Finding good deals on hotel rooms and meeting space is more difficult in a seller's market, but it's not impossible. It starts with knowing the value of your business, says Bonnie Wallsh, chief strategist, Bonnie Wallsh Associates, Charlotte, N.C.
In a seller's market, “hotels can be more selective in what business they bring to the property,” she says. “They are no longer going to just reach out and say, ‘We'll do business with you.’ You have to sell your piece of business to a facility.” Selling your business means knowing your meeting history, particularly the amount of revenue the group generates for a hotel, and leveraging that knowledge in negotiations. She recommends having attendees charge expenses to their hotel account so it's easier to track the money spent.
When it comes to selecting a site, planners should prioritize among three key criteria: rates, dates, and space. “Pick two of the three,” she says. “Decide which of the two are most important, and be flexible on the third.” Flexibility, she states, is critical when looking for discounts in a seller's market.
As far as dates are concerned, Wallsh says that better rates can be had during “value” or off-seasons, shoulder seasons, holidays, and certain days of the week, depending on the destination. “You have to do your homework and know when properties and locations need your business,” she says. Also check “hot dates,” which hotels usually publicize on short notice to fill booking lulls. The best way to learn about hot dates is to get on hotel mailing lists.
Planners can also add value by negotiating complimentary rooms, upgrades, or suites for executives. “If the space is available, it's not really costing them anything, but it can save you money,” she says.
With regard to room rates, second-tier cities tend to be more competitive, but she warns planners to be aware of the hotel taxes in a given city. A low room rate may not be a savings if taxes are high.
Travel costs, including air and ground transportation, should always be factored into site selection. If the group is from the same general area, a regional meeting may be the best way to reduce overall meeting costs.
Convention and visitors bureaus are a free resource that can save planners time and money. They can help to identify the hotels, meeting space, restaurants, attractions, activities, and other suppliers that best suit a particular group.