All You Still Need to Know About RFPs but Were Afraid to AskJanuary 1, 2014

January 1, 2014

All You Still Need to Know About RFPs but Were Afraid to Ask

CIT-2014-01Jan-Column2-860x418Lombardo,Terry-TMLServices-147x147Terry Matthews-Lombardo, CMP, is a case study in industry longevity, having held jobs on both the supplier and planner sides since graduating “a very long time ago” with a degree in hotel management. Terry has learned a lot during a lifetime of planning meetings and events in more than 40 countries around the globe, and says that contrary to popular opinion you mostly really do sweat the small stuff in this industry. Working out of Orlando, FL, as an independent trip director, meeting manager and freelance industry writer, she continues to attempt to solve world problems (or at least industry challenges) from one hotel lobby bar to the next. She can be reached at TML Services at

So, you think this topic has already been beaten to death? Well, think again because I’m here to tell you that both planners and suppliers have more to learn on this subject!

A few months ago, I participated as a panelist on a SPIN (Senior Planners Industry Network, webinar covering this very theme, and even I had some aha! moments (Did I mention before that I’ve got — ahem — 30+ years in this industry? Well there now, I’ve said it).

We mostly (sadly) learned that there are still many planners out there who need some education, or at least a refresher course, as to some important points in the RFP process, and also that suppliers could learn a thing or two by listening (maybe they should be asking us?) to what we want to see coming back from them. Here are some highlights from this panel discussion.

Advice for Planners — From Suppliers

Narrow your search. And stop sending RFPs to 100 properties, when you’re pretty certain that only five will qualify. In other words, do your homework first. This applies even when you’re using a search engine to do the sending. Hotels tell us they are inundated with RFPs, many of which don’t even fit their properties to begin with, so why are you sending it out to so many?

“Even in the RFP phase, planners need the bottom line — and the whole truth and nothing but the truth. ”

Be honest. If you must research far and wide, at least be honest with those properties that you’re approaching. Tell them this is the first pass at the city or property and/or at this time you’re sending it out to other cities or regions. This is especially important if you’re sending your RFP to a property within a national chain that is represented in multiple cities receiving your proposal. They talk to each other, okay? This is also why they have regional reps to source things on multiple levels. So, on that first pass with your research if all you need is date availability, approximate rates and meeting space options tell them that!

Why waste the hotel’s time and yours on all that other information you include in a full proposal when the first big questions are “can we afford this city” and “do they have the dates and type of space that would work for us?”

Forget form letters. If you send a form letter to whom it may concern in the sales department with no personal contact mentioned, then it’s quite possible you will just get a form proposal back. A better method is to find the name of the appropriate salesperson or office assistant (be patient, eventually someone will answer the phone!) address your proposal directly to that person and either leave a voice mail message (yes, some people still use telephones) or send an email alerting them to the imminent arrival of your RFP. Make sure you also leave the best way for them to return the information to you, and specify the need-by date.

Tip: If you tell them not to personally contact you, it’s quite possible they will follow your instructions and not answer your proposal.

Bonus tip: If you really don’t want to talk to people then perhaps you should reconsider working in our service-oriented industry. Just sayin’.

Be specific about dates. When it comes to dates, always list your preferred ones as well as any possible alternatives, assuming there are some. If you are locked in to one date only with no possibility of options, then clearly say that. No hotel wants to spin their wheels bidding on optional dates if you are not in a position to consider them. Enough said.

Advice for Suppliers — From Planners

Full disclosure. Planners are only reading the first one to two pages of your responses, so make those count! Answer the questions you’ve been asked, please. Get to the point and, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s usually about dates, rates and space. After that, if you’re in the running there will be time to dig deeper into contract issues and all those other details. One planner went so far as to say that rather than be totally ignored she’d prefer to get a quick email from the salesperson saying, “We’re swamped, but can have full information to you by end of week. Meanwhile, I did a quick internal check, and we do have the dates and space available, so please stay tuned for full proposal to follow!” This honest approach gives the planner some idea of the hotel’s position and expressed interest. It also gives the planner something to say to the boss when asked “Why the heck don’t we have an answer yet?”

Be honest about rates. And tell it like it is. Planners not only need room rates but also applicable taxes, service charges, resort fees, parking fees, occupancy fees, Wi-Fi charges, recycling/walking-though-our-lobby fees (don’t laugh — hotels are learning from the airlines) and all those other creative add-on fees that make that initial attractive room rate (remember the one you put in bold letters on the first page?) over the top and out of the expressed price range. Even in the RFP phase, planners need the bottom line — and the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Just remember that planners respect honesty, and by the way, especially like answers quickly, too.

Stick to the facts. Make sure that if you send attachments they are meaningful and not just stuff clogging the airwaves. If the proposal has specified two lunches, one reception and dinner in our program, we do not need to see all 125 pages of your creative set menus including the 30+ pages of the breakfast spreads and wedding receptions. Continuing on this subject, please understand that referring us to your website for further details usually doesn’t cut it. Your websites are designed for general, transient travelers and rarely do they show good pictures of your meeting spaces. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at your property’s website and see if it answers questions that planners are asking in their RFPs such as “Are there pillars in the main ballroom?” “Is the walkway to the conference center under cover?” “Is there a pre-set boardroom with executive amenities available for my VIPs?” You’d be surprised at how many hotel websites don’t even give an actual address, direct phone number (not an 800 reservation one) or even reference how far it is to the airport, let alone whether or not shuttle service is provided. If you want to do the planning community a favor, enhance your websites by taking a look at the questions event organizers are asking in their proposals.

How can your proposal stand out among all others? The answer is simply to respond like you mean it. Be genuine, answer the questions on a more personal level, and do some research on the proposed group. Creativity is appreciated, but honesty and promptness rank even higher. In fact, if you’re late in responding and haven’t advised us that it’s coming, then you might already be out of the running. Planners would rather hear something from you than nothing at all for the next two weeks. But if all of a sudden you send a big wonderful proposal you may find out that we’ve eliminated your city from the running due to lack of credible responses and interest from your region. End of story. C&IT

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