It was one thing when the $16 Muffin scandal was uncovered because it was mostly unfounded and a gross exaggeration of the truth to make a political point. It still had terribly undesirable consequences but once the flaws in the reporting were revealed, all that remained was some pretty disastrous public relations and the all too common feeling of having to defend our existence as meeting planners and travel professionals once again. Then came the GSA scandal, which was exponentially more damaging.Damaging more so because the findings of unethical behavior may have a more factual basis than did the case of the $16 Muffin. The ultimate consequences of this investigation are yet unknown, but it has already had lightning quick, knee jerk results in terms of cancelled government meetings all over the nation and grossly complicated new approval procedures which make planning a meeting all but impossible. In the end, this may prove to have truly catastrophic effects. It may wind up being a singular moment in our industry’s history – be prepared for people to colloquially term these eras as pre-GSA and post-GSA.
And how ugly a time it is. And all for what? Meetings have proved necessary time and time again. The actions of a few, ruining life for a great many has also proved to be the way of government. I have a client who actually said to me, “We are hoping that we won’t have this meeting next year.” We can’t have people hoping meetings don’t happen. Meetings are not only a vital engine of the fragile economy, an industry on which so many Americans rely, but it will forever be a necessary medium for people to do business with other people. People don’t do business with teleconference screens. We can’t let the GSA scandal alter the way we as humans interact with one another professionally.
As peripheries to the industry – site selectors – we stand to lose an awful lot should the government leap to the conclusion that the use of firms like ours harms taxpayers. Our services are entirely free to the government and we save the government time and money. We make no illusions about our compensation – we are paid by the hotels. In that way, we are neither in contract with the government, nor do we affect the pricing in any regard. Hotels do not account for commission as a discount in room rate. Commissions are an expense, a cost of doing business. This can be easily proved – the per diem rate is the per diem rate. Rates are not raised in order to accommodate commissions and hotels will go to lengths to document this on the contract. Leveling our industry because of perception – in this case misperception – would be a travesty.
In the coming months, a newly developed alliance of site selection firms will be positioning itself to take a proactive charge against this machine of negativity. We are confident our clients will stand behind us when the time comes, if the time comes. Until then, keep your head held high.