Time is your most valuable and elusive commodity. You can’t afford to waste it waiting for slow responses to your Request for Proposal (RFP) or dealing with a cookie-cutter proposal that doesn’t address your meeting’s unique requirements. What can you do to ensure in the future you receive quick, customized, complete hotel proposals?
Hotels do want your business, but few hotels can accommodate every meeting or event that expresses an interest in their property. According to Loren Gold, executive vice president of the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau, “Hotel sales managers have a multitude of different lead channels, so if they have four leads sitting on their desk, typically it’s the lead that has the most information that’s going to go on the top of the pile.”
Guaranteeing that your RFP lands on the top of the pile and gets the speedy, thorough attention it deserves is all about providing the resources for the hotel to determine your meeting’s qualification, fit, and financial bottom line.
Follow these 5 practices to give your RFP priority:
- Work with the destination’s convention & visitors bureau.
As the destination expert and your “inside” advocate, no one can ensure a faster, higher quality response from their hotel partners than the local CVB – and no entity has more leverage. Here’s how your CVB representative can make the RFP process fast, easy and pain free:
- By educating you about the hotels in their destination.
- By helping you understand the desirability and fit of your meeting for the different types of hotels.
- By discussing the seasonality and pattern preferences of the hotels, especially if lower rates are a priority or preferred date availability is an issue.
- By helping you tweak your RFP to be destination-specific.
- By distributing your RFP to the hotels you want to consider, and following up with them to be sure they are responding in a timely and complete manner.
- By lobbying on your behalf.
- By intercepting hotel questions and collecting responses so you’re not inundated with emails or phone calls.
“I prefer letting the CVB disperse the RFP to the appropriate hotels, collect the responses back and serve as my relay so I don’t have to field all of those emails and phone calls,” says Shawna Suckow, founder and president of the Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN). “If the hotels have questions that I haven’t answered, I get one clarifying phone call from my CVB rep.” The best part? All of this invaluable CVB assistance, support and insight is free.
2. Educate the hotels.
The more information you include in your RFP, the better. Put yourself in the hotel salesperson’s shoes and think about every possible question he or she could have when they are customizing the proposal for your meeting.
First, provide an RFP introduction that describes your group’s needs, objectives and attendee profile – the “philosophy” of your organization and meeting.
- Give a brief description of your organization and its mission.
- What kind of meeting is it? Board meeting, product launch, annual convention?
- What are the goals and objectives of the meeting? Team building, education?
- What are the demographics of the group? Heavily female, spread throughout the US, mid-managers?
- What are the planner’s top 5 priorities? Easy accessibility, budget, family-oriented location?
3. Build a complete RFP.
This is the nuts and bolts, where all the meeting specifics come in. Provide the details of the meeting schedule, including session times, number of seats (and type of seating preferred) for each breakout, meals, technology requirements, hospitality, possible exhibit space, etc. If you have held this meeting before, attach a copy of the previous program as a guideline. If there are certain non-negotiable items, a rate ceiling, or deal-breaker concessions required, say so.
Include the number and type of sleeping rooms your group requires each night, from earliest arrival to departure. Requesting “250 rooms for 5 nights” isn’t specific enough. Use the flow from your prior meeting as a guideline, or if it’s a first-time meeting, carefully analyze your program and attendee habits to formulate a realistic nightly projection. Honing in on your room night requirements can make the difference in an overpriced, “safe” hotel proposal (padded to cover “unknowns”) and a customized, affordable one.
APEX, the Accepted Practices Exchange, has developed industry standard RFP forms that you can adopt, or use as a guideline in developing your own. For a copy of the Single Facility RFP template, click here and download the industry-approved form.
4. Provide history.
Think of your historical data as your “credit rating.” Hotels give priority to groups that can demonstrate a consistent event history that includes the number of attendees, where they’ve stayed, the number of rooms they used and what they spent. If you don’t provide a track record, don’t have one or it isn’t consistent, and you don’t explain why, some hotels may be concerned that your event is too big a risk for their bottom line.
“If possible, provide at least three years of meeting history that includes room block night-by-night flow, meeting schedule, meal function and other food and beverage-related activities,” recommends Richard Green, vice president of association sales and industry relations for Marriott International. “Demonstrate you’ve got a good handle on your history,” says Green. “The more information we have from the meeting planner up front about what their program is, how much they’ve spent in the past and what types of hotels they’ve used, all this helps our business group evaluators figure out what kind of pricing they’re going to give to that particular group and sometimes, whether the group qualifies for available space .”
If your track record isn’t consistent or you don’t have one, include an explanation in the RFP. If you don’t have records from previous meetings, contact the sales department at the prior hotels and ask for the information. If you have history with a certain hotel brand, be sure to mention that, as well – hotels love to work with loyal customers and will often give them priority.
5. Demonstrate flexibility
Every hotel has a sweet spot when it comes to date patterns, room nights, space usage and food and beverage spend. If your meeting space to room night ratio is unbalanced, your requested room rate is too low, or you can’t be flexible with dates, the hotel may assume it is not a good match for your business without investigating further. If you can consider an alternate time frame or pattern, say so in your RFP. This demonstrates a willingness to work with the property as a partner, and may ultimately land an attractive proposal.
“A group that is willing to fill soft dates on the hotel’s books, or step into a recently canceled set of dates, makes them very desirable to the property,” says Green.
Be realistic about what you are asking for, and be flexible wherever possible. Your initial discussions with the CVB about prospective properties will help you get an idea of what will or won’t be workable for them. “Sometimes a planner has a great RFP but may be asking for unrealistic concessions, such as no attrition, no rental, etc.,” says Gold. “Like any business relationship, hotels have to look at a piece of business and ask: is it a win-win or a win-lose for the business proposition?”
You’ve crafted the perfect RFP and your CVB representative has distributed it to the targeted hotels – now what is a reasonable response time? “After thoughtfully selecting the few hotels that are real, true candidates, give them a decent response time of a week or more,” says Suckow. “If longer lead times aren’t possible, just tell them that you’re looking for a short-form response to five or six questions so you can begin to narrow the field.”
By partnering with the CVB, crafting a complete and information-packed RFP, understanding how the hotels value your particular meeting, and being flexible where possible, you have dramatically increased your chances of receiving timely, targeted, workable proposals from your selected hotels — and greatly decreased your stress level.