky the meetings business is these days—and what meeting professionals can do to reduce risks—at an educational session held April 15 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. True to the date, the topic proved to be taxing to the 70-plus New England-based supplier and meeting planner participants.

Fearless facilitator Joan L. Eisenstodt, president of Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, Conference Consulting, Facilitation & Training, Washington, D.C., pointed out the harsh realities meeting professionals face today, from severe acute respiratory syndrome’s devastating impact to meetings in certain areas of the world, to the effect the war with Iraq had on corporate travel policies, to the increased potential for terrorist attacks both at home and abroad. Add to that the lessons learned from recent tragedies at nightclubs in Rhode Island and Chicago, not to mention the propensity of some hotels to place icewater-dripping juice containers behind plugged-in toasters, and the potential for disaster becomes too clear to ignore.

Or does it? Some participants espoused the view that they didn’t have the time to implement safety and security plans for their meetings or their facilities, or that the need to meet should override a rise in the nation’s caution level from orange to red—even though hotels and convention centers are specifically named as potential terrorist targets—because if meetings are cancelled or postponed, the terrorists "win." Others said they faced difficulties in convincing management that putting risk management and contingency plans in place before disaster strikes is worth the time and money.

After acknowledging the barriers people face in reducing their risk factors, Eisenstodt reminded participants of the immortal words of the comic strip character Pogo: "We is faced with insurmountable opportunity." She then worked with participants to brainstorm a number of strategies for moving forward, such as keeping up with how other industries are managing risk, and reading up on best practices and industry trends in meetings industry and other publications. Other ideas included: reviewing force majeure and other related contract clauses, attrition and cancellation clauses, cancellation insurance for all involved parties, and current internal security policies, if any. Eisenstodt also urged planners to check into hotel security policies, and to include a look at the available levels of service when doing a site inspection.

And for hoteliers, she posed a most intriguing question: "I hear you say that more planners are asking about your risk management and security policies. But have you ever asked meeting planners about their organization’s policies, and said that you wouldn’t host their meetings if their risk management plans weren’t to your satisfaction?"