Venue Sourcing from a Meeting Planner's Perspective
What planners go through to find the perfect hotel
By Andy McNeill CEO, American Meetings, Inc. (AMI) | November 25, 2012
Hoteliers and meeting planners have a symbiotic relationship that with the development of the World Wide Web has become even more complex. Meeting planners face the challenge every day of sourcing properties for exacting clients who demand speed, efficiency and best price, while hoteliers constantly manage room blocks, attrition and hundreds of sales leads at any given time. Both priorities are equally important and timely. The tried in true hotel selection processes coupled with the invention of web-based site selection software has transformed this landscape providing both opportunity and challenges. Let's review from a meeting planners' perspective providing insight for hoteliers on the meeting planner process in regards to sourcing venues, hotel rooms and meeting space.
A typical morning in a meeting planners life may start with a simple request from a client to find a hotel for a conference of 300 attendees for a 4 day/ 3 night in the Northeast. Believe it or not, this could be the only information provided by a client. No specific date, no city, not hotel type. So begins the step by step process of culling the event specifications from a client. The client for a meeting planner may be an internal employee in a large organization or a private client for a meeting planning firm. It is important to remember that many clients are not experts at sourcing. Meeting planners quickly become something akin to an investigative reporter pulling information from a reluctant source. Why would the source be reluctant? Well, it can be for several reasons. The client may not have all of the information themselves. Perhaps they know they want it in the first quarter, but are not quite sure of the dates. Maybe, they are still building the financial model on the program, but have not settled on a per night room rate. Or quite often the case, they have not completed formulated the meal function strategy.
All of these examples can prevent a complete and comprehensive rfp being provided to the candidate hotels. An experienced planner will then take the client through a step by step interview of the event to leave no stone unturned. From a meeting planners perspective (a little secret here), the more information they have from the client, the better position for the planner with the hotel. Providing a complete rfp ensure the best initial negotiating position. A good planner will have all the details before they submit an rfp. An inexperienced planner will waste their time, an hotelier's time and their client's time by not doing their homework. This is by far where the experienced planner brings the most value.
Let's take a sneak peek into a planner's client management. One of over 64,000 (May 2011, Bureau of Labor & Statistics), Sarah is your typical meeting planner. A female in her late 30's and in the industry for about a decade, she most likely has upwards of 6-12 clients and manages anywhere from 1 large program annually to over 60 small programs. Now, Sarah has a lot to manage, in addition to her venue sourcing. Though, quite arguably, one of the top three most important aspects of her job, she may be also be responsible for marketing to attendees, registration/website management and extracurricular activities outside the venue.
It's to Sarah's benefit to have a step by step organized process in submitting and managing rfp' s. She interviews the client and gather's as much information as possible. In addition to the who, what, where when and how, she must ask nuanced questions to understand the attendee audience. Only then, can she guide them into the appropriate property. Are the attendee's business professionals, so efficiency and comfort will be key? Will they be bringing a spouse or families? In this case extracurricular activities at the property may be important. Is price the over-arching message she is receiving from her client? Once Sarah has all her information, she will fill in the holes with educated guesses from her years of experience, and only then will she submit the proposal to the venues.
Now that Sarah has all of her details, she will most likely do one of three things. First, she may reach out to a sales manager at a specific hotel she has worked with in the past. While this is probably the least probable of the three options, it is easy to remember a positive experience at a hotel. A meeting planner remembers everything from how the catering manager interacted with their team on site, to how the accounting group processed the bill 30 days after the program. If Sarah already knows of a property that fits the specifications, it is possible, she will go straight to them. However, since most rfp' s require at least a minimum of a three bid process in today's cost conscience world, this is unlikely. It also greatly restricts options should there be a date or venue conflict. The second choice is to contact one or several national hotel managers either with a national chain or a hotel group. These individuals may represent several independent hotels and/or chains. This gives Sarah several benefits. First, these sales reps, know their properties very, very well. They know meeting space size and the extra particulars that may not come through on an electronic rfp. They also know the most current promotions in their hotel group. For example, Kyle Lourie, from Associated Luxury Hotel Group, commented, "I have at least three promotions twice a month that are a real benefit to our meeting planner clients, so we really encourage them to check-in."
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