It’s that time of the year when many of us reflect on the changes we would like to make in the new year. We consider changes to our personal lives, but it’s also a good time to look at changes to our professional lives. Here are five tips for meeting planners that will broaden your options, reduce risk, and increase your productivity!
1. Always include these words on your RFP: “My dates are flexible.”
Hotel occupancy rates continue to rise. These increases mean you’ll likely find it harder to get the right hotel for your program without doubling your budget. A key strategy to getting that beachfront resort for your sales meeting – without paying through the nose - is to give the hotel an opportunity to present dates that work for them while still considering your preferred dates.
What’s in it for you? Simple. You’ll greatly increase your chances of finding availability and, likely that offer will come with some added incentives. When I ran hotel sales and marketing teams, we did some pretty cool things for planners who could fit into the dates we had available if we didn’t have their preferred dates. Most hotels will offer major incentives to groups who will consider flexible dates – why not see what they have to offer?
Here’s another flexibility tip: after your contract is signed with the hotel, send the sales manager and conference service manager a quick note asking them to identify your group in their system as the first contact to call if they need a group to be flexible. Often we would ask planners to change breakout locations to accommodate other groups and would pay to get that done. Don’t leave money on the table – make sure you’re the first person they call if flexibility is required. You can always say no – the goal here is to be the one in the driver’s seat.
2. Always include a re-booking clause in your contract.
Don’t think your meeting is going to cancel? You’re probably right. But as many planners know, there are hundreds of reasons meetings do cancel.
What do you do then? Head straight to the contract clause.
There’s nothing more terrifying than pulling out the calculator and determining how many thousands your company will have to pay to cancel. Mitigating the costs can be difficult to do after the fact, this is where your handy re-booking clause comes in.
A re-booking clause enables groups to “pay down” their penalty by booking future business in the affected hotel. A typical re-booking clause will ask the company to pay all or a large portion of the penalty up-front, then apply a portion of that penalty to the new meeting booked.
Here’s an example:
3. Pay attention to the “Contract Due” date.
The contract due date can set the tone for the entire contract negotiations. Why is this date so important? As I mentioned earlier, hotel occupancy is increasing. That means you can’t be sure a hotel will hold on to your first-option dates past your contract due-date.
It is important you have a clear discussion about your contract process and choose a date that you can both agree on. If you see that the due date may not be achievable once you start the process, let your sales manager know. Ask for an extension and let them know why. So much can change between the date you request a contract and when it is actually signed. It’s important to understand that the hotel does not consider your group definite until you have signed on the dotted line. Your sales manager will be your advocate if you keep him/her updated on your decision progress. They will also keep you in the loop about any competition for your dates.
4. Stop sending that RFP to just your favorite hotel.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. When hotel sales people know that they’re the only one getting the meeting RFP, they will do their job and take full advantage of your love for the hotel by hiking up those room rates and lowering the agreed upon concessions. In many cases, rates could increase 10% or more.
Don’t let this happen to you!
There are simple steps you can take immediately to avoid what I like to call the “leveraging the love” strategy by hotels. It’s all about creating a competitive environment for your hotel sales people. When they know they have to compete for your business, sales managers will show you their love by providing timely proposals with great offers, which sets you up for a more effective negotiation.
How do you create a competitive environment?
Tell them who they’re competing with. This will immediately engage a sales manager, especially if they’re used to getting your business without competing.
Limit the hotels you send the RFP to. This is key to motivating a sales person. The fewer hotels, the better chance they have of booking your meeting. Sales people are faced with incredible amounts of leads today. Show them they’re only competing with four other hotels (20% chance of booking) and they’ll drop everything to respond.
Give them your “Short-list” date: The final tactic in creating a competitive environment is to let the hotels know when you’re narrowing your choices to just your favorites, aka “The Short-list”. Let them know that they will need to put their best offer forward in order to make the cut. You’ll be amazed at how impactful the short-list date can be. One final thought – if you set the date, then stick to it. Keep it within a week of sending the RFP, if possible. And if you have to change the short-list date, let them all know.
5. Once and for all, adopt some type of meeting technology. Pah-leez!
The world of meeting technology has evolved dramatically over the past 3 – 5 years. There are apps and solutions that help you get almost every aspect of your meeting planning process completed faster and more accurately than ever before. From eRFP technology to attendee registration to onsite event apps and surveys; whatever the task, there’s a technology to handle it. Don’t know where to start? Here are a few of my favorites:
Attendee Registration: This technology makes easy work of managing and communicating to your meeting attendees. From email marketing, to arrival manifests, to on-site badge printing. It’s all geared to give you better control over the management of your event.
Onsite Apps: These solutions help engage your attendees for a more complete meeting experience. The technology has evolved considerably where data takes the main stage, enabling you to gain insight into your attendees’ engagement in whole new way. Basic features enables your attendees to connect to vendors and each other, manage their schedule, and create impromptu meetings. Through the app, you can communicate with them in real-time, conduct surveys, promote certain events, and so much more.
As you can see, many of these are fairly simple — it’s just a matter of changing habits.
- Book your meeting with the hotel you really want
- Get complete bids from hotels on the first try
- How the hotel sales process works
- How to create a GREAT eRFP that demands attention