Coppola: We’re most successful when we put ourselves in the hotel’s shoes. If I have a meeting that’s very space intensive but doesn’t have a lot of room nights, I acknowledge that I don’t have as much purchasing power and leverage. But when we’re using a lot of space along with a lot of sleeping rooms, I really try to go hard on the negotiations.
Woodin: When the hotel declines your RFP, pick up the phone and have the conversation and ask them why. Many of them don’t want to tell you the real reason for declining your meeting because they’re afraid they’re going to hurt your feelings, but you really have to have that conversation of “How do we make this work? What do I need to change about my program? What do we need to do with our rooms-to-space ratio for you to consider my RFP?” Have the hotel figure that out with their team and come back to you with what those options are. Sometimes, all I had to do was use my general session as one of my breakouts and use my office also as storage and I would have gotten a “yes.” It’s really about getting creative in working with the properties, especially for the larger meetings.
RELYING ON RELATIONSHIPS
Coppola: Sometimes budget and contracting is a bit out of the planner’s control, and so having a relationship with those hoteliers and those sales teams can really help navigate that uncertainty.
Dougherty: I believe that relationship is everything, and we make a point of getting to know our global sales managers. We schedule appointments with them and try to meet with them face to face. When we find out we have a new global sales manager, we contact them, let them know who their primary contact is, and make sure they’ve been brought up to date on our business. So when we start to work on a potential meeting, they have all the info they need to help us negotiate the best possible rate. And when I attend conferences such as IMEX America I make a point to connect with all my global hotel sales managers. You may only have 20 minutes to talk with them, but that’s a great 20 minutes that you can spend to help you do your job better and help them as well.
UNDERSTANDING THE HOTEL’S BUSINESS
Woodin: The hotel is not trying to take advantage of planners because demand is up; rather, demand is up so they need to drive their rates. When demand is down, they have to give the house away, like in ‘08 and ‘09. And the higher rates allow them to maintain staffing levels, and renovate and take care of the hotel that the planner is buying.