The question, “What’s the most outrageous thing a venue has attempted to bill you or a client for?”, provoked hundreds of responses across several LinkedIn groups. Part I told the planner’s perspective. Part II explored the issue from the supplier’s perspective. In this final installment, it’s time to take a look at some ways planners can avoid racking up unnecessary fees, and how both sides can best work together.
Be flexible with your options
By looking at what’s available in second- and third-tier cities, and independently owned or managed hotels, planners may be able to avoid the rates and fees incurred in first-tier markets or venues. “Whenever possible, check out smaller-market venues as possible sites,” counsels Alex Blatt, event manager at the Century Center in South Bend, Ind. “Of course, they may not be as glamorous but, then again, at our venue there are no drayage charges, we don’t charge [groups] to use the freight elevator, the loading dock or the pallet jack, and if you have a few boxes shipped to us for your meeting, they will be waiting in the room for you when you arrive — no charge.” If meeting in a large city is a must, consider venues in outlying or suburban areas. These can satisfy the need for budget-friendly accommodations without sacrificing access to big-city amenities or airlift.
Remember, it’s a two-way street
Both sides must be prepared and willing to give and take, says Cindy Novotny, founder and principal of Master Connection Associates, which has provided sales and marketing training to some of the hospitality industry’s marquee names for over 15 years. “Venue sales people need to take the time to ask the right questions … and planners need to be forthcoming with their needs, expectations and budgets in order to improve this situation. If that communication isn’t happening, sales people need to step up and ask planners for some time to talk to them about what’s important to them.” Novotny believes the market is evolving, and we all need to evolve with it. “While this might look like a buyers market, it’s still very much a two-way street,” she cautions. “Planners and suppliers really need to look on both sides of the fence.”
Do your homework
Seriously, planners: You cannot skip this step and retain the right to complain about how the venue is trying to take you to the cleaners. Oftentimes, “surprise” charges were clearly outlined in the venue contract — the planner just didn’t catch them before signing the dotted line. Understand that thoroughly reading the contract is not optional. Ask about anything that is unclear, ask if there are any fees that aren’t in the contract, and consider inserting a clause that states the group won’t be responsible for any fees not explicitly spelled out in the agreement. Don’t be afraid to push sales people and convention services managers to provide you with as much information as possible about what the things are going to end up costing you. Get menu pricing and copies of house policies — not only from the venue, but from every outsourced vendor the venue contracts with. Negotiate fair and reasonable concessions before you sign. And if you don’t personally have the bandwidth or experience to do that, hire a professional to do the research for you and negotiate fair and reasonable terms on your behalf. Some would argue that, considering some of the fees you could incur, having a $500 an hour attorney review contracts is money well spent.
Honesty is the best policy
Venue reps: You know what “fair and reasonable” is, and $2,500 per day for a dedicated Internet connection in a ballroom isn’t either of those things. If you want to build strong relationships and secure repeat business, be forthcoming with your pricing, insist that outsourced vendors do the same and be willing to negotiate. Planners: Understand that holding things close to the chest is a poor negotiation strategy. Be honest about what your group absolutely needs and what it can live without. You might be amazed at the creative solutions the venue comes up with to keep your group happy and under budget.
In closing, I wanted to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed following the online discussion on this topic and boiling it down into this series for you. Please feel free to leave any questions, comments or suggestions below or contact me directly. Hopefully, by working together, we’ll all have a much improved year!