Negotiating Hotel Contracts

Negotiating Hotel Contracts: 20 Win-Win Tips for Better Planner + Venue Relationships

The relationship between planners and properties is similar to learning the waltz. Planners want the best deal, the best location, and the best experience for their attendees. Properties, meanwhile, want to maximize total booking value, cut down on concessions, and turn clients into repeat business.

So how can both parties get what they want through the process of the event proposal and finalizing the hotel or venue contract? It all starts with better collaboration, a better understanding each other’s position, and alignment on the next logical step. 

At their foundation, these things require a mutual understanding of the event purpose, and a mutual desire to add value for the event at-large.

Luckily, there’s agreement on both sides to work off of, with a whopping 93% of event professionals and venues concurring that the process as a whole could be improved.

In this post, we offer up 20 tips (10 for event planners, 10 for hotel and venue sales reps) to create better collaboration and execute better negotiations, from the first contact to finalized contract.

10 Tips for Negotiating Hotel Contracts Tips as an Event Planner

1. Define and share your event purpose.

The purpose of an event is always the first thing to determine in the event planning process. Whether it’s a wedding, a reception, or a full-blown conference, no one executes an event just for the sake of having it. So what’s that goal or purpose?

It’s obvious that everything should map back to these objectives for planners, but it’s not quite as obvious to communicate them to the venue as well.

Do you have a specific outcome you want for the event? Is there a definitive experience you’re trying to create for attendees? All of these elements are helpful for planners to communicate to properties so that they are able to see your vision and how they can fit within it. Share it as early as the RFP.

2. Be clear about your vision and expectations.

It can be easy for planners to fall into the trap of not being transparent about their meeting. You don’t want to give up all of your cards right away, which is understandable. However, being clear about what you’re looking for in your meeting will always work to your benefit. Here are a few areas in which you might want to communicate up front:

  • Dates of program and flexibility
  • Key concerns and challenges of program
  • The event objectives you’ve defined
  • Event budget and non-negotiables

3. Communicate non-negotiable concessions.

It can be very misleading and challenging on both sides if you are holding a non-negotiable card close to the chest, only to throw a curveball at the end of the negotiation process. Sales managers may feel like you haven’t trusted them with the information when they could have leveraged other parts of the program to compensate.

In general, it also adds an extra layer of back-and-forth, which can drive both parties crazy. In fact, in a recent Social Tables survey, one venue professional replied, “There’s too much back and forth. Just give me all of the requested concessions at one time.”

Being open about these can open up the door for creative concessions that you never even knew were a possibility.

Tip Sheet: Understanding Event Contracts

4. What are your success metrics?

If you were being graded on something, wouldn’t you want to know up-front? Especially if it would help improve your service?

When everyone is in-the-know and transparent about how success will be measured, they all start off on an equal foundation and are put in the best position to succeed.

At the end of the day, a successful event matters to properties, too, because successful events mean repeat business and strong testimonials. Sharing how you’ll measure success and where your events have fallen short in the past can empower venues to be better partners throughout the process. Start with past survey results, client/stakeholder feedback, and any attendee engagement metrics you may have.

5. Match setups and menus.

The less furniture venues have to move and the fewer types of food caterers have to prepare, the more you save the venue work (and your event some money). Matching setups with an event that’s earlier in the day or the previous day is a great way to make your event more valuable to the venue without adding dollars to the venue or hotel contracts for events.

The same goes for food. When the catering staff can make twice as much of one food as opposed to a completely different food, it saves time and drives down your F&B minimum.

6. Ditch your misconceptions about compensation.

Oftentimes, event planners will assume that a sales rep is price-gouging while negotiating hotel contracts. While this may differ at non-hotel venues, sales managers at hotels are really only compensated based on three different things: overnight rooms, the event room rental, and the F&B minimum.

As a result, other pieces of contracts are open for negotiating with hotels for events, and reps are unlikely to push as hard when it comes to ancillary elements.

And remember: Being flexible doesn’t mean folding right away. Hotels should always be able to negotiate down from your very first interaction and offer additional benefits.

Metrics regarding how planners are trying to optimize events
Infographic from Cvent

7. Prioritize your site visit.

There’s nothing more infuriating for hotels and venues, then when a planner skips a site visit, only to have complaints that could have been avoided with one. The due diligence of scheduling and attending a site visit allows everyone to connect before the event and gives the venue a chance to get in front of any issues that might arise.

To make the most of your site visit:

  • Provide a timeline
  • Specify F&B needs beforehand or on-site
  • Bring your A/V supplier
  • Create and share an event diagram
  • Communicate event specifics
  • Keep a flexible mindset

It’s also a great opportunity to see how willing venues are to customize to meet your needs. 74% of venue professionals said that they work with the event planner before a site visit to offer some level of customization in the walkthrough.

8. Give feedback early and often.

Oftentimes, planners can be extremely vocal through contract negotiation and event setup, then it’s crickets after the bill’s been paid. Venues want your feedback and want to know where they can improve. Plus, keeping the relationship open is only going to make things run smoother the next time you host an event at this venue.

If you had a great experience, make sure to give the venue a great rating. Word of mouth is as important to an event venue as it is to any other business, so help the property by guiding other event planners to the same great experience.

Share the feedback from your surveys, and comments from your attendees and VIPs, as well.

9. Leverage the opportunity for repeat business.

Be authentic at the get-go and make it clear to the property that your repeat business is a possibility (if it is). This opens up the opportunity for a lower rate with a multi-event contract. Whether the event is held annually or you know you’ll be planning a similar event later in the year, this information helps properties prioritize your group against other business. Give yourself the leg up.

10. Where are you flexible in this venue contract negotiation?

Many times planners approach properties with many demands, but not a lot of flexibility. However, that flexibility can be your ticket to a lower rate or a concession in an area that is a priority for you.

Letting a sales rep know the areas where you’re flexible up front can speed up negotiations and lead to more creative concessions overall. These could be areas like:

  • Meeting/event dates
  • Setup and tear-down dates
  • Food and beverage menus
  • Sleeping room types

10 Contract Negotiation Tips for Venue Sales Teams

1. Map the proposal back to the event purpose.

Your job isn’t to sell the planner, it’s to add value as a collaborative partner in a way that makes the partnership and space desirable. Step one is asking for the theme, agenda, and any personalized elements up front.

From there, venues should work the purpose into each piece of the event proposal — especially any attempted upsells. One easy area to accomplish this as a full-service venue or hotel is by leveraging F&B

Are sustainability or well-being big pieces of the theme? Then showcase a healthy menu and local, sustainably-sourced food. Is a certain type of produce or dish in-season locally? Make it the centerpiece of the menu to emphasize locality and save on shipping. Thinking in this vein can unlock a whole new breadth of opportunities in your event proposals, using purpose to help make the case in negotiations.

Tip Sheet: Understanding Event Contracts

2. Understand what planners are looking for.

When we recently surveyed 350 event planners and 350 hotels and venues, we found misalignment between what planners are actually looking for in a property and what venues think that they’re looking for. (Pictured in the images below.)

This type of misalignment creates a fundamental disconnect from the get-go and keeps venues from being able to speak the right “language” in negotiations and pitches.

What do planners actually care about in an event space?

3. Communicate visually.

By helping planners visualize the space from the start, they’re able to imagine their event in your property. This is powerful because 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and the inclusion of visuals increases retention by 4x. 

Really, it boils down to the difference between including a bulleted list in a proposal or a diagram of the event. Which would help you visualize an event better?

Using event diagramming software, properties can easily create templates and adjust them on the fly to whip up custom diagrams for proposals and beyond. Plus, properties can easily pull diagrams from similar events and make a few quick tweaks, saving time and boosting close rates. Planners can even hop in and work with properties in real-time.

4. Customize the site visit.

In the same survey, Social Tables recently found that close rates jump 10% when venues offered a customized site inspection. But what are planners actually looking for in a site visit? The image below breaks down results from the 350 event professionals who were surveyed. As you can see, the answer–first and foremost–is aesthetics.

why planners go on site visits

There are a lot of different ways to customize the site inspection, but if you can, always set the room and tailor the walk-through specifically to the event. (Oh, and make sure you have a decision-maker on-site, because if a planner walks out your doors without signing, there’s a 50% chance they’re not coming back.)

How hotels and venues customize site visits

5. Give planners a single point of contact.

When surveyed, a majority of planners said that bad communication was the number one reason that they ultimately went with another venue. A single point of contact is one of your best bets to eliminate bad communication and win more group business.

When planners are sent from one rep to the next, the triangulation of contacts can lead to communication becoming a burden. In fact, getting passed along from one venue rep to the next is one of the biggest pet peeves of planners.

Give planners a single, main contact and have that contact source details from other reps and departments.

6. Centralize communication. 

In addition to giving planners a single point of contact, another way to improve communication is to centralize it using an event management tool. By getting rid of email chains and keeping all conversations and files in one place, communication becomes easier and your relationships will definitely improve.

It can make a huge difference throughout the proposal and into the event planning process, as the venue contract, diagrams, and approvals are stored together in one source of truth for all stakeholders.

Learn More About Event Sales Solution

7. Include internet on the house.

Power, rigging, and internet costs can kill a planner’s event budget. Event electrical power, group internet usage, and rigging needs can vary depending on the scope of the event. You probably have to require the use of your rigging labor and equipment for safety reasons, so why not include internet as a bonus?

Everybody wins, and the inclusion can lead to more flexibility on the planner side in a different part of the negotiation. 

8. Prove the success of past, similar events.

A site visit might is one method of proving your venue is viable, but reps don’t always get that chance early on in the sales cycle. So how can sales teams hurdle the initial doubts that stand in the way of a closed deal? One way is proving that the space worked for a past event by sharing diagrams, floor plans, results from post-event surveys, and feedback from other planners.

Using a cloud-based tool for floor plans, diagramming, and guest management makes it easy to pull the past examples that kickstart future relationships — especially if it has smart online file storage for events.

trending event diagramming technology

9. Apply attrition fees based on hotel demand.

If unused rooms from a block are sold, proactively offer lower attrition rates. This is something that planners may negotiate anyway, but offering it proactively can make for a great relationship builder.

At the end of the day, your property is going to make the money either way, so why not use that to start out on the right foot?

If a room block is being held for a high-demand period, offer to minimize attrition fees in exchange for releasing rooms earlier. This gives you more opportunity to fill those rooms with higher-rate transient business, while also incentivizing the planner and building the relationship.

The Ultimate Group Sales Playbook

10. Don’t be afraid to connect planners with local suppliers.

Today’s leisure and business travelers are craving one thing regardless of the destination: authenticity. The hotel experience in a sleeping room or event space doesn’t change depending on the destination. As a result, planners are starting their location search at local hotspots like restaurants and bars before traditional spaces.

That leaves hoteliers with two options:

  1. After planners book a restaurant event, let them decide if they want to book guest rooms at a local hotel, or test the waters with Airbnb.
  2. Proactively reach out to local restaurants and pubs and set up a preferred pricing referral agreement. That way, you can satisfy clients that are looking for something different without risking any guest-rooms to Airbnb.

With these type of partnerships in the back pocket, it gives hotels a card to play when planners are looking to expand beyond the usual experience.

With partnership and purpose, comes event success.

Both planners and properties both have a part in ensuring an event is successful. By collaborating and being transparent about needs and wants, both parties can meet their goals. Negotiating hotel contracts for events can lead to stress and strife, but it really all materializes from miscommunication and misalignment.

Start with the event purpose, and keep that as the main focus through the proposal, contract process, and beyond–and you’ll ensure a smoother relationship from start to finish.

Don’t forget to check out our Guide to Event Contracts!

Updated December 7, 2018

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