These are heady times for hotels. Occupancy is at near-record highs, and demand is expected to outpace supply in many destinations throughout 2017. That leaves meeting planners scrambling to find venues. These five tips will help you unlock the door to availability and get faster proposals with better offers from the venues of your choice.
One simple note on your RFP will help ensure you get timely offers from nearly every hotel on your list: "My dates are flexible. I'm willing to explore alternate dates if you make it worth the effort to change from my preferred dates." Why is this significant? Hotels need to drive occupancy over low-demand periods. Your flexibility will likely be rewarded with a couple outstanding bids that could have a dramatic impact on meeting costs.
Even if your group is set on its dates, give hotels the chance to offer additional options. This approach can save you time, if you're having trouble finding availability. Who knows - your group may turn out to be more flexible than you think.
Send your RFP to at least three but no more than eight venues. It's not unusual today for planners to send one RFP to 50 or more hotels. By reaching out to just a handful of properties, you'll build credibility for your RFP. In addition, create competition by telling the hotels who else is in the running for your meeting. When sales managers know how many -- and who -- they're up against, they'll fight harder to win your business. You'll get timely proposals with compelling offers that set you up for successful negotiations.
Maximize the F&B Minimum
Ask the hotel upfront what the F&B minimum is for your dates, and get this number first, before you start negotiating. This information will help you determine if you have leverage based on your catering budget. If you're clearly going to exceed the minimum, leverage your overages to gain additional concessions and add value to your meeting. If possible, commit to a higher number in return for additional concessions: suite upgrades, A/V concessions, and so on.
Know Your Space-to-Room Ratio
Hotels work hard to manage their meeting space to maximize occupancy potential. Every meeting hotel has a specific space-to-rooms ratio. Understanding how your group affects their space inventory is key to finding availability and negotiating a great deal. It all comes down to knowing your space-to-room ratio (SRR). Here's the formula:
SRR = Total seats by day times 20 square feet, divided by total guest room block that day
To get to your total seats, simply count the number of seats in unique meeting rooms that you'll require. If you reuse a room on the same day, only count those seats once. Leave out any evening events, when space isn't at a premium.
Ask the hotel up-front for their space-to-rooms ratio. You have more leverage if you're using less space to rooms than the budget requires.
If you're over the SRR budget, try changing your room setups to accommodate more people. You can also reuse your main meeting room for breakout sessions and dinners to further cut your space needs. Either way, work with the sales manager to get where you need to be.
Use the Power of the Short List
The short list date isn't your decision date -- it's simply the date when you'll tell hotels whether they're still in the running. This is an important step in the RFP process and in motivating sales managers to respond quickly with competitive bids. Why? Beyond knowing the competition, the next big motivator for salespeople is knowing if they're in contention.
Keep your short list date close to the date when you expect responses to be returned. Three to five business days should give you plenty of time to select your top venues. Proposals have a brief shelf life, with rates and occupancy changing daily. Moving quickly lets sales managers know you're serious. Once they make the short list, they're likely to offer concessions they didn't include earlier, when they were one of many hotels. That's the power of the short list.
Brad Langley, CITE, is a 30-year incentive and travel industry veteran and vice president of third-party markets at etouches. He oversees the company's venue sourcing solutions for independent and third-party planners. Brad is a recipient of SABRE Travel Network's Peak of Excellence Award for exemplary leadership with a focus on customer service.
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