Three weeks after Hyatt Corporation confirmed that it would cut planner commissions, thereby following the lead of three other large hospitality companies, Meeting Planners Unite held its first conference in Washington, D.C. The group that started in the wake of Marriott International’s decision to pay 7 percent instead of 10 percent commission brought 70 event professionals to Walter E. Washington Convention Center for Connect Independent Planners, a gathering to focus on the needs of third-party planners in a new world.

“We are morphing into something more than a group that fights with Marriott,” said MPU founder David Bruce after the conference wound down. “Those properties are not going to go back to paying 10 percent commissions unless something catastrophic happens, so we need to find ways for our members to increase revenue and decrease expenses.”

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Affordable Resources

MPI introduced a new health-care option for independent planners at the conference that Bruce estimated will save self-employed members as much as 60 percent over other available plans. “Insurance has become prohibitive, so having this Affordable Care Act option available is important to our members,” he said.

A town-hall meeting at the conference identified other resources MPU could help secure, including limited liability insurance and streamlining IATA, CLIA and other travel agent certifications.

Augmented Income Streams

MPU’s leadership is also focused on negotiating for new sources of revenue for planners. Bruce reported that four audiovisual companies have agreed to offer rebates to planners when they contract for alternatives to the hotel AV team. Some CVBs have also offered to make up the difference. He is negotiating with transportation companies, as well.

Meanwhile, several hotel companies—including Loews Hotels and Fashion Island Hotel Newport Beach—have increased commissions, even if only on certain properties and for a limited time. “They see supporting independent planners as a way to increase market share,” Bruce said.

Recognizing Impact

A top priority for MPU is a mandate to tell the story of how independent planners elevate the meeting experience, bringing business to hotels and achieving client business goals. “We are not just leaches stealing commissions from hotels; we play a vital role in the transformation of a meeting from an idea to reality,” Bruce said.