As the booming event industry struggles with labor shortages, new commission automation technology is arriving just in time for savvy planners to make more money with less work.
The old saying that “time is money” may be even more true today than ever, particularly in the world of meetings and events. Even a company built on automating and processing commission payments — Onyx CenterSource — has found that saving time for staff is now the most important factor in keeping costs down and revenues up.
Their entire business is based on streamlining the commission payment process so that agencies get all the money they are actually owed on time, in turn benefiting hotels by encouraging repeat business. So, securing more money must be the top priority for their customers, right? Not quite.
Following market research that Onyx performed for its GroupPay solution, a common thread emerged. “In recent workshops with M&E [meeting and event] influencers, today’s #1 industry issue — globally — remains staffing,” says Tony Wagner, Onyx CenterSource chief commercial officer.
For this reason, their most positive client feedback centers around the time that their product saves both event agencies and hotel staff. In an industry grappling with labor shortages, human resources are a company’s most valuable asset. It’s not just about keeping costs down, either, but about redirecting top talent to the most promising money-making opportunities. That’s why GroupPay’s time-saving benefits are its top selling point.
“GroupPay has provided better visibility and transparency into our commission payments and allowed our hotel staff to provide more timely support to our agency partners.”Dan Stephenson, director of regional process at Hyatt Shared Service Center
Staffing Shortages Combined With Skill Gaps
It’s no secret that both the hospitality sector and the event industry are struggling with staff shortages. A February 2023 survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) found that almost 80 percent of hoteliers are still struggling with staffing shortages, even as 71 percent of them have increased wages.
For meeting planners faced with their own challenges finding labor, it can feel like they’re being pulled from all sides. Skift Meetings’ State of Business Events 2022 survey found that “supplier staffing and service issues” ranked number three in concerns that keep planners up at night, with their own labor shortages coming in at number seven.
Further, it’s not just a question of filling open positions, but of matching the level of expertise that was lost during the mass exodus out of the industry during the pandemic. “Staffing issues range from shortages in available talent, inexperience due to the loss of decades of knowledge and the need to train new staff on the industry and process, and the increasing cost in salaries and/or freelancers,” explains Wagner.
Sara Meyer, vice president of product management, M&E, for Onyx CenterSource, notes that these issues actually end up creating more work. “This situation is also driving lower productivity as new staff fall short in historical experience (or tribal knowledge), which elongates discussions and/or results in errors that require correction,” she says.
While some industry players are removing degree requirements to help turn the tide, this tactic does little to address the skill gap — and it has yet to bring staffing numbers back to baseline levels. In this new market, most event professionals will ultimately have to find efficiencies to avoid missing out on key business opportunities.
Onyx Research: Manual Commission Processing Proves Top Bottleneck
Payment processing may be one of the most promising areas for cutting out the clutter, allowing event agencies and planners of all kinds to earn all the commissions they’re owed with less than half the work.
Even in the pre-pandemic era, the industry was in need of a more efficient way of tracking and processing commission payments. When Onyx CenterSource surveyed industry stakeholders across the board — everyone from hotels, hoteliers, intermediaries, third-party meeting planners — the verdict was clear. Spreadsheets were an outdated way of handling commissions, costing the industry both time and money. A whopping 100 percent of supplier and agency respondents wanted to spend less time managing commission payments.
Moreover, both hotels and planners are often using multiple tools to manage the process, with over 33 percent of survey respondents reporting that this fragmentation leads to inefficiencies. Hotel systems for tracking bookings may not be fully integrated with event registration data, and the payment method may be entirely separate.
In turn, all of these challenges inevitably delay the final step of transferring the money. Over 40 percent of respondents across both hotel and planner groups said that payments are slower as a consequence of these bottlenecks.
While these problems existed pre-pandemic, the current labor market is only making matters more urgent. “Notably, these findings remain and are amplified in our conversations today with agencies and hoteliers,” explains Sara Meyer. “Agencies desire increased speed to payment, both agencies and hotels desire increased visibility, and everyone would like automation — especially due to labor challenges.”
Time Saving at Each Stage of the Commission Process
Armed with this valuable information about where the industry needed support most, Onyx CenterSource went to work finding solutions to each of the top pain points that their research uncovered.
Here’s an overview of how the GroupPay system works.
Tracking: The software automatically reconciles hotel bookings against registrant data, so planners don’t have to worry that they’re getting short-changed just because an attendee forgot to use the event code.
Invoicing and Communications: The system will automatically generate invoices and send reminders.
Record Keeping: GroupPay automatically keeps a log of all revenue, with a simple interface for reviewing past business.
Payments: At intervals of your choosing, GroupPay transfers any payments that are owed. Further, it performs any currency conversions necessary, creating automatic savings on bank processing fees.
Relationship Management and Prospecting: Clients have access to instant analytics, arming them with the information they need to enhance partnership discussions and make accurate financial forecasts.
Some planners might be wary of learning a new tool, especially when so many of their recent hires may already be playing catch-up to make up for lack of experience. With this very concern in mind, Onyx has developed both a robust customer service department and a dedicated implementation team to ensure that onboarding is both simple and frictionless.
“With the right technology and data platforms in place GroupPay can be easily implemented without much effort from the hotel teams and it requires very little interaction or setup as we scale,” says Dan Stephenson, director of regional process at Hyatt Shared Services Center.
Efficiencies Already Cutting Costs and Driving Business Growth
Existing GroupPay customers are already reaping the benefits. Clients are now spending anywhere from 50 to 70 percent less time tracking, reconciling, and chasing down commission payments. In turn, these time savings translate to a 50 percent reduction in costs per event. Crucially, it also means that top talent can redirect their energy to growing the business instead of wading through paperwork.
“Automation as both a solution and an enabler to redeploy staff to revenue-producing areas is extremely attractive,” says Tony Wagner. “The additional benefits are ‘gravy’ at this point.”
To contact one of the experts at Onyx CenterSource and learn more about their GroupPay solution, visit the company website.
This content was created collaboratively by Onyx CenterSource and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.