They don’t organise meetings or events but take a good chunk of commission from venues by recommending them to clients. In this day and age, is that enough to warrant their existence?

An emphatic yes according to Anthony Jepson of venue finder CVBS who says the company has been servicing very happy clients since 1989.

“With over 40 years of collective experience CVBS has established a successful business through the delivery of a personalised and professional global venue and destinational research service,” Jepson says.

“Our expert and up-to-date knowledge combined with our independent and unbiased advice and research ensures our clients receive the best personal service to
suit their event needs and outcomes. We’re a time and cost saving service as well as being a negotiation tool.

“Our clients are often time poor with the demands of their roles without the added pressure of finding the right venue for their conference or event and come to us due to our expertise in the marketplace and the fact that venue finding is all we do, allowing us to devote all our time and resources to this.

“Typically we have a 24 hour turnaround time from the moment a client contacts us with their brief to us presenting them with a detailed proposal outlining costs from suitable venues that meet their brief.”

But not everybody is happy with the way that venue finders work, including one venue manager who contacted micenet.

He said that recently there has been a big surge in the number of venue finders in the market, with service levels they offer varying considerably.

“Many just seek proposals from venues, and if they manage to find a venue their client is happy with, they will pencil book the venue and then pass it over to their client to finalise details, contract and to organise the event themselves, including management of accommodation bookings. And for this they expect a commission,” he says.

This venue operator also has an issue with the commission that some venue finders ask for.

“I have had requests from eight per cent to 10 per cent on F&B and meetings packages and up to 15 per cent on accommodation… and in many cases, they are not providing any service in return so the commission is just for placing the business with the venue!

“From a venue perspective, dealing with a venue finder can be frustrating. In most cases you have no idea who the real client is so you have no opportunity to develop a relationship or get a more detailed brief on what they are looking for and their key decision parameters.

“In many cases, the brief can be only two or three lines: time of year, number of delegates and basic event outline. You have no idea how serious the client is about your destination let alone your venue, and whether you are one of five or 200 properties receiving this lead.”

He says that with such a limited brief the venue needs to decide whether it is worth pitching at all, and a disturbing trend of late is that some venue finders are sending a request for a proposal through a convention bureau rather than going direct to the venue.

“Sometimes a venue finder will want to hide the commission from the client,” the venue operator also claims.

“Secret commissions are illegal in our industry.”

To that CVBS’s Anthony Jepson says in any industry there will always be a small percentage of ‘rogue operators’ who are unscrupulous and put their own interests first.

From his experience they don’t last long. “Our business survives on ‘repeat and referral’ – repeat business from existing clients and referrals by existing clients to new ones.

“There are a number of clients that have been with us from the start. And why? Because of our customer service – pure and simple.

“Everything that I have said here doesn’t just apply to our company; it applies to any reputable venue finding agency or PCO. Luckily, that’s about 95 per cent of the MICE industry.”

Ros McLeod, MD of PCO company Arinex, says venue finders is an American concept and was created because of the large size of associations in the U.S. who have to outsource a range of services.

“In the case of venues there is such a range of availability in the USA that it takes expertise and lots of time to work your way through offerings in any of the big destinations,” she says.

“Population base is the reason for this with the USA being 13 times the size of Australia. It therefore works for a number of American clients to outsource to a venue finder who can source the right meeting space over the right dates and execute the contract on behalf of the client to meet their particular needs. The same applies to accommodation bookings.

“Applying this model to Australia and indeed many other countries is not always a good idea as there are specialist local conditions and demands that a venue finder is not familiar with and the market operates differently. Both the hotels and the client/participants are familiar with the workings of the venue finder model in the USA but here in Australia it is a different concept and not always understood by this market.

“The service stops at the booking stage and the commission is paid simply for connecting the client with the venue/accommodation. Here in Australia conference clients and hotels expect the PCO or housing service to be there from the booking stage till the final bookings are confirmed.

“When PCOs receive commission for hotel bookings the PCO/housing service is paid by the hotel to do a complete service, the same as a travel agent does for their clients. The value of paying a commission is not just the introduction of a client but relieving the hotel of the work involved in servicing the client up till they check-in. Commission is not a gift, it is a payment for work done.”

Another Canberra-based venue operator has no problem with venue finders.

“If they’ve built themselves a business – and it doesn’t cost the client anything – I say good luck to them,” she says.

“In our industry we have organisers who charge a management fee to clients whereas venue finders charge nothing, and there are some people who operate somewhere in-between.

“I can say that there are some well-established venue finders who bring hotels a lot of business. The ones that are doing really well have long-term repeat clients. And hotels see value in paying them to do that.

“There are some really good venue finders and some pretty dodgy ones. It’s the same for PCOs. There’s a lot of really great PCOs and dodgy ones too.”

One comment from a long-standing client of CVBS had this to say about their working relationship with the venue finder:

“I have relied on CVBS over the last 13 years to research and book many venues on my behalf. My requirements have been for events from four people to 500. CVBS know my requirements and expectations and have always provided the right type of quote for my needs. They have often had to negotiate the best deal for my budget – with excellent results. There have been times when some venues have been less than accommodating and CVBS have always negotiated a mutually
beneficial outcome on my behalf.

“With the constant changes in contacts at venues, it has always been a bonus to know the stability that CVBS offer full support when things go pear shaped at a venue and they can utilise their extensive network of industry contacts to solve issues. They constantly travel and review properties, which is apparent by their up-to-date knowledge of the event and conference industry which has been of huge benefit, saving me hours of research.

“They build relationships, not databases and their honesty and quick responses have always been appreciated.”