An argument can be made that the most important job of a religious meeting planner is negotiating contracts. To negotiate well, keep these strategies in mind.

Get the Most for Your Money

  • Know the value of your business. Keep a detailed history of all your events.

  • Research your suppliers. Is there competition? How busy is the market? Are you in high-, low-, or midseason? What is the reputation of the supplier? How many years has the company been in business? Find out what the supplier is willing to provide as “extras.” This will add value to you, but may cost little in money, effort, or time to the supplier.

  • Research a hotel's rack rates and corporate rates by calling the 800 or reservations number of the property or chain. This way you'll know the “worst case” pricing and be prepared.

  • Always give conservative room blocks. If you are blocking too many rooms, it will create a bad meeting history that will haunt you in future negotiations.

  • Especially important for religious organizations whose attendees tend to double or triple up is calculating the total number of room nights attendees will use: If your 29,000 people are using 7,000 rooms for three nights, that's 21,000 room nights, a powerful number for negotiations.

  • Booking multiyear deals and booking far out can help get your meeting a fair deal.

  • After the meeting is over, ask for the hotel's history of your meeting. Make sure that this information is accurate, because it will serve as the references for your future meeting suppliers.



Get Specific: Contracts and Attrition

  • Make sure your contract includes a clause stating that you are not liable for attrition on room block shortages if the hotel is able to resell the rooms to someone else. Attrition clauses should not:

    • Contain multiple performance clauses. (A group shouldn't have to pay for rooms it reserved but didn't use — and pay more for meeting space because it failed to fill its room block).

    • Call for attrition fees to include the room tax.

    • Require fees to be paid before the meeting is over.

  • Include a liquidated damage provision that will protect you in case the event is canceled.

  • Get all the charges listed in writing up front, then add a “no additional charges” clause. These charges may include:

    • How taxes apply

    • Tips and service charges

    • Labor charges (including minimum hours and minimum rates)

    • Move-in/move-out charges, setup charges

    • Microphones, electricity, and phone hookups

    • Risers

    • Tables, chairs, couches, and linen charges

    • Easels

    • Signage, displays

    • Cleanup and trash removal

    • Ventilation and lighting

    • Water for meeting rooms

    • Linens on session-room tables

    • Reset for a catering function

    • Rigging in session hallways and general session areas

  • Make sure that the cancellation, slippage, and attrition clauses are calculated by an objective, explicit, and understandable formula. For example, if a hotel charges an F&B slippage fee of 100 percent of each per-person plate, citing “lost profit,” you can negotiate them down, because there isn't a $24 per-person profit on a $24 per-person meal.

  • Negotiate the sliding scale rates.

  • Negotiate no deposit. Or at least negotiate that the deposit will be placed in an interest-bearing account.



Convention Center Contracts

  • When dealing with convention centers, watch out for “exclusives” that can add up:

    • A requirement that the organization hire a center's contracted paramedic team instead of hiring one paramedic on their own. This can triple the cost of service.

    • Sound systems and labor charges

    • Document copying charges

    • Attendee shipping, and cellphone and computer rentals

    • Security

    • Chair rentals



Bargaining Power

  • Use leverage. Have several supplier options, and never let the supplier think it is the only one you are considering.

  • Develop long-term relationships with your suppliers.

  • Prepare a very detailed request for proposal. Make the supplier salivate. Make them want your business. Communicate the value of your meeting.

  • Ask for everything and anything that you want right up front, including:

    • Airport transfers

    • Check-in time

    • Check-out time

    • Complimentary coffee and tea in the room

    • Comp meeting space, comp rehearsal space, comp setup/take-down

    • Continental breakfast in the room

    • Extended stay rates

    • Free local calls

    • Free office space

    • Free or reduced parking for VIPs and staff

    • Health club access or aerobics instructor for health break

    • Late cut-off date

    • Overset for food guarantees

    • Reduced speaker room rates

    • Reduced staff room rates

    • Same rate after cut-off date

    • Upgrades for VIPs and staff

    • Welcome gift and notes

  • Add a clause in the hotel contract that you will not pay the final invoice until you receive a detailed post-convention evaluation from the property. Use the standard Convention Industry Council post-con evaluation form.

  • Build in a “protect yourself” clause. Make sure that the cancellation clause is reciprocal. What if the hotel does major disruptive renovations? Unions? Change in management?

  • Hotels are more willing to negotiate if you use a proportional amount of rooms and meeting space. They also are more willing to give if you can build up their F&B totals with on-site meals and functions.

  • Never sign a contract unless you agree with it in its entirety. Cross out or edit clauses that you do not agree with, initial it, and get the supplier to initial his or her agreement to it. A contract is not binding unless both parties agree.

  • Be flexible with your arrival and departure patterns. Can your meeting be moved from a Tuesday-Thursday to a Saturday-Monday? Find out what the hotel's meeting patterns are. Work with them so that you are not competing for meeting space. This will give you a buyer's edge.

  • While it seems as if there is less and less of a low season, try to schedule meetings in the less busy time of year.

  • Get every detail in writing. Even though verbal contracts are legally binding, it will come down to your word against theirs. The more details you have in writing, the better.

  • Understand the contract. Never sign something that you don't fully understand. If you don't understand it, chances are, neither did the other party.

  • Specify the dates and times in the contract: say, “The cut-off date for bedroom reservations is Saturday, June 26, 2004, at 5 p.m.” instead of “The cut-off date is 30 days prior to the meeting.”

  • Read every word in the contract. It is amazing how many people don't read the whole contract before signing it.

  • Get legal advice before signing.

  • Lock in the menu prices. If the hotel will not provide a specific menu several years in advance, at least agree that the menu prices will not increase more than a fixed percent per year.

  • Pay attention to cut-off dates. Keep in regular contact with suppliers even after the contract is signed. And watch the business climate in that city/region.

  • Sign a multiple-meeting contract that guarantees a percentage off the rack rate at each hotel. But keep good bedroom pick-up records, and always compare the prices with other vendors prior to selecting the supplier.

  • Use your complimentary rooms. Cash them in for suites first, which are more valuable. Make sure it is based on cumulative nights, not calculated per night.

  • Double up the delegates. Provide the option of paying the price difference out of pocket for a single room.