Marriott's EventCom is taking catering-only meetings off busy planners' plates. And they're not just booking Marriott brands. Over the past few years, forward-thinking, cost-conscious companies have consolidated their meeting planning. Not only does consolidation give companies stronger negotiating positions with suppliers, but it also ensures compliance with travel and meeting policies and makes it easier to control meeting quality and consistency.

Planners across industries have demonstrated big savings and big improvements in quality and efficiency after their consolidation efforts. But most will also readily admit that, even when the stated goal is for all meetings to be funneled through one department, “all” doesn't really mean “all.” The lowly catering-only meeting is left out of the calculation. Planners don't have time for them, national sales contacts for the big hotel chains don't have time for them, and so these meetings — critical, but cookie-cutter — are booked out in the field, lost among hundreds of individual expense reports.

That's changing, says Tom Maguire, director, EventCom. EventCom is a Marriott company launched in April 2001 as both a tech consultancy and a one-stop shop for multiproperty technical events, coordinating sales and service of communications technologies at Marriott properties worldwide. The company has evolved to fill a niche that planners are only now realizing needs to be filled. The drive to cut costs continues unabated, and when planners let go of any meeting — even one with no sleeping rooms — they let go of the ability to control that booking and track that spending. And when you're talking hundreds of catering-only meetings annually, it adds up.

“Internal meeting departments have been scaled back,” Maguire notes. “They're focused on where the big spend is — the 5,000 room nights in Orlando. But there's still the onslaught of small meetings. They don't have time for them, but they need to drive compliance and track spending.” EventCom offers a way to outsource those one-day meetings yet still track their spending and let the folks in the field hold onto site selection.

How It Works

One of EventCom's large clients has 22 trainers throughout the country doing 84 one-day training meetings a month. “These trainers had all been putting these meeting expenses on their own credit cards,” Maguire explains. So EventCom built a Web site for the trainers to use when booking a class. “They only have five topics they're ever doing, so we built five ‘meetings-in-a-box,’” Maguire says. That includes specs for AV, catering, and meeting rooms. EventCom worked with the client company to create a budget for each of the five classes. “Then we asked the trainers to tell us their preferred hotels, and we uploaded all of them to the site.”

Those hotels, by the way, are not just Marriott brands. Despite the fact that EventCom is a Marriott company, if another hotel company's property works better for a particular trainer and comes in with an appropriate rate, that's the one that gets booked. The trainer logs on, uses a drop-down menu to select the hotel and the training topic, and sends the request to EventCom. EventCom books the meeting, sends the trainer the BEO and a confirmation number for the one sleeping room (the trainer's), and it's done.

The client company signs one contract with EventCom for the year, not with each hotel. “That means they don't have to assign their legal department 84 contracts a month,” Maguire points out. EventCom signs with the hotel, much as an independent planner would, negotiating to make sure the meeting comes in at or below budget. EventCom runs a monthly report showing budgeted and actual figures so the client company knows that its spending is on track. Then the company pays EventCom 10 percent of each invoice.

“The moral of the story is that hotel national salespeople and even intermediary groups want heads in beds,” Maguire says. “There's a big void.” EventCom is positioning itself to fill that void. “You already have your national sales relationships, you already have your meeting department; we can help with small meetings.”