A panel of experts gathered at MeetNow! 2007 in New Haven, Conn., to delve into the sticky ethical issues that plague the meeting and hospitality industry. The panel, part of a conference sponsored by the WestField and Connecticut River Valley chapters of Meeting Professionals International and held Feb. 22-23, focused on two main ethical areas: abuses of privilege in the industry and idea theft from service providers. Panelists took turns role-playing several scenarios in each area, and while it was easy to see the right thing to do in some situations—such as when a hotelier offers personal bonus points to a planner for booking a meeting, which all agreed was a no-no—some were a little more complex.

For example, what would you do if a neighbor with a terminally ill child who was in love with Disney but couldn’t get a trip to Disney World through the Make-A-Wish Foundation approached you to use your contacts to get a free or discounted stay in Orlando for the child? “Ethics are ethics, but I would make an exception for a terminally ill child," said panelist Kitty Ratcliffe, president, St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. As long as everything about the request was transparent to all parties, that is. “I would make the call after making sure it was OK with my boss,” she said. “I also would make it clear that I expect the salesperson to talk with the public relations department to make sure it’s something they want to do.” But, she cautioned, no matter what the level of transparency, the salesperson still might feel pressured.

Session moderator Rick Weaver, chapter vice president of communication and principle of the professional coaching company Life Teacher, New York City, clarified that it’s important to make the call based on the relationship, not your potential buying power. As Bruce Harris, former president, Experient (formerly Conferon Global Services), Twinsburg, Ohio, said, “Salespeople need to know that ‘no’ is a great answer. Take as much pressure off as you can. They shouldn’t feel obligated to help.”

But would your answer change if it were your own child? Or an adult? Look for the answers in an upcoming issue of Association Meetings magazine, but here’s a hint from panelist Barb Taylor Carpender, CMM, CEO of Taylored Training, Denver: “We need to educate each other and ask not what’s in it for me personally, but how does this work for your and my organizations?” Harris added that, no matter how small the ethical lapse may be, don’t let it happen. “These tiny things tend to be seductive,” he said, but if you never succumb to temptation on the tiny issues, you’ll never have to face the big issues.