The director of an Oxford-based events, conferences and weddings centre has hit out at major hotel and events booking firm Expotel after it upped its commission rates to 15% for accommodation and 20% for conferences.
Expotel is one of the biggest booking agencies in the country and specialises in bookings for the public sector, dealing with 12,000 hotels across the UK. It is not known how widely the new rates and commissions agreement was sent out, but it is believed to have been sent to several properties in the Oxford area.
anger at new rates
Andrew Lund-Yates, director and general manager of the Oxford Centre, expressed surprise and anger at the new rates, which he said would make life extremely tough for independent operators who may be too afraid of not working with a big firm like Expotel to turn down the agreement.
"A lot of venues are offering more attractive rates of commission on an individual hotel-by-hotel or venue-by-venue basis in an effort to eke out more business. I don't have an issue with that but when companies like Expotel demand a 20% commission flat rate for 2012, it doesn't seem fair," he said.
"In the current climate when everyone is finding things monumentally tough, I find it find it very frustrating for a big player like this to be increasing its rates."
But Expotel defended its decision to send out the agreement. Mark Bevan, Expotel's head of partner services, said the move was in response to a very competitive market, which has seen some of the larger operators attempt to gain market share by offering higher, tactical commissions. The higher rates for independents would afford the booking agency to offer some of the commission back to clients in the form of a rebate, he explained.
"The big chains out there are being extremely aggressive because the conference industry is on its knees at the moment in the provinces, and they are coming up with some fantastic rates. The independents don't have to sign it. They can negotiate, or they can sign it and put the price up at the front end," he said.
Bevan added that Expotel valued its relationship with SME businesses and had recently run a series of showcases around the country for them.
"This is a fierce market and there is a squeeze on all the agents - small, medium and large. We are absolutely behind the independent base - we think it is something unique and we should look after these smaller SMEs," he said.
Meanwhile, Peter Ducker, executive director of the Hotel Booking Agents Association (HBAA), said it was "sensible" of Expotel to warn the independents if one major chain in the area was driving up commissions.
"The agency is going to want to support their long-term trading partners. If these independent hotels have got a long-term history with an agency, it is in the agency's interest as much as the hotel's to maintain that," he said.
By Neil Gerrard
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