Organizing a reunion requires negotiation and since negotiating is not part of our culture, it rarely comes easily. We tend to accept the price and pay or go elsewhere. In this case, if you don’t negotiate, you could pay a stiff price with few, if any, extras. Prepare for the task and do your homework. Negotiating can be complex. If this is your first time negotiating, learn the facts to get the greatest value for your reunion dollars. Don’t negotiate with one hotel or one destination. The more you can play off against each other, the better deal you can drive. If you are in a position to walk away, and the hotel knows it, they will be more apt to deal.
Money-Saving Tips When Making Hotel Reservations
You’ll generally get the best group rates when you make reservations six months to two years in advance. Book early and your chosen date will be assured. You’ll probably also be able to save money by locking in an early contract. Third, early alert will increase attendance. Members will have more time to plan, save and anticipate.
It’s smart business to get a number of viable hotels bidding on your reunion. Utilize the services of the local CVB, which will contact hotels on your behalf with an RFP (request for proposal). If this isn’t available, or you need to extend outside their service area, send your own RFP directly to hotels with specific requirements. Another option? Reverse bidding sites where you post your group needs online and hotels submit electronic rate bids. This is a free service to the planner; visit http://grouptravel.hotelplanner.com.
Know the basics. Get fair value in exchange for your reunion business, but be realistic. Careful negotiating helps hotels make a reasonable profit while you get the best and most cost-effective reunion. If you are confident, you and the hotel salesperson both win.
Hotel salespeople negotiate every day. It is their job to sell rooms, so they’re going to be better at it than you. Revenue from rooms is their primary source of income, followed by food and beverage sales.
5 Strengths to Leverage
1. Reunion size
The number of rooms you need is important, so be realistic. If this is your first reunion and you ask for 100 rooms, no one will believe you can actually fill 100 rooms. But if you have a history of consistently filling 100 rooms, you definitely have the hotel’s attention.
2. Accurate record keeping
It is critical to supply documentation from past reunions. Demonstrate the economic impact of your reunion spending habits (rooms, food, beverages, meeting space and shopping patterns). It is favorable if you can make a large deposit and/or pay in full at check-out.
3. Sell the uniqueness of your reunion
Sell your group. Stress the potential marketing value of your reunion. Even if all your members are from out of town, they can recommend places for other meetings.
4. Supply and demand
Ask hotels for dates and times when rates are lowest and business is needed. These are called low, off or soft periods. They vary from location to location and can occur more than once a year. If your dates are flexible, you may be able to save 50% or more off published rates.
5. Shopping around
If you really like one location but the price is out of your range, speak up. Tell the salesperson you really like this hotel. Ask if they could work with you to make a fit. If they are genuinely interested, they will try hard to do it.
Here’s What You Can Get for Free
- Hotels can barter various services for free or reduced rates. Here’s a list of items that are open for negotiation:
- Airport, downtown or mall transportation
- Audio/visual equipment
- Baggage/porterage charges
- Banners or navigational signs
- Bonus points with chain’s loyalty club
- Complimentary hospitality suite or meeting rooms
- Complimentary welcome or farewell reception
- Complimentary rooms per designated number of reservations
- Early check-in/late check-out
- Flowers, table or room decorations
- Recreational activities
- Free or reduced-rate breakfast coupon
- Free meal or sleeping room as a door or raffle prize
- Storage for supplies and materials shipped in advance
- Suite upgrade for reunion host
- Special menu items
Contracting Hotel Space
At the end of negotiations you should receive a written contract. Review it carefully as it spells out both parties’ responsibilities. Whether it is written in legalese or not, you are bound by the terms, including any attrition clauses. Once signed, the contract becomes legally binding on both parties. Return the signed contract in person, by e-mail or by certified mail by the due date or risk losing your space.
A good contract ensures both you and the location will meet your obligations. Get everything in writing – from the smallest promised service to the type and number of rooms. Make sure total price is understood, and taxes, fees or gratuities are clearly spelled out. Ask questions if you don’t understand terminology or clauses. Change items that do not agree with your notes or a verbal agreement.
Check your contract for the following items:
- Total number of rooms held for your reunion
- How long rooms will be held before being cancelled
- Types of rooms and bedding arrangement (king, double-double)
- Number of complimentary rooms
- Meeting space requirements
- Deposit, cancellation and attrition clauses
- Cut-off dates for deposits and room block
- Reservation instructions
- Check-in/out times and dates
- Taxes, fees and gratuities
- Master accounts billing instructions
- Services and equipment
- Hotel overbooking clauses
Finally, determine upfront how your group is going to handle hotel payments. Some groups take money upfront from participants that includes hotel payments while others leave it up to each individual to make reservations and pay for their hotel rooms. There’s not a right or wrong way here, but there is a choice to be made.