Lots of conversations have been taking place lately about the proliferation of RFPs sent by meeting planners to hotels through online systems. These systems make it quick and easy to include many hotels as recipients—dozens, if you like—which has unsurprisingly led to a bit a dissatisfaction on both sides of the proposal.
Suppliers are struggling to find the resources and the methods to manage the deluge (Marriott refers to its current process as “triage”), while planners need ever-faster response times. (Read our cover story on “The RFP Explosion” in the February issue of .)
A panel of hoteliers tackled the issue March 1 during the Cvent Corporate Meeting Summit at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center near Washington, D.C.
Based in McLean, Va., Cvent is a cloud-based provider of event management, site selection, and Web survey tools—and is, in fact, one of those online systems allowing planners to so easily send RFPs.
The Spigot Is On
“RFP volume has increased dramatically. The spigot has been turned on,” said Michael Dominguez, vice president, global sales, Loews Hotels & Resorts. “But it’s a very new process. There will be a learning curve.”
What Dominguez suggests is “two flows” to the RFP process, when planners are sourcing multiple properties in multiple locations: “I think we need a one-two punch,” he said. In this scenario, planners would send a more general RFP—perhaps an RFI, or request for information—that asks only about availability. Then those responses are used to create a short list of six or fewer properties. At that point, a more detailed RFP would be sent to the short-listed hotels—those that are really in the running for the business.
In theory, this would help planners get much quicker responses because hotels would not have to go into so much detail, and it would help hotels because when they receive the very detailed RFPs, they would know they are under serious consideration—it would make business sense to invest the resources necessary to return a complete and timely proposal.
Of course, Dominguez added, if you are only going out to a few hotels from the start, it makes sense to ask for all your specifics at that time.
Then Again, Information Is Golden
Once you get to the properties on your short list, the more information you give them, the better, panelists said.
“Share as much information as you can with the hotel,” said Eric Mannino, CHA, executive director, lead generation, for Gaylord Entertainment. “The online process has gotten to the point where we are responding with such little information.” What would Mannino like to know? First and foremost: your decision date. “It helps us if we know your decision-making process,” he said. “We have 20 salespeople all working their markets. I might have the space available, then someone else could take it later that day. But I can better sell it internally if I know your decision date.”
Other information Mannino, Dominguez, and third panelist Doreen Burse, senior global account director, Marriott International, cited as critical for a hotel to evaluate your meeting: whether or not you are flexible with your dates or pattern, the other cities you are considering, your historic spend, your group’s ancillary spend, and the “big picture” of your program.
“Your history—three to four years of where you have taken this meeting—helps us know what you are expecting,” Dominguez added. In addition, he encouraged meeting planners to network and participate in industry events. “Give us an opportunity to get to know you,” he said. “We can help you close your meetings business if we know you.”
- Space: Some online RFP channels have a space-mapping function, Mannino said, allowing planners to request particular meeting rooms. “The problem is that you need authority to give a particular room to a meeting. In most of the big-box hotels, a sales manager can say space is available but they can’t promise specific space. It slows down the response time if you need to have specific space guaranteed.”
For associations thatseveral years in advance of the convention, he added, a best practice is to keep the property updated on all program changes as soon as you know about them. “The longer it takes to truly understand what your program looks like, the more risk for the hotel of space going underused,” he explained.
- Rates: Everyone asks for the best rate right out of the gate, said one panelist, but that’s not really what they want. Everyone needs to show a discount, and there is no one-size-fits-all. “We need to understand how each planner measures success in ,” explained Burse.
About 215 corporate and third-party meeting planners, hoteliers, industry sponsors, and Cvent representatives attended the session live, while 1,100 remote attendees viewed a live broadcast of the session.