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May 2012 . www.conference-news.co.uk . 57 FORUMhe agency/venue relationship was under discussion at our CN Spring Forum 2012 and Hotel Booking Agents Association Chairman (HBAA), Director of Conference Care agency, Chris Peacock, said the recession had brought agencies closer together.He said agencies now had clear guidance thanks to the HBAA's code of practice. This, he said, meant today's industry landscape was much better than the times of "cowboys and Indians when nobody trusted each other", when he was setting up his own agency in 1995. "The code sets out the basis of commercial dealings with the venue community. You only have to look abroad to see how important that is. The code has hugely reduced the amount of arbitration and confl ict," he said.Standard commission levels, the Forum agreed, were averaging 10-12 per cent on the Net rate. Although, at the high end, there were reports that Expotel had been asking 20 per cent.Peacock stressed the HBAA was not there to police rates. But, could the group envisage non-commission models for cutting out commission?Peacock didn't believe fee models centred on the premise of managing spend necessarily worked, with a lot of time and effort going into web searches, something, he said, was "not in the best interest of an organisation".Chris Nagle, Agency Relationship Manager at Warwick Conferences, said that when pursuing strategic commercial agreements he was "not going to be held to ransom". "Business has to be the right type of business for the venues and its facilities," he said. "If not, we are quite willing to turn it away." He did admit using enhanced commission agreements "where needed". Rachael Bartlett, Head of Sales and Marketing at Warwick Conferences, TMoving from relationships to contracts, Ellis Salsby, MD of Warwickshire-based Ellis Salsby Ltd, said the majority were driven by venues, with the exception of pharmaceuticals companies which tended to insist on their own terms. He mentioned experience of a client booking a couple of hundred rooms in a London hotel during World Travel Market for an event. The client later cancelled, expecting to avoid penalty payment under contract because the hotel had allegedly admitted it had resold the rooms. The hotel's line, however, he said, was that the resale was a 'separate contract'. The client paid in the end and the agency got its commission, but such Scarman reportWarwick Conference's Scarman venue played host to a CN Spring Agency Forum. Paul Colston was in the chair and reportsAgents for change: in line at the CN Spring Forum, held at Warwick Conference's Scarman venueadded that only seven per cent of her venues' conference and events business came through agents, although it was an area she identifi ed for growth."We get a lot of internal business through the university and have many longstanding agreements with clients," she explained. "Agency business is a much easier win and the commission is a small amount to pay considering how much it costs to employ people to do the job internally."Sian Pelleschi runs the small Top Venues agency in Manchester and said agencies needed to be "fl exible enough to work alongside other agencies when required," rather than being jealously territorial.Pelleschi acknowledged one gripe that venues were often kept in the dark over the identity of the agent's client. "Venues sometimes say they've had the same RFP from another agent, so openness here could benefi t all parties," she said.