Secrets of a Corporate Event Planner: What you don't know about hotel contracts (but should)
When you’re planning an event, one of the first decisions you’ll make, and the one that will guide all other decisions, is your venue. Choosing the right space is a critical decision for your event, and the options fall into three general categories:
Event venues (any designated event space that isn’t a hotel)
Non-traditional (such as a museum, pier, or other space that isn’t strictly for events)
Each one of these options has their own quirks, but today we’re talking about one of the most complex issues when it comes to your space: hotel contract negotiations. Hotel contracts for events are a complex beast, and like many contracts, aren’t simple to understand for people who aren’t used to dealing with them.
On several occasions, a client has come to us after signing a contract with a hotel. They didn’t know what they didn’t know in the negotiations process, and in many cases are locked into a bevy of fees they didn’t know about and now can’t avoid. It’s not pretty, and while we do our best for clients in these situations, the truth is that a contract is a contract. That’s why we recommend people come to us before doing the negotiations.
Consider us to be your agent in this process: you wouldn’t buy a house without an experienced agent, would you? It’s a complex financial and legal process. Events are much the same: to get through unscathed, you need an expert to guide you through the process.
Hotel is to Venue as Prix Fixe is to à La Carte
Let’s get one thing out of the way: if you choose a hotel as your event space, you’re probably going to get sticker shock at first. However, while a hotel might seem like a more expensive option, as opposed to a “blank slate” venue (one that’s beautiful architecturally, but otherwise empty), consider this: a hotel is often all, or mostly, inclusive. That means the cost may include the most basic things that you likely haven’t thought about such as:
Some basic A/V equipment
Not exactly a sexy list of things to think about, is it? However, when you choose a blank slate or non-traditional venue, nine times out of 10, you’ll have to pay separately for ALL of these things. The fees for these items aren’t nickels and dimes either. They’re more like Benjamins and blank checks. In short, it adds up—fast.
When we get you a quote for a hotel, you won’t necessarily see all these inclusions itemized, because of course guests have access to heating and toilets! When you rent a venue (whether it be pier, park, or armory), you won’t see prices for these items either, until later, when it’s too late to go back.
How to Negotiate a Hotel Contract
First, get an event planner. If you don’t, you could be locked into things you didn’t even realize people could charge for. At Kennedy Events, we’ve seen it all when it comes to hotel contracts. By simply including us in this part of the process, our clients have saved tens of thousands of dollars.
Second, know this: while hotels are more expensive on the surface, they are far more inclusive than any other venue type. If you’re on a budget, a hotel might actually be the best option. In addition, an experienced event planner can negotiate hotel contracts to get exactly what you need for your event.
So what’s negotiable? Everything. Yep, that’s right, everything is negotiable in a hotel contract. It’s our job to get you the best contract possible, because we know that even the biggest budgets can’t have everything. So, we work to negotiate a deal that has the best of what you want and less of what you don’t.
Just a few ticket items that are negotiable on your contract:
Meeting room rates
Exhibitor set up
Access time to event spaces (set-up, tear-down, rehearsal time)
Food and beverage minimums (NOTE: this is a big one!)
Upgrades like VIP suites, hosted receptions, free box handling (when shipping items to the hotel), and more
Beyond that, we always like to consider other elements like room reservations (known in the biz as “sleeping blocks”) and timing. Read below for details on each.
You should know this about a hotel: their biggest profit margins are on sleeping rooms, so their goal is to sell as many rooms as possible. The more rooms you reserve, the more negotiating power your event planner will have.
What if you are having an awards luncheon or gala fundraiser and don’t need any sleeping rooms at all, but still want to host your event at a hotel? Then negotiating on timing is your best bet.
Timing and City-wide Events
Timing matters as much in events as location matters in real estate. You’ll find that a New York City hotel will be priced quite different in August than that same NYC hotel in October. A hotel meeting room on a Sunday versus a Monday is also going to have very different price tags. Finding the right meeting room in a city is like playing Tetris: something big is coming, fast, and you have to find just the right place for it. Once you make a choice, there’s no going back because of those pesky contracts.
So, here’s one strategy we use that might sound a little bit crazy. Let’s say there’s a major event happening in town that books many hotel rooms, but few, if any, meeting rooms; like the SuperBowl or a major music festival. In cases like these, your city will be busy and hotel rooms will be full, but those meeting rooms are more than likely sitting empty. Where a hotel may see a lost revenue opportunity, an event planner sees a savings opportunity. This is where your evening gala or one day gathering can slip right in.
We scour the city for timing magic like these cases because they can be major negotiating tools. Often, we’re able to score some amazing deals for our clients. Everybody wins: the hotel gets a booking, and our client gets a deal!
When a Hotel isn’t the Right Choice
We do love planning events in hotels because of all the included perks, but we know that a hotel isn’t always the perfect venue space for a client.
For example, let’s say that you have a group of VIPs coming in and you want (ahem...need) to impress them. A group like this likely spends more nights of their life in hotels than at home and, to make a real impression, you need something more thrilling for them than “Conference Room C.”
In cases like this, we don’t recommend a hotel. We like to get creative and find exclusive access to places people might not otherwise get to visit, or at least have dinner in, such as the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a conference in a new cruise ship terminal, or maybe we’ll throw a glamorous picnic in the park!
Merging creativity with strategy is our sweet spot, and getting to plan events in unforgettable venues is one of our favorite parts of our job—even if it means bringing in everything but the four walls around you.
What’s Your Next Big Event?
It’s never too early to start looking for your venue. We’re actually looking 12 months out—and then some—so trust us when we tell you that there’s no time like the present to lock in your best options. Kennedy Events is here to get you exactly what you need. Drop us a note to tell us all about your event!
Maggie Kennedy founded Kennedy Events in 2000 and has been Chief Everything Officer ever since! She’s a master at keeping clients and her team happy, plus brings the fun to every function. Her days are filled with things like logistics, sales, and, of course, putting her 20+ years of creative event strategy to work. She likes a life filled with adventure, and when that’s not happening in a ballroom, she’s found that on a 600+ mile bike ride to LA, on hikes in the Himalayas, and under the stars in an Indian desert. The world beckons, but nothing beats coming home to the Bay Area, and her two kids, fiance, and spunky cat.
About Kennedy Events
Kennedy Events began with one goal in mind—to produce high-level corporate events with just as much strategy as style. Maggie founded the company in 2000, found her match in Paige, and in 2011 the two became official partners. Since then, these two resourceful and brilliant creatives have pooled their strengths to build one one of the most the most sought after corporate event companies in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles.
Make sure that your event is as valuable to your company as it is meaningful to your attendee.
We’ve (nearly) done it all when it comes to large scale events.