Some professional conference organisers are questioning the new partnership between the MCEC and HotelsCombined. The MCEC, however, says the new relationship shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

In what is being described as “an Australian convention and exhibition centre first”, the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) has partnered with the world’s leading hotel price comparison platform, HotelsCombined.com.au to provide event attendees with the widest range of best-value accommodation.

With more than 6000 rooms within walking distance from the venue and more than 2200 hotels across the wider Melbourne landscape, MCEC customers can now instantly search and book the best deals available to accommodate their event attendees.

In a statement last month, MCEC meeting and events senior manager, Frank Scifo, said the choice to partner with HotelsCombined.com.au was driven by a desire to give customers a convenient, trusted and instantly bookable accommodation service that also ensures they are receiving the best deals available.

“HotelsCombined.com.au guarantees the lowest price on travel accommodation, providing our customers with significant savings on advertised retail prices. No other comparison platform seems to be able to compete with their savings,” he said.

The comments, however, have been met with some concern from professional conference organisers, many of which rely on commissions from finding and booking delegate accommodation.

One PCO who spoke to micenet, who did not want to be named, said that having been in the industry for more than 28 years, “the one thing I have learnt is that you need to stick to what you’re good at and not branch out into areas that aren’t considered your core business”.

The PCO said it was apparent that the MCEC was not thinking about the long-term consequences of an action like this.

“HotelsCombined, in my humble opinion, is one of the worst booking engines in the market, so to associate your brand with something like this (that you are not in control of) can be fraught with hazards. You are relying on them to deliver a quality service,” the PCO said.

“I have heard a few comments that people are not happy in the industry about this move. I wonder if they consulted any event people before making this decision?”

Another PCO said this was simply another avenue for event attendees to book their accommodation which will “by its nature dilute the income share for everyone”.

“To what extent is the big unknown – and I suspect not greatly depending upon how it is marketed – but any effect it has will be across other engines, such as PCOs, hotels directly, travel agents, individual OTAs, etc,” the PCO said.

“Since the introduction of OTAs in general PCOs have seen their share of hotel booking income fall in major cities from around 60 per cent of delegates to under 20 per cent. This will just continue the dilution.

“The only check on whether it is quantifiable will come from the MCEC itself which I doubt will be forthcoming. I think the MCECs need to be a little more transparent when they say this is being driven:

“…by a desire to give customers a convenient, trusted and instantly bookable accommodation service that also ensures they are receiving the best deals available.”

“Ultimately the MCEC needs to decide if it is an events venue only or a provider of services to the events industry as well.”

ICMS Chairman, Bryan Holliday, said in a free country any organisation can offer whatever services it wishes and then let the market decide if the initiative is a success.

“When a major convention centre starts offering accommodation options, PCOs have every right to be a little concerned,” Mr Holliday said.

“Although this move is designed to appeal to small groups and to individuals who are attending events at MCEC, it could be the thin edge of the wedge.

“As is common knowledge, commission from hotel bookings is a significant revenue stream for PCOs. If a venue begins to compete directly with its clients then it could have major ramifications. For example, if a client asks us to recommend a city or venue to host their event, then the MCEC’s new service could have a bearing on our recommendation.”

The MCEC’s director of customer experience, Anne Jamieson, told micenet this partnership won’t directly affect PCOs in achieving accommodation commissions.

“For us it about being able to service our customers.

“I do understand their concerns, however, we are not doing anything that isn’t already being done.

“We don’t control the inventory. Whether or not there is availability on HotelsCombined is not in our control.”

The good news for PCOs is that with the MCEC and HotelsCombined partnership event attendees will not be able to book any more than 10 rooms. That still leaves the option open for PCOs to negotiate with hotels for large room block allocations when they secure a conference.

Ms Jamieson said in terms of rate comparison, that was a conversation that would have to be had between the hotels and the PCOs.

According to the official press release, HotelsCombined.com.au simplifies the accommodation booking process by presenting all the information customers need about a hotel across multiple booking platforms in one search.

HotelsCombined.com.au head of marketing, Chris Rivett, said the company was thrilled to be working with MCEC.

“This partnership will elevate MCEC in the convention and exhibition space by allowing it to offer more value to its customers, providing them choice to compare accommodation options and the best price on their stays,” he said.

You can check out the online booking device yourself on the MCEC website under the “your visit” section.

Alternatively, visit http://mcec.com.au/your-visit/accommodation/

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