You can run a soccer tournament, a marathon or a swim meet. You can see immediately whether a sports complex will be suitable for your planned event and you know how to evaluate a inclement weather situation.
When it comes to working out the finer points of a hotel contract, however – well, you have cold feet, sweaty palms, butterflies in your belly and an excruciating sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You feel completely out of your element and you’re sure everyone knows it.
Here’s the good news: negotiating a lodging contract is not as hard as you think. Yes, there is a science to it, but you can do it. All you need to do is remember a few key points.
Both sides want the same thing
That sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Both a hotel and a sports event owner want the same thing: a signed contract. The hotel wants to put heads on beds and the event owner wants to lock in a place for his or her team to do just that. So essentially, you’re halfway there. The devil is in the details, though, and that’s what you need to work out.
Put your needs in writing
Make sure you can approach a potential hotel with all the information they will need in order to see whether you are a good fit for them, and they for you. Making a list is part of all good planning; your list should include the following:
• Move-in/move-out dates
• An estimate of the number of rooms needed
• Types of rooms needed (singles, doubles, double/doubles, etc.)
• Information on your event: the age of the participants, whether they will be traveling with family, their schedules, etc.
• Whether you will require any other space in the hotel (a ballroom for a closing banquet, meeting rooms for officials or media, etc.) and projected number of attendees for those events
• Any ancillary information you can provide regarding whether you expect your participants to use in-house restaurants, pools, health facilities, concierge services or other amenities
• Any catering needs you expect to have (box lunches, grab-and-go breakfasts, etc.)
• Whether you expect to be using a tour bus, or will need taxis or the hotel shuttle to get to and from the airport/competition venue, etc.
The more information you can provide to the hotel, the easier it is for them to find out whether your event will be a suitable partner.
Have a history
Try to provide as much background information on your event as you can. This includes several years’ worth of history, such as where the event has been previously, rooms used each night, any data you can provide on revenue generated from previous hotel stays, etc. All this is valuable to the hotel.
Too often, planners who are new at the negotiating game will make the mistake of not disclosing information to the hotel. Remember that information is the currency of the negotiation process. It can only be a benefit if you share it with your potential partner in this relationship.
You get what you give
In the negotiating process, the first three things you will be seeking are as follows:
• Your desired dates
• A certain room rate, and
• The amount of space you need. (This can include sleeping rooms as well as meeting or banquet facilities, but it is all grouped under the heading of ‘space.’)
It’s not common to get all three factors – rates, dates and space, as they’re known – exactly as you need them, and in order to get one or more things, you may need to be willing to compromise on the other aspects. For example, you might get the dates you want, and all the space you need, but at a higher room rate, if this happens to be a time of peak demand. Or you might get a great room rate over the dates you need, but not enough rooms, in which case, you might have to work with an overflow or secondary property. Meeting planners often say that it’s good to shoot for two out of three, and be willing to negotiate on the third point.
In the two-thirds equation, it is essential for you to decide where your priorities are. Can you work with more than one hotel? Is the room rate a deal-breaker? Or are your dates flexible at all? Evaluate your options and decide what is most important. Remember, too, the contract has to be mutually beneficial. The hotel also needs to make money on the deal. Think about what you are bringing to the table, and what you can offer the hotel.
For example, rather than having teams eat in restaurants after their games, think about having a meal at the hotel instead. Can you offer family programming onsite?
Reading the contract
If this is your first experience with negotiating a contract for a hotel, clarify information including the following:
• Room block release date (that is, when the hotel stops holding hotel rooms exclusively for your group and makes those rooms available to the public; usually, this is 30 days prior to the start of the room block); check also to see whether reservations from your group that arrive past that date can receive the rate you negotiated
• Cancellation penalties –especially important if you’re negotiating out more than a year out
• Any language locking you into payment for the entire room block, or penalizing you for shortfall
• Whether room rates stated on the contract are inclusive or exclusive of taxes, etc.
• What charges will go on the event’s master account (for example, catering, banquet space rentals, etc.) and what guests are responsible for (nightly room charges, room service, etc.)
Additionally, you will want to make sure your participants’ best interests are covered, by doing the following:
• Spell out what will happen if the hotel suddenly finds itself unable to accommodate one or more of your participants, who then need to be moved to a different hotel. (This is called ‘walking,’ in meeting parlance). What hotel will they be in? Will they have transportation to and from all the sports events? How will they be compensated? What room rate will they be paying?
• If a participant has to leave suddenly in the middle of the tournament, does the hotel add penalties for early departure?
• Does the hotel have construction planned for that time or space, or even nearby? For some events, this can be a deal-killer.
It is always recommended that you have a contract reviewed by someone with legal expertise, or at least by someone with experience in hotel negotiations, especially for first-timers who don’t want to make a mistake.
Remember that many, if not all, points on a contract are negotiable, at least in part. You may want to negotiate comp rooms for some participants, such as officials. Or, if the hotel charges Internet fees, see if you can have those waived for your group.
Be sure to set up all aspects of your stay in advance. If the hotel offers a breakfast buffet, find out whether your participants will be eligible for it (and what hours it is open). If your athletes won’t be able to eat one morning because of an early start time, ask the hotel to provide a breakfast cart with muffins, fruit, etc. that can be picked up as athletes leave the hotel.
Take some time to do your homework and ask for things that may be useful or helpful. Assuming you’re planning an event in another city, see if you can negotiate late check-outs for any athletes who will be coming off the field, and who want to shower and pack before heading for the bus, the airport and so on.
At all times, negotiation is a two-way street. Keep the lines of communication open with your desired hotel and be available for their calls and questions. A positive experience benefits both the planner and the hotel – and leaves both happy.