The Value of Global Sales and Venue Representation Organizations

August 5, 2019

GSO. DMO. DMC. CVB. Our industry is full of acronyms — and it can be challenging to figure out where to go when you’re looking to book the right hotel or venue for your event.

We’ve written previously about the value of CVBs and DMOs. Now it’s time to talk about meetings and incentive representation organizations, sometimes referred to as global sales organizations (GSOs) or hospitality partner representation companies.

The majority of these organizations cater to the high-end meetings market, providing complimentary sourcing services for planners. The idea is to match the planner with the appropriate potential venues for their meeting from a pool of represented properties. This may include RFPs and contract negotiations or simply brokering connections. 

We’ve put together a small sampling of some of these companies to show the wide range of differences and similarities within the space, and give you an idea of their value.

One of the most well-known GSOs is Associated Luxury Hotels International. ALHI offers a portfolio of more than 250 luxury and upscale meetings and incentive-focused hotels and resorts worldwide, along with 23 cruise ships and destination management companies in more than 100 locations. It also holds approximately 70 matchmaking events per year.

ALHI recently hired industry veteran Michael Dominguez to fill the president and CEO role vacated earlier this year by Josh Lesnick. Before Lesnick left, I asked him some questions about ALHI’s operating model.

“We do everything from small board meetings, to large associations, to filling entire cruise lines, large convention shows at Las Vegas, all sales product launches, and a lot of incentive businesses,” Lesnick explained, stating that approximately 70 percent of ALHI’s business is corporate. “We're always looking for new types of products and opportunities to extend our brand positioning and provide interesting experiences for our clients.”

Lesnick also mentioned that ALHI would be focusing more on international expansion based on what the organization is hearing from its customers. U.S.-based planners are booking internationally, and planners in other countries are looking for resources to help them book within the U.S.

“ALHI provides a one-stop shop, and we’re a trusted advisor in this space,” Lesnick said. “Combined, our team has more than 1,000 years of industry experience.”

Anchor Collection is a boutique representation company that provides independent group sales support, connecting partner hotels and destinations with key players in the meetings, events and incentive industries. Anchor Collection’s goal is to create long-lasting relationships between itself, the planners and the properties it represents.

Cherryl Brazier, founder and president of Anchor Collection, refers to the organization as a boutique representation company — not in terms of the properties represented, but in terms of size. She has visited and vetted each property that Anchor Collection represents, and helps schedule familiarization trips and site visits for qualified planners.

“The vision for Anchor Collection was to be able to go to a client and offer something different that you're not going to get with a branded hotel,” Brazier explains. “It might be an independent hotel, a venue or a property represented exclusively by a DMC. These places are not represented by anybody else.” 

Anchor Collection represents global DMC Pacific World, which has a presence in 40 countries, but also a number of other independent venues, hotels and DMCs.

“There are a lot of great hotels out there that are not part of a brand,” says Brazier. “They offer a more individual level of service and often represent the destination in a different way than groups might get from a big-box branded hotel. So I would kind of encourage planners to look outside the big brands occasionally.”

IACC offers a different type of model, giving planners an easy and simple way to compare venues online. The organization focuses on small and medium-sized meeting venues that can host unique events, meetings and conferences.

“Planners can search for venues on our website and compare them side-by-side by setting their criteria, whether that’s the minimum guest rooms they require, meeting space size or required Wi-Fi bandwidth,” says Mark Cooper, IACC CEO.   

Cooper says that IACC strives to represent the top 1 percent of meeting venues globally. Member venues have all undergone rigorous quality standard checks and testing to ensure that their offerings, facilities and venues meet IACC standards.

“We really care about what planners want from a venue,” says Cooper. “No one wants to spend hours searching for a venue and laboriously comparing each requirement; with IACC you don’t need to do that.”

IACC also publishes a number of reports and research each year on different topics from food and beverage to an internet guide. In researching and compiling the reports, IACC works with industry experts to provide insights into current trends and industry issues.

“All of our reports have been designed with meeting planners in mind,” says Cooper.

All Things Meetings is a San Francisco Bay Area-based organization provides a free “finder” service that is more open-ended than the typical representation organization. Rather than representing specific properties, All Things Meetings acts as a cross between a CVB, a matchmaking organization and a resource library.

“Tell us what you need, we find it for you and introduce you directly to the vendor,” says founder Neil Cramer. This could be a hotel, unique venue, AV, a cruise provider, a CVB – the All Things Meetings name is quite literal.

“This service is for do-it-yourself planners who just don’t have the time at the moment to do all the research or have to plan something in an unfamiliar destination,” Cramer explains on All Things Meetings' website. He has been in the industry for 40 years, and relies on the relationships he has built over the years to broker connections.

All Things Meetings holds three events per year that are free for qualified planners to attend. It also offers a library of resources and blog posts to help planners with recommendations and useful information. The organization also provides contract workers to help planners with events as needed (for a fee), whether it’s planning assistance or on-site support.  

HB Hospitality is focused on building a community of meeting planners responsible for high-end events and representatives from luxury and ultra-luxury hotels. Founder Danielle Bishop describes HB Hospitality’s model as a hybrid between a GSO and self-service, leveraging the power of individual referrals. She says that many of the hotels in the community are frustrated with the traditional GSO model and are looking for another way to get in front of qualified planners — which is where HB comes into play.

HB Hospitality forges many hotel-and-planner connections through events. To qualify to attend an HB event, planners must be recommended by an HB Hospitality member hotel and complete a lengthy membership questionnaire. The organization hosts three-day summits that are typically business industry-specific, and showcases that have a three client to one hotel ratio. No appointments are mapped and planners have the freedom to engage with suppliers as they desire.

Another service that HB provides is “The Hive,” its online community. This is a resource that planners can use to find member hotels, recommendations and useful information.

“Having met many wonderful like-minded planners and fine resort hoteliers at HB Hospitality events, The Hive provides the opportunity to continue developing mutually beneficial relationships,” says Kathy Wilson, senior event manager at Simplify Compliance, an HB Hospitality planner member. “I also frequently make use of the search functions to find properties that may be able to accommodate our groups.”

In lieu of an RFP tool, HB also offers a scheduling service to help connect planners and venues. Planners choose the properties they are interested in speaking with, and a date and time range, and HB will connect them. Bishop says that in her conversations with planners, she learned that they were more interested in conversations than another RFP service, and describes this service as being “high tech but still high touch.”

“It’s different from self-service because the community is there to support the members,” Bishop explains. “A lot of the time, the meeting planners do a lot more selling for the hotels than the hotels do for themselves, simply by giving recommendations.”

Bishop says there's no conflict of interest among properties because HB Hospitality does not charge a commission fee for any business booked. She urges planners to learn and understand the true cost of their events and ask for full transparency, whether they are using a GSO or an agency, booking through an intermediary or doing all the work directly.

“There's always a cost to engaging in certain business activities,” Bishop says. “Follow the money. And if you don't understand what those costs are, you need to start asking a few more questions and make a business choice that's the right fit for your needs.”

She also recommends that planners who choose to source and book directly ask the hotel for concessions. 

“You're saving them 10 percent somewhere with that direct booking, and that that needs to come back to you in the form of at least five percent and some value-add,” Bishop says. “You've got some wiggle room because there is some margin that isn't being used and you need to use that to your advantage. Calculate the total room revenue. What percent of that can you get back in other places?”

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