Knowledge, empathy key in event negotiations
 
Knowledge, empathy key in event negotiations
08 OCTOBER 2013 6:48 AM

The best CVBs facilitate negotiations between meetings planners and hotel sales professionals.

Editor’s note: This is the second column in a three-part series examining the evolution of meeting negotiations. The first column highlighted the importance of two-way interaction between meeting planners and hotel sales professionals. The final column describes the importance of open communication throughout the negotiation process.

Facilitating a better negotiation between meeting planners and hotel sales representatives can often mean turning to the outside for help. Particularly helpful sources are the convention and visitor bureaus. In reality, they’re not only gateways to cities but to all the hotels within the cities.

When I asked Rachel Benedick, VP of sales and services for Visit Denver, for advice, her immediate response was: “Please do not come to the CVB after the contract is signed. It will be too late. We want to be the first person you call. We are the destination experts of our area.”

Corporate clients often don’t see the need for a CVB because they’ve already targeted a property for their meeting. Rachel encourages to “go first to the CVB anyway. You don’t know what they know.”

The CVB already has a well- established relationship with hoteliers from years of working together. The CVB speaks hoteliers’ language and can provide leverage to move multiple room blocks around to get the pattern that the group needs, Rachel said. Meeting planners can’t do that alone.

“We are the advocate for the group and the liaison for the hotel with the goal to maximize the business potential,” she said.

CVBs also bring a big-picture perspective. They know everything a destination can offer, when the peak seasons are and how to best match budgets to price points. They can advise on issues that may even get the group to change their dates or actual location of their meeting. 

In short, they can arm you with the knowledge you need to better navigate the negotiation.

In turn, they also can provide hotel sales reps with information about your business to better facilitate the process.

Visit Denver, for instance, issues an “All about you” form that the client fills out. It is a very comprehensive background and profile sheet that helps hotel sales reps personalize their request for proposal, site tour and presentations. It could take months for a group to establish this kind of rapport with a hotel sales rep on its own.

When a potential group client comes to Denver, Visit Denver organizes the entire day, and site visits move like clockwork. “We are not interested in wasting the client’s time,” Rachel said. 

A good CVB breaks the ice between a sales rep and client and raises the comfort level when it comes time to go to contract. The CVB does not get involved in this phase. At that point, Rachel said, “May the best hotel sales person win. We are a lead generator for the hotels singled out as a best fit. The rest is up to them.”

For planners, however, it helps to understand more about the needs and thought processes of those hotel sales professionals.

The other side of the table
Gary Hernbroth was in national sales and hotel operations management for more than 18 years and is currently the motivational trainer and coaching facilitator for his company Training for Winners. He brings meeting planners and hotel suppliers together in workshops and focus groups to discuss meeting trends and challenges.

Gary said that often during these workshops, the meeting planners talk about lack of trust when negotiating with hotel sales professionals. For instance, a sales rep did not inform the planner of a scheduled renovation or was not transparent enough about what the hotel can or can’t do for the group. That trains the planners to learn to ask a lot of questions up front, but it also puts them in a defensive mode.

“We are working with an archaic model today,” Gary said. “Sales managers don’t have half the negotiating power they used to have in the last few years. They have become a go-between to the marketing director or revenue manager; the sales person is assigned because the planner happens to be in their territory.”

Dennis A. Noonan, VP of sales and marketing for Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, shared a similar sentiment. “Sales people have become the middle person to the marketing director, and everything goes back to the revenue management program.”

Dennis does his own marketing trips while working side by side with the sales force in order to keep that personal trust.

“The key is finding what is important to the buyer,” he said. “We are flexible; we love partnership, and we like to make new friends.”

When negotiating, Dennis said, “The worst decision we can ever make is no decision.” The client needs an answer now, and we don’t want to waste the client’s time while we double check something. 

The struggle seems to be in the RFP process. A lot of properties plug in the needs of a meeting and respond with rooms and rates. Dennis prefers first to have a conversation with the client to communicate three key points:

  • Is the Nemacolin right for you? (Allow the client at anytime during this process to say no.)
  • What is the client’s meeting history and the other stakeholders in the meeting?
  • Make sure the client understands the contract process before the RFP process begins.

That is where creating the hotel relationship and trust begins. “Otherwise I am just a piece of paper with a rate,” Dennis said.

Andria specializes in hotel relationship marketing. With more than 18 years of professional experience covering client objectives and meeting needs, Andria understands the business perspective from the hotel, corporate client, agency and planner point of view. Specializing in hotel relationship marketing during a renovation, conversion or new construction period, Andria works closely with a hotel in brand development by creating customized communication programs for the group/guest to facilitate convenience during the renovation period. Andria is a member of HSMAI, MPI, M&I, PCMA and more. You can reach her at www.meetingknowledge.com or andria@meetingknowledge.com.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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