Talk to any planner and ask what their top three frustrations are and one topic always comes up; getting timely, complete and competitive responses to their RFP (Request for Proposal). So much has been written about this topic and the challenges associated with it, yet few offer solutions.
In this article, we will offer specific solutions and actions meeting planners can take to improve the outcome of their RFP. Our goal: How can the hotels get the information in the RFP’s they need to give a timely and competitive response and how can planners get to the top of the heap and get their RFP not only noticed, but given the best possible response?
What are the Barriers? Meeting Planner Frustrations and Hotel Perspective
RFP Backlog: We know that over the last five years Meeting Planners International (MPI) has reported a 300% increase in the number of RFP’s hotels are receiving. Planners might feel the more hotels they source, the better chance they will have in getting good response rates and finding the right hotel for their meeting. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening. Hotels are looking at the number of hotels planners’ source and may feel their return on investment (ROI) is unlikely. For example, if a planner distributes an RFP to 50 hotels, the hotel will see they only have a one in fifty chance in getting the business.
Incomplete Information: After planners take the time to send their RFP’s out, sometimes hotels will respond back with an incomplete response to the specifications. Hotels are also dealing with incomplete information. Cat Carter, Director of Sales and Marketing at The Westin Georgetown stated they “are getting 30-40 RFP’s a day with each RFP taking between 30-45 minutes to complete.” If all the information needed for a hotel to make a decision is not included in the original RFP, it will delay getting a timely response.
Hotel Internal RFP Evaluation Process: In recent years, almost all hotels have implemented a new process in completing their RFP’s. Decisions are being made more strategically. The process includes a team approach where not only the sales professional but sales directors, revenue managers and sometimes the general manager are all involved. For example, during the evaluation process, a sales manager may bring an RFP to ‘sell’ to the team. At the same time, another sales person may have an RFP over similar dates. The sales person will have to convince the team why their RFP should receive a competitive response.
What Can Meeting Planners Do and Who Can Help Them?
So with the increased volume and the need for complete information to support the internal RFP evaluation process, how can planners’ ensure their RFP will get a timely and competitive response?
When crafting an RFP, planners should review it from two perspectives: first the basics of what needs to be included in an RFP and second, what would take the RFP to the top of the heap?
Having a comprehensive RFP is the first step in getting a response from a hotel; these are the basics. There could also be circumstances in a destination planners may not be aware of affecting the hotel room demand and therefore their RFP. Planners need an ally: someone who will help them get their RFP to the top of the heap. The local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) or Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) is the best first resource to work with when crafting an RFP.
The CVB sales professional works with the planner to determine what the planner is looking for and can help eliminate and/or include venues based on those requirements. Michael Smith, Vice President of Convention Sales at Travel Portland added “The CVB is an extension of both teams. We are an extension of the planner’s team as well as the hotel’s team, acting as an intermediary. We work to understand the meeting to advocate on behalf of the planner.”
Additionally, the CVB sales professional is a great, unbiased advocate. By working closely with the hotels in the destination, the sales professional has an in-depth knowledge of not only what the hotels are looking for, but also what is going on in the city that is unique to each destination such as other events and seasonality that might affect getting a competitive, timely response to an RFP.
Main Components of an RFP: The Basics
Hotels are looking at the RFP’s they receive and most likely placing them into one of the following categories:
- High Priority- This is where you want to be!
- Requires More Research- These are RFP’s that require more research and planners loose valuable time in getting a response for their meeting. This may cause the hotel to not be focused on your meeting.
- Black Hole – This is where there are more attractive meetings that will take precedence and the hotels may not even take the time to respond to your RFP.
To ensure getting an RFP placed in the High Priority category, a good resource to use is the Convention Industry Council’s Accepted Practices Exchange (CIC/APEX) workbook .
The workbook includes five areas every RFP should include:
- Event Profile (market segment, total attendance, attendee demographic, etc.)
- RFP Information (decision date, decision process, etc.)
- Room Block (desired dates, locations under consideration, room block, rate range, etc.)
- Event History (venue, city, attendance, room night, pickup, etc.)
- Event Space Requirements (day, function type, set-up, number of attendees, etc.)
Digging Deeper into the RFP
We know it’s important to have a complete RFP; however there are certain sections where a planner is able to take it beyond basic. They include:
- RFP information: Think strategically about the information you include. Cara Banasch, Vice President of Convention Sales and Strategy at the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau advises, “If possible, allow 48 hours for a response from the hotel and the more time a hotel/venue has to respond, the better chance they will take the time to review it and give it the time it deserves to give a more thorough response.”
- Decision Process: It is helpful for hotels/venues to understand the decision process and an approximate timeline for the organization. For example, indicate if the RFP needs to be reviewed by the Board of Directors, if other destinations are being considered, and if there will be a phase one, and then a narrowing down of hotels.
- Room Block: If possible, include alternate dates. Mary Kreins, National Sales Director at the The Walt Disney Company offers, “Even though you may have always done a Monday arrival pattern, it will help in getting responses if you are able to say to the hotel, ‘we only want to look at a Monday arrival pattern, but if you can make it worth my while to look at another set of dates and tell me why, I might consider something else.’ Let the hotel bring some value back to you. You may be able to save your organization a lot of money.”
- Rate Range: Cat Carter, Director of Sales & Marketing at The Westin Georgetown adds that planners should “Be realistic with your budget and if you give a range to work within, and tailor your rate range to the specific destination, that would be important.” In the past, planners might keep their budget information close to the vest, thinking it will help them better during negotiations. But in today’s world, you may not be getting to the table because your RFP didn’t rise to the top and get the attention it deserves.
- Event History: It is imperative for hotels to have previous sleeping room history included. Michael Smith, Vice President of Convention Sales at Travel Portland advised that “Three years of good history is ideal, including where you were, what property, and room rates paid.” Some planners might be hesitant to include history due to some anomaly’s, but it’s better to include the history and note what those anomalies were and why versus not including anything. It can sometimes be a red flag to a hotel when there isn’t sufficient sleeping room history, or at the very least it can cause a delay in getting a response.
- Event Space: Your RFP should include day, function type, set-up, number of attendees, start and end time. It’s important to include as specific information as possible such as diagrams and A/V requirements.
- Specific Questions: Include as much information as possible, but be sure to prioritize them. Organize the list to include deal-breakers at the top and the nice-to-have’s toward the bottom. For example, if a planner includes 38 questions in the initial RFP, it might be too much for the hotel to answer right away. The hotel might end up rushing through it, or worse, not responding. Work with your DMO to identify what are the key components to the success of your meeting. Mary Kreins adds that planners “want hotel sales people hungry for your business. Once you have the hotel engaged then bring out your longer list of specifics. They will be willing and want to work with you on it.”
The Planner’s RFP Advocate
As our industry evolves and adapts to the new RFP reality, we know planners are frustrated and hotels are becoming overwhelmed. Look to the expertise and support of the CVB to help adapt to the ever-changing RFP process.
The CVB aids planners by:
- Being their advocator and educator,
- Advocating for the complete picture of the organization/planner,
- Helping to set realistic expectations,
- Educating the planner on understanding local demand factors, and
- Giving hotels the opportunity to put their best foot forward with the information they need.
Remember, whether you create one RFP a year or 100, look to the expertise of the CVB. No organization has stronger hotel and venue connections and better destination knowledge than the CVB. It is the CVB’s mission to help you find the right fit for your meeting. To reach out to CVB experts at more than 135 top meeting destinations, visit empowerMINT.com.