What do I want in my contract?

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November/December/January 2014
by Dean Miller

Q: I was at one of the reunion planning workshops you hosted a few years ago. I remember you saying there were things that should definitely be in any contract we sign with our reunion hotel, and things we definitely want to have the hotel take out or modify. I’ve misplaced my notes from the workshop. Can you please provide the list of “Definitely Want In” and “Definitely Want Out” contract terms?
A! Happy to! Contract clauses are one of the areas in planning any reunion where you’ll definitely want to take the time to review everything … several times over. Having certain clauses included or excluded before you sign your contract can save substantial headaches and/or money later on!

Let’s start with the basics. A sales contract is a legally binding document. Both the hotel (the seller) and you (the buyer) are promising you’ll do certain things that you’re agreeing to.
The language in any good contract should be clear, concise, and unambiguous. If you’re not sure what something means, ask to have it explained. If you’re still not sure, ask to have it taken out. Any financial terms noted should be stated in dollars and cents, not percentages. Any dates / times noted should be specific; for example, “5:00 PM on August 10, 2014,” not “three business days prior to the start of your event.”

You’ll definitely want to have these six clauses included:

  • Cancellation Clause. This should indicate what you would owe the hotel if you cancel your reunion after the contract is signed, and what the hotel owes you, if they cancel your reunion for whatever reason. Try to negotiate a provision in the clause that, if you do have to cancel your reunion, you would have a certain time period (up to a year, for example) to rebook your reunion at the hotel without penalty. Or, if the hotel requires payment, the cancellation fee can be applied toward the cost of a future reunion (again, within a year).
  • Management Change Clause. This clause should allow you to cancel the reunion without penalty if the hotel undergoes a change in ownership, management, or “brand” (from a Holiday Inn to a Comfort Inn, for example) between the date you sign your contract and the date of your reunion. You may very well not need or want to cancel, but this will allow you to do so if you find the hotel is substantially different under its new ownership/management.
  • Renovation Clause. This should clearly state that no major renovations will be taking place at the hotel during your reunion, and allow you to cancel (or provide you with pre-determined relief), if there are.
  • Miscellaneous Fees Clause. Any fees you’ll be required to pay during your reunion should be clearly noted in the contract. A miscellaneous fees clause should note that the existing fees cannot be raised, nor any new fees applied, without your prior written consent. Hotels have a host of miscellaneous fees charged for various services, and new ones pop up all the time. These could include fees for parking, health club and pool usage, mandatory gratuities to housekeepers, resort fees, fees for daily newspapers, fees for receiving packages, and on and on.
  • “No Charge” Clause. Many hotels provide services “without charge” or “complimentary” to their guests. These may include free parking, free use of the pool and/or health club, free breakfast, and so on. If your hotel currently offers things “for free,” you’ll want a clause noting what they are, and that your attendees will receive them “for free” at the time of your reunion, even if the hotel begins charging for them in the interim.
  • ADA Clause. This should confirm that the hotel complies with all aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which provides for access to public facilities for individuals with various physical limitations.

You’ll want to have the hotel take out these two clauses:

  • any clause that prevents you from contesting charges posted to your credit card, if a dispute over billing should arise; and
  • any clause that allows the hotel to put your events in different meeting rooms without your permission. Be sure the contract clearly notes which rooms your reunion will be using.

A clause you’ll want to consider carefully:

  • Attrition Clause. The hotel may insist on this, so you may not be able to get it removed, but in many cases you can get it modified, if you ask. This indicates the amount you will pay the hotel if you use fewer than the number of rooms you’ve told the hotel you’ll need. This is why it is always wise to be very conservative in the number of rooms you commit to. Far better to ask the hotel for additional rooms, if you need them, closer to the reunion date, than to contract for too many and have to pay for unused rooms.
  • As an alternative to an Attrition Clause, ask for an “Early Release” Clause, which allows the hotel to release any unreserved rooms in your block to sell to the general public without penalty or obligation to you. If you agree to give rooms back so that they can be sold to someone else, the hotel may be willing to forego any attrition penalties you’d otherwise have to pay.

And finally:

  • Sanity Clause. There is a very funny scene in a truly funny movie, A Night At The Opera, starring The Marx Brothers. You can rent the movie at almost any video rental store, and it makes a perfect choice for a family movie night at your reunion. It’s certain to have everyone in your group – from kids to seniors — laughing out loud!


About the Hospitality Answerman
Dean Miller is national sales director for Visit Fairfax. He can be reached at 703-752-9509 or dmiller@fxva.com.

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