4 Sure-fire Strategies to Navigate an Uncertain Hospitality MarketFebruary 1, 2017

Don't Let It Paralyze Your Planning By
February 1, 2017

4 Sure-fire Strategies to Navigate an Uncertain Hospitality Market

Don't Let It Paralyze Your Planning

BenjaminRabe-AND-SusanGilbert-147x147Benjamin Rabe, CEM, and Susan Gilbert are event directors at SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more associations turn to than any other. Contact Benjamin at brabe@smithbucklin.com and Susan at sgilbert@smithbucklin.com, or visit www.smithbucklin.com

Is it or isn’t it? Event planners are scratching their heads over the 2017 hospitality market and whom it favors: buyers or sellers. Some analysts are making strong cases that economic factors are shifting to a buyer’s market, such as the Wagonlit Travel’s 2017 Meeting & Events Forecast report that suggests hotel supply growth may outpace demand. Other reports insist it’s too soon to tell.

You don’t have to delay making decisions on site selections or other contracts while waiting for the market to declare itself. Carol McGury, executive vice president of event and education services at SmithBucklin, has seen buyer’s and seller’s markets come and go during her 30 years in the industry.

Be open to new thinking from trusted partners and be willing to embrace new ways of driving value for the association, even if they are unorthodox.

“These market changes are just part of the business cycle,” McGury said. “So don’t allow it to paralyze your planning. Instead, focus on what’s best for the client.

“Whether you’re negotiating hotel room blocks, convention center space, or food and beverage details, be transparent about what is most important to your client,” she said.

Below are four sure-fire strategies McGury recommends to achieve affordable and cost-effective events regardless of whether the buyer or seller has the advantage.

Plan in Advance

Ideally, the timeline for planning an event begins years in advance. Forty-six percent of large meetings are booked more than three years out, according to the “Meetings Market Survey” conducted by the Professional Convention Management Association. By initiating the planning process early, hotels and convention centers are more willing to negotiate dates and meeting specifications, and associations are more likely to obtain favorable concessions. This forward-thinking requires a detailed, thorough discussion with stakeholders early in the planning process.

Prioritize Based on Strategy

Discuss with the board of directors what the association’s overall strategic focus is before planning the event. Knowing the big picture can help planners negotiate the smaller details.

For example, a business trade association wanted to increase attendance at its annual event, but its location in Las Vegas was primarily attracting a West Coast audience. The SmithBucklin event team worked closely with the association’s leadership to review other locations. After extensive research into membership data, the team discovered that eight states with the highest concentration of members were within a six-hour drive of Nashville, making the Music City more accessible than Las Vegas. The association changed the location to Nashville for its 2016 event and experienced the highest attendance since the economic downturn. In fact, the location was such a hit that they are committed to returning to Nashville in 2019, 2022 and 2024. These early commitments resulted in better terms during negotiations.

Be Flexible

Flexibility opens doors for negotiation. “Be nimble with dates and locations,” says McGury. “You may find more concessions in cities that are not among the top tier.”

The Clinical Laboratory Management Association, for example, is open to a wide range of annual meeting dates between February and May. This allows the event team to negotiate in a highly desirable location.

If the location is important to the client, try to be flexible with dates. On the other hand, if the dates cannot be altered, go shopping for a city that offers the best pricing during that time period. The more flexible you are, the more likely you will uncover great deals.

Certain circumstances, such as an evolving event strategy or changing industry dynamics, may limit your ability to plan years in advance. If you find yourself planning an event in the same year it’s being held, be as flexible as you can. Work with the hotel or convention center to accommodate their open dates (for example, middle of the week).

Leverage Partnerships and Purchasing Power

Establishing relationships with partners that are built on trust and forward-thinking will boost your ability to negotiate. This might mean booking with one hotel brand across multiple years or establishing a multiyear vendor contract for audio-visual services.

Be open to new thinking from trusted partners and be willing to embrace new ways of driving value for the association, even if they are unorthodox.

For example, the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, the American Urogynecologic Society and the National Association Medical Staff Services were planning back-to-back events in Seattle, so the event teams used SmithBucklin’s collective purchasing power to their advantage.

All three teams reserved the same convention hall, which meant they could use the same general service contractor. Carpet only had to be laid down once. Some of the staff worked all three events, which cut down on travel expenses. The associations agreed to the same signs and graphics, creating further savings. For example, the registration area had a cutout of Seattle that was reused with the client name adjusted each time. Additionally, attendees stayed at the same hotels, making negotiations for room blocks easier and more advantageous for the client organizations. Two of the associations used the same audio-visual company, so the machinery only had to be unloaded and reloaded once, cutting down on labor costs. The results were more concessions at significant cost savings. The three association boards were aware the event planners were negotiating this way and applauded the tactics for saving them money.

“The bottom line is: Be strategic, be collaborative and be innovative,” McGury said. “Then you’ll do the best you can for your client, regardless of what’s happening in the market.”

More Industry Insights From SmithBucklin

For more on this and related topics, visit SmithBucklin’s online publication Circuit. The industry resource includes “20 for 2017,” which focuses on 20 key issues, trends and developments that will impact associations in the coming year.

Some of the 20 issues, trends and developments include:

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