Making Your Best Hotel Deal

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Whether your organization is about to hold its first air show or you’ve been organizing a show for ten years, problems and details related to hotel sleeping rooms can sometimes be the nightmare that keeps you up at night.

Hotel issues shouldn’t present you with that kind of distraction..  How can you focus your time and energy on the critical issues related to running your event when you’re constantly interrupted by performers asking about internet service in their hotel room or military performers whose names don’t appear on the front desk’s reservation list?

Often times, the time you invest months before your show can minimize problems and complications at show time and even help save you money.

Here are a few tips from veterans in the meeting planning business.

Gather the facts before you contact your hoteliers. Discussions with prospective host hotels are not one of those things that can be done piece-meal over several days or weeks. Your hotel representatives will be in a much better position to help you if you come to them with the full picture. When is your show? Beyond hotel sleeping rooms, will you be holding meal functions or other meetings at the hotel? Do you have a history (two years or more is ideal) of sleeping room requirements on specific nights before, during and after the show that you can provide? What other events are going on in your area that may impact the demand on hotel sleeping rooms in your city? How close are these properties to the airport? What’s your budget? What type of hotel are your guests expecting? (You can use a Ritz-Carlton or you can use an EconoLodge, but you can’t get Ritz-Carlton rooms and service at EconoLodge prices.)

It is best to assemble a comprehensive “wish list” right at the beginning. This provides everybody with a clear and steady target. Hotel negotiations become much more complicated and, ultimately, less successful if your initial requests are subsequently changed or if you ask for additional concessions late in the process. And, of course, the hotel’s latitude in offering concessions increases in direct proportion to the number of rooms you reserve. That is, an air show that reserves 500 room nights each year will be in a much better position to receive significant concessions than a show that only reserves 100 room nights.

Common concessions include:

  • one complimentary room night for every fifty room nights that you or your guests pay for;
  • guaranteed military/government rate rooms; and
  • a discounted room rate in return for reserving a block of rooms.

Additional items that you should consider negotiating for in your contract:

  • upgrades to nicer/larger rooms for some number of the rooms that you reserve;
  • complimentary hospitality room;
  • complimentary meeting room;
  • complimentary or discounted breakfast for your entire group;
  • complimentary parking;
  • complimentary health club access;
  • free or discounted internet access;
  • a complimentary room for every 40 hotel sleeping rooms reserved rather than the standard one-per-50 rate;
  • discounted or complimentary staff rates (number based on total room nights, usually ask for one per every 25 rooms booked); and
  • re-sell clause in your contract that allows you to avoid penalties if the hotel is able to re-sell re-sell rooms that you reserved, but did not use.

One important point of negotiation is a room reservation cut-off date that is as close to your show as possible. Typically, hotels establish a cut-off date of thirty days prior to arrival, but this is a negotiable item. Aim for a cut-off date that is fourteen or even seven days prior to your event. Most hotels will agree to a twenty-one day cut-off date without much prodding, but this is something that you have to tell them right from the start. Extending your cut-off date is an excellent way to “buy” you time to fill the rooms you’ve contracted for.

Your hotel contract will have a clause on attrition. Generally, attrition is the number of rooms you DO NOT use, but which you are obligated under the terms of the contract to use. Attrition policies vary widely from hotel to hotel and even within a hotel. Attrition terms are negotiable and a frequent source of tension between a hotel and a group reserving a block of rooms.

From their perspective, the hotel has surrendered the right to sell a certain portion of its rooms when it signs a contract with you. If your contract says that you have reserved 100 sleeping room nights, but you only use 99, you won’t usually be subject to attrition penalties. But if you reserve 100 sleeping room nights and only use 50, the attrition clause will kick in and your organization will be subject to financial penalties. THESE PENALTIES CAN BE SUBSTANTIAL.

Carefully read this part of the contract and do not sign the contract until you understand what the attrition clause means and have determined that your organization can pay the penalty if things don’t go as planned.

Finally, be prepared to negotiate. The initial proposal you receive from a hotel will typically have some room for further concessions, price discounts and improved contractual terms. You might use the initial proposal to identify the two or three hotels that best suit your needs and budget.  Final negotiations can then be focused on those “finalists.”

Always remember that negotiating with an hotelier or any vendor should be a win-win proposition. You want to walk away feeling like you’ve helped meet your show’s objectives, but the hotel needs to make some profit or the arrangement will not be sustainable.

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Mary Quigg
Mary Quigg is a professional meeting planner and former full-time member of the ICAS staff.