Be Our Guest

From training employees to forgoing lobster tail, hotels are putting the PhRMA Code on their menus.
Sep 01, 2005

Michael Aylmer recalls with some sentimentality the lavish three-day weekends that were once routine fare at New York's famous Ritz Carlton. Crowds of physicians and their spouses would come to the hotel to enjoy rich four-course meals, sumptuous spa treatments, and planned outings to the city's venerable hot spots and Broadway shows. This was, of course, before the 2002 PhRMA Code became the de facto law of the land.

Cooking à la Code
"I was with the Ritz' regional sales office in the very early nineties," says Aylmer, now senior director of pharmaceutical sales for KSL Resorts. "They were famous for their Thursday-through-Sunday drug-marketing meetings. Doctors would bring their families, and it was a real dog-and-pony show."

But by 1992 there were already signs of change, which Aylmer now attributes to Senator Hillary Clinton's push for universal healthcare during her husband's first term as president. "Places like the Ritz and the Four Seasons were suddenly looked at as too lavish," Aylmer says. "But then that perception died down, and by 1994, the grand meetings were back."

Michael Cairns whips up some Code-friendly salsa at the Arizona Biltmore
As it turned out, 1992 was a sign of things to come. By 2001, the US Department of Health and Human Service's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) began soliciting comments on how to best develop a marketing compliance program for the pharma industry, whose perceived excesses and questionable marketing practices were skirting dangerously close—or boldly crossing the line—of the anti-kickback statute. In addition to OIG's concern about cold-cash pay for doctors who switched patients from a competitor's drug to another one, as well as cash and gifts for doctors who spent time with drug sales reps, OIG was poised to lower the boom on "entertainment, recreation, travel, meals, and other benefits in association with information or marketing presentations."

In April 2002, PhRMA swooped in with its attempt to self-regulate member companies' marketing activities. It adopted The PhRMA Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals, now simply known as the PhRMA Code, which, among other things, fundamentally changed the types of services companies can offer physicians and other healthcare providers attending their meetings. For hotel executives like Aylmer, who oversees bookings for luxury destinations like the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Georgia's Emerald Point Resort, Hawaii's Grand Wailea Resort and others, it meant they needed to completely retool their business to change the offerings and, in effect, redefine the medical meeting experience.

Southwest Sweetwater Shrimp Martini
For executives, the implications of the PhRMA Code became immediately apparent. "We were bidding on a Johnson & Johnson meeting," says Aylmer. "And the planner said something like, 'Gee, if I book a resort, I could lose my job.'"

That was enough to send Aylmer, with 25 percent of KSL's bookings at stake, diving into the nitty-gritty of the PhRMA Code in an attempt to decipher the radically changing needs of pharmaceutical and medical meeting groups. And he wasn't the only one.

Since 2002, executives at meeting destinations interested in gaining or retaining their pharma clients have done away with the perks and value-adds that used to be required to get their destinations booked. Three years later, hotels are training their employees on how best to work within these parameters to develop creative—but compliant—meetings that fill the seats.

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