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An Open Letter to the Hospitality Industry

I’m writing this hugely annoyed, so my first draft was simply “You Suck”

You know an industry is bloated and corrupt when they’re first and only motivation is profit, even and especially at the expense of return business. That’s the Hospitality industry. They don’t care if your event sucks, another is dying to book the space next year.

It’s a lot like banks being too big to fail, hotels are too needed to fail, at least in the conference organizer world. It’s hard to do a conference without a hotel, even if you host the event elsewhere, you need hotels for your attendees, whether you make any special plans or not. It’s way worse when your event is at a hotel, then they have you.

Don’t sell enough tickets and fill guest rooms? They can charge you for possible losses whether losses actually happened or not. Kind of an insult to injury scenario since not selling enough tickets is a huge hit on it’s own.

They deliver a crappy experience? so what, you still owe them nearly 30% service charge for bad service.

This is super generalized, and I’m not naming names, but my current situation, is a direct reflection on this corrupt industry. Hotels are not conference organizers’ friends. Some are awesome and nice and I enjoy working with them, and they earn their 30% service charge (I still think that’s a ludicrous amount, and is highway robbery, but they at least work for it) busting their ass, not for me, for my attendees. When attendees compliment me, i pass it on to the hotel staff who deserve it. Great meal, i didn’t cook it. Great staff who helped solve problems, not me. Others simply suck, say they’re sorry, smile and hold their hand out for their check. It works the same here.

All things flow to the organizer, whether it’s a good or bad experience, whether it’s his fault or doing or not. Hotels love to hear the compliments, they smile, they nod, they give each other awards for it, etc. But telling them where they dropped the ball, well that’s helpful, but please pay your bill as you leave.


As a small and struggling businessman it pisses me off. When things go right, the model of conferences that don’t cost and arm and a leg works really well, but it’s a fine line for sure. I knew that going in. I still do conferences like this because I know it can work. Not because I’m an idealist and haven’t made any money, but because I have made money. Sometimes it’s enough to make sure I can eat and pay the mortgage, sometimes it’s enough to look back and smile at a job well done and know the next event has a bit of a buffer in the bank.


When someone emailed me to complain about the video quality of a session recording (he bought the bundle, $85 worth) i refunded him the entire order. Told him to keep and hopefully enjoy the rest of the videos, and that i was sorry and session videos are something we’re trying to do better at.

What I didn’t do, was say, you bought hundreds of hours of video, for $85, and you’re complaining about 70 minutes? On their own the videos are only $3.50 because they’re not super great. they’re good, some are great, some aren’t, but at $3.50 you’re not out a lot of money, and you most definitely get AT LEAST $3.50 worth of value from them. Most often you get way more than that. I didn’t say anything about that. I didn’t say other events charge way more. I didn’t point out that video sales help cover hosting costs, and buy coffee. I didn’t point out that he probably pays more for Angry Birds levels, and that one video is less than a grande latte. I certainly DID NOT apologize and thank him for his money.

I apologized, and refunded the money. I have no idea if he thought the other videos were bad or not. Frankly i don’t care. He had a problem with one, and to me making sure he remembers that my event is run buy a stand up guy is more important. Will he attend next year? Probably. Hopefully. Sure $85 and what the hotels want isn’t the same, BUT it’s less about the money and more about that customer service, and frankly not being a money grubbing suckwad. And yeah it’s a little about the money too. I’ve refunded conference passes in the same fashion before.

A recent conference I organized had basically 50% crappiness level. Thru no fault of my own, no balls I dropped. No loose ends I neglected to tie up. The first two days had useless internet, tons of balls dropped, things not set up like I asked sponsor tables not where they should be, my reg table not set up right, etc. etc. Worst of all the A/V was useless pretty much 80% of the conference. The guy was never where he was needed, feedback was everywhere, etc. It was terrible. One general session was effectively ruined, as was the session recording) by feedback that made your head hurt. Things got ok the last two days (AV not withstanding), not stellar, not OMG you’ve raised the bar, just good.

As a businessman this is where i get annoyed. I’m the guy who’s gonna write  a check for 100k and you can’t get my reg table right? or my sponsor tables? Sure if I had the space for free, you were doing me a favor etc, I couldn’t and wouldn’t complain, but I am paying. I’m paying A LOT. and things like power strips aren’t put where I asked?? Really?

Did the hotel offer anything for those fuckups? no. Well to be fair I got lots of ‘sorry’ and ‘our bad’ and ‘we fixed that eventually’ and of course ‘next time you don’t need to use that AV company’. When I complained, nicely because I’m a nice guy, and I try to compose myself in business as partnering with vendors and customers, I got song and dance about discounting the service charge on Food/Beverage would make that team think they sucked. I finally got a tiny (relative to the bill) discount on NEXT YEAR. So it’s back to, “we’re sorry we did a bad job, please pay your bill in full as you leave” never mind that in this case, i’ve yet to get a bill that’s correct. Every bill has had errors in my favor and theirs. You can’t adequately bill someone? Hell I’ve tossed invoices when I messed up and just given the sponsor a free ride to show I wanted their future business. THis hotel is busting my ass about a bill i’ve yet to agree is correct.

This has happened 2x, well kinda 3x. Each one was a hotel that didn’t see me as a valued partner, but as the guy who no matter what happened the next four days, would be writing a check for more than 100k. When you think like that you don’t do your best job because you don’t have to. Every year I bust my ass to make sure my sponsors know I want them to succeed, because at the end of the conference, they will either come back or not, based on how I did. That is 100% NOT an issue for hotels. Because of how I think business should be run, I did exactly what they expected. I wrote checks for bad or non existent service. MY sponsors wouldn’t, not for a second, they’d say thank you, we won’t be back. Sadly some have, and I’ve regretted each time, and tried to make sure I learned from those mistakes. Attendees who were treated by me, like I am hotels, wouldn’t come back, and might ask for a refund. Heck I refund people 3 weeks from the conference. Hotels fuck you 6 months out if you need to cancel. Too bad so sad!

It’s a very one-sided relationship. Sadly the conference industry doesn’t help. Most organizers are marketing departments or internal event organizers, etc. While they have a budget target, etc, at the end of the day they don’t care. They still get paid, they can still eat. So what if there’s a 30% raping on top of $4 cans of soda, and $6 cupcakes. It’s not their money. I know they don’t care, because that’s how business works. If hotels didn’t have people lining up to pay $4/can for soda, they wouldn’t charge that.

So this is also kind of an open letter to my fellow organizers. We can do better. We should do better. I’m going to start doing better. To the hotels, well fuck you guys, you don’t care about me, and I’ve hardened my heart to you, so now we’re enemies and fighting each step of the way. That’s not how business should be, and really not how I want business to be done, but it seems in the short term, there’s no choice.

By John Wilker

I'm a science fiction writer and conference organizer. In 2017 I published my first book, 'Space Rogues', a fun Sci-Fi adventure with a fun cast of characters. I'm also the co-founder of 360|Conferences, a conference and event logistics consulting company.

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