Win-Win Negotiations in a Seller’s MarketAugust 1, 2013

How to Get the Best Deal in Your Preferred Venue By
August 1, 2013

Win-Win Negotiations in a Seller’s Market

How to Get the Best Deal in Your Preferred Venue

Hope,Phelps-KellenMeetings-110x140Phelps R. Hope, CMP, is vice president of meetings and expositions for Kellen Meetings, a division of the Kellen Company, an association management company (AMC) with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, Washington, DC, Beijing and Brussels. He can be reached at or 404-836-5050.

Gone are the days of waiting by the phone for the hotel salesperson to call you back. In an up economy (or seller’s market), they’ve got RFPs flowing onto their desks and into their email inbox and are able to cherry pick those that best benefit the hotel, and your lower-budgeted gathering is now at the bottom of the pile. It’s a tough reality but far from hopeless. Sure, the corporate groups competing against you for the same sleeping rooms and meeting spaces have the money and are more likely to get the prime-time slots and locations — slots and locations that used to be reserved for you when times were tough. But you’ve got flexibility. You’re able to think creatively on behalf of your association. Right now, it’s all about how you approach the venue.

Defer to the old adage that of the three major event details (dates, rates and space), your client association will get two and the venue gets one.

To help kick-start your thought process, here are a few standard suggestions for how you can position your association to secure the best possible deal at the most suitable meeting venue.

Define Your Needs

A sweeping RFP won’t help your cause in this environment. A well-defined request gives venues more direction and enhances their ability to fit your group into existing business. An RFP that leaves too much guesswork will turn off potential bidders. In an improving economy, they’ve got better things to do than to do your planning for you, so present them with an RFP that is concise, simple to understand, to the point and therefore appears to be worth their time.

• Present specific needs up front instead of waiting for the hotel to tell you what’s available. Let them know the closest estimate for the number of sleeping and meeting rooms you’ll need. Think number of rooms with specific dates, Internet access needs in guest rooms versus the meeting space, AV needs, VIP ground transportation, suite upgrades, etc.

•  Frame your RFP in a way that allows the venue to be a partner in success, rather than an adversary in negotiations. It’s a seller’s market, and you no longer have the luxury of playing hardball for better deals.

Be Flexible

With that thinking in mind, remember that your list of needs should not be overly rigid. Go into negotiations expecting that you will have to make concessions at some point, and know ahead of time what you’re willing to concede before talks even begin. Do your homework and better understand the financial impact of each concession on your bottom line, versus the cost of paying for that concession. It also helps to understand what that concession might actually cost the venue. Deferred revenue is looked upon differently at a hotel than actually covering a hard cost. Defer to the old adage that of the three major event details (dates, rates and space), your client association will get two and the venue gets one.

• Remember that arrival and departure dates are good negotiating tools.

• Split room blocks (one rate for buyers vs. a slightly higher rate for sellers, for example) can help you reach an agreement that works for you and the venue while bringing down the average cost for attendees.

• Flexible multiple-year contracts can give you leverage when securing venues for immediate and upcoming events. A venue is more likely to work with you today if future business is guaranteed.

Get Creative

To achieve the right amount of flexibility while keeping your client’s needs intact, you’ll need to get creative. Show the bidding venue that you’re capable of shifting and prioritizing needs in a way that benefits both parties. This is also helpful when forced to make use of less space due to tighter budget restrictions.

• Be willing to turn rooms. If you need a meeting room for just a few hours in the morning each day, what else can you do with that space in the afternoons? Perhaps morning sessions or the general session room could be converted for meals later in the day.

• Consider consolidating individual breakout sessions into single-room larger sessions to reduce the overall number of meeting rooms. You’ll reduce the space and support services required and perhaps better fit into the venue’s schedule.

• Bring your offsite networking events back into the hotel itself. Your gathering will seem more attractive to the venue if you hand them a lucrative piece of evening business. If you’re worried about the networking event losing appeal with event attendees, try theming it. Engage the hotel into helping make it a memorable experience.

• Establish long-term arrangements within the same hotel chain with a multi-year contract. The actual location might change, but the hotel chain itself might see ongoing yearly business as very attractive.

• Co-locate with another like-minded group or association. You can share expenses and make an offering to the venue that’s more in line with your corporate competitors.

Present a Solid History

Corporate competition can be fierce during booking, so be prepared to show that you, too, are a serious contender. You must alleviate doubts right away by showing the venue that you will stand by your end of the deal. In an up economy, the venue has less to gain by taking a risk with a low-budget association, so you must demonstrate that you are able to hold up your end of the bargain.

• Assure the vendor that you’ll fill the rooms you book. Show verified examples of past bookings vs. actual filled space.

• Be able to demonstrate that your client association will have a positive impact on business. Will your convention be good for room-service orders? Gift shop sales? Will attendees actually be a boon to the local economy as well — not just the host hotel, but the city itself? What is the overall economic impact of your conference?

In the end, be prepared to fight for the best venue and desired concessions that came so much easier during the recession. Frame your argument in a way that lets the venue know that your association is still serious about filling hotel rooms, yet willing to negotiate and make concessions as needed. Now is the time to show the bidder that you know what you’re doing and establish long-term working relationships. AC&F

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