A hotel’s group business revenue relies on its sales manager’s negotiation skills. Therefore, it’s critical to ensure that they have the right tools and tactics to give their property the upper hand at the bargaining table.
While usually viewed as the most adversarial and stressful phase of the sales process, negotiations are an opportunity to boost client relationships and position oneself for future opportunities. The key is to accomplish these goals while also maximizing the hotel’s ROI.
Two group business negotiation experts—longtime hotelier Bob Korin and seasoned meeting planner and now hospitality consultant Joan Eisenstodt—share their tips on gaining a competitive advantage without ignoring the planner perspective. Eisentodt is a hospitality consultant and trainer who has planned meetings for more than 40 years for clients like the American Dental Education Association, American Immigration Lawyers Association, and Council on Foundations. Korin is the director of national accounts eastern region for Hilton Hotels Hawaii, and has more than 20 years experience in accelerating group business for brands like Hilton and Marriott.
Be Transparent About the Hotel’s Needs
Even the most senior planner may not completely understand how a specific property operates or where profit centers are, Korin said. “By being completely transparent, you’ll earn the planner’s trust and smooth negotiations on both sides.”
Eisenstodt agrees. “Be open about your rates and the F&B revenue that you have to pull in,” she said. “Planners are realistic and would rather know what we’re getting into.”
Understand What Hurdles The Planner Faces
Be inquisitive and ask the meeting planner what objections they expect to face in their own companies/organizations. Help them present their case when selecting the property.
Make The Attendee Experience a Top Priority
Meeting and event planners only want to work with vendors who are as concerned as they are with their participants and delivering a memorable and meaningful experience.
Bring the Best Negotiation Partner
Most often during negotiations, hotel sales managers exclude the one vital staff member that should be there—the conference services manager.
“Convention services is going to bring business back—not sales,” Eisenstodt explained. Planners rely on and collaborate with convention service managers to execute a successful event, so it’s important to include them in site inspections, follow-up conversations, and especially negotiations.
Thoroughly Consider the Right Concession Mix
Instead of hastily throwing in concessions, take the time to understand the meeting planner’s priorities, the company’s culture, and what drives planners’ decisions. Then, customize the offer and teach them the value of each concession.
Stop Blaming Hotel Policy
“Don’t say, ‘We can’t do that because it’s not in our policy,’” warned Eisenstodt, explaining that this shows that you’re not willing to negotiate, you’re just going by script, or worse, you don’t know what you’re doing. This negotiation is another phase of the hotelier-planner relationship, so don’t hide behind policy to weasel out of sticky conversations.
Research The Group’s History
“The more you know, the better your negotiations will be,” Eisenstodt said. It’s essential to gather intelligence on the group’s history. A tool like GroupSync can help to find the group’s travel patterns, average daily rate, contracted rooms versus actual pick-up, true F&B spend, and past booked venues.
Use Social Media to Prepare for Negotiations
Leverage social intelligence to clarify what personally motivates the planner. Read through their social media posts, profiles, comments, and articles they like and share.
Positioning Yourself as a Negotiation Ally
Getting the best deal for the property is only part of the job. It’s equally important to show the planner that you are fighting for them too. Many planners consider hotel contracts overwhelming and confusing. Review the document together and go over calculations, details, and small print. This helpful gesture positions you as a supportive business partner, not an adversary.
Get Permission and Parameters Upfront
You must enter negotiations empowered, Korin said. Usually, hotel sales managers have to get the ‘okay’ from a director before moving discussions forward. This undermines momentum, delays the process, and can be a sign of weakness. Work with the director of sales and marketing to create a set of parameters that will allow you to negotiate from a position of authority, Korin suggested.
About the Author
Kemp Gallineau is the CEO of Groups360, a hospitality company bringing transparency and simplicity to meetings transactions. Gallineau is the former CSO for Gaylord Entertainment, SVP & GM for 3 of the largest hotels in the US.