by By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | July 01, 2006

Brand loyalty, volume business and long-term planning are the keys to savings in a seller’s market. Do you want volume discounts? More protection against attrition? Better meeting rooms/space? Better contracts? Consolidate your buying power.
    The people who can help you obtain these goals are the hotel chains’ national sales managers. Get to know these professionals, and share with them your strategic plans for events that will be held over the next few years.
    Following are some other smart strategies to employ.

Chat up the chef
Trim the food bill by working directly with the chef and the convention services manager. They can ensure your group gets the highest quality food at the lowest price by letting you know what the kitchen is ordering that week (so you can take advantage of the bulk-buying savings), what is in season, and what is easy to prepare and requires minimal kitchen labor.

Pursue partnerships
If possible, find out whether other groups are meeting at the same time. Your convention services manager can help facilitate communication between you and planners for the other organizations. Among the elements you might be able to share with other in-house groups are flowers, decorations and basic signage.
    Other ways to save: Agree on the same room setups to avoid another labor fee; share a staff office, along with its Internet connection and computer rentals. Too close for comfort? Work with sister companies or clients to co-locate meetings and keep the savings in the family.

Stay flexible
When properties calculate their room/space ratios, thereby optimizing their profits, your group criteria might fall short -- and you might get factored out of the deal. Keep in mind that such ratios can be seasonal and can vary by property type. For example, a resort looking to grow its group business might value your meeting more than a convention hotel would. If your meeting dates allow a degree of leeway, consider working with hotels to fill holes in their calendars for a better deal.

Develop a resume
Treat your spec list (rundown of meeting requirements) as a resume: The better prepared and more detailed your spec list, the more likely your group will be “hired” by the hotel at the rate you are prepared to pay.
    Add some bulleted points that underscore the value of your group. For example: “User group attendance will include 100 prospective marketing event decision makers,” or “Our group has history staying on site and using venue outlets, with guests typically spending $170 per day on food, beverages, spa treatments and golf.” Such details are bound to make a stronger case with the property.

Be honest
Sure, common wisdom is to keep your bottom-line budget a secret during negotiations. But there are a few instances where revealing all can work to your advantage. Have a realistic budget based on what things should cost, and do your part to foster a sincere, mutually trusting relationship with your sales contact at the property.
    If these points are satisfied, you can indeed say, “Look, I have XX dollars per person. How can we allocate this amount at your facility so we put on the best event and so that we both shine?”

Document savings
Finally, share with top management/clients the savings they can expect by using these methodologies. Documenting savings not only will demonstrate your negotiating savvy, it will highlight your flexibility and ingenuity.