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Tips for Smart Negotiating with Hotels

Everything is up for negotiation — that’s what any good contract expert says. And it’s no different when it comes to negotiating amenities with host hotels.

The best way for meeting planners to get what they want is to be upfront about it, and “then let them check off what they can’t provide,” said Melinda Burdette, director of events at Meeting Professionals International (MPI).

Ask for the Moon

The first step in negotiating hotel amenities shouldn’t be “rates, dates and space”; it should be the shoot-for-the-moon vision, said Kim Brooks-Martin, corporate director of sales strategy and development for Hospitality Ventures Management Group (HVMG), which has about 45 hotels in its portfolio.

Though the budget and the vision may not match, knowing the vision from the outset “helps us to understand how close we are or how far apart we are,” she said. “It helps me get as close as possible.”

To get the right amenities, planners need to understand the purpose of their event, understand their group’s specific needs and be willing to share that information with the hotels, which can help sales managers drill down and negotiate details that will make the event a success.

“Some planners don’t want to let us know the budget upfront, but the more information we can get in advance, giving us that vote of confidence can help us help them,” said Richard Brooks, area director of sales and marketing for the Twin City Quarter in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Sometimes planners will provide a list of concessions they want, yet the hotel sales team doesn’t know which are the must-have items or hot-button issues, he said. Offering arbitrary cookie-cutter amenities doesn’t always enhance the event and can add costs both for the planner and for the hotel. For example, a check-in reception from 5 to 6 p.m. doesn’t add value when attendees will be arriving at all hours.

Wi-Fi and AV

Many hotels offer free Wi-Fi in their guest rooms and in their conference spaces, but many others don’t. Planners can always ask for free or discounted Wi-Fi, but whether it’s complimentary or paid, they should always find out the upload and download speeds and make sure it will be sufficient, Burdette said.

Each attendee may have a smartphone, a tablet and a laptop online at the same time, especially younger groups, so large events may need to upgrade their bandwidth. Premium Wi-Fi may be needed for presentations that include streaming or video conferencing. Planners should ask if the hotel is willing to provide a complimentary upgrade, she said.

Audiovisual (AV) services can be a sticky spot, too. Kahler Hospitality Group, which has five properties that connect to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has a third-party preferred vendor for AV services, so they have no negotiating room. However, planners should ask for their entire AV wish list, then they can work on their pricing “because if you start with your must-haves, then you have no wiggle room or no room to negotiate,” said Jillian Dampier, Kahler senior sales manager.

Some planners really don’t like a hotel’s AV costs, Brooks-Martin said. But she recommended that planners not only look at the cost but also consider the overall benefit and value, such as having on-site technical help the day of the event, something they might not have if they go with an off-site vendor.

Organizations that do a lot of meetings, like MPI, may already have a contract or agreement in place with national AV companies that they can leverage on a local level for better rates, Burdette said.

Planners should also ask for complimentary hardwire drops if those will be needed for things like credit card transactions, and they should negotiate rigging, “which can be a budget-buster,” she said.

VIP Amenities

Understanding who the VIPs are and what they need can help a planner negotiate VIP amenities.

Kahler will typically offer upgrades, additional comps and welcome amenities for VIPs “because those are zero- or low-cost to the hotel, and those are easy to get approved,” Dampier said.

Whether it’s a large, one-time welcome gift or daily gifts staggered throughout the event, welcome amenities are an opportunity to wow VIPs with thoughtful moments, like a bottle of wine or their favorite snacks. Kahler also often provides VIPs with vouchers to on-site restaurants or coffee shops.

It’s common for planners to negotiate room upgrades for VIPs, but they should also discuss what the VIP needs. A VIP who plans to have an informal meeting or likes to entertain after dinner may need a one-bedroom suite or could use a complimentary light bar setup.

At hotels that have concierge levels, planners can negotiate a certain number of concierge-level upgrades for their VIPs, Brooks said.

Low Cost, Big Benefit

Some of the biggest wins in negotiating hotel amenities can come from the smallest details and come at the lowest cost.

Planners can ask for complimentary in-room delivery of the event’s newsletter or for access to the hotel’s dark channels for event messaging. Planners can negotiate complimentary easels, digital signage or storage; ask to provide bottled water for the guest rooms; and request free or discounted parking. The hotel might even be able to set up a special check-in line just for attendees.

Burdette also always tries to incorporate a food experience, such as having the chef give a presentation or provide back-of-house tours. She can also arrange tours of hotel properties to showcase LEED qualities or green initiatives, such as food composting and greenhouses.

“It doesn’t cost anything more but really elevates the
experience,” she said.

Inventory is another opportunity for an easy win. If the hotel owns it, it can often offer it for free, such as linens, chair covers or uplighting — or even couches and armchairs that can be moved from common areas to meeting rooms for a lounge feel.