What's the Difference? Listen to what Jim Whitman has to say on the subject of resort negotiations. Whitman is senior vice president, associate member programs, for the National Association of Chain Drugstores in Alexandria, Va.:

"If a resort has a particular group room rate and we say we'd like to talk something less than that, generally the response is no. Then I'll say, 'Let me tell you about the profile of our people. We've got an audience that includes the chairman, CEO, and president, and we've got heavy spouse involvement. These are people who take advantage of all the services. When you total it all up, your net is going to be higher than for an FIT who doesn't use any other services.' "

Whitman's point is this: You have to look at what the meeting means to the hotel in terms of the number of room nights, rates, room service, private parties, other official functions, breakfast, luncheons, and dinners.

While that advice holds true for any gathering, when planning a resort function, meeting executives are wise to gather more in-depth knowledge about attendees, including their leisure preferences and spending habits at previous gatherings. "You need to know all the aspects of how your members are going to use the facility, from the spa and restaurants to numbers of suites," Whitman counsels.

Because resorts offer more services and facilities than downtown properties, meeting professionals will find themselves negotiating for a broader range of services. A prominent example is golf. "If your group is big on golf, you want to secure tee times and identify a tournament day. If that can be put up front in the contract, that's a bonus to you," advises Kathy Kaskiw, president-elect of the Insurance Conference Planners Association, which will hold its annual meeting this November at the Westin Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

"You can also negotiate the greens fees and put that in your contract. Those are the big-ticket items," she adds. Resorts will even negotiate fees, tee times, and tournament dates with off-property courses in the area for meeting groups, giving planners one less detail to worry about. Use of spa facilities and services is another "extra" that planners may want to negotiate into a contract at a resort meeting, Kaskiw suggests. And meeting professionals should not overlook off-season or shoulder-season at a resort when scheduling events. The rates are usually considerably lower then, and that can translate into big savings.

"Because the seasonality of resorts is more pronounced [than at a city hotel], you can hit the edge of shoulder season and take advantage of rate differentials more than you would at a city location," Kaskiw notes. "If you're looking at a very hot place for the off season, you can take advantage of unbelievable rates."

One way to make that work, Kaskiw adds, is "by flipping your meeting program; you can have golf and activities in the morning, then do afternoon meetings so you're in air conditioning." Doing so not only gives planners an advantage on room rates but on golf rates as well.

Patricia Laws, executive director of the West Coast Dental Association in Tampa, Fla., says she negotiates for lower rates for children's programs at her organization's summer meeting, which draws high family attendance.

Laws says planners may find they have more bargaining power with a resort than with a large downtown facility or convention center. "Many times, their regulations and rules and amenities are pretty established in written policy because they are tied into local government or councils," she says of city facilities. "Resorts are willing to work with you a little bit more."

That's true not only in the negotiating stage but in the event planning stage as well. Laws says she has been particularly impressed with the resort staffs she has worked with, and she advises other association executives to take advantage of their expertise. "Resort staffs tend to be very creative in helping you fine-tune your program. Listen to them. They almost always can give you some ideas you may not have thought of."