With the launch of the Informed Meetings Exchange (INMEX), the national hotel workers union Unite Here jumps into the meetings arena with both feet. INMEX (www.inmex.org) is a 501(c)6 not-for-profit organization founded in June by Unite Here as a clearinghouse for research about the business and employment practices of hotel owners and operators. Critics say it is simply a tool for the union to influence where convention dollars go based on labor issues.
“INMEX was created for leverage,” contends David Scypinski, senior vice president of industry relations at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, White Plains, N.Y. “But the union has to be careful because the marketplace is so strong right now. If they are asking too much and leveraging too much, then they are going to hurt themselves.”
INMEX may wind up influencing convention spending, but that is not its primary focus, counters John Wilhelm, president, Unite Here. “The goal of the organization is to provide information. We think information about the business practices of hotels related to group customers and information about the treatment of employees by hotels is very powerful information. What the groups choose to do with that information is up to them,” he says.
Wilhelm says INMEX will have data on whereare expiring and where there is labor unrest. In addition, it will provide meeting planning services by Sekeno Aldred, CMP, formerly senior meeting planner at the Center for Effective Public Policy, Silver Spring, Md.
“There is no source of organized information for how group customers can best protect their own interests in dealing with hotels, and there's no centralized source of information about employee relations practices,” Wilhelm says. “We're trying to fill those vacuums.”
Eisenstodt to Lead Training
Union officials say that for INMEX to be viable, the information must be useful and not self-serving. “We'll be in much worse shape if we can't legitimize ourselves,” says Jason Ortiz, senior research analyst, Unite Here. “To achieve legitimacy, we have to go above and beyond any of the issues that are important to us; otherwise, people won't subscribe and the subscribers we do have will have absolutely no use for it and the organization will die.” (Subscription to INMEX is free.)
One way INMEX hopes to broaden its appeal is by offering subscribers continuing education. Joan Eisenstodt, chief strategist, Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, Washington, D.C., was tapped to lead the new INMEX Informed Meeting Professional Series. The first session was held in September in Washington, D.C.; future sessions will take place every other month for the next year.
“We're going to look at the demographic changes, social changes, and other issues that impact the industry,” she states. She will also train planners on core skills such asnegotiations, site selection, and the basics of meeting planning. An overriding theme will be “responsible meetings,” she says, not just as they relate to labor issues, but to other social issues that go beyond “rates, dates, and space,” such as . “That's something that no one is really taking on.”
The perception that she is being used to further a union agenda is off base, Eisenstodt says. “People who know me know my views are aligned. This is my view of the world anyway and this is my view of doing meetings,” she says. “For me, an opportunity to train within this setting is like being given a gift.”
Will It Make a Difference?
INMEX officials hope such partnerships will enable them to reach a broader audience. Most of the initial subscribers (about 100) are from associations that are sympathetic to union issues, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of La Raza. But they have also have convention and visitors bureau members, including the San Jose CVB.
“Planners want to know the lay of the land,” says Dan Fenton, president and CEO, San Jose CVB. “If INMEX is truly about information that will help a meeting planner understand the culture of a destination or a particular hotel, then we think it has merit.” If it stays true to its mission and is not about organizing, then it could catch on with more CVBs and planners, he says.
Joe McInerney, president, American Hotel and Lodging Association, doubts that the group will be able to maintain objectivity, despite claims otherwise. Also, he wonders if the groups' impact will be lessened as worker contracts are being settled across the country. Unless hoteliers do something “ridiculously stupid” to hurt workers and alienate groups, Scypinski adds, “there isn't enough ammunition in the gun to cause people to change behaviors. It's just going to end up informing those people who want to be informed.”