APR 2018

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A P R I L 2 0 1 8 ⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 7 Meeting Planners Unite, a new organization of independent meeting planners was created in March, largely in response to announcements by the Marriott Corporation and Hilton Worldwide that they are lowering commissions on some group business. However, according to Founder and Executive Director David Bruce, MMP, HTS, the group also has larger goals than fighting the commission drop and plans to continue to lobby the industry on the issues of the day. "We want to make sure that independent planners and their suppliers are recognized for the efforts they give to the industry every day," he said. "As part of the membership process, independent planners will be asked some questions about their busi- nesses. From that information, we will know the value of our worth to the industry and become the leading voice for the independent planner." Call To Action Activism among independent planners was sparked by a Jan. 24 announcement by the Marriott Corporation that it would begin lowering commissions on group business in the U.S. and Canada, dropping the rate from 10 to 7 percent for all contracts signed after March 31, 2018. Along with independent planners, destination management companies (DMCs) and travel agents were also notified that their commissions would drop to 7 percent. Other hotel chains, such as Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Omni Hotels & Resorts and AccorHotels, have stated that they plan to keep their commissions to third-party planners at 10 percent. When asked to comment on this issue, the fol- lowing statement was provided by Allison Sitch, vice president, public relations – the Americans, for the Marriott Corporation: "At Marriott Inter- national, meetings and events represent a critical part of our business as well as an opportunity to drive innovation and win with customers. The current business model and environment, however, present significant obstacles to making the investments needed to deliver a world-class experience for customers. While group interme- diaries play an important role in the marketplace, costs for our North American hotels and owners are growing at a faster pace than group revenue, which impacts hotel profitability. To strike a bal- ance and ensure the long-term health of our busi- ness, we reduced commissions to intermediaries from 10 percent to 7 percent for all properties in the U.S. and Canada." Bruce, who has been a meeting industry professional for 43 years and managing director of CMP Meeting Services, based in the Dallas, Texas area for 32 years, reacted quickly to Marri- ott's announcement. Within a few days, he started meetingplannersunite as a LinkedIn group with a corresponding Facebook page. By the end of January, the group had more than 130 members. As the response continued to grow, with more than 1,000 members signing on and thousands of others showing interest, Bruce said the group decided to "take this to the next level," and formed an association that will address broader issues affecting independent planners. Some Firms Exempted Some of the largest third-party site selection and meeting planning firms, including HelmsBriscoe, HPN Global, ConferenceDirect, Experient and Maritz Global Events, were exempted from commission cut, at least temporarily, according to spokespersons for those companies. This exemption drew a strong reaction from Shawna Suckow, CMP, founder and chair of the Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN), a 2,600-member organization which includes meeting pro- fessionals with more than 10 years of experience. Suckow posted a petition on the SPIN website that demands equal commissions from Marriott for all intermediaries. As of late March, the SPIN petition had 547 signatures. "At this time, we do not have plans to talk with Marriott or other hotel chains," said SPIN Executive Director Tracey B. Smith, CMP, CMM. "We have launched our Small Business Community series of education to help our mem- bers, whether small business owners or corporate and association employees, become invincible to unforeseen economic hiccups. This series will help them show more value to their clients and stakeholders, and give them an edge if and when the economy has downturns." With regard to Marriott's exemptions for some of the larger third-party firms, Bruce pointed out that they all have contracts with Marriott that end at different times, which is why they are not affected at this point. "The question is, what happens to those agreements once they run out? Do they go to 7 per- cent like the rest of us, or do they get renegotiated to the higher 10 percent or something in between? That is the one billion dollar question. Combining the four of them, their group Marriott sales reaches one billion dollars in room sales." Bruce added that Meeting Planners Unite's LinkedIn and Facebook group is comprised of approximately $200 million in room sales to Marriott. "Thus if you consider us (the four currently exempted groups and Meeting Planners Unite) the big five, that puts this grouping with Marriott at about 1.25 billion in rooms revenue. This is a significant portion of the business they receive and thus they will need to be very careful not to damage that much business." Attempted Meeting Cancelled Shortly after forming the LinkedIn and Facebook group, Bruce attempted to arrange a meeting with personnel at Marriott's headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, only to have the meeting cancelled shortly before it was to take place. "The answer they gave us for cancelling the meeting was that they didn't want to run into an antitrust issue by speaking with our organiza- tion," he said . "This is the main reason we have formed the corporation Meeting Planners Unite and have put together a 501(c)6 non- profit mem- bership group." He added that this status allows small busi- nesses who are competitors to get together on common issues and have one voice to speak to the industry, which is what the group's lobbying efforts will work toward. Board of Directors Formed Meeting Planners Unite has already formed a board of directors "whose insight and knowledge span hundreds of years in the industry," according to Bruce, who asserted that the new organization "will be wholly and completely centered around the needs of our third-party clients and we will always put them first in considering how the organization views the issues of the day." n Bruce Suckow Meeting Planners Unite Forms To Represent Independent Planners Lowered Commission Rates Spark Activism By Marcia Bradford

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