Sometimes coming in under budget isn't about cutting expenses but about working smarter. Here are 87 tips for doing just that.
Choose the Right Site 1. Get the local CVB to do the legwork in setting up your site visit.
2. Use local destinations or smaller cities that can offer you more for your money.
3. Use a video camera to tape your site inspection. This will help you to remember the property and reduce the need to revisit.
4. Research your hotel suppliers. Is there any competition? How busy is the market? Are you in high, low, or midseason? How many years has the supplier been in business?
5. Research the rack rates, as well as group rates. Call the toll-free line or reservations desk of the property or chain. This way you will know the "worst case" pricing.
6. Always give conservative room blocks. If you block too many rooms, you will end up paying for them.
Budget Smart 7. Meet every day with your hotelier to review the master account. This will allow you to catch errors on-site.
8. Communicate your budget information to the convention services manager. His or her role is to work with you.
9. Always budget at least 10 percent of your expenses as "contingency." This will take care of unforeseen costs such as
- labor strikes - bad weather - overtime - extra postage and mailings - phone and computer hookups - cancellation insurance - speaker substitutions
10. Ask for a discount for cash payment on-site.
11. Limit authorized signatures, and don't accept charges signed for by unauthorized people.
12. Learn the tax laws for both your organization's location and the location of your event. You could be eligible for tax breaks that you aren't claiming.
13. Know the value of your business. Keep a detailed history of all your events.
Do's and Don't's 14. Negotiate sliding-scale rates with the hotel.
15. Negotiate no deposit - or at least that the deposit will be placed in an interest-bearing account.
16. Have several supplier options, and don't let any one supplier think he or she is your only choice.
17. Develop long-term relationships with properties and chains you use often. Negotiate volume discounts.
18. Prepare a detailed request for proposal. Communicate the value of your meeting.
19. Ask for everything and anything that you want right up front:
- 1:30 or 1:40 comp rates - airport transfers - early check-in times - late checkout times - complimentary coffee and tea in the rooms - complimentary meeting space, rehearsal space, setup/tear-down - no package-receiving charges - continental breakfast in the meeting room - extended-stay rates - free local calls - free office space - free or reduced parking for VIPs and staff - late cutoff dates - reduced room rates for speakers - reduced room rates for staff - upgrades for VIPs and staff - welcome gifts and notes - a specific amount of electricity for your event to be underwritten by the venue
20. Add a clause in the hotel contract that states you will not pay the final invoice until you have received a detailed post-convention evaluation.
21. Work with hotels to fill their "hot dates," or meeting space "holes." Though the low season seems to be getting shorter, try to schedule meetings in the least busy times of the year.
22. Be flexible with your arrivals and departures.
23. Make sure the contract's cancellation clause is reciprocal. What if the hotel is undergoing major renovations during your event? Or if there is a change in management?
24. Build up your F&B totals with on-site meals and functions. Hotels will be more willing to negotiate.
25. Lock in the menu prices. If the hotel will not provide a specific menu in advance, at least agree that the menu prices will not increase more than a fixed percentage per year.
26. Never sign a contract unless you agree with it in its entirety. Cross out or edit clauses with which you do not agree, initial them, and get the supplier to initial his or her agreement.
27. Pay attention to cutoff dates. Keep in regular contact with suppliers even after the contract is signed. Watch the business climate in that city/region.
28. Cash in your comp rooms for suites first, which are more valuable.
29. Work with national sales offices to set up site visits.
Save on Staffing 30. Hire on-site registration and secretarial staff instead of paying for in-house staff's travel costs.
31. Know local overtime regulations.
32. Schedule staff at straight time to avoid overtime.
33. Pay staff travel per diem. Outline exactly what they're allowed to spend on meals and transportation.
F&B Tips 34. Deal with the chef directly. Challenge him or her to work with your meeting's goals and concept. The chef will know what is in season and what is grown or produced locally, and can be very creative if given the opportunity.
35. Buy your coffee, tea, and decaf in bulk or by the gallon, if at all possible.
36. Order as much as possible "by consumption." Uneaten food and drink can be returned and not charged. This works well with soda and packaged foods like potato chips.
37. Re-use food if possible. Wrap uneaten danishes and doughnuts from the coffee break and provide them at lunch with the dessert options.
38. Instead of hot breakfast, serve an extended continental breakfast by adding fresh fruit, yogurt, and cereal to the regular offerings.
39. Cut down on portions. Cut danishes and doughnuts in half. Offer mini-muffins, mini-doughnuts, mini-danishes.
40. Use sit-down meals, which can cut food preparation labor costs as much as 20 percent.
41. Skip the dessert, salad, or soup. Dessert can be served at breaks.
42. Distribute box lunches instead of holding a formal, sit-down lunch.
43. Ask which other groups are using the hotel at the same time. You may be able to have the same menu, thereby gaining economies of scale that can be passed on in cost savings to you.
44. Place expensive food items in harder-to-reach places on the banquet table.
45. Try staffed food stations, such as stir-fry stations and pasta tables.
46. Avoid shrimp, oysters, and other expensive delicacies.
47. Compare a la carte vs. per-person pricing on a spreadsheet.
48. If you are able to, buy soft drinks in bulk and have your staff serve it. Sometimes hotels will waive their "must use our banquet services" clauses for small hospitality suite functions.
Room Setup Savings 49. Find out which groups are in the hotel immediately before and after your meeting and work together on your staging requirements. This will save you money in labor for setup and teardown.
50. If a meeting lasts more than two days, keep the same meeting room setup.
51. Use skirted tables instead of renting secretarial desks for on-site offices.
52. Reduce the number of breakout rooms needed, saving audiovisual and setup costs.
53. Use the same room with two setups. For example, use the room classroom-style for the educational session, and banquet-style for serving lunch and for breaks. Put up screens or use plants to divide the space.
Speaker Secrets 54. Book local speakers or entertainers to save on travel expenses.
55. Hire now. Speakers and entertainers often raise their rates every year. Lock in at this year's rates.
56. Negotiate a flat rate instead of fee plus expenses.
57. Piggyback speakers and entertainers with other groups in the same hotel.
58. Use versatile acts in more than one event.
59. Understand union rules and hire the minimum number of musicians that are required.
60. See the talent in action and check references.
Transportation Tips 61. Analyze the cost savings of airfare requiring a Saturday-night stay. It may not be cheaper than paying for the extra room night plus applicable per diem.
62. Instead of meet-and-greet services, distribute vouchers for airport shuttles and/or fare for public transport.
63. While negotiating for your hotel or resort, request complimentary limousine service for VIPs. Also inquire about reserved and complimentary parking.
64. Ask that your special guests and staff get reserved parking spaces close to the hotel entrance.
65. Transport delegates within a four- to eight-hour window to cut back on bus transfer costs.
66. Ask for additional frequent-flyer points from your official air carrier.
67. Ask the local taxi company for discount coupons for local shows, restaurants, and sightseeing attractions.
68. Use the carrier's VIP lounge for the group's meet and greet.
69. Travel during off-peak hours (early morning or late evening).
70. Ask hotels whether they provide a complimentary airport-shuttle service and book with those that do.
AV Answers 71. Sit down with your AV company and work out the least expensive way to set up.
72. Use cocktail rounds instead of renting overhead carts.
73. Buy a TV and give it away later as a door prize instead of paying rental fees.
74. Use a slide projector with color gels for a spotlight.
75. Use as few microphones as possible. This will eliminate labor and the need for sound-mixing equipment.
75. Ask for one complimentary microphone per room.
76. Ask for use of complimentary two-way radios when negotiating your AV contract.
77. Rent only the size screen that you need.
78. Use LCD panels instead of video projectors.
79. Don't arbitrarily put AV in every room. Ask speakers and moderators what they'll need first.
80. If you need AV for more than one day, negotiate a reduced rental for additional days.
81. Travel with your own extension cords and surge protectors.
82. Have your audiotaping company record your meeting at no charge as part of the agreement.
83. Limit wireless microphones by opting for cheaper handheld mics with long cords wherever possible.
84. Don't order draping for screens; no one will notice.
85. When you expect to have extensive AV requirements, book a conference center, most of which include equipment in the cost.
86. Use your hotel's closed-circuit TV capabilities to make announcements.
87. Just before the meeting, reconfirm the speakers' AV needs. Presenters may have originally requested equipment that they no longer plan to use.