With hotel owners' emphasis on ROI, "hoteliers are now more like accountants," says Robert C. Harvey, who has just retired after serving 26 years as convention director for the National Council of Teachers of English in Urbana, IL.

Looking back at his quarter century in the meeting industry, Harvey notes that the biggest change in the business is the altered relationship between planners and hoteliers.

All the penalty clauses in today's hotel contracts, which are included regardless of an association's track record, are a one-way street, Harvey says, asking a rhetorical question: "Are there any penalties for the hotel at all?" Those contracts have unbalanced the hotel/association relationship, which should be a partnership to produce a good meeting, he says. "Any time you enter into a contractual relationship in which one of the parties appears to have all the advantages, that immediately poisons the atmosphere. Instead of having mutual trust, you have one of the parties held hostage."

He doesn't see much hope for improvement in the future, either, expecting that hotels will only get tougher. "They're softening up the crowd for the final assault. Five years from now, it will be impossible to make agreements without having to sign [performance] clauses."

Harvey is disappointed to see the industry "assume this extremely legalistic structure. After all, the name of the business is hospitality," he says. "There's something inhospitable about these arrangements." With a rueful laugh, he adds, "That's just poetry, I guess. But old people like me are entitled to poetry."

While Harvey didn't mention writing poetry as a retirement goal, he is a freelance writer and cartoonist, and intends to pursue both creative interests during his retirement. Jacqui Joseph-Biddle, who served with Harvey as convention manager for the past ten years, will assume his position in January.