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July 14, 2011

John Hooker:Who owns the contact?

The director of JHCP warns against the increasing commoditisation of the meetings and events industry.

I came across a situation the other day that both saddened and angered me in equal measures. It got me thinking about the relative value of the supplier relationship from the corporate client, down the chain to the end supplier on the ground in the destination.

“Can you send me a contact for suppler X?” was the request I overheard recently from an agent to a destination supplier.

Now, why would any sane person give contact details, which no doubt have been cultivated locally, only for the individual making the request to then deal direct and leave the contact provider with nothing more than: “Thank you for letting me cut you out of the deal.” But this kind of request is not something new in our industry.

Do the people making such requests have no shame? Perhaps it is not about shame, but more about the state of the industry, revealing and underlying truth. The industry is fragile, but this is less to do with the global economy and more about defining where service providers, in particular, add value and how to put a price on this. It seems to be that, rather than have a collective strategy to build a sustainable profession, it is simply more about survival and, for some, at any cost.

So maybe that is why I have seen:
–    a UK venue offering to send their events team to manage a company’s next event, wherever that may be
–    convention bureaus becoming destination management companies (DMCs).
–    DMCs offering event management services

Even hotel concierges are not immune and, in some locations, provide restaurant and transport bookings for meetings and events staged in their establishment.

This all smacks of the ‘all-inclusive’ approach and we know what that has done to some destinations.

So some corporates go direct to DMCs, agents go direct to destination suppliers, and convention centres offer a complete service, no doubt with some tied-in house contractors, too – talk about giving the client choice. Now, we are in danger of commoditising the industry and that takes us back to being travel providers – bookers and not skilled professionals who empathise with client objectives and design solutions that deliver on event objectives.

It may be hard out there – “weathering a hurricane” is how one client put it. So when the storm clouds lift from the ongoing economic uncertainty, one thing is for sure, owning the contact and showing that you can add value by delivering great solutions and planning them meticulously is going to keep you in business. Expecting someone else to do your work for no return will simply not weather in the changing climate we all experience today.

Maybe it is time to change the menu.

John Hooker is the founder of JHCP and specialises in change management programmes in the meetings, events and hospitality sectors globally.

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