Most of us have a love-hate relationship with technology. What used to take days or even weeks to accomplish can now be done in minutes. As terrific as requesting – and receiving – instant responses can be, we often pay the price with information overload, impersonalization, and getting lost in the sea of online communication. Nowhere is this more evident and frustrating to both the planner and the hotel community than in the distribution of electronic requests for proposals (eRFPs).
The world of eRFPs has changed the meeting planning landscape, ultimately creating a seller’s market: with increased demand, desirable hotels in popular destinations can pick and choose the business they want. When widespread distribution is as easy as clicking a button, it becomes too easy to barrage hotels with proposal requests; bogged down sales people see a large distribution list, give the RFP low priority and often either don’t respond or send back a cookie-cutter proposal in lieu of a truly competitive bid. Sending a generic lead results in a generic response.
In response to the often heard cry, “I can’t get proposals! Why don’t the hotels want my business?”, Ed Kady, associate director of sales for the 1625 room Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, responds, “Sending an RFP to thirty hotels is truly wasting the meeting planner’s time and the hotel’s time. The majority of the hotels won’t meet the meeting planner’s needs.” Indiscriminant distribution signals to the hotel that the planner doesn’t know what they are looking for and that they don’t take the RFP process seriously. It’s no surprise, then, that many RFPs get buried and never result in a bid. Planners can increase their credibility by doing some homework up front and not using the RFP as an RFI (Request for Information).
Before the advent of online RFP engines, planners were more selective in the number and locations of hotels they contacted for proposals, simply because of time and effort constraints. But, by narrowing their interest to the top four or five properties appearing to be the best potential matches for the meeting, the planner was essentially pre-prioritizing for the hotel. From the hotel’s point of view, nearly every lead or RFP that landed on the salesperson’s desk had legitimacy and therefore attracted consideration.
Pre-select Before You “Send”
How can you keep from shooting yourself in the foot with too many eRFPs? Take careful aim.
To ensure you grab the hotels’ attention and get the proposals you really want, narrow down the list before casting the RFP net. Hotels definitely do want your business, but they take leads at face value and are not likely to provide the most competitive bid to a widely distributed RFP. When your RFP is sent to too many properties, the hotel that might be the best fit may not take the time to dig for variables, flexibility or details that could result in an attractive proposal. So, instead of e-blasting the RFP out there, waiting to see what comes back, then deciding which of the responding hotels might work, try borrowing this approach from pre-electronic RFP days: start by narrowing the playing field, then take aim at three to five pre-determined “best targets” — and ultimately score a perfect fit.
Follow these four important steps in pre-selection before you send out even the first eRFP.
1. Make a wish list of what you really want/need to have a successful meeting:
• A big city or a smaller town?
• A high rise convention hotel or a golf resort?
• 500 sleeping rooms, 10 breakouts, and enough space to feed 750?
• Deluxe amenities or a value property?
• Easy accessibility? Does it matter?
• Cultural facilities, nearby family attractions, gourmet restaurants, warm weather, walkability, night life?
2. You’ve had some destinations in mind, but now go back and compare your wish list with the characteristics you know about each of those destinations; use the “must haves” (mid-US location, large hotels) to narrow the list of potential destinations that can provide them. If there are still more than 5, narrow further based on the “nice to haves” (good shopping, convenient airport). Both empowerMINT.com’s Destination Finder or Cvent’s Destination Guide provide extensive destination information which you may find helpful in narrowing your destination “hit list.”
3. Talk to the CVBs. Once again, use empowerMINT.com’s Destination Finder or Cvent’s Destination Guide for contact information to reach a sales professional at each of the convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) you’ve decided to target. Discuss the special personality of your meeting. Learn about appropriate hotels and what will make your RFP attractive to them.
4. Fine tune your RFP accordingly to land on top of the hotel’s priority pile.
Tips for Getting the Best Bid
Once you’ve narrowed down the number of serious hotel contenders, and you’re ready to craft the RFP, be sure it includes the following:
• Complete organizational information. 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. Provide an introduction that describes your group’s needs, objectives and attendee profile – the “philosophy” of your organization and meeting.
• Nuts and bolts information. 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.
• Three years of meeting 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.
• Demonstrate flexibility. Every hotel has a sweet spot when it comes to date patterns, room nights, space usage and food and beverage spend. 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 a more attractive proposal.
The CVB is Key
The CVB is the best first point of contact to help you identify the properties that can provide the right fit for your meeting, and continues to be your partner throughout the entire site selection process. CVB sales professionals are uniquely qualified to deliver on this promise because they have a comprehensive view of the destination, local expertise, and extensive in-market relationships. Through dialogue with the CVB sales professional, he or she understands both your hot buttons and where there may be room for flexibility. “If the CVB has a relationship with the customer and understands their needs,” says Ed Kady, “ they essentially qualify the lead together and the customer is guided in the right direction. The CVB should then share the insights they’ve gained with the hotel, and the result can be a more customized, competitive proposal.”
By partnering with the CVB, being clear about your needs, and creating a complete and thoughtful RFP with a narrow distribution, you’re on the road to successful site selection.