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Sourcing and Contracting in Today’s Environment Step-by-step best practices for the first phase of planning By Stacey Jackson Bloom

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ite sourcing, the first stage of planning, has become more challenging today. In the buyer’s market of the past, meeting planners had the upper hand in selecting and negotiating with venues. But in recent years we have seen a dramatic shift in pricing and hotel availability, due to a robust economy and a reduction in the number of new rooms coming to market. With the increased demand, it is clearly a seller’s market. The environment has fluctuated greatly in the following ways, which planners should be aware of when beginning their venue searches: Venues are being booked farther out than before. In some cases, they are being booked two or more years out, especially for larger meetings. First-tier cities, such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles, are in such high demand that their willingness to negotiate on pricing has diminished.

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Under these market conditions, the following best practices are especially critical to successfully conducting a venue search and negotiating the final contract.

GATHERING THE INFORMATION

Planners will need to gather several details to begin the sourcing process and to create an RFP (request for proposal). Location – Determine the target destination and type of property for the meeting. How important is ease of air and ground accessibility? Are downtown venues or resort properties preferred? Does the meeting profile lend itself more to an upscale, smaller boutique property, or to a larger convention hotel with several meeting space options? Sleeping Room Needs – Make sure to gather all types of sleeping rooms needed across all date, including shoulder dates. Do you need any suites for VIPs? Do you need guestrooms pre and post meeting for staff, vendors or clients? Are the meeting dates flexible? Meeting Space Needs – Compile all events that are associated with the meeting, including meals and breaks, set-up/tear down time, general session(s), breakout(s) and ad hoc meetings. Remember to include 24-hour hold when requesting space from venues. Budget – If you can get a budget range from your client, that will help in determining which cities to pursue for the final venue, in terms of sleeping room rates and so on. The budget range can also be included in the RFP, and assists hotels in providing you with a firm proposal.

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COMPLETING AN RFP

In my experience, including the information below will help to ensure you receive the best proposals and cut down on any questions from the venues. 40

and profile (if you are a third-party planner), as well as the client’s profile and industry that you are sourcing for. Event Dates – Include all date patterns that are being considered for the meeting. If you have more than one date that will work, that increases your chances of receiving more proposals and allows for better negotiation down the road. Event Specifications – Include all sleeping room needs and the budget, if available, as well as all meeting space needed for the event, such as galas, welcome receptions, attendee meals, teambuilding, etc. It is helpful to be transparent with your needs and budget, as that will save you time in the end. Deadline to Respond – A general rule is to allow venues to respond to the RFP within two days. I have found that most properties adhere to these deadlines, and it will reduce the amount of proposals you will need to chase down. Concessions to Consider – When sending out the RFP, provide venues with a list of concessions that you would like to be considered for the proposal. Meeting History – If you have this information from past years, it is beneficial to include it in your RFP. Provide the history of what was spent in previous years, as well as sleeping room pickup. Additional Questions – Have they recently renovated the sleeping rooms and meeting space, or are they planning a renovation in the future that could affect your meeting? What is the total cost of the meeting space? In addition, you should ask the venues to attach catering menus and venue layouts, so you have it handy to reference if you have any questions.

COMPILING THE RESULTS

Once most or all proposals are received, it is best to compile all of the information in a grid, so you can review the proposals side by side. I suggest narrowing it down to three to four venues to present to your client, based on the best pricing, meeting space and the overall proposal received. Following are a few key points of comparison: Sleeping Room Rates – How do the sleeping rates compare, and what is included in those rates? Meeting Space – Does the meeting space proposed fit the needs of the program and provide a nice program flow for the attendees? Are set-up and tear-down times available based on your needs? Food & Beverage – What food & beverage minimum does the venue require? Are set-up times and tear-down times available when they are needed? What are the concessions the venue is offering on top of their proposal?

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NEGOTIATING

Once you have narrowed down the options and discussed them with the client, it is advisable go back to the top venues being considered for further negotiations. Even though it is harder to negotiate in this economy, planners should try to receive the best deal possible by negotiating the following items. Facilities & Destinations 2017 fall / WINTER

Facilities & Destinations - Fall/Winter 2017  

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