Hotels are making unprecedented concessions these days, including no-attrition guarantees. But what if you negotiated your contract before the market turned to the buyer’s favor? If you’re facing attrition now, is it too late to get in on a deal?

That’s what an attendee asked panelists at a session at NEMICE, the annual conference sponsored by the New England chapter of Meeting Professionals International, which was held at the Seaport Hotel and Seaport World Trade Center in Boston last week.

Panelist Marianna Accomando, vice president of sales, Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center, said that if you want to receive, it helps to give a little. “If you want to get rid of half your rooms, will you give back half your meeting space?” she asked. “Staff rooms, comps—these all erode the rate. Look at what you can give up that’s a gain for the hotel.”

Moderator Karen King, CMP, CMM, principal, Meeting Strategists LLC, added that she did just that for a client meeting coming up in June. “I gave back space when [the hotel] took back some of our rooms,” she said.

If you end up facing attrition anyway, all is not necessarily lost. One panelist said that some planners she’s working with are asking for the hotel to donate their groups’ attrition fees to charity. “We’re open to working with them on that,” she said.

One hotelier in the audience pointed out that, in this economy, “some hotels are desperate and offering things that they won’t be when things get better. What some hotels are giving up now is not realistic or sustainable moving forward.” Panelists cautioned planners that great deals they negotiate now could turn around and bite them when their clients and attendees expect the same levels of concessions in future contracts.

King suggested that you let everyone know that “the only reason you’re getting those concessions now is because of what’s going on, and it won’t last.”

Beautifying those Ugly Babies
The panel also addressed what to do with meetings that are hard to place, even in today’s market. These so-called “ugly babies” may have a sad meeting space–to-rooms ratio, fall during a city’s busiest time of year, or otherwise not fit in. That’s when you need to know what makes your meeting a good piece of business.

Here are some suggestions from the panel:

  • Be flexible in your date pattern, both in terms of seasonality and days of the week. “Day of arrival has turned into the single biggest criterion for us right now. Knowing that transient travel is heavy on Tuesday and Wednesday, if you can come in on a Sunday or Monday, that will give you negotiating power,” said Accomando. “I can’t stress that enough.”
  • Look at the overall picture, not just the rates and dates. What are your food-and-beverage minimums? Do you have a lot of technology needs that will entail using the in-house IT folks?
  • Know what your hotel’s revenue drivers are. If your hotel gets revenue from the garage, know your drive-in attendee numbers.
  • If you have meals planned off-property, can you bring them in-house?
  • The closer in you are to the meeting date, the more likely your hotel is to work with you.
  • Multiyear contracts can be enticing to many properties, but resorts, which are hurting more than other hotels right now due to unflattering media attention, might feel differently. As one audience member said, “We wouldn’t be able to do a multiyear contract because the deals we’re offering now I sure hope we won’t be offering in the future!”
  • Know what your attendees spend outside of your official functions. Ask the hotel in advance to calculate what your ancillary spend will be, advised Accomando. “Also, ask for daily reports in your contracts.”
  • Panelists also included Florent Fougerouse, CMP, hotel sales manager, Mohegan Sun; Stephanie Grey, CMP, a meeting professional with Sepracor; and Lety Pirronello, director of revenue management, Intercontinental Boston Hotel.