. Where the Bargains Are | Meetings & Conventions

Where the Bargains Are

Make wise investments for future events while it's still a buyers' market

Since last fall, hotels -- particularly those in the luxury, five-star category -- have dropped their prices. Planners are taking advantage of the buyers' market for accommodations, but hotels aren't the only suppliers offering deep discounts these days.

Many meeting and event vendors -- even some you likely haven't thought of, like web designers -- have slashed prices in response to the recession. Following are tips on where to find these amazing savings.

Cut Travel Fees
Every event has some type of travel cost associated with its budget, whether for attendees, speakers, VIPs, entertainers or staff. Airfares, car rental rates and car services are discounting their services; expect to save as much as 30 percent on transportation.

But to take advantage, you probably will need to negotiate with your travel department and/or contracted airline partners to circumvent and/or tweak your existing travel policies.

Loyalty is a good thing, and honoring contracts is essential, but most agreements can  and should be significantly renegotiated during a downturn. The good news is that your travel partners likely will be amenable to drawing up new terms if it means an uptick in business.
Stock the Office
Everyday office and meeting essentials such as paper, printers, computers and phones are priced aggressively now, especially if you can buy in bulk (e.g., by estimating your paper usage for the year and buying it all at once, you will save 20 percent or more).

If storage is a deterrent, leverage your vendors' warehouses and have the items delivered in intervals. Note: Make sure your vendor is economically stable before you set up this arrangement.

Spend On Extras

Now is the time to engage that high-end agency to procure specialty services like website design/redesign, advertising, video, brand design and interior décor. The shift in supply and demand has created unprecedented opportunities to work with firms that previously were priced out of reach.

Stretch A/V Dollars
Audiovisual services and equipment rental typically are big line items in an event budget. A/V firms are more willing to negotiate the rental price of equipment they own outright, because they can rent it to you and still make a healthy profit.

If you can be flexible about equipment and can work with slightly older (but still adequate) models and/or technology, you can cut as much as 20 percent off your invoice.

Trim F&B Costs
Like A/V services and rentals, food and beverage can eat up a large chunk of your budget, especially if your meals and breaks are not offset with sponsorship. The price of food is high because of its perishable nature, and it is difficult to negotiate because the margin for F&B (with the exception of alcohol) is narrower than other areas, such as meeting space and sleeping rooms.

But crazy times call for some drastic cuts, and hotels might be willing to take a percent off the top of pricing from previous years' menus and/or significantly drop your F&B minimums.

Private caterers, who have more flexibility with their profit-and-loss models, typically will offer greater discounts -- as much as 20 percent off listed prices -- if you book them for multiple events.

The use of bars and premium liquor should be negotiated separately. If you keep things simple -- for example, by offering one signature cocktail or just beer and wine (perhaps making it a wine tasting) for attendees -- it's much easier to negotiate discounts.