Scrambling for new profit opportunities to make up for lost business in the wake of the airline commission cuts, many smaller and regional travel agencies are launching meeting and convention divisions. While mega-agencies have long maintained a meeting department, this newest foray into the industry by smaller agencies is stirring up resentment among meeting planners.
But as organizations shed their on-staff planners and outsource their meetings to a travel agency that may be relatively new to the business, “the quality of meetings may suffer in many ways, and it could even impact the membership” of associations, says Tom Carrier, senior meeting planner for IQ Solutions, a government contractor in the Washington, D.C., area.
Christine Duffy, president and COO at McGettigan Partners, the meeting and event management division of Maritz Travel, a travel management firm based in St. Louis, notes that “an agency that is outstanding in handling vacations won't necessarily be able to handle meetings.” A meeting specialist for 20 years, Duffy says that her company, which does $1 billion annually in group, meeting, and incentive sales, has made a “huge investment in technology to manage meetings” — an infrastructure that may be difficult for the average agency to match.
Another concern is the commission-based practices of travel agencies versus meeting planners' fee-based system. When the travel agent starts handling meetings, “the travel agent is more apt to ask for commissionable rates than the planner,” says Carrier. This could result in a higher rate and cause confusion for client s not aware of the commission.