If you’ve been putting off locking in dates, locations and prices for sales meetings in 2002 and beyond, now’s the time to act, says Mike Burns, regional vice president of Conferon, an independent meeting-planning company headquartered in Twinsburg, OH. “It’s the perfect time to peg rates for 2002,” says Burns. “I’m seeing rates down 15 to 20 percent from what they’ve been in the past.”
It’s not just next year that’s on sale. Burns says if you know dates, locations and a rough attendee count for meetings beyond 2002, hotels are making some great deals right now. Burns recently negotiated a rate for a 2005 conference on the west coast that was $30 per person less than in previous years. In other words, the pre-9/11 economic slowdown, coupled with the post-9/11 effects on travel and meetings, has the hotel industry willing to negotiate just about anything. “Remember, the hotel industry is no different from people selling cars,” Burns observes. “If they have to meet their goals by the end of the month, they’re going to meet them” by cutting deals to get business.
Just about everything is negotiable right now. Want a couple more free rooms? A better price on food and beverage? Your chances of getting them have never been better, so go ahead and ask. “In the past, a hotel hosting a big convention might give you a couple staff rooms. Now they’re throwing in more suites and more upgrades. I’m even seeing more hotels initiate those kinds of concessions,” says Burns. “Two years ago if I tried to get 200 rooms on peak nights I’d be lucky to get two staff rooms and $5 off the rate. Now hotels are giving me last year’s rate in 2002 and throwing in suites, free limo service for VIPs and more.” Burns always comes to the negotiating table armed with a “wish list” which, in previous years, he’s had to fight to be granted one or two items. Now, he says, hotels are taking a look at the list and saying, “Fine.”
So when will these deals start to dry up? Tough to say, says Burns. If more and more companies start taking advantage of them and advance bookings pick up, look for prices to start going up as well. The message: if you want a great deal, now’s the time to lock in rates.
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