Tell 'em What You Want: RFPs: SHORTCUT TO SITE SELECTION Using an RFP (request for proposal) saves time and lets you quickly create a short list of properties that might work for your meeting, says Patricia Kerr, CMP, senior conference consultant for Manulife Financial in Waterloo, Ontario. "It's a communications vehicle that helps the hotel to understand who you are and what you need," Kerr said during a session at ICPA's Summer Educational Forum in Providence, R.I., in July. (For more on the Forum, see page 32.)

Creating a template for an RFP is simple: Kerr uses a Microsoft Word document that she tweaks for each conference and then e-mails off to many potential properties. She explained that her RFPs have two sections: a company profile and a basic summary of the meeting or incentive program requirements. Kerr generally includes the following details:

Corporate Profile * Attendee demographics

* Meeting history (including guest-room pickup)

* Goals of the meeting or incentive program and expectations of attendees

* A list of the other properties that are receiving the RFP

Program Requirements * Preferred meeting dates

* Number and types of guest rooms needed

* Amount and configuration of function space needed

* Food and beverage requirements

* Recreation requirements

* Audiovisual requirements

Kerr also includes queries about tax and gratuity rates, service charges, the expense of a taxi and prearranged transportation from the airport to the hotel--and asks for a reference list of past insurance company customers.

Some RFPs are more elaborate than others, says Kerr. She waits until contract negotiations to talk about guest-room upgrades, golf prizes, health club passes, complimentary parking, and complimentary registration refreshments. However, other planners like to include these kinds of concessions right up front in the RFP, because they want to consider only properties that are willing to meet the concessions.

Kerr says she was "shocked" that only a handful of insurance conference planners at the Forum use RFPs. She has found that a comprehensive RFP is particularly useful for large incentive conferences with one or two years' lead time. "It only takes me about five minutes to massage the template and send it electronically to several properties. Using RFPs has saved me a tremendous amount of time."