As recently as a decade ago, third parties -- independent
meeting planning firms -- were seen as bit players in this industry.
They were viewed as having little, if any, serious professional clout
and only one real service angle: site-selection expertise. Today,
however, the major third-party players have gained such depth and reach
across every segment of the industry, that all stakeholders -- hotels,
convention and visitor bureaus, tourism officials, destination
management companies and technology providers -- are clamoring for their
attention. Clearly, third parties are the new power brokers in the
Not only have the major players expanded
internationally, opening dozens of offices across Africa, Asia, Europe
and South America, they have swelled their associate ranks to number in
the hundreds. They have strategically formed preferred partnerships with
hotels and destination management companies around the globe, and
forged key alliances with CVBs and destination marketing organizations.
Add formidable client lists that read like a Who's Who of Fortune 500
firms and major national associations, and it is obvious why third
parties wield such tremendous negotiating power.
bread-and-butter service of site selection has been in hot demand in a
tough economy, as planners pressed for time and resources have turned to
third parties to ease their workload -- at no additional cost
(third-party fees are paid by the hotels that win the business).
there's more: Going head-to-head with smaller independents, the
third-party giants now offer a full slate of professional meeting
services, from social media marketing and contract expertise to
strategic meetings management. Such services typically involve a
negotiated fixed fee based on the needs of the client and the scope of
the project. Factors determining price might include the number of
estimated work hours, including on-site execution and post-convention
wrap up; level of staffing required; travel expenses; and any customized
services the client might require, such as visa applications for
HelmsBriscoe is the personification of third-party
evolution. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company, which celebrates its
20th anniversary next month, booked 4.5 million group hotel room nights
in 2011, worth an estimated $1.3 billion in total meetings spend -- $100
million more than the firm generated in 2010. Committed business on the
books for first-quarter 2012 has the company on track to achieve
another record-breaking year, according to president and chief executive
officer Roger Helms.
"Not only have we had phenomenal
international growth and greater traction with existing accounts, but
what has been really surprising is the amount of first-time corporate
accounts that have come to us," says Helms. "They want us to handle
their total hotel meeting spend, which places our associates directly in
their procurement process. That's a huge shift in the purchasing
Forging Alliances Last
year, Twinsburg, Ohio-based Experient ramped up its product offerings
with the launch of two new partnerships; one extended its meetings
management services, the other its international reach. Those alliances,
says Rick Binford, CMP, president of the company's Event Management
Services division, directly reflect where Experient's clients are
placing business and the areas in which they are turning to the company
In July 2011, Experient and technology provider
StarCite teamed up to launch MeetingsComplete, a new product aimed at
designing management solutions for small to mid-size companies with a
total meeting spend of at least $1 million. It's a service, says
Binford, that came out of a direct response to customers' needs. "We've
seen a lot of hesitancy among some of our clients, because they feel
they don't have an entire road map to their meetings operation. They
don't know where to start or how far to go," says Binford.
"MeetingsComplete is a quick start, an easy way for them to turn on the
strategic management strategy within their organization."
second partnership was initiated last October, when Experient signed an
exclusive deal with Incon, a select group of 10 conference and event
management companies that operates in 130 destinations around the globe
and employs 3,000 people. That alliance gave Experient immediate boots
on the ground and strengthened the company's ability to confidently meet
customer demands in specific global markets. "Last year we did events
in some 35 countries that a number of our clients had little prior
knowledge of," notes Binford. "Incon strengthens our resources in places
like India and Russia, and we will open another half-dozen new offices
in new destinations by May of this year."
Also leveraging the
power of alliances is Scottsdale-based third-party firm Hospitality
Performance Network Global, which estimates it sources 500 meetings per
month, generating a million room nights per year. Last year HPNG, which
has grown to 210 associates, signed preferred partnerships with two
well-established destination management organizations, Ovation South
Africa and Brussels, Belgium-based Euromic, a 35-year old international
consortium of destination companies with representation in 36 countries.
Those two deals gave the company immediate cachet in multiple
international locales and significantly boosted the credentials of its
international division, which HPNG has been focused on growing since
2010, when it merged forces with former site-selection firm Meetings
International and added "Global" to its name.
Angeles-based ConferenceDirect has seen a growing need for meeting and
event management among its client base and set about filling it several
years ago. Today, the third party's conference management division is
one of its fastest growing, racking up double-digit increases
year-over-year. To grow its team, the company set about actively
recruiting seasoned planners, many of them former in-house planner
clients downsized by their corporations and associations.
the typical planner on ConferenceDirect's conference management team
has more than 10 years of experience. One example: Debbie Draper, global
project manager (and winner of the firm's 2011 Conference Manager of
the Year award), joined the team after a decades-long career with the
Dallas-based American Heart Association, where she was director of
national hotel contracts and meetings, overseeing a group handling 300
meetings per year. "That kind of experience gives our clients tremendous
confidence in our ability to handle their event and get it right," says
Brian Stevens, president and chief executive officer. "It doesn't
matter if we have five years or five weeks lead time."
ConferenceDirect, which has grown to 350 associates, booked more than
2.5 million room nights for 1,500 clients, and Stevens says the company
is acquiring new customers daily.