Clearly, finding hotel space at a reasonable cost in some downtown areas is a daunting task. Here are some strategies that veteran planners recommend.

Apply Pressure

Talk with the local hotel manager to discuss room availability and possible rate adjustments. If that's not getting anywhere, take up the issue with the hotel chain's national sales representative. If you strike out there, don't hesitate to phone the city's convention and visitors bureau. Don't be shy about putting pressure on a hotel, especially if you're bringing a large number of people to a city.

Be Willing to Walk Away

One planner whose responsibilities include planning 12 one-week, 1,200-attendee conventions a year says that he always lets properties know that he is shopping for the best combination of rates and facilities. He gives hotels accurate historic information about his meetings up front, but he doesn't give away all his information at once. His last piece of information is the ceiling price of what he can afford to pay, and he typically doesn't bring that up until later in the negotiating process.

Ultimately, though, he knows that the agreement has to make sense for both his groups and the properties.

Seek the Off-Peak

Ask a high-demand major-city convention hotel about room availability during its shoulder season. For example, consider meetings around Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, or Labor Day.

Consider Other Markets

When the allure of first-tier cities is offset by stratospheric room rates, consider nearby suburbs.

Leverage Your History

Stress your group's history of using a hotel through the years, which may help you to cut a deal, particularly during an economic slowdown. Present as much documented information as possible on your use patterns, including overflow hotels. It will reinforce your credibility and perhaps persuade a fence-sitting hotelier.

Do Your Homework

The more you know about the downtown market, the better off you are in negotiations. So consider checking a targeted city's calendar of events to see if there is a citywide convention on the dates in which you're interested. If so, you may have difficulty securing rooms, and you probably will lose negotiating leverage. Before checking in with a downtown hotel, consult with the city CVB about the facility's occupancy and room use patterns. Confer with planners who have booked the city.

Team Up

If you really like a certain first-tier venue but don't have the clout to command a larger room block or reduced rates, consider pairing with another organization to co-locate your event. As for finding a complementary group, contact a city's CVB for assistance.

Seek Multiyear Deals

Consider signing a contract with a hotel for two or more years in a row. Some groups get more attractive deals by inking a pact with a hotel chain, enabling members to meet in the same city for several consecutive or alternating years.

Negotiate at Quarter's End

Smart planners have discovered that major-city hoteliers sometimes are more flexible on room rates near the end of a company's fiscal quarter. Reason: They need to book business to meet a quarterly, or annual, revenue target.

Go Straight to the Top

Deal with the person in charge of a hotel's sales team. That way, you can negotiate terms directly with the person making the decisions, instead of having your demands filtered through a lower-ranking sales representative.

Competition Is Keen

Don't like a deal in one city? Take your business elsewhere. That's what some planners are doing. Pelted with incentive offers from CVBs around the country, associations are often in the catbird seat.