Let’s be frank. You’re not going to be able to haggle with a hotel manager as much as you can with a car salesman or a flea market vendor but trust me when I tell you, there is some play in terms of negotiating details with your venue manager and you should take advantage of as much of this as possible. Proceed with the mantra in mind to ask for everything that you want and request a discount anywhere that you would like one. The worst that can happen is that they will say no and more often than not, they don’t. They simply operate on the premise that people take their quotes at face value.
One area that is not widely known is that if you plan multiple events on a year to year basis, potentially you can negotiate a multi-year contract with a specific hotel brand for both meeting space and room blocks. This works well in your favour if you can solidify rates now that could possibly much higher in years to come and make sure that if you are going to agree to this arrangement that you stipulate the impact of the rate of price inflation. Make sure that you are signing onto a chain and that you can host your events in any city in which they have a presence. In this way, you are still free to move your meetings around to accommodate your clients.
Hotels are also sometimes open to hiring out additional meeting space external to their facility if they can only accommodate the room block. That is far more significant to them and they will absorb the cost of picking up some convention center space on your behalf to ensure that they get your contract. They frequently already have special rates and trade off deals with local meeting space venues so it does not impact their profit by much.
Ask if a hotel will discount their service charges for meeting space and this is one area where you will inevitably get some play. Management is more focused on the ample markup that is employed in the cost of other services such as food and beverage and of course, guest accommodation. You may also ask for perks to be thrown into the guest room rate such as free use of the VIP business lounge, etc. They may even agree to leave a welcome basket for VIP guests at no additional cost based on the size of your room block.
Speaking of which, the room block is generally the greatest point of negotiation from the hotel’s point of view. They want their rooms sold and empty rooms do not serve them so you will need to commit to a specific number of room nights to be eligible for any other negotiable elements. That said, with technology the way it is, many of your attendees may book at the host hotel but use discount providers to do so such as Hotels.com or Expedia.com. These bookings won’t apply to your commitment unless the hotel is willing to do a post-event audit to see if the guests match up to your event even if they booked through discounters. That way those rooms will be credited to your block and you’ll receive complimentary room nights on that basis.
Catering is one of the biggest additional costs you’ll face on your event and hotels will always give you a set menu with a range of per person costs for you to choose. Always try to customize the menus and see if you can save a few dollars per person on the menus. Over a three day conference where you are responsible for breakfast, breaks and lunches, this can add up to tens of thousands in savings.