Unlike the action on the playing field, there shouldn’t be a winner and a loser when it comes to negotiating. This is even true when planning and negotiating sporting events. In good negotiations, each side should come out a winner and both parties should be satisfied with the outcome.
If you’re seeking a hotel and venue to host your event and vendors to help service it, chances are, you’re going to be spending some time at the bargaining table, either in person, on the phone or by e-mail. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind, tried and tested from empowerMINT.com, the meeting and event planner search portal of Destination Marketing Association International. DMAI is the trade association for DMOs, also known as CVBs or tourism offices, who are the official sales and marketing arms of their destinations.
Put Your Cards on the Table. Yes, All of Them.
This is not the World Series of Poker. Often, rights holders and event organizers think they should play their cards close to the vest, so to speak, and wait to disclose full information about their event to a prospective host, such as a convention center, hotel or sports facility. Knowledge is power, but it’s most powerful when it’s shared. For example, if you are approaching a hotel, you should be able to provide the following information:
•Dates of your event (if they are firm), or window of time (if those dates are not yet fixed)
•The nights (or the number of nights) your group will be in the hotel
•Number of rooms your group expects to use (and whether they prefer doubles, double/doubles, whether they request roll-away cots, etc.)
•Schedule for the sports event: will the athletes be away from the hotel during the day, or will they be on or near the property much of the time?
•Food and beverage information: will they be eating in the hotel? If so, what meals do you expect them to take advantage of?
•Any ancillary information about your group: is it mostly children and their families? Adults? High school-age students? Male, female or co-ed?
Part of the key to negotiating effectively is bringing to the table the history of how the event has affected previous hotels and venues in the past. Having hard data about your event will put you in a stronger negotiating position, and having accurate numbers – and not exaggerating or downplaying those numbers – is the first tool for success.
What Goes Into the Decision?
Even though a hotel, convention center or other venue is in the “hospitality industry,” remember most are still operating on a for-profit basis. The event you bring to the table will be evaluated first and foremost as a business transaction. While a hotel is looking at your request for proposal (RFP), they are considering others as well. Full disclosure on what you can offer means your business may be even more desirable in the right situation.
A hotel or other venue looks at a lot of different criteria when making the choice of which RFPs to pass on and which to consider. For instance, one of the key factors is the number of guest rooms needed. Hotels traditionally have a standard proportion that is considered ideal between guest rooms and meeting room or banquet space. Sports events most often require only rooms from a hotel. If, for example, the hotel sees that most of the athletes coming to your event will be competing off-property all day, they may be able to book a luncheon or other event that would bring them business during that time.
Dates, Rates and Space
Another factor affecting negotiation leverage is the time frame you plan to hold your event. Is your event taking place when there is historically a greater demand for rooms at the hotel or in the destination? If so, can you afford to be flexible with your dates?
Most hotels have standard arrival/departure patterns each week. The pattern may depend upon the location of the hotel and the season, but as an example, a particular hotel might see the largest number of people typically arriving on a Friday and leaving on a Sunday or Monday. Whether you fit or block this pattern will factor into how strong a negotiating position you have. Additionally, if the hotel is in high demand during the time you are trying to find accommodations, you can expect room rates to be dramatically higher. Again, flexibility will strengthen your ability to negotiate.
What Are You Bringing to the Table?
Finding a place to host your event, can be much like finding a match on an Internet dating site. You may know what you want, but perhaps what you’re bringing to the equation is not what the other party is seeking. Sometimes, your event may not be a good fit for that particular venue. Rest assured, there is a hotel and an event center for every event, and when you find the right place, your event will be considered ideal, and your group will be treated accordingly. Finding the right match can be made easier by reaching out to the CVB in the destination before you begin your search. You will find you save a lot of time and much of the hassle associated with search. After understanding your requirements, CVBs are in a position to educate you about which hotels and venues are best suited to meet your needs.
Working with your Venue: Value-Added Negotiation
Once you have your hotel or venue selected, consider making full use of all that is possible. For example, we often hear people say, ‘We don’t have time for breakfast in the mornings before games’ or ‘Everyone just buys lunch at the ball park.’
Instead, ask if the hotel’s catering department can work with you to set up a ‘grab and go’ breakfast cart where participants can get something quick like muffins or bagels. At midday, a pre-packaged box lunch from the hotel, with a sandwich, chips, bottled water and fruit, can cost less than ballpark fare. And rather than taking the whole group to a restaurant after the game, consider a buffet in the hotel ballroom with inexpensive entrees such as pasta, salad and garlic bread. All these options can result in much less hassle and far less expense. In addition, your hotel benefits from the added business and you benefit in negotiations with more in-house revenue considered for your event.
Starting the Search
If unfamiliar with the city they’re using, many rights holders and event organizers start their search for accommodations and venues on the Internet. DMAI advises reaching out to the convention and visitors bureau instead. We often tell people, ‘Online, every hotel in America is only 20 minutes from the airport, so who is going to help you understand the true nuances of the destination and get the best deal?’
A CVB has true local expertise. They can tell you whether the hotel you saw online is actually an hour and a half from the airport in traffic and whether it’s ideally located to serve all your needs in the destination. They can connect you to the right facilities, and they already have promotion tools to help raise the visibility of your event. You can take advantage of all the CVB has to offer you for free, as their services are already paid for by the tax assessments dedicated to tourism.
In closing, here are a few points to remember: Do your homework in advance, collect your past history documentation, don’t assume your event is the only piece of business the hotel or venue is considering, and do reach out to your destination expert at the CVB to make the entire process seamless. They are the best first point of contact to help you find just the right fit for any size event in any destination!
Above all, keep an open mind and look for opportunities to work with (not against) your hotels and venues. Remember it takes two to negotiate, and this isn’t a competitive event. You want two winners – and maybe even a rematch for next year’s tournament.