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August 10, 2010

John Hooker:Cheers for nothing

Should the consumption of alcohol be built into the event planning process? The founder of jhcp ponders the issue over a pint…

Let me start by saying I’m not a big fan of nanny state politics, as much of what we experience in this arena could be reasonably sorted if we focused more on the word “responsibly”.

This brings me onto the issue of alcohol, as it seems to be rearing its head once again, just like the binger in the corporate responsibility bar. Mentioning alcohol to the events industry is like having a rattlesnake in a lucky dip – it’s best ignored as a potential risk in case you get unlucky and start getting people rattled.

So where does the responsibility lie? Who becomes the moral judge? Can drinkers police themselves? Some agents and suppliers are facing some unease, because raising the question of drinking can be as personal as saying you suffer from halitosis.
So what do you do when a delegate cries foul and makes serious allegations against supplier staff when clearly the worse for wear? In the UK, it is an offence for bar staff and publicans to knowingly serve alcohol to someone showing signs of inebriation, but what about the bar staff on an event overseas? They are not always allowed or directed to show a sense of responsibility, but rather to ensure the drinks budget is well and truly spent. So start by calling time on that particular initiative and take a responsible approach.

Part of the plan
Do you agree in advance who is going to take responsibility for a drunken crisis? Is it the client, the agent or the staff of the destination management company? More importantly, who should it be? 

Too many times it becomes the agents/suppliers responsibility to handle such issues, but could they be leaving themselves open to allegations too? Furthermore, what does the supplier do when the client or agency team is the first to the drinking fountain and it starts to show?

You would not drink in the office, so why is drinking onsite at an event different when you are working? How well would they co-ordinate a crisis if under the influence? We are a social industry and events have a strong social element, but surely it is time to at least discuss the question of alcohol openly at the planning stage.

Open and honest
When I first started in this industry there were client companies who had a reputation for “having a good time”. Restricted licensing laws in the UK at the time was part of the explanation when UK groups landed in foreign lands with more liberal opening and closing times and proceeded to make the most of it, but that is not the case today. There was also the famous case of a paint manufacturer taking its dealers to Hamburg, which resulted in Sunday newspaper exposure having painted the town red – and then it was read and that was the end of that.

Unsurprisingly, similar reputations still exist and they are almost worn as a badge of pride, but think about the unease it creates. Paying for the damage either financially or with your reputation after the event is not the answer – remember a certain supermarket chain’s conference in Wales? However, being honest with suppliers up front is, so at least they can consider their own reputation before accepting the booking.

Honesty and openness also means risk assessments can be made and processes put in place that ensure a good time is had by all, but in a responsible way, rather than having people running for the bottle when it looks like it could be “last orders”.

John Hooker is the founder of JHCP and specialises in change management programmes in the meetings, events and hospitality sectors globally.

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