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 while some challenges they faced a year ago had subsided, others still remain. 

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 their biggest pain points. 

In the ongoing seller’s market, hotels are making demands they have never 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 move their meeting date, and their first question is: ‘Why am I paying a food and beverage minimum now if I’m not having the meeting until 2025?'”

“Part of the struggle is that a lot of procurement people are 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?’” 

Sherrille Mingo, corporate meeting planner at VOLKSWAGEN Group of America, Inc., has had to deal with astronomical AV costs as a result of 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. It doesn’t make any sense, especially when we have used the hotel multiple times and use Encore repeatedly. It should be $3,000-$3,500.” 

“I think the problem is that revenue management now drives the decisions, versus the salespeople,” said Shontae Khaleel White, senior manager, global event operations, ACAMS. “We’ve lost our ability to rely on relationships to get a 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 as responsive, or willing to hold space like they would in the past. “You 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.” 

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 at OmniEra, hotels don’t make it clear what these fees cover. Items like parking, which was often included in the resort fee, are now excluded by many hotels using outside vendors. “Resort fees should cover things that you are going to use, like a coffee maker or internet, but now I don’t even know what they 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. “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.” 

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 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 get 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.