Behind the Scenes

Gray Matter

In some businesses, ethics are black-and-white. That’s not the case in the meetings industry — for both planners and editors.

The meetings and hospitality industry is all about making guests feel genuinely welcome. When planners go on fam trips and site visits — and when we as editors participate in press trips — they’re opportunities for our host venues and destinations to make us feel special and well taken care of. That can include treating us to in-room amenities, exciting recreational activities, over-the-top dining, and the occasional spa treatment.

But when we think about this more deeply — as we asked the respondents to our ethics survey in this month’s cover story to do — we realize that we’ve stepped into the murky territory of influencing outcomes. Planners are in a position to bring business to their hosts; for us, it has to do with writing about them favorably.

I asked my fellow Convene editors to share their thoughts about this. It’s “pretty straightforward” for Executive Editor Christopher Durso: “As the publication of a nonprofit organization, we have a limited travel budget; the trips give us access to things our readers might find genuinely interesting or useful; and we make no promises to our hosts as to how we will or won’t cover them. But of course the situation is more complicated than that. Whenever we write up one of these trips, we identify upfront who hosted us, and try to stick to a just-the-facts overview of the itinerary. We hope that this direct, transparent approach is enough to keep our readers’ trust.”

As “someone who loves to eat,” Associate Editor Corin Hirsch marvels at how “press trips are rich with incredible, and mostly free, food and drink. Yet I also come from a newspaper background where I couldn’t accept food or drink that I had not paid for, so I’m sometimes uncomfortable writing favorably about free meals. I’ve found this middle ground: I write honestly about the dishes or drinks I loved, and omit those that were off the mark.”

Barbara Palmer, senior editor and director of digital content, has also spent part of her career in newspapers, so she sometimes feels “conflicted” about having her accommodations, meals, and travel comped, “for selfish as well as ethical reasons. I don’t ever want to become jaded or feel entitled. I’ve encountered that behavior in this industry, and it’s really unappealing to me.

“I balance those thoughts with the knowledge that the only way to write meaningfully about a place is through firsthand experience — I wouldn’t want to read a story about a destination written by someone who hasn’t been there. But I also rely on — and appreciate — the professionalism of destinations to create itineraries that are relevant to the industry.”

Digital Editor Kate Mulcrone has a more practical reason for her ambivalence about in-room amenities. It isn’t that she feels uncomfortable about accepting them — “I know they’re part of the experience the host destination has planned for the entire group. That said, I’d prefer not to receive gifts at all, since I don’t usually check a bag when I travel.” 

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.