by Dean Miller
Q? We’ve been looking for a location for our family reunion next summer. We’ve found several hotels we like in the New England city where we’d like to go, but the rates seem awfully high, and the hotels want to charge “extra” for just about everything. When I mentioned to one hotel salesperson that we thought they should give us the rooms for our hospitality space and banquet free of charge, he said these weren’t “realistic expectations.” Was he right?
A! It really depends. As we’ve discussed before, pricing and amenities (including items and services provided for “free”) that a hotel or other vendor is likely to offer will depend on several factors. These are the six most important ones.
- Season of the year when you plan to meet
- Days of the week you plan to meet
- Whether a special event is taking place in the area at the same time
- Size of your group
- Your group’s documented “history” (where you’ve met in the past, and the number who attended)
- How flexible you’re able to be
Let’s look at each one:
- Season of the year when you plan to meet. Summer is a busy time in some areas (beach towns, warm-weather resorts, and any place with a theme park, amusement park, or roller coasters). It’s a busy time of the year in New England, which is why the hotel salesperson indicated your request was unreasonable … for his hotel! In a “high demand” season, the hotel can sell rooms and meeting space to another group at the same – or higher – rates. Thus, the hotel really isn’t inclined to reduce their rates or offer “freebies.”
The destination’s convention and visitors bureau (CVB) should always be your first call when you begin planning your reunion. They can tell you when their high, low, and shoulder seasons are; the CVB is the place to ask about seasons.
- Days of the week you plan to meet. At some destinations, weekday nights (Monday through Thursday) are busy – and expensive! – and the weekend nights (Friday through Sunday) are deeply discounted. In other cities, the reverse is true. Again, the destination’s CVB is the place to ask about this. Sometimes, by simply having everyone arrive on Thursday rather than Wednesday, a group can save $50, $80, $100, or more per night on hotel rooms!
- Whether a special event is taking place in the area at the same time. Don’t expect any discounts or bargains if you plan a reunion in Louisville during Kentucky Derby, Daytona Beach during spring break, or Albuquerque during the Hot Air Balloon Festival.
- The size of your group. Larger groups have more purchasing and negotiating power than smaller ones. This is a simple fact of life. But a smaller group can increase their leverage by talking with a smaller hotel. If your group needs twenty rooms for three nights, you’re much better off going to a hotel that has 85 rooms than a hotel that has 500 rooms. Why? Because you’re supplying them with a much bigger block of rooms, relative to the size of their property.
- Your group’s documented “history” (where you’ve met in the past, and the number who attended). If you’ve met before, having your group’s “history” available—in writing—from the hotel(s) you’ve used in the past is extremely valuable. What hotels value more than anything else is predictability. They need to know that your family is going to show up and use all of the rooms you’ve indicated you will. If you can demonstrate you’ve done this in the past—and more than once!—they’re much more willing to negotiate rates and throw in free stuff, because they know they can count on the guest room revenue you’ve promised.
- How flexible you’re able to be. Ask for—and negotiate for—the things that are truly important to your group. Many groups make the mistake of asking hotels for anything and everything under the sun—for free! They ask for free upgrades to suites, free breakfast for everyone, free parking, free shuttles to and from the airport, free welcome receptions, free meeting space, free audio-visual equipment, free fruit baskets delivered to their VIPs, and on and on and on … all for groups occupying fifty rooms or fewer! Their motto seems to be “If we don’t ask, we won’t get!”
Frankly, many of these requests are unreasonable in many instances. Hotels are “for profit” ventures, and if providing your group with a laundry list of concessions and freebies reduces the value of your business to the point that your group becomes unprofitable for the hotel, they’ll smile, thank you for your time, and walk away.
On the reverse side of the equation, some hotels may offer you concessions or extras that aren’t that important to you—for example, a certain number of complimentary rooms, or health club passes, or meeting planner “points.” If these things don’t natter to you, offer to exchange them for some of the things that are important to your reunion: a suite for your patriarch/matriarch, free use of meeting space, or a slightly lower room rate, as examples.
In short, going into your negotiations with reasonable expectations (knowing how busy the hotel is likely to be, having your group’s history, knowing what’s important to your family members and what isn’t) will almost always result in a more successful negotiation and a better reunion.
About the Hospitality Answerman
Dean Miller is national sales director for Visit Fairfax. He can be reached at 703-752-9509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.