Marriott International is one of the world’s most popular lodging companies, but many meeting and destination planners are ineligible to earn commissions when they book rooms at one of its 2,800 properties worldwide. In 2007, a new policy went into effect requiring travel agencies and all travel intermediaries gain certification from the Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC) or the International Air Transport Association (IATA/IATAN).
Why the new regulations? “We’ve spoken with a lot of meeting planners and learned a lot of them are not getting their commissions on time, or getting detailed statements,” said a Marriott spokesperson. “With certification through these groups, it’s guaranteed they will receive their commission in a timely manner and receive an accurate statement. Plus, they have only one place to come to if they have questions [or problems]; they don’t have to deal with different hotels.”
Obtaining the numbers comes at a steep price. The fee to receive an application package for ARC certification of a new corporate travel entity is $2,000. There is no minimum or volume requirements, but ticket purchasing fees are applied to future transactions, and members must maintain a minimum surety bond of $20,000. Benefits of ARC certification include being able to outsource planning needs to other agencies and the ability to customize travel service packages to pick out what is best for groups, but once you have the number, why outsource anything to a travel agency?
Critics of the new policy question the logic (and legality) of requiring planners who may or may not book air travel to join airline certification agencies in order to receive commissions on sales they book. Marriott points out that IATA has a Travel Sales Intermediary accreditation program for meeting planners who don’t book air travel (TSI in the U.S., TIDS overseas), and that accreditation enforces a standard of quality throughout the industry. Legal questions have not yet been addressed. In the meantime, planners should know other major chains, such as Starwood, are considering adopting similar policies.
To acquire an IATAN/TSI or IATA/TIDS number, extensive documentation is required. To apply, planners must provide budgeted financial statements signed by a CPA accountant proving the business has invested or intends to invest a minimum of $10,000 to $20,000 in the travel business with annual gross travel sales of $200,000, and certify that sales amount annually. Planners also must provide the business’ tax ID number, business license, articles of incorporation, two letters of recommendation from national or international suppliers or a national travel organization, proof of professional liability insurance, and an application fee of between $165 and $190 U.S. dollars.
If you have questions about accreditation and Marriott’s new commission policy, contact its Intermediary Partner Care hotline at 800-445-1551. Information about acquiring IATAN/TSI numbers is available here. For more on the impact of this regulation from a meeting planner’s perspective, visit the PlanIt Podcast.