by Steven Babitsky and James J. Mangraviti, Jr. | May 01, 2011

Many meeting planners dread negotiating with hotels. They dislike the confrontation. They don't like the games and posturing. It's unpleasant and uncomfortable, but it's an important part of what planners need to do -- and do well.

The good news: To immediately improve your negotiating skills, all you need to do is ask the right questions. By asking simple, polite, low-key questions, you will ease the stress of the situation and get a better deal for your organization. Following are five effective talking points that will yield results.

1. How much flexibility do you have in the rate? Negotiating success often is a function of not just what you ask, but how you ask it. Asking how much flexibility implies that you expect there to be flexibility. If your sales contact says "none," you're likely to walk away from the deal.

This question is far more effective than asking, "Do you have flexibility in the rate?," since this wording implies that the answer could reasonably be "no."

Try this question out the next few times you are negotiating with a hotel. You will be shocked at how easy and effective it is. You will be equally shocked at how rarely the answer is "none." The typical answer is "some," and then you have an opening to get a better deal.  

Note: This same question also can be asked in regard to issues other than rate, such as attrition, staff rooms, F&B, etc.

2. Are you interested in building a long-term relationship? The bigger you are as a client, the more interest the hotel will have in landing your business. The more interested the hotel is, the better the deal you'll be able to negotiate. An effective way to demonstrate that you represent a valuable chunk of business is to discuss the possibility of future deals.

When you ask, "Are you interested in building a long-term relationship?," the answer invariably will be "yes." Then you can explain that you love to use the same properties over and over again -- if you can get your needed terms. Go into detail about all the future business and programs you are in a position to steer to the hotel. If applicable, provide hard evidence, such as your web page or past brochures demonstrating that you have used the same property repeatedly in the past.

Repeat business is a win-win. The hotel gets a steady client, and you save time on site selection and negotiation.