As the HBAA marks its 20th anniversary year, venue chair Louisa Watson asks a selection of members, past and present, to talk about what the industry association has achieved.
It is 1997. The internet and email are at an embryonic stage. Very few organisations have websites, so brochures, directories, personal card-index boxes and telephone calls are the main sources of information and contacts. Bookings are mainly made by fax.
That was how the hotel industry was when Peter Ducker, Charles Cockell and Mike Thirkettle founded the Hotel Booking Agents’ Association, now the HBAA.
Louise Goalen, HBAA chair says: “As the association starts its 20th year, our industry faces major challenges. With Moving Forward, our theme this year, we reflected on how far we have come and the future. We asked several long-standing members about the past, present and future of the hotel industry and its relationships with booking agencies.”
In that time the HBAA has grown from 15 members (all agencies), to 83 agencies and 223 venues, which include not only hotels but dedicated conferences centres, universities, apartments and sports arenas.
So what prompted the association’s formation? Richard Eades, one of the first members, says: “There was a core group of agencies facing a need for consistency and standardisation – Best Practice, brought together under a Code of Conduct. We also wanted to interact and share knowledge.”
Simon Scott of Arrange My adds: “A professional approach, methods and systems were needed”. Long-standing member Dev Anand of The Hotel Marketing Company says there was a need for a forum “where agencies and hotels could work together for the long-term future”. HBAA’s first female chair, Angie Mason from Absolute Corporate Events, adds: “Education and understanding needed to improve”.
Code of Practice
Ducker says the initial challenge was to engage with hotels at a time when the relationship was quite adversarial. “Our second challenge was agreeing a code of conduct.”
From this the Code of Practice has developed which reflects the association’s core values, summed up by Angie Mason as “ethical, educational and inclusive”.
Jacqui Kavanagh of Trinity Event Solutions says: “The HBAA has put structure and control into our industry and professionalised our agency sector, thus strengthening our business through great relationships and a robust Code of Practice.”
Trevor Elswood of Capita Travel and Events believes the HBAA has led with initiatives in customer excellence standards, distribution and contract simplification, designed to help customers get the right answers, “at the right time from the right supplier”.
Another former HBAA leader, Steve Ockerby of LVS Events, notes: “There’s no longer a need for a Disputes Committee!”
The HBAA’s Annual Dinner, Forum and members meetings have also contributed to building relationships.
Giving a venues’ perspective, Russell Green of IHG says: “At the recent HBAA Kick Off meeting, it was pleasing to see the strength in depth in the representation on the committees. It reflects where the HBAA is today – an equal partnership and genuinely inclusive.”
Green welcomes technological advances that enhance the tendering process but stresses face to face will reamin vital when discussing finer commercial aspects of projects or a relationship.
Mark Jones, managing director of Wyboston Lakes, expects more growth in the next 20 years, but warns: “With margins under enormous pressure, we all need to be as efficient and effective as we can be. Clear guidelines and a common code of practice will still be central to those objectives.”
Many members feel the key is in strengthening further the hotel and agent relationship. As Anand puts it: “Ultimately, for as long as corporates choose to use agents to manage their hotel business, then hotels and agents need to work in harmony for their mutual benefit – we both need each other.”