Alliance of Independent Meeting Professionals Founder and Executive Director David Bruce enjoyed his public fight with Marriott International over third-party planners’ commissions.
He is still adamant commissions should be at least 10% (if not more) and not the 7% adopted last year by four large hotel chains. But Bruce has changed his tone and tactics.
“Instead of fighting them publicly, we are ignoring them publicly,” says Bruce. In this case, killing with kindness translates to pushing planners to consider chains that did not lower their rates.
Lowes, Omni and Radisson are among the most high-profile to hold their ground. Not only is there less bloodletting, the pivot also presents a great opportunity for growth.
Last year, Bruce became the face of independent planners who rely on a 10% commission to make a living. He created Meeting Planners Unite not long after Marriott implemented its new policy. H
ilton, Hyatt and InterContinental Hotel Group also lowered their rates, save for a few high-profile organizations. To encourage increased membership, MPU rebranded to the Alliance of Independent Meeting Professionals as the organization marked its first anniversary.
“We sounded like a union,” Bruce says. “We’re not a union. We’re a consortium.”
Bruce credits the name change for a 20% rise in membership. He notes CVBs who have Marriott and other large hotel chain executives on their board are more at ease joining the alliance and it’s friendlier approach.
This momentum is leading toward Connect Independent Planner, Oct. 28-30, in Grand Rapids, Michigan—a destination Bruce holds dearly.
“This is going to be watershed year for this event and make it the premier meeting for independent planners,” he predicts. Not only is Bruce high on the venue—Amway Grand—he is excited where the alliance is headed.
“MPU was developed for one purpose: to unite the industry against changes to commission structure to 7%,” he says. “That battle, while very enjoyable, was very one-purposed. We had nowhere to go.”
Relationship building is likely to be the hot topic at Connect IP. Burned bridges need to be rebuilt, he says. Not only is it good practice, it’s also to prepare the inevitable softening of the U.S. economy.
Would a recession drive commission rates higher again? Probably, Bruce acknowledges, but that should not be the impetus for change.
“I don’t want another 9/11 happen just to get back to 10%,” he says. “Relationships need to be built before the RFP is sent out. That’s good business.”
He adds that the longer some third-party companies retain the higher commission, the harder it will be to sustain a double standard against the rest of the industry.
“We’ve seen some pushback because not everyone is planning by the same rules,” he says.