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Enthusiasm for meeting in Mexico and the Caribbean remains high, said planners during Northstar Meeting Group’s Destination Mexico + Caribbean event, which took place online this week.
"The Caribbean and Mexico continue to be on the forefront of people's minds here in the Midwest," said Matthew Thiel, sales director for meetings, incentives and group travel at Fox World Travel. "People want to get away, and we are seeing a lot of interest."
Northstar's two-day event brought together planners with suppliers from the region, who met in one-on-one appointments and attended several educational sessions. Thiel was among the planners who has been impressed with what he's seen from the region.
"Mexico got a head start on all of this," he pointed out. "Back at the end of May, they announced they were going to be open, that they were going to be working with the World Travel and Tourism Council to get clean stamps of approval. They have done it right."
During a panel session about getting back to business, Rick Lambert, president and CEO of Destinations, Inc., described the incentive program he organized for 160 attendees at Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancún in late July. "We were super excited and grateful to be able to keep one of our summer events on the books and have it operate as planned," he said.
He described the extensive health and safety protocols that were in place for the wildly successful program, giving him — and his other clients — the confidence to hold other events in Mexico, and one in the Dominican Republic in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Mandi Graziano, vice president of global accounts at HPN Global, discussed pending events she is planning in Puerto Rico and Mexico for 2022, and expects to book more meetings in Mexico and the Caribbean in the near future. "There's definitely, definitely interest [in the region]," she confirmed.
The importance of high-quality, detailed virtual site inspections, suppliers’ willingness to negotiate flexible contract terms, and overcoming the social pressure and stigma of holding events during the pandemic were among the other topics Graziano, Lambert and Thiel addressed during the discussion.
"There's a negative stigma that if you do an event maybe you're not being a good global citizen," said Lambert. "We need to overcome that by showing how you can still do an event now and do it very safely."
In another session, Suzanne Sangiovese, commercial and communications director at travel-risk advisor Riskline, addressed that very topic. She shared best practices for airport and plane travel, as well as for group ground transportation. "Book something spacious," Sangiovese reminded attendees. "Just because there are 12 seats doesn't mean you can cram 12 people in a vehicle," she pointed out.
Among her many many tips: Hire several vehicles or a larger one than typically needed to ensure proper social distancing on board, she advised, and remember to open air vents or windows and limit unscheduled pit stops en route to the hotel or airport.
Attendees also had the opportunity to tap Northstar Meetings Group's resident legal expert, Jonathan T. Howe, with questions about contracts and the latest clauses in the era of Covid-19. The meetings and hospitality law expert, and founder and senior partner of Howe & Hutton in Chicago, addressed a number of pressing issues.
"The force majeure clauses you relied on this past year? Don't count on them for next year," he said. "It isn't only how you word them, but it's also a question of how much agreement you're going to get. I can give you great clauses and concepts of what you want to do, but unless the other side is willing to accept it, it's not going to work. This becomes part of the negotiation."
What's more, we'll have to wait quite some time to see any precedence as to how force majeure clauses are being interpreted as they pertain to Covid-19. "Part of the problem is that the courts either aren't open or they're very limited as to what they're handling," said Howe. "I've got several pre-Covid cases that should have gone to trial this fall. We're now looking at late 2021, and it will probably get kicked to 2022."
Howe did advise attendees to keep another, similar legal doctrine in mind, known as "frustration of purpose."
"This is something that so often is totally overlooked," he said. "What's the purpose of your program? Why are you holding this? What are the reasons why people should come to your program or go to the venue? If we set forth specifically what we're trying to achieve, we have this other legal doctrine we can refer to. And if something occurs that frustrates the purpose and prevents us from being able to get to the point we want to as a reason for holding the meeting or the program, then we can argue in court based on why that meeting can't be held successfully."
Pants on Fire
Traci Brown, a body-language expert who trains people to detect deception, delivered an energetic, entertaining and extremely useful presentation for event attendees. The session, which was sponsored by Goodman Speakers, addressed not only how to read body language in the context of negotiations, but also how to do so in spite of the fact people these days are often wearing masks. "If you only focus on what you can't see," said Brown, "you will never see what you can see to get all the information."