Harnessing the Power of Big Data for Hotel Negotiations

Want to drive real value on meetings and events? Then, venue sourcing is the place to start. Roughly 80 percent of a meeting's potential savings comes from the sourcing process, according to the Global Business Travel Association. Realizing much of these savings comes down to having the right data and using it wisely.

These are exciting times in the digital transformation of meetings and events, as new technologies provide access to a goldmine of data that was previously in the dark. Recent advances add spend and savings transparency to venue selection. This gives planners more clout at the bargaining table.

Here's how you can drive savings, using sourcing data in full force.

1. Get the full picture
Begin by centralizing data on meetings of all sizes across your organization. Make hotel data accessible in a single portal to all planners -- both occasional and pro -- in all departments.

Let's face it, meeting planning is a fragmented process in many companies. Travel contracts (air, car and hotel) might be owned by the finance department, while events like small regional sales meetings might be planned at the local level by administrative assistants. With information scattered across multiple departments and profit-and-loss statements, tracking spend and savings can be difficult.

Adding to the challenge, many events organized outside a central meeting department are booked offline, paid for on the company card, and classified as travel and entertainment expenses. Imagine the meetings data that gets lost through this process! You could end up negotiating brand contracts with $3 million of spend, for instance, when you could be negotiating with $5 million.

Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is this: Many planners negotiate with one hand tied behind their back, lacking the visibility to realize the full benefits of their spend.

2. Leverage your spend
So what can you do with sourcing data? Let's take a look.

Start by analyzing spend by hotel brand. For example, the data might show you have 10 meetings in the works companywide with one brand. Use this insight to go back to the brand and see if you can arrange a more advantageous, volume-based collaboration. Also create a meetings policy to leverage buying power with preferred brands. Then, stack your meetings with these hotels for additional savings.

Track food-and-beverage spend. Claiming a big chunk of the meeting budget, this expense is definitely worth documenting. Determine what your organization typically spends on F&B at each meeting. The higher your F&B spend, the greater your leverage. Use it to drive better deals.

Tap into the data for room rates, too. Be sure to check past rates your organization has paid. Also analyze rates by location and season. The reason? Hotel need to fill rooms over low-demand periods. Your flexibility just might be rewarded with stellar rates and concessions that could have a dramatic impact on meeting costs.

Optimize value with concessions. These days it can be tough to negotiate major discounts on room rates. Check the data to identify the most valuable concessions, and use them as additional bargaining chips. Instead requesting 15 percent off the room rate, for example, why not ask for 5 percent off the rate with WiFi and breakfast included? That way, you'll achieve significant savings on accommodations in a way that's more agreeable to your hotel partner.

Weigh room rates, F&B and other costs against concession savings for a comprehensive view of spend and savings. Let technology do the heavy lifting here. New solutions calculate concession values for you to reduce errors. Then they compile real-time data into dashboards offering side-by-side comparisons. So you see at a glance which venue offers the most value.

3. Mitigate risk
Planners who are decentralized can unwittingly put your organization at risk. Have a standardize process in place to monitor compliance and mitigate risk.

• Work with your company to create a core set of clauses to include in all contract negotiations.
• Meeting cancellations alone can cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Develop a canceled-meeting redemption process to rebook with those venues and recoup lost deposits.
• House all planner-related information in a single portal, where employees can red-flag suppliers that have put the company at risk.

4. Focus on what counts
No need to get overwhelmed by big data. Simply focus on your event's key performance indicators. Here are data points to consider:

• Brand spend and brand savings
• Room rates
• F&B spend
• Value of negotiated concessions
• Division/department spend on meetings/events

You don't need to centralize teams. What you need is a standardized process for capturing and leveraging data on meetings of all sizes in all departments companywide.

When you put the full power of data into hotel negotiations, you'll reduce risk. You'll create the kind of competition that brings out the best offers. And you'll drive significant savings throughout your organization.

Mike Mason is a 30-year meeting and hospitality veteran and vice president of sourcing and hospitality solutions at Etouches.