Independent Planners Find a Common Voice

By Matt Swenson, November 5, 2018

Independent planners have, for better or worse, always been… well, independent. David Bruce, founder and executive director of Meeting Planners Unite, always figured he and his brethren would someday coalesce. Little did he know it would take more than 30 years to make it happen, and Bruce never imagined he’d be the driving force behind the movement. But when Marriott International became the first chain to lower its third-party commissions from 10 percent to 7 percent, Bruce saw a need that needed to be addressed. (Hilton Worldwide and InterContinental Hotels Group have since joined Marriott in lowering commissions).

“Our organization was developed to be that voice for the independent planner,” he says.

In an industry first, Connect Independent Planners, Dec. 4 to 6 in Washington, D.C., will host third-party organizers. The planners will meet under one roof to develop strategies to navigate the new business terrain.  Bruce discusses what lies ahead for independent planners here.

Why is the commission cut such a big deal?

Everyone keeps talking about 3 percent… it’s not 3 percent. It is 30 percent and 30 percent of somebody’s income is a hell of a hit. If you are making $100,000 now, you are now making $70,000. If you are making $50,000 you are now making $35,000. That’s pretty hard to accept.

Do you think more hotel corporations will follow suit?

I think we hit our wall. Hilton following suit after Marriott was, on one hand, not a shock at all, but on the other hand, it was surprising they would have done so quickly. This was an opportunity for chains to be able to finally see business that they might not have seen prior. I thought that was a terrible blunder from a marketing standpoint. We’ve had conversations with chains like Hyatt, Lowes, Omni and, Wyndham, and none of them are feeling it is their best interest.

It does open up the chance to think outside the big box, doesn’t it?

There are a lot of fine hotels out there. This is a great opportunity for people to see those properties. Although Marriott is a wonderful chain and Hilton is a wonderful chain, they are not the only chains out there—although they make you think so having between the two of them close to 50 percent of the marketplace.  If there is a Hyatt across the street from a Marriott and the rate is just about the same, then why not?

Would you recommend independent planners stay away from Marriott?

What I’ve done as a business owner of CMP Meeting Services LP release my nationals sales person for both Marriott and Hilton at this point. Now I cannot recommend other people do that from an association standpoint. However, what I can say there are choices—you have to look out for your business. Just as a hotelier has to look out for their business, we have the same right as independent planners. Yes, we have to worry about what our client is looking for, but we can offer alternatives to that client—and points systems for the client shouldn’t be the reason they pick one hotel chain over another.

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