June 02, 2015

If it's your job to plan meetings and events, you're facing one of the toughest negotiating environments we've seen in some time. Hotel supply is tight, and rates in key markets are up. Finding a bargain can be tough.

Unless you're a smart shopper.

Two smart-shopper tactics that savvy meeting professionals are putting to work are to buy early and buy in bulk. They're finding that booking multiple meetings with one hotel chain can be a huge boon -- and in more ways than one.

For starters, there's the costs savings. Planners who take advantage of multiple meetings programs like the Starwood Convention Collection can lock in rates now for meetings five years in the future.

In the current rising-price environment that's a big plus. 

"Demand for hotels will continue to increase, often outpacing supply, so hotel rates may continue to increase for the next three to five years," predicts Kevin Shelledy, associate director of sales, group, North America, for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. 

The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa, Palm Springs

Booking multiple meetings with one hotel vendor can yield a number of other advantages, including: 

Bargaining power. The further out you plan and the more volume you bring, the greater your negotiating clout. In the meetings biz, this can result in more value-added concessions for your event.

Ease and convenience. Working with one hotel vendor is simply a more efficient use of your time. Just one round of contract negotiations and you're done with RFPs for the next three to five years. What's not to love about that?

Member status. By partnering with one hotel company you gain the improved service and recognition that comes with being a repeat customer. As the hotel company gets to know your organization and its needs, the planning process is streamlined and the outcomes enhanced.

The Starwood Convention Collection is a multiple-meetings program that was designed to deliver on such promises.

Comprising an elite group of more than 27 Westin and Sheraton hotels in top North American destinations, together with hotels in 26 cities across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the Starwood Convention Collection makes it easy -- and rewarding -- to book multiple meetings at one or more venues years in advance. 

The guidelines are simple. Planners need only book two or more meetings of at least 50 rooms or more each to experience the efficiencies provided by the Starwood Convention Collection, including: a single point of contact, one contract template and online planning tools.

The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square

Starwood's flexible approach to multiple meetings sets it apart, says Shelledy. "We strike a balance between having set concessions that are offered by all Starwood Convention Collection properties and empowering our sales staffs to find the best solution for individual customers."

Planners appreciate other benefits of the Starwood Convention Collection too, for instance: 

➢ Generous room revenue credits back to the master account. 

➢ In North America, groups receive complimentary in-room high-speed Internet access and discounted meeting space Internet access. 

➢ Planners in Starwood's SPG® Pro program earn more Starpoints® than through any other Starwood program.

Sheraton Boston Hotel

In North America, a Starwood convention services manager works closely with multiple-meetings clients, introducing them to senior catering and convention services staff; compiling paperwork and historical data and sharing it across hotels, and fulfilling specific needs, such as attrition allowances and room block reviews.

Across all its properties, Starwood's Meeting Service Standards ensure consistency in on-site protocols and procedures, paperwork and communications.

Once planners get a taste of multiple-booking programs like the Starwood Convention Collection they tend to become loyal fans, Shelledy says. "Meeting planners who have realized the benefits, both operationally and financially, of booking multiple meetings would never return to booking one meeting at a time."