Adding Muscle to Your Negotiations

How to use history -- and flexibility -- when working with hotels

• Switch dates. If your preferred hotel is booked or rates are sky-high, consider changing the date. Even shifting dates by a day can make a difference.

• Share history. Historical stats can help secure room blocks at busy properties. Include F&B consumption and spending history for all on-site outlets.

• Reassess room requirements. Don't assume your meeting room needs will be the same as last year's. Carefully evaluate what you will require for this specific event.

The size and/or clout of a group aren't the only factors hoteliers look at when evaluating potential business opportunities. They also look at the  "muscle" -- the overall history of a group event.

Following are tips on how to flex your group's muscle in four key areas -- dates, room block, meeting space and F&B -- to help you secure the best hotel deals in today's tight and highly competitive market.

Rethink Timing 
If your event date falls in the lull between Christmas and New Year's Day, your business might be very attractive to a meeting property. However, if you are heading to Boston in the busy month of October, you might be competing with other groups for the space, as well as paying top dollar.  

To secure the best rates and help your event stand out from the competition in high season, share your group's history with the property. If the rate a hotel offers is still too high, speak with your key stakeholders to identify any date flexibility. Sometimes, even a minor shift of a day or two can make an impact.

Build a Room Block 
If you know the multiyear history of your group and can demonstrate a consistent trend of pick-up data (how many attendees booked through the block), then your group will have muscle in securing a room block at your preferred hotel(s). Even if you agree to various performance clauses, rest assured everyone at the hotel wants occupied rooms first and foremost.

Revisit Meeting Space 
Many planners base their requests for meeting space on what they used the previous year. While such space history is important, bear in mind that event themes and content, as well as attendee interests and behaviors, can vary from year to year and prove mitigating factors in a hotel contract.

It's a good practice to conduct attendee audits, asking questions such as what sessions participants plan to attend, and factor in the findings with the meeting theme before requesting space.

Another way to be space savvy is by letting the hotel know which spaces are "desired" vs. "mandatory." This distinction can make a significant impact on the hotel's ability to meet your actual space needs.

Count F&B Spending 
Food and beverage can be a key profit center for properties, depending on your group's patterns. Understanding attendee habits (for example, less than half show up for breakfast) and outlet spending history (what they typically spend in the hotel coffee shop, restaurants and bar) can significantly influence contract negotiations with a property. Be sure to share historical data on all F&B spend  -- including your group's banquets and receptions -- before signing on the dotted line.

Andy Smith is senior vice president, Experient Sales Network, for Twinsburg, Ohio-based Experient, a provider of meeting and event solutions.