When an attendee is considering your event, they’re looking at total travel cost. A cheap event ticket won’t help if hotel rooms are the price of half of their weekly paycheck. Negotiating economical room rates is the difference between you selling out and choosing another host city next year, if you’re still hosting the event.
Event tickets in cities with expensive lodging are difficult sells. The more you can do to keep hotel room costs down, the better chance you’ll have of someone coming to your event. But how do you do that? Hotels are only willing to go so deep in their discounts of room blocks. Here are a few master tricks to help you get the best accommodation rates out there.
Master Tips on Negotiating the Best Room Rate
As an event planner, you likely know all the tricks that come with higher numbers of rooms and off-season bookings but there are other things you can do to ensure your attendees get the best value for their travel money.
- Use the Convention and Visitors Bureau. These folks get paid to bring big groups to the city. They want to help you out.
- Book early and often. Booking in advance is a trick most planners know but if you can book future events there as well, they may give you an even larger discount.
- Look for privately-owned or boutique hotels. Chain hotels have a formula for discounting that they must stick to. Privately-owned establishments have more leeway.
- Work together with other event planners. You can create a group of planner referrals for multiple events and negotiate en masse. Your power to negotiate is higher the larger your group.
- Do your research. Often the discounts you get are off the hotel rack rate. If you go on the internet you’ll see what they’re charging the average traveler. Who cares if they give you a discount of 50%, if people on discount travel sites are still getting lower rates than your guests. (I saw this happen this week with a block of rooms for a conference costing guests $50 more than the rate for guests who went directly to the hotel site.) When you negotiate the rooms, pull up the data on room rates that you’ve been tracking and mention it to the salesperson.
- Be social. If you have a large social imprint and following, chances are your requests will be accommodated. If hotel managers see you talking and reviewing on social media in a positive and professional way, they’ll likely want you to review them as well.
- Ask for add-ons. If they can’t cut the rates, what can they add or cut? No resort fee? Free parking? Free room upgrades for the first 50 bookings? Some things are easier to add than cutting the room price.
- Always negotiate over the phone or in person. Emails or RFP forms aren’t as personal and it’s easier for the other side to say no. They may tell you electronic communication is more efficient but negotiate over the phone or in person as often and for as long as possible.
- Shorten your event. Negotiating better rates is easier on shorter stays. Asking a hotel to block 100 rooms for a week at a discounted rate is more of a hardship for them than 2 nights in the middle of the week.
- Get to know managers at local hotels you use often. Develop a relationship, get better rates.
- Ask if it’s a good time. As mentioned earlier, always negotiate over the phone or in person. As a professional courtesy ask if “now” is a good time. No one will want to take the time to give you the best rate if they’re filling in on the front desk because someone called out sick.
- Call the hotel directly and speak to a meeting person at the hotel you’re visiting. Forget that 800 number.
- Mention your options. It’s okay to quote the competition, just do it in a professional way and always make sure they’re not owned by the same entity.
- Change your attitude. Negotiations aren’t a battle to see who wins. They’re a way to have a mutually beneficial exchange. Make this your attitude and the negotiation will be more successful.
- Explain your attendees are very value conscious. Value-conscious attendees are not motivated by brands. Make sure the hotel realizes you need to bring the best value to them.
- Know this is not an activity to be rushed. Don’t think of room negotiations as something to be crossed off as quickly as possible. It benefits you to have a good relationship with the person in charge. View negotiating as a process that will take time. Give yourself a timeline that fits that concept.
- Do not ask for it all at once. Don’t ask for the lowest room rate, shuttle service, free WiFi, and a free private pool party. Concentrate on what you want more (the room) and then once that is negotiated ask if that includes free WiFi. It’s easier for them to say yes or agree to throw it in at that point, when it’s just a small inclusion, than when you’re asking for the world.
- Be willing to walk away. Unless it’s the only hotel in the area, always be willing to walk away or there’s no negotiating.
- Work with a wholesaler or group travel person. Some wholesalers can negotiate rates at dozens of hotels in the time it takes to hear back from one.
- Pretend you’re not the final decision maker. The first question most hotels will ask is what’s your budget or ticket price. They want to know your expectations so they begin negotiating there. If you get asked that question, deflect it by saying, “we haven’t finalized it yet. Some of that will depend on the accommodation quotes we receive. But I need to get the best rate for my attendees because they are a very budget-conscious group.” This gives you more time to consider the quote and allows you to dodge the budget questions easily.
Additional Tips to Help Attendees
Finally, there are a few things you can do to help budget-conscious attendees.
When you present your list of negotiated hotel rates, ensure you have a price point for every budget from economy to luxury. Some people enjoy a splurge at an event, while others will try to stay several to a room in the local motel. Even if you don’t have special rates negotiated with a more economical motel, check availability and provide a link on your site. Attendees will appreciate the options.
Know the Landscape
Many attendees are turning to non-traditional accommodation options like Airbnb and VRBO. However, two things occur when this happens. Your attendees are not all centrally located so that feeling of comradery of “taking over a hotel” may be diluted. Plus, some cities are cracking down on these types of short-term rentals. Santa Monica, for instance, has eliminated about 80% of its private overnight rentals through city regulations.
It’s important this information is communicated to attendees. They may assume they’re getting a good rate from an owner only to find out that the place has been shut down as part of widening municipal regulations.
Negotiating the best hotel rates takes time, just like establishing any relationship. Don’t rush it or be antagonistic. Remember, when done well, both sides will benefit.
Additional Information on Hotel Rates and Saving Money
The Art of Venue Negotiation [free ebook]
75 Ways to Use Event Tech to Save Money
Venue Contract Negotiations: A Primer for Event Profs
How to Negotiate Killer Deals with Venues [Webinar]
5 Negotiation Mistakes Every Event Planner Should Avoid