Internet is beneficial in that way, so I decided to explore the possible assistance of a convention bureau in that area.
It was easy to digit “Marrakech”, “convention”, “bureau”, and “enter”.
Happiness, as we know, comes out by little details. I was happy to see at once a lovely site headed as “Conference Marrakech”. The text was encouraging “If you are planning your next meeting, conference, incentive, or event in Marrakech, click here. We will locate hotel accommodation, conference, meeting facilities, gala dinner venues, airline conference fares, etc. for you within 1 hour, and email all details to you”.
Great, just as I was expecting. In planning events all over the world for so many years I have experienced the assistance of convention bureaux, and I am proud to have as friends managers of convention bureaux in many countries. Scrolling the web page, I was encouraged even more: “Then if you like what we have sent we will organize your site visit and arrange all introductions”. Displayed clearly on the website was the statement: “THIS SERVICE IS FREE. One email to us is all it takes.”
Again, in blue: “Click here to request Marrakech Conference venue information. We are promoting Marrakech as a destination for conference, incentives, meetings, convention, congress and events. We offer you assistance and help in locating and choosing hotels, venues, etc.”.
Exactly as I knew. IAPCO’s Conference Terminology book – where conference terminology is given in 12 languages – defines a convention bureau as:
A non profit umbrella organization that represents a city or geographic area in the solicitation and servicing of all types of travellers to that city, or area… whether they visit for business, pleasure or both.
As a matter of fact, clearly noted in red was the statement: “There is no charge for this service. Click on any of the blue links below to receive information, rates and availability in 1 hour”.
And again: “We will free of charge find availability for you”.
The message included the rates for the hotel I was already in contact with, but rates were higher than those provided directly by the hotel.
I was ready to fly to Marrakech for the site inspection when the client asked me to change the destination and to move the event to Europe.
We focused on Portugal, Nice and Berlin, with a preference for Lisbon because of the great success of a previous conference organized there two years before. It was easy to request availability and rates from four hotels that I already knew.
Again, the simple question came to my mind: What is new and better in the area?
A new research on the web, and again “Lisbon Convention, click here to…”.
In one hour I received rates (higher) and the offer of assistance on site. Since I could not get in touch with the DMC that I hired two years before, I accepted to meet the “new” colleague, even though she was not listed in MPI or SITE membership directories.
In a few minutes I realized that the person I was dealing with was perfect in logistics and tourism related matters, but was not knowledgeable in conference organizing.
When I advised that the guest rooms rates offered by the agency were higher than those received directly by the hotel, my “colleague” said: “we must pay a fee of 10% to Lisbon Conference”.
It was easy for me to get in contact with the manager of the local Tourism Office, and confirm that:
- Lisbon Tourism is the only public body committed to promote Lisbon and assist conference organizers and tour operators for their business in the area;
- The intrusion of “Lisbon Conference” caused problems and the loss of international events, moved from Lisbon to somewhere else for lack of assistance.
Lisbon Tourism helped me to get in touch with the DMC that I worked with two years before, so that I could get the appropriate assistance to plan and manage a successful event.
WHERE ELSE? BY WHOM?
By connecting the experience of Marrakech and Lisbon, I doubt that the organization that acts as a convention bureau for private business could be spread to other countries. Quick research confirmed that websites offering assistance “free of charge” have been registered for almost all the European cities that may host conferences: Milan, Florence, Venice, Helsinki, Vienna, Paris, etc.
The record was created in June 2000, and will expire in June 2004.
I did refrain from calling Mr. Paul Smyth to ask him why he felt he should gain 35.000,00 Euro (10% of my conference budget) just because of a website that appears to be a convention bureau.
I wonder how many colleagues have not had the time to check and confirm the offer of pseudo convention bureaux.
Moreover, I propose the question as to whether or not this is an ethical practice, and what should be done to avoid confusion and damages.
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