Hotels & Lodging

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Accommodations for Athletes

24 Feb, 2019

By: Diane C. Schafer
Knowing Your Options is the First Step to Success

While many people are comfortable with the idea of making their own selections of and reservations for hotels, they may not be quite as relaxed about making those choices for others. And when the choice is part of the planning process for a tournament, meeting or other large gathering, the stakes are higher.

One of the reasons for nerves: There are quite a few brands, chains and service levels in the marketplace, leading to any number of choices. And in an unfamiliar city, making those choices is even more intimidating.

Making your choice, however, means establishing your priorities and knowing what you (and your athletes) need. Ultimately, the choices you make will depend on several factors, including the budget of your participants, the type of amenities you’re seeking (and what the participants are used to) and of course, what’s available in the local area and how close it is to your competition site.

Generally, you can break down hotels into various categories, and these will provide a jumping-off point for what you’ll be shopping for, in terms of accommodations.

Luxury hotels are larger properties (generally belonging to national chains) that provide multiple amenities to their guests. These might include bar facilities, in-house fine dining (and generally room service as well), dry cleaning or laundry service, a concierge, a bell staff, etc. These hotels (obviously) come with a higher room rate.

Resorts and spas are similar to luxury hotels; however, these properties also tend to provide spa services and activities for guests, including scheduled events or even day-long programs for children. Sports facilities will often be more extensive; whereas luxury hotels might offer swimming pools and fitness facilities, a resort or spa will often offer that plus tennis or pickleball courts, horseback riding or other options. Generally, these properties are found in upscale resort areas: beachfront or tropical locations, as well in golf course communities, ski areas and other attractive sites. They may include private beaches, casinos, nightclubs and other amenities as well.

Boutique hotels are often independent properties with unique architectural or decorative features. Their appeal is their ambience. They are generally smaller hotels and do not offer a wide range of amenities such as those found in luxury hotels or larger resorts.
Suite hotels may have one or more bedrooms as well as a living area with fold-out sofa beds that increase each room’s capacity to host multiple family members. They often (though not always) will have restaurants on the premises; these tend to be more family-friendly eateries than fine dining establishments. Many offer a complimentary breakfast as well. Rooms may come equipped with kitchenettes, refrigerators and microwaves and some suite hotels may have facilities such as convenience stores on the premises.

Budget hotels are properties that offer lower room rates – but the tradeoff is that they have few amenities and services beyond the basics. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but overall, these are the most basic form of accommodations (outside of camping – a separate discussion entirely).

Another type of venue is the extended stay property, which is similar to a suite hotel, but set up for the traveler who is going to be in another city for a week or longer. Some markets also have a heavy concentration of condominiums that are rented on a daily, weekly or even longer basis, similar to other forms of lodging.

Using these options, you can frame a list of your participants’ priorities. In general, the property (or properties) you choose should be close enough to the competition site to avoid long drives and convenient to options for dining, shopping and entertainment. It goes without saying you want your participants staying in a safe place with access to any services they may need.

Your convention and visitor’s bureau or sports commission can provide information about the accommodations available. (For larger events, a housing bureau may be a good option.)

If you’re going with multiple hotels, having properties in a variety of different price points and service levels will allow attendees to select what they need.

A few things to find out (and to let guests know) in advance:

  • Is Wi-Fi included in the room rate? If not, how will guests be charged: per day, per device, etc.?
  • Is a free breakfast offered? What hours is it served? Ask what is included – some hotels define breakfast as coffee and bagels while others may offer more choices such as eggs, fruit, cereal and toaster waffles.
  • Is parking available? Is it free? Is there room for a motor coach to park (if teams are traveling that way)?

When sitting down to negotiate with the hotel, follow a few simple principles:

Be Forthcoming: Information is the currency of hotel negotiations. The hotel needs all the history and information you can supply. Information should include room nights used in past events, as well as any data about services used in the hotel (restaurant and bar use, spa use if applicable, etc.) If your athletes, guests and families preferred any specific type of room (double/double, for example), be sure to note that as well. If they used meeting rooms, state that as well. You’re trying to give the most accurate picture of an event the hotel has not seen before.

Ask for What You Want: There are a number of concessions hotels can make available to planners who are bringing in large groups.

These concessions might include the following:

  • Complimentary guest rooms: A fair ratio might be one comp room for each 40 to 50 rooms purchased.
  • Complimentary meeting space: Not all sports events will need this, particularly if the action takes place offsite, but if you need space for your officials, for press conferences or other events, you can ask for fees on this space to be waived or reduced based on your group meeting minimum booking requirements.
  • VIP upgrades and amenities: You can ask for small upgrades (turndown service, for example) or more significant ones (fruit baskets, wine, cookies, etc., delivered to the rooms of VIP guests) or even upgrades for VIPs to the concierge level); the level of upgrade and amenity should be based on what the hotel can offer and on what you are able to bring to the hotel, business-wise.
  • If the property includes a resort fee, ask for a waiver or discount for your participants. (The same goes for a spa fee or for a fee that might be charged to guests who use fitness services located in a nearby health club if the hotel lacks its own facilities).
  • Transportation: Does the hotel offer airport shuttle service? Can it be discounted or offered free to those who are booking in as part of your event?
  • Attrition: If your room block isn’t filling up the way it should, you may be able to set up your contract so that you can evaluate, and if necessary, restate the number of rooms in your block at a certain point in order to avoid penalties. (This is a good reason to stay on top of your room pickup).

There are plenty of other concessions to ask for; this is a random sampling. Meeting planners usually go into negotiations with three to four priorities in their list of concessions; for example, these might be free Wi-Fi, free parking and a certain number of complimentary guest rooms – although what you ask for will depend upon your needs and those of your group.

In approaching hotel negotiations, people (particularly those who are not used to the process) assume it’s an all-or-nothing deal. In reality, it’s a balancing act which, if done correctly, doesn’t have a winner and a loser – both sides come out with some things they want.

If you’ve found the property (or properties) you think will be a great fit for your event, then you and the hotel(s) see eye-to-eye on one thing already. Choosing hotels might not be something you’re born to do, and you may never feel entirely comfortable doing it. But with the right attention to detail, it can become something you do well. SDM

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