31 March, 2023, 04:09

Reasons Why This Third-Party Planner Prefers Independent Hotel Event Spaces

“Everything that I consider to be good about our industry has been basically destroyed over the past year,” says David Bruce, Managing Director/Owner of CMP Meeting Services, a third-party planning company in business for over 30 years, of the changes that have stemmed from the major corporate (think Marriott-Starwood) consolidation, and ranged from slashed commissions to reduced flexibility. “If I weren’t a 33-year veteran doing this, I would run – not walk – away. We’ve gone from an industry based on relationships to a business that feels entirely transactional.” So why does he prefer working with independent properties, and what’s so different?

The Commissions are Better

“Marriott cut our commission from 10% to 7%, which basically takes away a third of what the third party or meeting planner was receiving,” says Bruce. “It’s an entirely different game. But here come the independents, whether they’re independent themselves, or it’s like Benchmark, where they manage a series of properties that act independent. And they pay the 10% commission.”

The Properties are Unique

Bruce compares working with the big brands versus independent hotels to playing “just a golf course” versus playing Pebble Beach. “There’s a wow factor that you give your client. If the property is incredible and has more than just the basics, they’re going to remember that. These big brands have hotels in every city in America that look exactly the same. Independent properties often offer something a little different and more varied. Benchmark is a top-shelf company, very easy to work with, and they have these unique properties everywhere. It’s very easy to say yes.”

Contract Details are More Client-Friendly

According to Bruce, the big players in the industry have gotten extremely rigid during the contracting phase – and that’s often a sign of trouble down the road. “You’re apt to get a much more comfortable deal working with an independent or a company like Benchmark. There’s far more flexibility in how they process and write those contracts. It’s an easier process all the way around. The industry is a seller’s market right now, so the big brands feel emboldened to treat us poorly, but I think the pendulum will swing back.” Bruce pays special attention to the attrition clause. “It used to be a cumulative of the total number of rooms during a program. So if you had a five-day meeting, 200 rooms per night, and 80% attrition, as long as you got over 800 rooms over that span, you were good. Now, you have to be at 80% or more every single night – and if you’re not, you’re charged for the difference. At Benchmark-type company, we wouldn’t run into that in a million years.”

Event Options Are Much More Flexible

“The independents are much more flexible in the sort of events that they’ll allow,” says Bruce, pointing to the leaner operations and more direct chain of command. “It doesn’t take nearly as much to get to a yes. Can we try this? Can we try that in your event space? Because we’re able to get to a decision maker easily, it’s just quick – it’s the GM, in many cases. The big chains have to go through channel after channel before a decision is made, which just increases the chances that you’re going to get a ‘no.”

Points Are Great, But…

“I’m at a point where my clients go where I personally suggest that they go. It’s a relationship business. They know I’m looking out for them,” says Bruce, noting that it’s a mistake to be swayed primarily by points programs. “Points are a great thing, but the stakes are too high to choose a hotel because you may get a couple free nights at some later date. When I present to a client, I take out any mention of points. They’ll get them if they choose that property, of course, but I want them to choose one because it’s the right property for them, and approaching it like that tends to work out in their favor.”