Congress Room Brokers – Friend or Foe?
An article edited by Mark Handforth, Director at Compliant Venues. The original and full version can be found @ https://goo.gl/r8CdCj
The role of bedroom brokers, often referred to as consolidators has popped up on our radar in the last few months, with the question are these organisations friend or foe to medical society and corporate stakeholders who sponsor delegations or act as official housing bureaus to medical society congresses?
Before we get into that question directly, let’s remind ourselves of what brokers actually do? Bob Stratone of Eurolink is the Managing Director of one such company and he describes his organisation’s value as “Room brokers should be the best friends of pharmaceutical companies and specialist agencies. We find the best hotel options for their accommodation needs during medical society meetings, manage and monitor the hotels on the client’s behalf on the run up to the meeting and take full responsibility during the event to ensure all arrangements run smoothly, including last minute changes, cancellations, additional services and payment solutions. We offer 24/7 support to our customers from the moment of booking until the end of the services. We negotiate the terms and conditions of cancellation and payment with the hotels offering credit facilities to pharmaceutical companies which the housing bureaus are not willing to do.” So a little more than simply booking rooms then!
Consolidators operate outside the direct influence of Medical Societies and PCOs (Professional Conference Organisers) marketing these accommodation blocks directly to corporate clients and agency intermediaries.
Our memory could be flavoured from the questionably wild west style practises of the past, individual bookings via the internet or other means such as cancelled or attrition rooms being passed off as single blocks with disastrous consequences. One of our team remembers standing in Toronto having to advise the reception at the hotel that we had confirmed a “group” arrival at 8pm, only to hear with horror they had released the “individual” rooms as it had passed a special check in time.
So, with some of these memories framed, we ask Congress Room Consolidators, Friend or Foe?
Jan Wittkopp, Account Director at Ashfield Meetings and Events who has been involved in healthcare sector meetings, specifically congresses, for over 16 years (sorry Jan, this made the cut) went with “friends” as his answer, he didn’t think for long on that answer either. He has seen an evolution in the way that some room brokers work with a shift towards flexibility over profitability and feels that standards have moved on, “brokers now generally use less aggressive tactics than the past, willing to hold room blocks as options, work with more flexible terms and conditions and importantly support agencies in dealing directly with the hotel after contracting.” Why did he feel that flexibility was starting to replace a simply commercial approach? “Competition. There are new players on the market and the increase in competition is now working in the favour of those that are evolving their model and reflecting corporate procurement and compliance needs.”
Did this also reflect in brokers understanding of corporate buying policies? Jan felt not and that there was work to do “most bookers don’t get TOV (Transfers of Value) and what this means to rates. It simply isn’t possible to pay just anything for rooms during congresses anymore, many companies now have maximum bedroom rate caps.” With this in mind are we still seeing demand? Jan uses brokers as last options when blocks with housing bureaus and direct with their preferred partners doesn’t work. However it is still a need “the modern corporate budget process doesn’t always support forward buying, certainly when it means the payment of cancellation fees, so on some occasions the green light to support sponsorship of HCPs arrives later in the process and for that reason it requires the use of rooms provided by room bookers, with frankly some of the compromises that comes with that source.” Jan saw an upside, “normally it was the agency that was placed in the single bedded room next to the kitchens, now we get any upgraded rooms which released standard rooms (not including kitchen rooms of course) for HCP delegates.”
Ben Hainsworth formerly part of the team at the European Society of Cardiology and now Executive Director in the PCO Division of K.I.T feels that “the problem if you see it that way is largely declining, at the same rate as Healthcare companies are reducing sponsored group room blocks as part of their communication strategy. With the move by EUCOMED (the European Association for Medical Device Companies) to ban all sponsoring of HCPs to medical congresses by 2018 it squeezes out a number of organisations that are not considered central to deliver an educational meeting. With individual bookings rising as corporate group bookings reduce the advent of organisations such as AIrbnb are in my opinion more likely to be considered disruptors to the activities of a Medical Society than room brokers. If you add the rise of cloned society websites then I’d also rank business security higher on the to-do-list of the modern medical society.”
Bob at Eurolink again “There are just a few players specialising in this kind of business and everybody knows everybody. When a new player comes on to the market, they are visible immediately and we ask the reputable players for feedback, negative or positive. Of course, there are bad players in the market, but these are well-known in our network and excluded from it. We are more than business partners, we are a big family where the news travels fast, especially the bad ones!” So a sense of self-regulation from Bob, very topical and perhaps proof that the past is just that and a new approach is being deployed by brokers to professionalise their solutions.
“Friend or Foe Summary?”
So, we asked the question friend or foe and with a range of experts consulted and it seems that bad practise is not now frequent practise, that there is a need for the services of brokers who were in turn evolving to match the high expectations of a sector, passionate about professionalising the interaction between the corporate world and the Healthcare professional community. Will this type of supply and demand change as time moves on and we see the results of the evolution of attendance models to Medical Society meetings? Well, that will be the subject of a follow up to this opinion piece. Do you have an opinion?