Hospitality Financial Leadership – Pay to Play — Photo by David Lund

I have learned a few things since starting my own business nearly seven years ago. Here is a shortlist of accomplishments:

  • I have managed to survive as my own systems manager which also means looking after Johanne's stuff which is no small feat for an older guy like me.
  • I also have learned how to navigate our own health care plans which really means there is no plan at all, I live in America after all.
  • Lastly, I have come to understand the hospitality world and the pay-to-play landscape.

You can have anything if you're willing to pay. Really, this is true and in the hotel communication and event world it's a stark reality. One that I took for granted to be just the opposite when I was on the inside for 30-plus years. I think with that mouthful I had better explain myself a bit more.

I have always been a fan of hotel publications and conferences. I like reading magazines and trade newspapers that today are almost entirely online. Getting the latest trends and innovations was always helpful and enlightening. I also have always loved going to conferences since my first one during hotel school. My class made the arduous journey to Toronto in the winter of 1983 to attend what was then HOSTEX. Imagine all the F&B vendors displaying their products and a very thirsty group of unruly students from the east invading the trade floor. Not to mention what we did to that hotel we stayed in.

Naively, I always thought that the information I read in our industry rags and the people I listed to from stage at conferences were legitimate. I mean I thought they were writing about something important and they had a quasi-authorized reason for being published. I also believed that they occupied a seat on stage at the discussion forum because they had an experience and expertise to share. I thought the breakout sessions I attended were delivered by thought leaders and innovators that the conference brought in to enlighten and educate me.

Was I wrong! Quite often - but not always - it is exactly the opposite of what's really going on inside these publications and at these conferences. Many but not all publications are 100 percent pay to play. Everything you read is paid for by the authoring company or person. It's 100 percent advertorial. The speakers and round-table participants have all written large four- and sometimes five-figure checks just so they can take the stage. And on top of that you paid a subscription for your magazine or better still a few hundred bucks to get your ticket and lanyard for that hotel conference. And, my friends, it's all a smoke and mirrors show designed to line someone else's pockets with your money.

When I started writing my blogs, I had a long list of editors that I sent each article to with a heartfelt note. I got my list of publications and editors primarily from attending a very popular annual hotel technology trade show. I collected all the free publications and inside the cover page, just like they taught you in grade seven, was the publication details. Editors, publisher, location, address and email addresses, it was all there. The funny thing was, well, not really so funny but none the less, I didn't hear back from most of them. Not even thanks but you suck notes and we won't publish your crap notes. I got no response at all.

After persisting for what seemed like months, I began to dig a bit deeper and I learned one by one that the reason they would not publish my articles is because they wanted me to pay to have my article published. But my articles are educational and I'm not selling anything, I exclaimed! No matter, we're not interested but we could be for $1,500, or $2,500 or $5,000!

Same thing happened when I started my speaking business. I sent proposal after proposal to what I thought were legitimate meetings and conferences. I guess they are legitimate, but they just don't tell you you're paying to go to their conference to watch infomercials. At many conferences that are organized by hospitality trade associations and industry media companies, the entire production features speakers that pay for the stage.

Now let me be clear. I do not have an ax to grind about these two realities. It's a free world and if someone wants to pay to get their message out there it is okay by me. That's how advertising works. But the thing is, when I read an advertisement or watch a commercial, I know someone has paid to have that placed in that publication or during a broadcast of my favorite show. With the two pay-to-play activities I just explained it's not the case. Most of the people who have paid to attend these conferences and the individuals reading the articles don't know that it is paid sponsored content.

Below is part of the sales piece for one such conference. Notice, if you will, what's missing. What's missing is the fact that every speaker has paid to be there. No tickie - no boo. But no mention, not even a hint of that appears in their promotion.

"Attendees and speakers own and operate hotels representing 50,000+ hotels, management companies, and the industry's major brands. With two plus days of networking including dinner parties, extended refreshment breaks, breakfasts, luncheons, cocktail parties, golf, spa and other leisure activities, the opportunities for meeting old friends and new people are endless. Attendance is strictly limited (what exactly does that mean) so that your experience is productive and enjoyable. One-to-one meetings dedicated to helping you find the people you need to get your hotel business deal done. Think Tanks (these are the people who paid to speak to you) are limited in size so that YOU can participate, ask questions and get involved. You can network with attendees prior to the conference through our Conference Connect portal."

By reading this I think one would assume they are paying to go to a conference where they will receive valuable insights and information, yes, but it's all a commercial that's carefully orchestrated to sell you the sponsoring companies' products and services. And what's wrong with that? What's wrong is they don't tell you that and most attendees have no idea that this is the case. Especially bad because they charge the regular attendees a hefty fee to attend. Maybe they all know. I didn't.

Same goes for many of your favorite hotel rags.

I'm going to stop here and also mention by the very fact that you are reading this where you are, that this publication is not on a pay-to-play site. These blog posts support hotel industry options and dialog. I say good for them! Our industry needs platforms where people can share ideas freely, without having to pay to play.

David Lund
The Hotel Financial Coach
+1 415 696 9593
David Lund

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