ANALYSIS: Industry divided over approval fees - Should contractors have to pay commission to organisers if they get work from a recommendation? Emma Reynolds reports

The news that Centre Exhibitions is charging contractors commission for work gained at ITMA 2003 as a result of its recommendation (Event, March) has raised a few eyebrows.

British Exhibition Contractors Association (BECA) director Lynn Felton says the scheme is a bit "cheeky

but other industry voices have gone further.

"It's outrageous,

states Single Market Events managing director Tim Etchells. "I'm always clear that our income sources will be from stands, sponsorship and gate - not other tacky ways of making money. I frown upon any commission - we turn it down."

Montgomery Exhibitions, too, is concerned. "This is a surprising development and one that we would not be looking to emulate,

says a spokesman for the show organiser.

But while these organisers doubt the integrity of commission schemes, some argue that they work to everyone's advantage.

Reed Exhibitions UK managing director Andrew Roberts says: "If an organiser, or anyone else involved in exhibitions, created a commercial opportunity for a contractor it would not be unreasonable to agree some form of fee for that introduction so long as this was understood in advance."

Clarion Events receives commissions for recommending a hotel reservation agency at some shows. Group exhibition director James Brooks-Ward says: "I don't think that's sharp practice. If the organiser acts as a conduit between contractor and potential client then that's fair in my book.

He argues that if Centre Exhibitions is helping contractors win business at ITMA then that is "a justified promotion".

However, Brooks-Ward says imposing commissions may not be appropriate for every event. "It shouldn't be seen as a blanket charge - it should depend on the show,

he states.

BECA president Chris Criscione met Centre Exhibitions operations director Andrew Bird to address the issue on behalf of BECA's members. Bird's revelation that it is only contractors who get work through advertising on the ITMA website that will pay commission seems to have placated Criscione.

"That's fair enough,

he says. "Centre Exhibitions is advertising for them and Bird wants a kick-back. Other contractors can do their own thing, just as normal."

However, Criscione is against the practice of paying organisers commission in general. "I don't agree with it. An organiser is already getting paid to put the show on,

he asserts.

This "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours

approach is set to continue post-ITMA but it remains to be seen if the entire industry will accept the practice.

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