The DoubleTree Miami Mart Airport Hotel contracted with a conference organizer called MedicaTree International, Inc. of Richmond Virginia, owned by George (Skip) Brickley. In November 2009, he organized the Consumer Health World Health Care Globalization Summit. Allegedly Brickley's event attracted 23 paid registrants and nearly 60 speakers including dignitaries from Latin American governments, professors from Universities, research and practicing physicians, authors, consultants from some of the top consulting firms in the nation and small small business owners. His promise in exchange for their appearance and participation was that those named above would have their expenses covered.
MedicaTree International, Inc. failed to pay for the guest room accommodations, food beverage and services contracted during the event on behalf of their attendees. Subsequent attempts to collect the balances due by Tony Ferrara, General Manager of the property proved fruitless.
As a result, a letter was mailed to attendees on August 4th stating that in accordance with the signed registration card which contains the statement, "I agree that my liability of this bill is not waived and agree to be held personally liable in the event that the indicated person, company, or association fails to pay for any part of the full amount of these charges." is now being misused to prorate the conference expenses, not just the guest room and tax expenses. The room rate was $87.20 and most of the participants had two room nights.
I had two room nights and was charged $360.96. There was no itemized substantiation of the allocation of charges, just a letter with a photocopy of the agreement, and an apology that it has come to this. As a professional speaker with more than 2600 professional presentations, I sign that block every time. I would expect that if someone possibly defaulted, that I might get a bill to indemnify the hotel on my room and tax, not the whole conference. If I didn't sign, I could assume that I would have no place to sleep and I would expect to be "walked" which is adhesive. Contracts of adhesion are rarely enforced against the party without leverage.
While we may have signed the statement on our guest room charges, The hotel was not in privity of contract with us for the MedicaTree International, Inc. bill and we were did not accept liability as third party guarantors for the entire conference expense under a contract between the hotel, its holding company, and MedicaTree.
As an attendee or an invited speaker, being charged for the conference food, beverage, pads, pencils, audiovisual, etc., is not what that paragraph was intended for. It would be unconscionable as it greatly exceeds any bounds of reason or moderation.
Imagine the chilling effect on future conference and association meeting registrations if every conference attendee, speaker, vendor and paid registrant realized that they were was doubly jeopardized to have to indemnify the organizer in addition paying stand space rentals, travel and registration fees to support or attend a conference.
Calls to the hotel manager proved fruitless to have these charges removed. Calls to Hilton corporate and Hilton HHonors also were met with excuses that the property is a franchise and therefore not subject to influence from corporate. Hogwash! That's Hilton's brand! If they won't defend their customers from this unfair business practice and egregious behavior, they are just as guilty.
This incident has affected the ministries of tourism and health in several countries, knighted Datos who traveled from Malaysia, government officials in several countries all who have little time or capability to fight this charge against their credit cards from another country.
I urge every conference planner and association to think twice about this before booking with either of these organizations in the future until the matter is cleared up. I will share the letter sent to announce their decision to charge participants to any conference organizer or association, and can supply copies of others' letters as well.
Maria K Todd, MHA PhD
CEO, Mercury Healthcare
President, Council on the Global Integration of Healthcare