5 Questions to Ask During Hotel Negotiations

5 simple questions to ask during hotel negotiations

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.

3. What if we were to sign by the end of the quarter? Hotel salespeople are paid on commission. Many have monthly, quarterly or annual sales quotas to meet. Almost all have to report sales at similar intervals. You are, therefore, more likely to be able to get additional concessions toward the end of a month, quarter or year. If negotiations have progressed and you'd like the hotel to sweeten the deal, wait until near the end of a month, quarter or year, and then ask, "What if I were to sign by the end of the month?" You might be pleasantly surprised with the results.

4. Are you aware that your competition is charging less? One of the strongest levers you have in any negotiation is your ability to take your business elsewhere. An easy, effective and nonconfrontational way to make this point is to ask, "Are you aware that your competition is charging less?" This shows that you have done your homework and indicates that you will go elsewhere if the property can't come up with a better deal.
This question is most effective when backed up by hard evidence. If you have an RFP or contract from a competing hotel, don't be afraid to provide it. The message you are sending is clear and powerful.

5. Why don't we split the difference here? You are haggling over a term with a hotel, say room rate. After a good deal of back and forth, the hotel is at $210 and you are holding firm at $190. You may be able to break the impasse and get more than 5 percent off the seller's price by asking the simple question, "Why don't we split the difference here?"

The question is effective because of its simplicity and general fairness. What could be more fair than both you and the hotel compromising equally? This question is successful 90 percent or more of the time it is used correctly.

For the best results, follow these steps: First, start off a little lower than you normally would to leave yourself some bargaining room. Second, do not use the question too quickly during the negotiation. You want to make the other party work, and plant the seed that the deal can and will fall through if the property does not accept this very fair compromise. Lastly, you need to sell the question as if it just came to you in the spirit of compromise.

Splitting the difference can and will work for you over and over again.


Steven Babitsky and James J. Mangraviti Jr
Steven Babitsky (left) and James J. Mangraviti, Jr., are principals of SEAK Inc., experienced meeting planners, attorneys, negotiation consultants and the co-authors of Never Lose Again: Become a Top Negotiator by Asking the Right Questions (St. Martins Press, 2011).