The blogs and posts this past week about the recent decision at Marriott to cut commissions to third parties and intermediaries from 10% to 7% has been fast and furious! The conversations about the value of third-party intermediaries and site selection firms have also been at the forefront and created a lot of debate about the value of the third-party model. Third parties have always been the subject of debate and resistance by some in the meeting industry, and likely with good reason as it can be one of the areas in our industry of least understanding.
The value of site selection firms, in my opinion, is only as good as the site selection associate and the value they provide to their clients. To some outsiders, it may appear that site selection associates are just in the business to make commissions and accumulate clients with large programs. For me, and for many of my respected colleagues, it was never about accumulating large commissions, but rather it was about exercising the strengths we had in this vast and diverse industry.
When I started in site selection 10 years ago, it was in response to a soul-searching expedition after coming out of a corporate meeting planner position. While I loved being a meeting planner, something wasn’t quite right with my career choice and I needed to figure out what that was. I considered myself a good meeting planner, but I was terrible at post-event reports – I dreaded them, and sometimes fell into a depression at the end of the event (likely due not only because of the post-event report, but the adrenaline high of running an event had worn off). It was through weeks of research and inventory that I realized my biggest strength, and passion, was contract negotiations and working with meeting industry suppliers. Upon learning that you could take this one as a full-time venture as an associate with a site selection firm, and not have to endure post-event depression and reports, it was a welcome answer and opportunity to stay in the events industry and exercise my strengths to the fullest.
Through my first few years in site selection, I learned I was also passionate about creating processes and resources – not only to attract clients, but as part of a client-care program once I started working with an organization. The resources I provide clients today are a lot different than the ones I gave them 10 years ago; they are always evolving, changing and typically an answer to a need that can then be rolled out to the rest of my clients.
All this to say, my role as a third party site selection intermediary was never about commissions; it was always about servicing the client that needed more time and more talent on their event planning team.
The Marriott decision to cut commissions for third parties has created a hugely emotional response, and rightly so. The industry is so divided on this issue and will continue through the months ahead. All of us in the events industry will respond differently depending on where we are in our career, but more so about the values and reasons behind our choices.
I am choosing to be “business as usual” through this perceived challenge. My promise to clients has been, and remains to be – I will work and negotiate with the venue that best fits your program’s goals, objectives and budget. Be it a Marriott hotel, Hilton, Accor, Silverbirch, or the independent property in town – that is who I will choose to work with, because that is what is best for your program.
For those that thrive in a challenging environment, the decision for Marriott to cut commissions will push us to exercise our strengths even further and create a value-proposition like no other. That should excite and energize us, and hopefully not divide us from the hard-working hotel partners who really had no say in this decision. The ramifications for Marriott sales teams, in my opinion, will far outweigh the ramifications it has on the third parties. They need our encouragement and support now more than ever; this decision cannot be easy on them and they’re dealing with the fallout of decisions outside of their control.
On the flip-side, there will be many that choose a different response. No one can judge anyone by their reaction to these decisions; they affect livelihoods, families and career. Regardless of anyone’s role and their reaction, support is needed (and appreciated). I’m hopeful the differing opinions on how to react will create dialogue and understanding, rather than divide us.
I suspect the attack on both Marriott and third-parties will continue; the decision for Marriott to cut commissions has provided lots of fuel to those who have resented and rejected the third-party model of doing business. It can be seen as opportunity to call out both sides on their ethics and behaviour in the industry. Some will point the finger at Marriott, some at third-party associates. While I do believe there are people who behave unethically in this industry, I know and trust many third-party associate colleagues and respect them for their ethics. I’ve seen the ethics of all industry professionals called into question at some point, perhaps not publicly like this, but it has been done. I have walked away from meeting professional clients who were not behaving ethically and their values did not line up with my own. I caution those who look to launch a full-scale attack on the ethical practices of anyone involved in this situation.
If anyone in our industry is a CMP and active member of one of our industry associations, they are expected to act ethically; that includes hotel sales, third-party associates, meeting professionals, AV suppliers, caterers and the like. Forging ahead as a third party associate in a time where our value is called into question, we must remain and be vigilant about our ethics. Working alongside clients and hotel partners through this challenge is not only ethical, but its just the right and sound thing to do.
In closing, I believe there are always three sides to every story. For this story, there’s going to be the hotel chain’s belief that cutting compensation to third-parties will free up resources to better serve their clients and team members. There is also the story from site selection organizations that believe in our role in helping clients find venues that are a best fit for their programs, and helping hotels host clients and programs that are a good fit for their space. The real story, and real fallout over the months and years to come, will fall somewhere in the middle.
So what’s next for our industry of hotel sales associates and their third-party clients? Hopefully some reconciliation and a coming together. We still all want the same thing, an amiable arrangement between hotels and meetings that help showcase the power of meetings and how it moves business and best practices forward.
I can only do my very small part and move in a direction that helps my clients and nurtures my relationships in the industry. How about you?
RELATED – The Anatomy of Meeting Planner