May 2012 . www.conference-news.co.uk . 57 FORUMhe agency/venue relationship was under discussion at our CN Spring Forum 2012 and Hotel Booking Agents Association Chairman (HBAA), Director of Conference Care agency, Chris Peacock, said the recession had brought agencies closer together.He said agencies now had clear guidance thanks to the HBAA's code of practice. This, he said, meant today's industry landscape was much better than the times of "cowboys and Indians when nobody trusted each other", when he was setting up his own agency in 1995. "The code sets out the basis of commercial dealings with the venue community. You only have to look abroad to see how important that is. The code has hugely reduced the amount of arbitration and confl ict," he said.Standard commission levels, the Forum agreed, were averaging 10-12 per cent on the Net rate. Although, at the high end, there were reports that Expotel had been asking 20 per cent.Peacock stressed the HBAA was not there to police rates. But, could the group envisage non-commission models for cutting out commission?Peacock didn't believe fee models centred on the premise of managing spend necessarily worked, with a lot of time and effort going into web searches, something, he said, was "not in the best interest of an organisation".Chris Nagle, Agency Relationship Manager at Warwick Conferences, said that when pursuing strategic commercial agreements he was "not going to be held to ransom". "Business has to be the right type of business for the venues and its facilities," he said. "If not, we are quite willing to turn it away." He did admit using enhanced commission agreements "where needed". Rachael Bartlett, Head of Sales and Marketing at Warwick Conferences, TMoving from relationships to contracts, Ellis Salsby, MD of Warwickshire-based Ellis Salsby Ltd, said the majority were driven by venues, with the exception of pharmaceuticals companies which tended to insist on their own terms. He mentioned experience of a client booking a couple of hundred rooms in a London hotel during World Travel Market for an event. The client later cancelled, expecting to avoid penalty payment under contract because the hotel had allegedly admitted it had resold the rooms. The hotel's line, however, he said, was that the resale was a 'separate contract'. The client paid in the end and the agency got its commission, but such Scarman reportWarwick Conference's Scarman venue played host to a CN Spring Agency Forum. Paul Colston was in the chair and reportsAgents for change: in line at the CN Spring Forum, held at Warwick Conference's Scarman venueadded that only seven per cent of her venues' conference and events business came through agents, although it was an area she identifi ed for growth."We get a lot of internal business through the university and have many longstanding agreements with clients," she explained. "Agency business is a much easier win and the commission is a small amount to pay considering how much it costs to employ people to do the job internally."Sian Pelleschi runs the small Top Venues agency in Manchester and said agencies needed to be "fl exible enough to work alongside other agencies when required," rather than being jealously territorial.Pelleschi acknowledged one gripe that venues were often kept in the dark over the identity of the agent's client. "Venues sometimes say they've had the same RFP from another agent, so openness here could benefi t all parties," she said.
FORUM58 . www.conference-news.co.uk . May 2012May Olympics. "That was fi ne, but sourcing their accommodation proved a no-go. LOCOG have been giving back stock to the market slowly. There are tickets, but not space. Other clients, however, wanting an event at that time outside London found that rates were very competitive."Salsby drew a distinction between the Olympics and Paralympics and noted that he had had no problems getting bedrooms or meetings space during the Paralympics "at less than average rates".Nagle said that although many universities had been taken over for Olympic training camps, the situation for Warwick had been a bit "wait and see".However, for venues, it is, unlike the Olympics, probably more about winning the bids than taking part. Top: Warwick Conferences' Scarman venue hosted the CN Spring Forum for selected Midlands-based agencies. Above: Top Venues' Sian Pelleschistark enforcement of the letter of the contract might be a step too far for many.Chris Bason, Operations Manager at Grass Roots Group said: "If a contract is decent I'll sign, otherwise I will draft my own addendum and send it back".Bason said his team worked on a variety of fee models to include a commission based model and a management fee model. "The commission model is preferable but when you have a very large client, you sometimes have to share commissions, depending on the contract signed with them. It is a procurement led business, but as long as you can reach the event owner you're fi ne. When you have to deal solely with procurement it can become a numbers game."Nagle said venues had to fi ght to be heard by agents. "Often you can't get in to see agents," he said. "We have a relatively small command chain and we can come up with quick solutions if we have a relationship. Otherwise terms and conditions can be more stringent."Taking part in venue consortiums and open days to view a group of venues in one area was one possible solution identifi ed.Pelleschi pointed to an effective couple of days spent at a London City Selection showcase. "The format meant I could remember clearly the venues," she said. For those venues, like Warwick, not represented by a destination marketing organisation or a conference bureau, such consortiums can be invaluable for marketing, although Bartlett said she had reviewed Warwick's membership of various organisations and was considering "dipping in and out of membership, especially where there may be overlap with our own marketing".Sally Clift of Choice Locations agency said: "Memberships must be more than a badge and must mean something. Any standard must be industry led rather than marketing led." Clift invited industry interest in the Midlands Consortium of Conference Organsers (MCOCO) which she chairs and which organises a twice yearly exhibition.The HBAA has also drawn up an International Charter of standards, Peacock noted, to be condensed into a page and a half. And a fresh look at the simple event contract is also on the HBAA agenda. "The HBAA tried a couple of years ago but we didn't get buy in from a couple of the large agencies," he said.Jacqui Kavanagh of Trinity Conferences said such a charter would help "explain to the international marketplace how the UK market and agents work". She also urged a code be created for DMCs, too. "Without that you can't have a full package for clients," she said. Bason added out that agencies often put a lot of effort into RFPs for nothing."We have recently refused some procurement led pitches because they are purely about price. We'd much prefer to put our effort in where we see the client.Peacock mentioned one recent pitch where the tender document was delivered, but procurement read only the bottom line.Olympic briefHad the smaller agents managed to grab a slice of the Olympic events action?"We looked 18 months ago and thought it would be so tightly sealed down that we weren't going to market ourselves in that area," said Peacock. "Now we are a few months out, I wish we'd done a bit more. Some agencies have done good business. Especially as August is a month of death."Issues around transport reliability and price had preyed on the minds of many agents and some complained that guidelines had not been forthcoming from the authorities."Hotels are only giving back quota sporadically," said Kavanagh. "But not suffi cient for you to seriously work with."Bason said one Chinese client group had wanted hospitality tickets for the