December 11, 2019
By Brian Chee

Rates, dates, and space.

If you know the saying, you ought to know this: Event planners want more. More than the lowest room rate. More than even the perfect location or correct dates. Planners today want to know more about anything that could be relevant to their event — and they’re getting exactly what they need. It’s a shift in the business of meetings and events that has slowed RFP responses, complicated standardized sales steps, and challenged hotels to look beyond the template and address the creative aspects of their sales and marketing approach.

“Here we are in this unique solution — we actually have a group-ready hotel with a lot of four-diamond rooms,” says Autumn Mullen, director of sales and marketing for the Hilton Boston Logan Airport Hotel. “And we’re just 10 minutes away from the downtown area. But we can still lose business to our downtown competitive set because planners are looking for more than the basics.”

For the team at Hilton Boston Logan, unlocking the mystery of event planner sourcing considerations mostly came down to building awareness of the hotel’s features and shifting planner perspectives about airport venues. It wasn’t enough that they had a competitive rate and location; they needed to show more and get a better feel of what the hotel could truly offer.

Reputation Helps Drive Event Sourcing Selection

Long before deciding which hotel to use for their event, planners must first map out their sourcing and selection efforts. To be sure, that’s something that includes a little bit of art and science: Planners want to ensure that the venues selected are in their budget range, but there is much more than cost that goes into their thinking at this stage. As a general rule, planners submit RFPs to venues that have credible and proven reputations; half of those surveyed for the 2019 Cvent Planner Sourcing Report highlighted the venue brand and reputation as key considerations for RFP submission, with 44% citing positive reviews as a consideration. In addition, planners doubled down on creativity and the event experience: Activities held outside of the venue (42%) were deemed important, as were photos (20%). In fact, the surprising increase in planners citing activities outside the venue (only 21% in 2018) and photography (15% in 2017) points to the importance planners place on creating a strong and visually compelling event experience.

Details, Details, Details: Booking Decisions Based on Transparency

When Mullen talks about planners wanting more, she’s invariably thinking about the entire RFP spectrum. The emerging importance of noncritical factors (compared with cost and logistics) has expanded the negotiating conversation for both sides. For example, planners now want to build custom event space experiences — and smart hoteliers relish the opportunity to talk about more than dates and venue size. It brings more power to the site visit and more relevance to intangibles. “Many times we get leads that seem like they won’t go anywhere … maybe we don’t have the availability, or there’s another factor we can’t solve,” says Cindy Berdan, director of sales at the Omni Nashville Hotel. “We use technology to help find a different pattern or an alternate solution. When we have a chance to make a connection, we talk about the program and see how we can optimize the group experience. Once we’ve engaged and we have created that next step — when they come in for the site visit — we want to create ‘wow’ moments.”

The most important of those “wow” moments revolves, of course, around event space and layout, something that planners expect to see and discuss well before the site visit. Those surveyed said the feature that had the biggest influence on their venue booking decisions was event space and layout (45%), the same percentage as  cost and ahead of location (42%) and dates (42%). That reveals the importance of ensuring a positive event experience and is a sign that planners expect hotels to provide greater transparency earlier in regard to space layout and decision-making. It’s an overall trend that hoteliers are responding to: In 2019, 16% highlighted trustworthiness in RFP responses as a critical area for improvement — an improvement from 30% in the 2018 report. From Mullen’s perspective, that’s an example of the emerging requirement for more insights and something hotels must deliver on as early as possible.

“We’re all trying to tell our stories, but now today’s planners want to understand every part of your story before they make a buying decision,” Mullen says. “In the past, we all remember the saying ‘dates, rates, and space,’ right? Those were the three big things that drove the decision. Now, our meeting planners want full transparency. They want to understand your story, every part of it, before a buying decision is made.”  

The Bottom Line

Yes, cost matters in your bid to win the business. But other factors, including space layout and location and other items that play into how your venue.

Learn more: Download the 2019 Planner Sourcing Report

Brian Chee

I started out as a beat reporter in Los Angeles, writing about crime, struggling teachers and students scrambling to build a better life. It was a deeply formative experience and one that set me on this strange and wonderful writer's journey. From newspapers to automotive journalism and Martech B2B, I suppose I have spent my career chasing, and telling, the stories I think are most interesting and relevant.  

Over the years I’ve learned that content comes down to a fusion of creativity, science, and craft. And that as a writer, it's up to me to apply that approach and create strong and descriptive storytelling that provides value to the reader. To be interesting, easy to read, and to make a difference in the work I do. That's what matters most. 

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