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 something they want.
If you’ve found the property you think is a great fit for your event, then you and the hotel see eye-to-eye on one thing already. And if you want to make that venue your official host hotel and institute a stay-to-play policy, the hotel probably will be happy to work toward that goal. After all, being the official hotel is a perk and a great marketing strategy.
A few general negotiation rules to keep in mind as you start the process:
Be Forthcoming: 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.
Free wi-fi access: Increasingly, this is showing up on planners’ lists. Some hotels already let guests have free wi-fi, others charge a daily fee per room and others charge per device, per guest, per room. Free wi-fi is one perk guests will expect and appreciate. If your event will use meeting rooms, see whether wi-fi charges apply to those spaces as well.
If the property includes a resort fee (some do, depending upon their location), 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 issues: Does the hotel offer airport shuttle service? Does it have its own parking garage? Can either or both of these (depending upon your group’s needs) 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. Keep in mind that our economy has changed in terms of travel. We are emerging from a time when this was strictly a buyer’s market and hotels were hungry for business. Now that things are picking up, hotels have more ability to be choosy about the business they take in. You can ask for all your concessions, but as stated before, this is a balancing act. You may need to make compromises.
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 shuttle service and a certain number of complimentary guest rooms – although what you ask for will depend upon your needs and those of your group.
Crafting a Stay-to-Play Policy: Mandating a hotel stay in order to participate in a tournament is nothing new. The key to making it work lies in enforcement, and the key to doing that is vigilance. A few tips:
Room Rates: A stay-to-play policy means your participants book into that particular hotel at a specific rate, and that your group receives a rebate as a result of each room purchased. (By the way, be reasonable about the rebate; your participants will thank you). Make sure you include a clause in your contract stating that the hotel is offering your group the lowest room rate available during that time. Nobody else – no other group, no other single guest, no other member with perks – should be able to access a room rate lower than the one you have during that time period. This includes rates available at sites such as Priceline; lower rates should not be available to anyone before your cut-off date in the hotel, when the room block is released. If it turns out that someone has booked a room at a lower rate, the hotel will be in a position of having to work to address the problem.
Something that will benefit late registrants for your event: you can request that even after the block release, the special room rate is made available to your athletes, guests and families as long as rooms in the hotel are available.
Both you and the hotel will need to practice due diligence: About eight to 10 weeks out is a good time window to start asking the hotel for a weekly pickup report and rooming list. Those will have to be cross-checked with event participants (or others related to the event) for accuracy. The onus is on you to make sure your event participants are using the hotel, and to make sure they are in your block.
Other Negotiating Hints: All of the above aspects should be included in your contract; however, there are other things to consider. They are as follows:
Everything must be in writing: Yes, even the things you think are intuitive, self-evident and so forth. A force majeure clause, for example (which allows you to break the contract without penalty if something unexpected and catastrophic takes place, such as a riot in the city, an act of terrorism, a significant weather event that ruins the venue or makes travel impossible, etc.) is something you can specify when writing your contract. Remember that everything needs to be in print on the contract and signed by both parties.
Renovations in the hotel: See if any major renovations are scheduled during your stay. For many guests, construction noise is a huge inconvenience, and might even be a deal-breaker.
Walk policy: If the hotel finds itself in an oversell situation, your contract should state that your guests have priority. If any of your guests do need to be moved to another property, negotiate the type of property, transportation, concessions to that person and more.
Even food and beverage is negotiable: If the hotel has a restaurant, set it up so that your guests have access to a low-cost (or no-cost) breakfast bar before they head out to their games. If a banquet will be held at the hotel in conjunction with the event, talk to the meeting planner at the hotel about discounts on the food and beverage.
Negotiations might not be something you’re born to do. It might not be something about which you feel confident. But with the right attention to detail, it can become something you do well.