At a time when the role of the agency is being questioned, clients and suppliers are increasingly selective when it comes to choosing which agency to work with.
Hence, an accreditation scheme such as Incentive, Conference & Event Society Asia Pacific's (ICESAP) puts agencies through a consistent set of standards that could potentially consolidate the agency’s role, and ultimately maintain relationships between them and clients.
ICESAP president Nigel Gaunt said that the programme took two years to develop and is broken into four parts: probity check (a check on the company and its directors), competency record (a check on management and staff), code of conduct (transparency to clients including the declaration of commission), and best practices (basic operating standards).
“It was an idea born out of a clear necessity of such a scheme. The absence of a scheme in our industry has been apparent for a long while,” said Gaunt. “It’s probably because in the old days—if you will—business events weren’t very mature. It was almost a cottage industry and a branch of travel.”
Even with ICESAP’s scheme in play, some agencies still seek out more high-profile travel agency accreditation, which Gaunt argues shouldn’t be interchangeable. But the mindset is changing as more agencies begin to understand that specialising in business events does not always equate to a speciality in travel.
Once the scheme is more widely applied in the industry, it could also help steer clients away from the “cheaper is better” mentality.
“The sad reality today is that nearly all agencies nearly always get selected, first and foremost, on being the cheapest," said Gaunt. "This is the buying behaviour that’s predominant in Asia, but it’s not necessarily the right decision.
“In many times, buying the cheapest compromises on quality and on resourcing properly as a project. And there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Frankly, you have to be suspicious about agencies that offer unrealistically low pricing because they could be cutting corners somewhere else.”
It could also help take the weight off venues that are often expected to put out the fire when a problem occurs. On the other hand, an accredited agency will be expected to plan, resource, document, and execute their projects from start to end, which includes solving problems on-site at the actual event.
“The repercussions of things going wrong often falls on the venue. They’re the ones holding the baby and that’s a real problem for venues. So working with an accredited agency is far more desirable [for venues]. Everyone wins,” said Gaunt.
ICESAP is approaching agencies of all sizes to come on-board the scheme but so far, it’s the bigger agencies that are paying closer attention. Global agencies such as George P. Johnson and BI Worldwide are already accredited and are aware of the importance of a set of operating standards.
“It will take time [with the smaller agencies]. We’ve got to work harder now on the SMEs,” said Gaunt.