Without question, meeting planners are highly regarded by enthusiastic hotel sales executives who pursue group business. Yet when it comes to inquiries from planners, responses are often lackluster.

The issue of request-for-proposal response was an intense topic of discussion at the ConventionPlanit.com Advisory Council Meeting held in April 2010, where meeting planners questioned this common experience. ConventionPlanit.com is a popular online search engine that meeting professionals use to select meeting destinations and properties.

One seasoned meeting professional explained, “When my RFP is not responded to, it leads me to think it’s a reflection on how a hotel values and would manage my meeting.”

Why Hotels Don’t Respond to RFPs
Why don’t properties respond promptly to meeting planner RFPs? Here are some common reasons:

  • Hotel sales executives are often inundated with inquiries that need to be qualified, and it is a time-consuming process.
  • Histories regarding an organization’s previous meetings are incomplete, complicating the process of verifying room-block and meeting-space requirements.
  • Information required in the RFP is incomplete. Sales executives who are uncertain about requirements or require additional information may delay responding to the meeting planner.
  • The hotel is waiting for an answer from a better piece of business before getting back to the planner. For example, a first-time meeting for which the room block is not prepaid may be trumped by a group with solid evidence of room-block consumption. Meeting space may be tentatively held by a previous group, and the sales executive is waiting for clearance before responding. Perhaps there is an overage in rooms required on a particular night that could exceed the hotel’s room inventory.
  • Some online lead-distribution channels still need someone to log in and qualify the lead. Delays in responding can occur when internal approval of rates may be required.
  • Events with no room block are redirected to the catering/events department, which can extend response times.

The RFP gets buried in the system. What Planners Can Do to Improve Response Time to RFPs
Suppliers claim turnaround time for RFPs has been improving, although planners, in general, feel differently. Still, there are steps planners can take to improve response time:

  • Ensure that all information that a property will need is included in the RFP, including preferred dates, number of rooms, number of attendees, overall meeting requirements, verified room block history, etc.
  • Do some homework and narrow your search to a short list of qualified properties.
  • Create a deadline for the response and a realistic time frame for the decision.
  • RFPs are taken more seriously if you avoid looking as if you’re fishing around for rates.
  • Indicate how the decision will be made, including the steps properties can anticipate in the process.
  • Call the hotel sales department to ask about the status. Properties interested in landing business should have procedures in place to respond quickly to phone requests, especially if a planner is following up on a previous communication.

What to Look for in an Online Search Directory
Using an online search directory to send out RFPs can be a useful tool for planners, but only if it generates prompt responses from properties that meet the specifications outlined by the planner. Here are some tips to ensure that the online RFP process works:

  • Make sure the search directory is applicable to your specific needs. Search channels often cater to specific markets, such as conventions, small meetings, group tours, or social events.
  • Ask how properties are qualified to receive the RFP, how many properties receive it, and what follow-up is provided to ensure that properties respond. Online search directories that provide personalized follow-up will achieve more timely responses and higher response rates.
  • Find out if RFP responses come directly back to the planner or are channeled through other people first.
  • Ask if there is a fee to submit RFPs and if any third party will receive a commission on the business if it is booked through the RFP process.
  • The group meetings market is and always will be a relationship business. Meeting planners warrant high priority when they’re buying. If responding to inquiries is given the prompt attention it merits, procedures can be put into practice so sales executives can efficiently get to the business of selling to more qualified buyers—a win-win!

Katherine Markham, CHME, and David Markham are principals and co-founders of ConventionPlanit.com, a leading commission-free search directory for meeting professionals to find suitable meeting destinations, facilities, and service providers. The site includes several options for submitting RFPs directly to properties, including its RFP® Valet service.