by Michael J. Shapiro | September 01, 2015
A panel discussion on "eRFP best practices" devolved into somewhat of a gripe session at the recent Global Business Travel Association convention in Orlando. Planners complained that hoteliers waste everyone's time by responding with sky-high bids. Hoteliers retorted that without any budget guidelines, they have little to go on in assessing the validity of the flood of RFPs they receive. Planners compared negotiations to a game of poker, where showing one's hand is a distinct disadvantage.

"It's ironic that the theme of this conference is sharing," noted Dan Berger, founder and CEO of meetings technology provider Social Tables in Washington, D.C. "The poker approach, while interesting, doesn't serve both sides at the end of the day. If we focused more on the success of meetings, both for the buyer and supplier, we'd have more success all around."

The theme of this year's GBTA convention was, indeed, "sharing" -- a concept mentioned frequently in any discussion of best practices for eRFPs. The more information shared, the more streamlined and effective the negotiations. That's the way it should work, at least in theory. But record hotel demand in the United States, coupled with rising rates, has planners feeling that most of the burden to share is on them.

The debate about how much detail to share certainly predates eRFP technology. "That was always a bone of contention between buyers and hoteliers," says meetings management expert Shimon Avish of Skillman, N.J.-based Shimon Avish Consulting, who spoke at the GBTA session. "What's new is the expectation that eRFP-based systems provide a magic bullet for getting this process done seamlessly and absolutely. What we're finding, now that we have years of this under our belts, is that it's not addressing some concerns both sides have, specifically around the exchange of some kinds of information."

The GBTA session was a follow-up to a white paper released earlier this summer, Improving eRFP Efficiency and Effectiveness for the Meetings Industry. The report, co-authored by the GBTA Meetings Committee and the Convention Industry Council APEX eRFP Efficiencies Workshop, addressed continuing pain points for buyers and suppliers surrounding the use of eRFP technology and the associated overload of requests.

"All sides have been learning to adapt," notes Avish. "Hoteliers have invested in lead-management software, and they've come up with 'triage' methodologies to respond to leads more efficiently. But the issues remain the same, as the number of eRFPs has gone up considerably over the years."

Hoteliers are hardly complaining about the influx of leads, and most planners appreciate the relative ease of sending eRFPs. "The process is beneficial to meeting professionals and hotels alike," acknowledges Rob Scypinski, Hilton Worldwide's senior vice president of industry relations and events for the Americas. "However, as an industry, we need to continue to evolve eRFPs to alleviate challenges and streamline the process even further."

To that end, following is advice from industry professionals and the recent white paper on the subject.

Narrow down the possibilities
When hoteliers discover that their property is but one of a long list that received an eRFP for the same event, they're less likely to invest the time in following up, leading to high-ball offers or no response at all.

"We did a benchmark analysis and found there was a correlation between the number of eRFPs issued and the prices offered," explains Shimon Avish of a study he conducted at American Express Meetings & Events. "In other words, when more eRFPs were sent, the proposals that came back were of a lesser quality and with higher rates. We believe the hoteliers felt that they didn't have much of an opportunity to respond in the best light and therefore gave rack-rate pricing."

"A lot of times it was just not worth my time to respond," says a sales manager for an independent hotel, who formerly worked for a large hotel company. In that prior position, "I was getting leads forwarded from our regional sales rep, and I could see they were going to the luxury hotels as well as the mid-tier properties. The rep didn't care which one of us got the business, as long as it was in his region. But there's no way the meeting owner is really considering both options."

Don't skimp on details
"Meeting professionals should try to record as much as possible -- even the small details -- on the electronic file," advises Hilton's Rob Scypinski, "just as they would convey at an in-person meeting. Include everything from general information about the event and the type of people attending, to the budget and the type of events you've planned in the past."

Deborah Borak, CDS, CMM, SMMC, a Denver-based global account director for ConferenceDirect, is often surprised by how little information some planners include in an eRFP. "It should be like building a house," she says. "You can't just ask for four bedrooms and a garage without explaining where everything is supposed to go. You can't just tell a hotel you need three breakouts, without giving details about the number of people and when."