Insider Tips For Negotiating Room Blocks & Rates
Events range anywhere from a 16-team youth softball tournament over a weekend—with about 200 athletes and 350 spectators—to the Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament that fills Greensboro’s 20,000-seat arena for five days, said Brian Ambuehl, sports sales manager of the Greensboro CVB.
Check The Calendar
Whether a sports planner uses a CVB or travel agency or handles planning solo, the first step is to look for scheduling conflicts at the destination.
“In our area, there is a large, international event that takes place every April and October,” Ambuehl said of Greensboro. The event draws more than 70,000 people and books nearly every hotel room in the surrounding area.
“Availability is scarce and therefore rates are at a premium,” he said. “When possible, we steer organizers away from those kinds of conflicts to ensure low rates and availability.”
Milwaukee, Wisc., has almost 14,500 hotel rooms in its total area but a single event such as the USA Triathlon can bring as many as 10,000 athletes to the city, so it’s a good idea to know what else is taking place when you schedule your event.
Use Your Buying Power
Remember that hotels want your business. The more people your event draws, the greater your negotiating power. Considerations include group size, group rates and distance to your venue. Once you narrow down your list of desired hotels, start negotiating for the best rate. Always ask if they have a more affordable option and ask for discounts.
Also, ask about amenities they can offer to sweeten the deal, such as:
• Free internet
• Meeting room use for team strategy sessions
Let the experts do the heavy lifting
Sports planners should also take advantage of all available resources. In addition to knowing about scheduling conflicts, CVBs such as the one in Greensboro offer the complimentary service of gathering hotel proposals for an event.
“Remember the Yellow Pages slogan ‘Let your fingers do the walking’? Well, I used to say ‘Let my fingers do the walking for you,’ meaning I’d contact the hotels and gather proposals for them,” Ambuehl said.
The analogy may be a bit dated now but the premise is sound: Let locals do the preliminary work to save you a lot of time and money, as well as give your participants more options. Because the Greensboro CVB is not membership-based, it represents all properties without bias. It sends room block requests from planners to all properties in the city.
“From time to time, an event organizer may dictate specific criteria for hotels that they will use [i.e. only interior-corridor properties, etc.] and we adhere to their wishes,” Ambuehl said.
“The turnaround time to gather proposals is usually one week but we can move it along faster if needed,” he said.
As part of its bid process, the Virginia Beach CVB also sends out leads to local hoteliers for any group that isn’t already working with a housing company and needs room blocks, said Teresa Diaz, public relations specialist for the CVB.
“Some groups prefer to do this one but if they want our help, we are glad to start the process with generating a lead based on need,” Diaz said. “Rather than contact us, hoteliers will connect with the group and they work collaboratively moving forward.”
Last year, the Virginia Beach CVB serviced 95 events and the split was about 50/50 for those asking for its help and those already working with an outside housing company.
Ambuehl said that if sports planners use the services of a CVB or tourism commission, there is general information hotels provide:
• Per night room block
• Room rate
• Distance to the competition venue(s)
• Complimentary breakfast and/or Wi-Fi
• Comp room ratio that may be offered by the hotel (based on actual paid rooms from their event attendees)
Hotels know that event organizers will promote properties that give the best deals, so they tend to offer competitive rates, he said.
Russ Yurk, president and founder of 129 Sports LLC takes two approaches with hotel bookings.
“First, for smaller events I’ve handled it myself and tapped into the local sports commission or CVB for assistance when needed,” he said. “For larger events like the 2017 World Rowing Championships in Sarasota-Bradenton, I use a third-party company to manage the process.”
The World Rowing Championships has 25 hotels for athletes, officials and media along with another 20 for spectators.
“The size and scope of that project really necessitates having dedicated assistance,” Yurk said. In both cases, it is important to know the local market for how many rooms are available and what other events may be in town.
In addition, “If you will be in or out of season for vacation destinations it’s crucial when negotiating rates,” he said. “It comes down to basic supply and demand.”
One thing a sports planner should never do is over-block rooms.
“I see the relationship with hotels as a true partnership and I never want to put a hotel in a tough spot by holding rooms that ultimately get turned back,” Yurk said. “Open and constant communication is critical, especially for first-time events where there isn’t a solid history to help guide the planning process.”
For clients like 2017 World Rowing Championships and USA Baseball, Yurk looks at several factors in booking rooms.
Corporate groups have different expectations and budgets than youth-driven events, he said.
“For me it is a combination of things like what room rate is acceptable and expected for the attendees,” he said.
Distance to the venue is another consideration as is whether the sports organization provides bus transportation or if his guests will be driving themselves to the facility.
Finally, what other amenities are needed to execute the event?
• Do you need a full-service property with food and beverage available throughout the day or is a free continental breakfast sufficient?
• What are your meeting space needs?
• Can the hotel property receive large shipments?
What NOT To Do
If you do choose to go it alone, here are some things not to do when negotiating with hotels, according to www.grouptravel.org:
• Don’t disclose your budget amount; hotel representatives will use that as the hotel’s starting point.
• Don’t limit your options. Keep at least three properties in the mix. Never let a hotel believe it’s your only choice.
• Don’t give ultimatums or go for broke. Both parties have to be willing to negotiate and both parties want to walk away believing they got a good deal.
• Don’t make a final decision immediately. Feeling pressured is not the way to make a good deal. You can always say someone else makes the final decision.