“These dates are not flexible!”
We see that phrase in just about every meeting RFP, but here’s the problem with it: when you acknowledge up front that you aren’t willing to consider a shift in dates, you’re not only limiting your potential hotel options but also the opportunity to find some really big savings for your organization. Even if you’ve been told there’s no flexibility, you should still keep your options open.
Supply and demand
Hotel demand has outpaced supply over the last couple of years, leaving planners scrambling to find availability. While hotels may want to accommodate your group over your preferred dates, it’s more likely they can’t. They just don’t have the availability they had even just a few years ago. Giving hotels the opportunity to find other dates for your meeting opens up more options for you.
You might say, “Wait a minute. I’m usually not flexible on my dates. My boss wants it when she wants it.” This is not unusual. You should still allow the hotel to give you alternate date options because you may find that none of your hotel choices have availability. What then? You now have to be flexible. Avoid the duplicate work and check all availability up front.
Hotels are constantly working to complete their “occupancy puzzle.” A minor adjustment to your dates may fit your group perfectly into the hotel’s “puzzle.” You could quickly become a hero in your organization by finding the hotel that needs your size group to fill one of its occupancy holes. The right hotel will often incent you by offering some very special pricing and cost savings in return for your flexibility.
Here’s how you can add flexibility to your RFP process:
Set the tone upfront
On your next meeting request, put this sentence right at the top so all hotels see it.
“Although the dates are firm, we’ll consider being flexible if your offer justifies the change.”
This simple sentence will ensure you get offers from nearly every hotel on your list. And there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have one or two stellar bids that just might change everyone’s mind about how flexible they really are.
Don’t give up on “no availability”
If a hotel still comes back with “No Availability” or makes an offer that exceeds your budget, ask them this question:
“Where can you put my meeting that makes the most sense for your hotel and helps me reduce my costs?”
The answer you get back from the hotel may open up your options to add value and improve your event experience. See, maybe your dates are flexible.
Continue your flexibility after you sign the contract
As soon as your contract is signed with the hotel, send the sales manager and your conference service manager a quick note asking them to identify your group in their system as the first group to call if they need a group to be flexible.
Why is this important? First off, you set the tone for the relationship by offering to help up-front. Second, you’re not saying you will be flexible – just that you want the first option to say yes or no. It’s a no-lose offer for both sides.
Most groups have some level of flexibility in their program, especially if there’s enough time to react. The requested changes may vary. They may ask if you could simply change meeting rooms, or if you could adjust your arrival/departure dates. Often you’ll be rewarded for your flexibility with some type of incentive or additional concessions, so it’s well worth consideration.
Bending a little at the right time doesn’t hurt if you’ve practiced being flexible. It’s also good karma. Meeting planners who practice flexibility often find that hotels will “bend over backward” in times of need.
Written by: Mike Mason