|By Julie Wallace, Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 1, 2004 - Last-minute negotiations failed Tuesday -- meaning today marks the start of a boycott of the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau by local hotel operators.
Nearly all members of the Greater Akron Lodging Council, as well as four hotels that aren't official members, have agreed to reject all business from the bureau until the two sides come to a consensus on some contentious issues, including declining business.
The boycott go-ahead came after Bill Reider, general manager of the Sheraton Suites in Cuyahoga Falls, and bureau board Chairman Greg Bean failed to agree on terms for a mediation session during a telephone call that began at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and wrapped up just before 5 p.m.
"We would like to mediate this -- very much so," said Reider, who is chairman of the lodging council as well as a bureau board member. "I think we're almost there. The biggest sticking point is who is attending the meeting and who's paying for it. Since (the bureau) didn't respond to two years of listening to us, they should pay the bill now. This all could have been avoided."
The hotel operators are insistent that bureau President Susan Hamo and Vice President Gregg Mervis not be in attendance at the mediation session. Bean -- according to a series of e-mail exchanges with Reider -- insists that they be there.
Mervis said late Tuesday that it makes no sense to try to resolve the issues without allowing the bureau's senior management to attend.
"After Mr. Bean's numerous attempts and compromises, the lodging council is going forward with the boycott because of the board's insistence on going forward without senior management present," Mervis said.
Mervis said despite the boycott, the bureau will continue with the work at hand.
"The bureau's sales and marketing efforts will continue.... They'll run on a parallel plane to this boycott issue," he said. "Our clients and the staff of the hospitality community are first and foremost on our minds."
Here is how the boycott would work. Typically, when the convention bureau is trying to attract an event to Summit County, it will send out requests for proposals to local lodging facilities to find out how many rooms each one could provide and at what rates. Once the boycott begins, the hotels' collective answer will be "zero" when the requests arrive.
Hotel operators say they know the move will hurt their businesses and potentially damage the county's tourism trade, but they believe only extreme measures will make city and county leaders take notice.
Reider said his members won't budge on their insistence that Hamo and Mervis be excluded from mediation.
"I think the concerns (my members) had were that if we were going to mediate and these two people were part of the operation after the mediation, there would be some severe wounds that might not mend afterward," Reider said. "They're not voting members anyway."
The decision to go forward with the boycott capped a strange series of events Tuesday -- including Mervis sending out a news release stating that the two sides had agreed to mediate at the Sept. 9 board meeting of the bureau.
Reider said that agreement never was reached. Mervis, meanwhile, said it was reached in principle during a meeting of the two sides Friday when they agreed to change the format of that meeting from a facilitated session to a mediated one.
"I got the word from Columbus from the Ohio Lodging Commission that Gregg Mervis sent that press release out and I about fell out of my chair," Reider said. "I haven't talked to him. We wish it were true."
Reider said members of the lodging council also have decided that holding the Sept. 9 meeting with a facilitator won't work. As of Monday, when they met to discuss the mediation terms, they decided they wouldn't attend the meeting if it didn't become a mediation session.
"Until we get this thing settled, it makes no sense to facilitate," Reider said. "Here we are bending over for them... We were willing to sit down with their hired individual to mediate if we could reach some consensus on what we all needed."
The lodging council contends the bureau is not being run effectively and is not generating the amount of business it should.
The council says a four-year decline in the number of events and visitors at the John S. Knight Center proves the point. The council wants the bureau to be accountable for its performance, and it wants industry standards adopted to measure the performance.
Bean and Hamo have maintained they have been responsive to hotel operators' complaints.
Wire service sources contributed to this report.
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