Best practices for site selection and sourcing corporate meetings and events
By Jennifer Glynn and Joe Nishi
From the moment someone in the office looks at you and says, “we need to plan a conference, make it happen,” what do you do and how do you do it? You would most likely call your favourite property only to find out they do not have space. Now what?
You start calling every hotel in the vicinity and wait for someone to respond and hope they have space. Once you get the details you try and compare them and then set up some site inspections with the ones you think look like the best options. You meet with sales, do the sites and now you need to create a budget and then make a recommendation and get a decision from your board/boss/internal client. Phew! Now comes the fun part — proofing and negotiating the contract. All of this is on top of your regular duties! In this article, we share our over 25 years of insights and experiences on some key points to consider when sourcing your next program either with a professional sourcing partner or by yourself.
Request for Proposal (RFP): How to get the quickest and most accurate response possible
With meeting space demand on the rise, hotels are scrutinizing and evaluating business more than ever before. They also are very wary about holding space for weeks on end without any commitment. Even if they hold space at all, you will need to be ready to move quickly to confirm a contract. Therefore, your RFP should note the region(s) you are considering, type of properties and history of the past three years of venues you have utilized, if applicable.
Getting the right information to the hotels will allow them to properly quote and respond in a timely fashion. Definitely share information that impacts hotel revenue: Meals on property, space usage, off-site catering, rooms required, etc. The more detail you can give the better, including all your hot points; this will help the hotel better assign meeting space and thus quote pricing and availability in a speedier fashion. If you have special requests (i.e. upgrades, complimentary meeting room rental, AV discounts etc.), you should note them in the RFP.
There are many distribution channels to send out RFPs. Online or e-RFPs give you the ability to search a large amount of properties. Be clear with your RFPs as the information you get back is only as good as you give. The volume of e-RFPs hotels receive can cause delays in response time, so be ready to follow up with the hotel via email or phone.
What to look for during the site inspection
Have you ever been taken off guard during the sales process? It could be something you bought online or in a store and what you bought was not of the quality or style that you wanted. The same thing can happen to you in the hotel industry, for example, when you sign a hotel contract sight unseen and when you and your guests get to the property there is construction going on, the ballroom carpet is tired and the food quality is poor. To avoid this, a comprehensive site inspection is critical.
It starts with having a knowledgeable and well-trained hotel salesperson. A great salesperson builds rapport and trust and gives you an immediate comfort level with the property. First impressions count:
- Was the salesperson in the lobby ready to greet you?
- Did they involve anyone from other departments in the site inspection (i.e. convention services, upper management)?
- Does the salesperson know your program details and focus the site inspection on only the relevant features of the hotel to your program?
Identify the property that makes it easy!
There is a perfect venue for every type of meeting. What is important for one meeting may not be important to another. Having great meeting space with natural light, well-appointed guestrooms and comfortable, well-lit public space is a minimum. Apart from the obvious things like tasteful décor, cleanliness, scent, staffing levels and appearance, all great properties have one thing in common: Great people — sales and conference services personnel that are empowered to make decisions and create memorable customer experiences at the same time. You can tell from your first interaction with the door staff to the salesperson all the way up to the general manager.
There is no doubt that contracting hotels and venue space has become more and more difficult in recent years. This is attributed to demand, but also to factors such as shorter lead times and extensive contract clauses/addendums, etc. Look at your meetings and events spend and consider working on multi-programs with one chain or hotel that wants to partner with you. A good salesperson will look for ways to make your approach a strategic win for both parties.
Tools to assist in sourcing
Convention and visitors bureaus are invaluable resources that we involve in the process whenever appropriate. They often have local intelligence and in the case of CVBs they can often provide financial and in-kind support for your meeting that can impact your meetings bottom line.
Working through the ins and outs of the meetings industry can be daunting and knowing the right people can really assist you in exceeding your meetings expectations. Site selection companies cannot only help you save time and money, but can help you get through difficult issues such as venue cancellation, attrition or service challenges. They are paid by whichever venue you select so there is no cost to you and your organization. There are many companies in this space and if you are deciding upon which site selection company to choose, look for ones that have the most industry experience and with a proven track record of trust and strong ethical behaviour.
Remember, whether handling the process yourself or using a sourcing partner, the more information you share the better. Building trust and good rapport with your sales contact will really help you get from A to Z quickly and painlessly. So be transparent about your goals, budget and overall expectations. This will help you to make an informed decision and ensure you pick the best location for your program.
Considerations in choosing a sourcing partner
If you ever considered using a site sourcing company and were not sure of their value during the selection process for your next meeting/conference/incentive, we highlight below some things you should consider when hiring a sourcing partner:
- Level of hotel industry experience — at minimum 10 years’ experience in hotels in the regions where you are sourcing.
- Good support from team members to provide the high level of customer service you need.
- An understanding of your industry. Do they work with your competitors? Do they know what is going on in your industry (regulations, policies, style of meetings)?
- Strong ethical reputation in the industry.
- Giving back to our industry through volunteer efforts and industry memberships.
Consider asking your hotel partners to refer you to a company that they feel would fit best with your organization. Bring in a couple of partners to do a presentation to your company. You need to build a strong relationship with your sourcing partner, so ensure you are a good fit and that you feel comfortable that they will become an extension of your team.
Value proposition of using a sourcing partner
Purchasing power: Leverage the buying power of your company plus the buying power of the intermediary company. You may have only one annual conference or one incentive program, but your intermediary partner may book hundreds of programs at those hotels/convention centres, etc.
Time savings: Utilize your partner as an extension of your team. We all know how demands have increased yet resources have not. Time crunches are aplenty and when you work with a partner they create time savings for you, which result in cost savings.
Cost savings: Value equates to more than just savings on room rate, but also the other added concessions that a seasoned professional can negotiate for you. Plus, this ensures that they have looked into alternate cost savings, such as tourism funding and multi-program deals.
Industry expertise: Your sourcing partner is solely focused on finding you the right venue for your program. They review and negotiate contracts daily. This knowledge allows them to ensure that you are protected in case of challenges like attrition and cancellation.
Local knowledge: Industry professionals in the sourcing field will ensure that they know more than just the hotels in a region, but that they are also a good resource for information on restaurants, activities, visa guidelines, weather, and more. They have also built relationships with other vendors that can help you as you start planning your program.
About the authors
Jennifer Glynn and Joe Nishi are Managing Partners of Meeting Encore Ltd., which recently celebrated its 26th year of assisting clients with their strategic sourcing needs. They can be reached at 905-403-9646 or via their website at www.meetingencore.com.