Written by by Kristi Casey Sanders for Plan Your Meetings
The No. 1 problem meeting planners have today is getting hoteliers to respond to their requests for proposal (RFPs).
Several factors are at play, but suppliers who convened at our roundtables at PYM LIVE events in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Austin cited three main reasons why salespeople either respond or relegate your RFP to the junk pile.
1. Deadline and decision dates
When an RFP comes in with a 24-hour deadline, hotel sales reps struggle with unsavory options. If they meet the deadline, they sacrifice quality in their proposal and might leave some areas incomplete (another planner pet peeve). If they opt to respond fully and create a customized proposal, they can’t make the deadline and might not make a planner’s short list. That’s why, if they can’t qualify the lead or feel like they don’t have a chance, they’ll ignore the RFP.
These options don’t benefit planners, so why the short deadlines?
on deadlineIn some cases, there’s a legitimate last-minute meeting that must be sourced quickly. One Austin planner, though, admits to fabricating deadline and decision-by dates. As soon as she gets a request from the C-suite, she sends out an RFP. Because she can’t get her boss to commit to true deadlines, she creates an artificially tight time frame so she can answer any questions he might ask.
“Sometimes the meeting gets pushed back, sometimes it never happens, but I never know,” she said. “It’s always a ‘hurry up and wait.’”
This isn’t fair to hotel teams waiting to win business. One Chicago sales director says he has to hold his team accountable for following up on all potential business and wonders why planners don’t update RFPs to reflect new dates when they’re known.
The hotel side isn’t looking at the updates, one planner explained. Sometimes, when hotels say they have no availability, the planner will plug in updates and still receive no response. Even when detailed comments are left, explaining what’s changed, she said, hotels aren’t reading them.
That’s why planners always should copy the local convention and visitors bureau on RFPs. “When I see there’s an update, I always read that update and email my properties,” said one CVB rep. “I send the alert out to the hotels to update their proposals because we want those meetings to come to our city.”
Roundtable participants in every city agreed that including CVBs in the RFP process is a must, not only because CVBs make sure hotels respond, but because CVB reps know what’s happening in a city over the proposed meeting dates. They can tell at a glance if the contacted hotels are the right fit and, if not, suggest alternatives. Rather than soliciting requests and hearing nothing, CVBs can let meeting planners know immediately about potential conflicts and help them find the best dates, space and hotels for their groups.
So what are realistic RFP deadlines? That depends on the meeting request, according to Chicago suppliers. Hoteliers say they need at least two days to respond about a single property and at least a week on RFPs that target three to four hotels and a conference center.
Special events facilities can be the exception. “What’s really working for us right now are last-minute requests,” said an Atlanta rep. Because people don’t typically think of them as having meeting space, they have more availability than hotels and place more value on space-only events.
Regardless of venue, planners need to get in the habit of notifying bidders when they’ve awarded business. That’s just proper etiquette. If they don’t have time to do so, they should use online sourcing solutions like Zentila, which sends those notices automatically.
2. Too many concessions
“We’re having a hard time granting everything planners are asking for,” said a San Francisco hotelier.
Know that hotel sales teams lack the authority to grant 15 to 20 concessions for one group, and some submitted requests are impossible to fulfill. If a hotel only makes a 10 percent profit on F&B, it can’t discount menu pricing by 25 percent. Asking for more than four or five concessions sends a red flag to CVBs and hoteliers that you don’t know what you’re doing.
“Seasoned planners know to go for the top four or five items and then include a wish list,” said one Austin hotel rep. “The problem is senior planners don’t educate the younger planners who are doing sourcing, so they’re going for the whole basket.”
Sales teams get inundated with RFPs. Because the response time is so tight, they must be selective. “We don’t know how qualified the lead is,” said one Atlanta salesperson, “and when we try to call them and ask questions, we don’t get any response.” Rather than send a lot of “no” responses to concessions that won’t compare favorably with other bids, or returning an incomplete RFP, some salespeople opt not to respond at all.
But there’s another way, according to an Austin hotelier. Some planners, like those employed by HelmsBriscoe, are trained to look for bids that contain mostly “yes” replies. Because of that, she’ll say “yes” to concession requests, but type a comma with the exceptions or add an asterisk to the proposal, noting that she looks forward to talking to the planner and creating a customized list of concessions.
Another Austin planner confirmed the effectiveness of that approach. “If that’s a hot button for my group, I’ll pick up the phone and call you,” she said.
The best thing, all agreed, is having experienced people on both the sourcing and supply sides educate the next generation. Meeting planners need to understand what’s appropriate for an RFP, which concession requests could help them reach their short list and what they should save for contract negotiations.
Doing so would save time, help create more value and create better planner-supplier relationships.
3. Failing to be selective
If you send your RFP to too many hotels or destinations, you might not hear back from any of them.
“We figure that the more destinations on the RFP, the less serious this piece of business should be treated,” said one Atlanta hotel rep. “If it’s clear that they’re looking at a specific destination or hotel, those requests get priority. But if it’s all over the place, you know that the destination might not have been approved yet.”
Finally, if you’re still in the research phase, don’t send an RFP. Instead, send a request for information.