Meeting Planner Pain Points: Inflation, Hidden Fees, Service Gaps and More

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Prevue’s Editorial Advisers Meeting attendees (top left): Nicky Baumohl, President & CEO, Evolutionary Events; Lisa Palumbo, Founder & Chief Event Strategist, Tampa Bay Social, LLC; Shontae Khaleel White, Senior Manager, Global Event Operations, ACAMS; Beau Ballin, Executive Director, Global Meetings and Conventions, Regeneron; Prevue Editor Barbara Scofidio; Josh Adams, Industry Relations Strategist, streamlinevents; Steffi Kordy, Owner, Cocoon Incentives; (bottom left) Gillian Heath, Event Marketing Manager, IMEX Group; Sherrille Mingo, BCD Travel | Corporate Meeting Planner
Onsite at VOLKSWAGEN Group of America, Inc.; Amy Quigley, Regional VP, Unbridled; Samantha Marie, Events Director / Business Development, OmniEra; and Lottie Elson, Head of Marketing Operations, IMEX

During a meeting preceding last month’s IMEX America, Prevue’s meeting planner advisers shared that although some challenges they faced a year ago had subsided, others remain as difficult as before. 

Unresponsive salespeople, inconsistent service, escalating hotel fees, airline delays and cancellations, a hostile political climate both domestically and internationally—the list of challenges faced by meeting planners in their daily jobs could fill this page. At a recent gathering of Prevue’s meeting planner advisers in mid-October, participants shared the most critical challenges they face. 

Hotels are making demands that they never have made in the past, according to many in the group. “My clients are saying to me, ‘If I’m paying premium prices, I’m not getting premium service,’ ” said Lisa Palumbo, founder & chief event strategist, Tampa Bay Social. “I’m working with a company right now that is having to change some meeting dates and and their first question is: ‘Why am I paying a food and beverage minimum if we moved this contract and I’m not having the meeting until 2025? I’m paying now for a food and beverage deposit for a 2025 meeting?’ They do not understand that.” 

“But part of that struggle is still, if you’re dealing with procurement, a lot of procurement people not accepting the fact that prices have increased,” said Josh Adams, industry relations strategist, streamlinevents. “They’re still comparing things to the pre-pandemic prices. And you have to say, ‘Are you still paying the same amount for your groceries?’ I mean, realistically, you have to understand that these prices have gone up and compression is still there. We’re still pressing procurement and decision-makers, especially in the tech industry, telling them that we are getting some pretty incredible rates and they need to lock them in, and they won’t approve it. So we’re doing more comparisons than we’ve ever done, and moving too slowly in my opinion.” 

Sherrille Mingo, BCD Travel | Corporate Meeting Planner Onsite at VOLKSWAGEN Group of America, Inc. has had to deal with AV costs literally doubling due to Encore’s domination of the industry.I have a simple meeting coming up and my AV fee for just an LCD projector and screen is $10,000. Just for the bare minimum, no on-site staff. It doesn’t make any sense, especially when you have used the hotel multiple times and we use Encore repeatedly. It should be $3,000-$3,500, and it’s double, almost triple that.” 

“I think the problem is that revenue management drives a lot more decisions in every sphere of hotels, versus the salespeople,” said Shontae Khaleel White, senior manager, global event operations, ACAMS. “So that personal touch of salespeople trying to work with you is being outrun by revenue management at most properties. We’ve lost that ability to use relationships to get better deal because revenue management needs to make their 25% profit for this quarter.”  

Nicky Baumohl, president & CEO, Evolutionary Events, also observed that hotels are not responding or willing to hold space like they would in the past. “You just can’t get answers back from them. I feel like the roles are reversed and now we have to hound the hotels to see if they got our RFP and to get a response. And by then, you’ve lost the space. Within 24 hours, it’s gone. They won’t hold the space. You don’t even have time to put it into a presentation for your client before it’s already gone.” 

The escalation of resort fees, in some cases as high as $45, had these meeting planners collectively up in arms—referring to them as “plus, plus, plus.” Even worse, said Samantha Marie, events director/business Development, OmniEra, hotels don’t make it clear what these fees cover, with items like parking that might have been part of the resort fee now being excluded by many hotels using outside vendors. “Resort fees should cover things that you are going to use, like a coffee maker, water, internet that actually works, but now I don’t even know what resort fees cover any more. If you’re going to charge for something, at least say what it covers.”

Though most agreed that basic service within hotels, such as room service and housekeeping, has improved in the past year, Amy Quigley, regional vice president, Unbridled, found the inconsistency to be the challenge. “Operating on site, everything is harder. People don’t know if their room is going to be serviced today, or if they need to call a number to get it serviced, or if the hotel has a standard where they service your room every two or three days. I think it’s OK that they’re not servicing every day. It’s not about that. It’s about not knowing.” 

And if hotels do not deliver on the service that’s expected, Adams believes they should be held accountable. “Your experience of going into a hotel includes any number of things: that that the spa is open, that the workout room is open, that your elevators are working, that you’re going to provide 24-hour room service. That’s part of why you choose a property. So, if you’re not receiving all those services, then you should have some compensation back.” 

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Barbara Scofidio is Editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In her 30 years in the industry, she has become known for her passion around greening meetings, growing awareness of human trafficking and promoting CSR activities as part of business events. She is currently a member of SITE's Women IN Leadership committee and the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee. She was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of SITE for 30 years, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. Before joining Prevue in 2014, she served as Editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives (MeetingsNet) for more than 20 years. She has a BA in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.