Planner Sourcing Guide: Chapter 3: Writing the Perfect RFP
The Essential Planner Guide to Sourcing
Chapter 3: Writing the Perfect RFP
It may seem like a relatively easy task with the onset of electronic or eRFPs. But it can actually create confusion, clutter, and competitiveness among the hospitality sector if the RFP is not written clearly and the target venues are not adequately defined. So let’s reel the tape back to the beginning – reviewing what RFPs are, why you should write one, and the core elements you need to garner great responses.
What is a Request For Proposal?
A Request For Proposal (RFP) is a solicitation by an organization to potential suppliers. The buyer is interested in the procurement of services (in this case hotel guest rooms, meeting, trade show space, food and beverage, etc.) and asks prospective vendors to submit business proposals on a timely basis. The requirements are all the same in order to evaluate responses in a comprehensive and fair manner.
Why Send RFPs?
Most event organizers send RFPs because they are meeting in a new city and/or do not have an already established track record at a particular venue. They could also just be looking to change due to a flux in meeting requirements – the meeting is significantly larger or smaller, the budget was slashed or the format is being overhauled.
Whatever the reason, it is now time to look around. However, be certain you are ready for a change. In other words, it is not ethical to “pit” an established venue you plan to continue using against others for the sake of driving costs down or comps up.
1. Tell Your Story
Take the time to give the recipient of your RFP a comprehensive overview of your company and the meeting you are asking them to bid on. Make sure the vendor understands your needs and why you think their hotel or convention center is a good fit.
Be sure to include why you are issuing the RFP. Are you trying a new city? Unsatisfied with the previous venue? Be transparent and share the “why”. Also be sure to include in your narrative what worked and what did not work in your previous meetings.
Last, discuss the strengths and challenges with this event. If your strength is continued growth in attendance but you’re challenged with a flat budget, let them know this up front. You are letting them know as much about your conference on a macro level, thus reducing uncertainty and hopefully encouraging the hotel marketing staff to complete your request.
2. Define Your Purpose
Tell them in a clear and concise manner what you are looking for from the event host. Is this a one shot event or are you looking to hold this meeting for multiple years at this destination? Is there a possibility that if everything goes well, this venue can be put into your meeting rotation? Let them know up front – because the possibility of future business can help them sweeten the deal even more.
Don’t forget to include your event objectives. What are the top three to five things your organization hopes to accomplish from this event, and how can the venue help?
3. Give an Inclusive Event Profile
Be sure to start with your name, as well as the names of the company and the event. Let them know what type of market segment you fall into – association, corporate, government, non-profit, religious or social. The sales staff at the hotel or convention center generally have their staff defined in these segments, which allows the most qualified person to best answer your inquiry.
Let them know if this is a first-time event. If it is not, share how many years you have been holding it, as well as averages in the following areas over the past three years: total attendance, total room nights booked and meeting space used.
Let them know how many days your conference is and if you need sleeping rooms and meeting space before or after the event ends. In addition, it is vital to tell them the dates you are thinking of holding the event and whether or not those dates are flexible. Remember, in the previous chapter you have already identified this destination’s peak and slow season and probably have a keen idea of room rate swing as a result of this investigation.
Identify your meeting space requirements the best you can. Again, looking at history will help but if you have no history to go on, determine how many general sessions (this is the session where everyone attends) and how many simultaneous breakout sessions (smaller, individual meetings) you will conduct. Also, find out the maximum capacity available on their largest room, both general and breakout.
Tell the respondent about your attendees. Give them a sense of their age, gender, occupation, education level, locations and whether most of them are driving or flying into the destination. Identify what they like to do on their conference downtime. Let the hotel or conference center know whether or not they are likely to bring their partner and/or family to this event.
What will your attendees and/or their families want to do during their free time? Go to the beach, use the fitness center, golf, hang out by the pool and use the spa? Or are they most likely to go off-site to visit attractions and eat at local restaurants? Are these possibilities within walking distance from the convention center or hotel? Ask the hotel to identify what they have to offer based on your attendee needs.
4. Destination Appeal
If your event has a trade show component to it, give the venue the gross space required, the number of exhibits expected and an indication of whether or not you need a secured exhibit space.
In addition, focus on the typical exhibitor profile. This will include demographic information such as age, gender and interests. Determine if they will be attending the conference, and if they’ll bring their family.
5. Share Budget Guidelines
It is important to share your sleeping room rate range and whether or not room reservations will be taken by you or made directly with the hotel.
Share your overall F&B budget and ask the responses to include tax, service charges and gratuity. In addition, try to get a feel for the per-person rate of each meal served.
Determine price lists for the following:
- Resort fees, which are a mandatory nightly surcharge imposed by hotels to cover the cost of certain amenities that are generally a fixed amount per night
- Parking, including valet
- Internet and Utilities Fees, which include a surcharge based on Wi-Fi connectivity costs and estimated costs for electricity, water, sewer, steam, gas and other fuels used during your conference
- Corkage, which is a per-bottle fee that a venue charges when you bring your own alcohol to be consumed at the event
- Union labor fees for move-in/move-out and/or rigging
6. Prove Deadline
Tell the hotel and/or convention center when you need the proposal returned to you. Let them know when you will make the initial cut and if there will be a presentation required after that. Let them know if a site inspection will be required before you make the final decision and an approximate date for the final decision.
I'm a big proponent of quality over quality. The RFPs I send out for our two day events are no more than four pages (typically two pages) and I use bullet points to be direct in our needs, then add additional commentary at the end to ensure the sales manager fully understands our program. The bullet points serve to give an overview of attendance, dates, rooms, and space in order to allow sales managers to quickly decline if we will not fit with their property. The additional commentary provides them with additional needs so they know what's important to us (plenty of elbow room, on-site bar, workout facility, etc.). While the bullet points cover the essentials, the commentary covers what could sway our decision and where additional negotiations may come into play.
Meeting Planner, American Contractors Insurance Group
7. Use Templates and Online Resources
CIC and APEX offer free templates to help you structure your own RFP. If you email your RFP to various hotels and destinations, use this to tailor the template to your specific needs.
You can also use the Cvent Supplier Network to search and send proposals to over 234,000 venues throughout the world. After sending your RFP to selected venues, you now have the ability to add it to the RFP Showcase, where pre-matched venues who haven't already received it can respond.
Simply put, you will receive more qualified proposals from sources you didn't originally consider, giving venues a second chance at responding to a qualifying RFP.
8. Be Available
As respondents look at the RFP, questions inevitably arise. Be sure to include your name, company name, mailing address, email address and phone number in the RFP. Tell them which are your preferred contact options and how soon they can expect a response from you. Also, be sure to include a back-up contact in case you are unavailable.
While these steps may take a little longer to accomplish up front, you will receive better, more targeted responses in the long run. The next chapter will focus on reviewing and choosing the best responses while making a great destination decision.