by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | December 01, 2006

David Marriott


David Marriott

This past October, in a first for the meetings industry, Marriott International announced that, in an effort to streamline its group commission payments made to third parties, it will fully centralize and automate such payments beginning Jan. 1, 2007.

Further, the Washington, D.C.-based hotel chain now will require that any third party doing business with any of the company’s properties be accredited through one of five major travel industry organizations.

According to David Marriott, senior vice president of global and field sales, the hotel company has been paying accredited travel agents as far back as 1991 through an automated system and had been considering “making the move into the group realm for a while.”

The numbers of third parties doing business with Marriott has swelled in recent years. In 2005, third-party group business accounted for three million room nights, on which the chain paid out a standard 10 percent commission to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

David Marriott said the decision to move ahead with the process was a response to complaints made by accredited third parties that were frustrated by late commission payments as the chain struggled to identify exactly where its commission monies were going.

“We have had to deal with so many third parties who are not accredited, and this will be a huge benefit for those who are,” said Marriott, who added, “The program is fair and gives everyone an opportunity to participate. They just need to get accredited.”

Accreditation must come from one of the following five industry organizations:

* The Airlines Reporting Corp.;

* The International Air-lines Travel Agent Network;

* The IATAN Travel Sales Intermediary Agency;

* The International Air Trans-port Association, or

* The IATAÐTravel Indus-try Designator Service.

“Marriott is doing the right thing,” said Brian D. Stevens, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based ConferenceDirect, one of the largest third-party firms in the United States. “Anyone today can be a third party without any accountability. Having this certification will weed out some people who really should not be in the business. Marriott and other companies actually work with us on educational programs to make us more knowledgeable about how to sell their brands, making us more valuable to our customers.”

It is still too early to tell how many other hotel chains will follow Marriott’s lead, but according to White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s David Scypinski, senior vice president of industry relations, Starwood is “reviewing its options” in light of the move.

In 2005, according to Scypinski, Starwood paid group commissions to more than 2,000 third parties, a number that has grown by as much as 20 percent year-over-year for the last three years.