Recently, I read an article that discussed negotiating with hotels, and there was a very strong bias to the meeting planner. I am a planner, but it angered me that both sides were not presented. I believe we all want to achieve the best deal and that the real goal is to come away with a contract where both sides win and there is an equal investment in the outcome of the meeting. After all, hotels need to make a fair profit so they can properly staff your meeting and keep the property maintained. So, here are my tips for creating a win-win partnership.
Relationships matter, so working with someone you trust is rule No. 1. Find out how long your sales contact has been with the hotel and when they turn the details over to the convention service manager. Ask for client references — not just on the hotel but for the person you are negotiating with. And be prepared to write a personal recommendation when they deliver stellar results.
It’s so important to begin the process with a clear and succinct request for proposal and an understanding of the value of your meeting. Start with the “must haves” and identify points of flexibility. Hotel sales people often look at the number of rooms needed and the requested meeting space and don’t drill down much further than that. Whether they do depends on the style of creativity of each sales manager.
Providing history on the meeting will help the sales manager verify the details. Be aware that your history is also a blueprint of your anticipated rate structure. Many times a request for proposal inflates the number of guest rooms needed, which offsets the ratio of proportionate meeting space. The need for a lot of meeting space may be a deterrent for a hotel because the hotel needs meeting rooms to sell remaining rooms to other groups. But there tend to be a few hotels in each market that have an unusually high space to room ratio; if you require a lot of space for a small meeting, you should target those properties.
Right-sizing your venue so you are the largest group in-house helps you maximize the attention your group will receive from the hotel’s staff. It also will give you greater flexibility to get the meeting space you need. Give back space that is not needed so the hotel has an opportunity to earn additional revenue with their real estate. Every square inch of the property has a potential revenue value, and when a room “goes black” there is no potential to make up that lost income.
Other key factors to consider:
- The pattern of your meeting. City hotels have the highest demand Sunday-Thursday nights, so you may get better rates on the weekends. Resorts have the highest demand on weekends because vacationers typically require a Saturday night stay. Your history will provide a good gauge of pre- and post- meeting night stays, but I recommend only blocking those rooms that you know will be required with the clause that the group room rate will be provided on a space available basis.
- Time of year. Every property has a busy season, shoulder season and value season, so expect to pay more when demand is high. By booking the property at a more affordable time of the year, you will get all the same amenities without the crowds.
- Guest room type. We all know the rooms next to the elevator or a view of the dumpster are less desirable and they should be priced accordingly. In a “Run of Hotel” block, there is a mix of each room type so be aware that you may have to sacrifice the comfort of some of your attendees to attain a better room rate. For this reason, you should ask to see the worst room when you do a site inspection because the hotelier is only showing the best available.
- What is included? I don’t know about you, but I hate it when I stop for gas and the advertised rate is for cash only. I feel ripped off as soon as I swipe my card. The same is true at a hotel. Find out what all of the add-on room fees are. We all need Internet access and many may need parking. The meeting room set-ups may carry with them additional charges as well, so ask about standard sets and any upgrades you may require.
Don’t forget to look at the total cost of a meeting and not just the room rate. When you find the right property, build a relationship with the key players and their boss. They have the power to make you look great. Let them know that they have earned your business and, in exchange for providing the agreed outcomes, you will be happy to provide three things:
- Repeat business
The relationships that you build in this business become an extension of your team. I have been in the hospitality industry for almost 30 years and I have friends in all corners of the planet as a result. It is so rewarding to be able to get so much done with the help of industry professionals who chose to make a difference. Being transparent about your needs will provide a foundation for a successful meeting and a rewarding career.