The late January 2018 announcement by Marriott International to cut third-party meeting planner commissions to 7 percent from 10 percent for bookings at its U.S. and Canadian hotels sparked a firestorm of criticism in the industry.

The rate will remain at 10 percent for bookings in other countries.

One veteran planner formed the LinkedIn group, Meeting Planners Unite, to rally the troops to fight what they see as a betrayal by the largest hotel company in the world.

Following is a Feb. 1, 2018, Q&A with David Bruce, managing partner of CMP Meeting Services, located in the Fort Worth, Texas, area, who has a goal of rallying up to 5,000 independent planners.

Meetings Today: Why did you form the Meeting Planners Unite LinkedIn group?

David Bruce: I formed it specifically to unite the third-party market in an attempt for us to put together a united front to Marriott for the true independents, the non- “Big Four” [HelmsBriscoe, HPN Global, ConferenceDirect and Maritz Global Events, whom Marriott retained the 10 percent commission level].

[In one week] we have gained about 625 members, with a goal of between 3,000 and 5,000 by the end of February.

Our industry truly is comprised of a group of independent businesses, of which 70 percent of those are women-owned. We’re so independent of an organization or an industry that we don’t have a say and we don’t have voice as a group.

Certainly MPI, with their letter that came out, isn’t the voice of the independent. It was a very weak letter. For an organization that is by meeting planners and for meeting planners, it was sad to see [MPI] take such a soft approach, as they were worried about their own bottom line more so than the good of the industry.

[Read MPI's official statement on the Marriott commission cuts here]

That’s why we had to form, because our own industry association isn’t backing the needs of our members.

We want to put together numbers that will make organizations reconsider what their thinking is, and down the road have a voice for the little guy, or girl.

Meetings Today: Is this a boycott of Marriott properties?

David Bruce: Boycott would be inappropriate in so many different ways. However, we run businesses, too. As Marriott has the right to look at every piece of business and whether it’s good for their hotels, we as businesses have every right to look at every piece of business when it comes selecting a hotel.

That being said, if two hotels are virtually the same, and one is a Marriott at 7 percent and the other is a Hyatt, a Hilton, an Omni, whomever, at 10, then as a business I have to worry about my bottom line.

It’s actually going to cost me money to do business with Marriott.

I will lose money by going to a Marriott property.

Meetings Today: What are members of Meeting Planners Unite discussing?

David Bruce: To a person, the discussion is, “How dare they—how could they possibly have done this to the small businesses that have been an integral part of making Marriott who they are?” The loyalty factor.

I think most people in the organization are quite taken aback by the lack of loyalty displayed by Marriott. It seems like we have far more loyalty to them than they do to us.

Meetings Today: How is this related to Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts?

David Bruce: I believe had they had not been able to take over Starwood they would never have the amount of hotels to go down this road.

Meetings Today: Do you fear the other major hotel companies will follow suit and cut commissions?

David Bruce: It’s a huge concern. We’re very proud of the people who have stood by us—the MGM hotels, the Caesars organization, certainly Preferred Hotels by raising commissions to 11 percent even in the short term—for standing up and understanding the importance of what a good third-party company can bring.

Meetings Today: Any final thoughts?

David Bruce: We’re a five-day old association, 625 members strong, all with their own agendas, but with a common agenda of bettering our own organizations, and frankly the need for our organizations to stay organized. Many third parties will not be able to weather this storm.

In a time when the federal government has cut corporate taxes 13 percent, and Marriott stock has gone from $14 to $137 in 10 years, they’re making more money than ever before and they say they can’t afford to pay us.

Click here to view related content in the 02.02.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​