Thursday, 8 November 2012

What can Strategic Meetings Management Programmes learn from TripAdviser and the coffee drinkers of Totnes in Devon?

So, what is a Strategic Meetings Management Programme (SMMP), why is it important and how are they changing the way large organisations plan, measure and control their meetings?

In truth the principles of SMMP have been around for some time but only in the past few years has the process been articulated and benefits more widely understood.  A great place to start if you want to understand SMMP is the recent HBAA white paper, available at

The HBAA report (for obvious reasons) focuses largely on the contribution of specialist meetings management agencies and procurement professionals.  However, at the risk of upsetting these important and influential vested interests, I want to establish that any successful strategy must serve the interests of the meeting ‘owner’ and their audience not the intermediaries, their job is to facilitate the process and add value.

There is an absolute requirement for good practise but the tendency toward mediocrity that an inflexible, commoditised process, designed to make life easier for the agents and accountants must be resisted.

So, what can meetings profession learn from TripAdviser and the Totnes Story?

You may have seen recently that the coffee drinkers of Totnes successfully appealed to mega brand Costa Coffee to stay out of town in defence of their independent local coffee shops. Whilst I am not suggesting that the independent venue sector needs protection I do think that a debate needs to be had about how best to serve meeting planners when developing processes such as SMMP.

The job of procurement is to save cost and the job of agents is to book the best venues but both of these roles should remain subordinate to the needs of the meeting planner.  If this were indeed the current situation how can it be that SMMP ‘preferred supplier’ lists are dominated by the major hotel brands and based on special commissions, volume incentives and availability of automated booking processes?

This may sound like sour grapes from the CEO of an independent venue group but I offer in evidence the proof that independent venues consistently score higher than the big brands in the approval ratings of event hosts.

The only independent, benchmarked, national event feedback system (which compares 20 meeting venue categories and brands and has collected many thousands of client reports) consistently scores the big brands significantly lower for ‘Net Promoter’, Overall Satisfaction and Value for Money. In spite of this clear preference, strategic meetings management programs and the large agency policies and processes push ever increasing volumes of corporate meetings to the big brands.

It’s time that these programmes take user feedback on board if they are going to deliver the best results for their meetings.  Agents and procurement professionals need to realise that they are driving commoditisation, mediocrity and supplier consolidation.  To maintain healthy competition and improvement in quality they have a responsibility to support variety.  Consolidation of suppliers will work against them in the future. Without realising it, the agents are facilitating their own demise, if they cannot add value to their clients by their specialist knowledge of niche providers because they have killed them off they will soon be bypassed - hotel big brands will be only too pleased to deal direct with corporate procurement.

Meeting planners need to learn from the coffee drinkers of Totnes and take back the control of venue selection but they also need to have access to the data about venue performance, maybe it’s time for a meetings equivalent of TripAdviser?

Its interesting to see what affect TripAdviser has had on the individual traveller market and the choices those buyers have.

If you go to the hotel feedback site and look at the rankings for any town or city it soon becomes obvious that people prefer the service and value for money they get from independent and boutique hotels.  Good independent and boutique hotels are thriving.  This is now driving the big brands to launch small scale brands that try to emulate the personality of their successful competitors.  Choice is undoubtedly increasing.

The industry needs to launch SMMP 2.0 and close the feedback loop to drive quality and preserve variety and choice.  The Agent and Procurement processes need to answer to the consumer and reward the best suppliers.

1 comment:

  1. In case of a corporate event, the scenario is totally formal and the entire atmosphere is different than other events.
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