The hotel/meetings professional relationship can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of a program, or one of the most dreaded! For this month’s blog, we’re featuring voices from both sides to describe what events professionals can do to create a strong, successful, and enjoyable hotel/planner relationship. Crystal Neubauer, AVP, Education and Events with Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. will represent the meetings professional perspective. Laura Chappell, Assistant Director of Sales with Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa will represent the hotel perspective.
What does it look like to establish partnership?
HOTEL: Every successful hotel/planner relationship is a two-way street, and the reality is that we both need things from each other. Planners may not realize they are sending mixed messages about our partnership. For example, if you are constantly pushing for discount after discount (you want free internet and it must be able to handle a live stream from Mars), if you use phrases like “just make it happen” when asking for extra suites or cutoff date extensions, or if you treat our banquet servers poorly, we don’t feel like partners. In fact, it feels very one sided. We set out to make every program a great one, and the more you partner with us, the more we can meet (and will exceed) your expectations.
MEETINGS PROFESSIONAL: I’ve yet to select a property that I thought would do a mediocre job or who would deliver sub-par service. For this reason, I go into the partnership by giving the benefit of the doubt. Instead of an adversarial relationship, it becomes a true collaborative relationship where we are both doing our part to accomplish the same goal.
There are two opportunities to build partnership that I think most planners overlook. The first is the initial site visit. The moment a hotel becomes a potential location for a program, they become a partner in my mind. An effective site visit isn’t just about room product and meeting space flow, it’s also about establishing and building a partnership. For this reason, I try to be as low maintenance and gracious as possible when doing a site. I realize this probably goes against the conventional wisdom that the only way to truly test out a property is by being high maintenance, but I also know the best programs we’ve had have been the properties where we had a partnership that was easy (and fun). I want the hotel to not only want our business, I want them to WANT to work with us. As the leader of the event, it’s my job to set that tone during the site which means I need to be easy and fun to work with (but just to be clear, I still want to be fed well and then pampered in the spa during my site)!
The other opportunity is the onsite pre-con meeting with hotel staff. The pre-con serves as a nice meet-and-greet and a chance to firm up last minute details, but more importantly, it’s a chance for me to set a tone of partnership for the entire event. I think many planners get so focused on the logistics of an event that they forget it’s also important to communicate the heart of an event. I want the hotel staff to see our passion for what we do and our passion for our attendees. In doing so, it gives them permission to be passionate about our program and our people, as well. I communicate our gratitude up front, and let them know that we see them as partners… as an extension of our event staff rather than someone who answers to our event staff. I also let them know I don’t expect perfection. I know that no program will ever be executed flawlessly, either by my event team (even though they are incredible) or by a hotel staff (even though they are equally as incredible). I’m not as concerned about flawless execution as I am timely resolution. If something goes wrong, let’s work together to fix it so the attendees never know the difference. When one of our event staff members works alongside a CSM to resolve an issue quickly and it concludes with a high five between the two, THAT is successful partnership!
What are some tips and tricks for communication?
HOTEL: Communicate early and often. If you can’t get the rooming list by the cutoff date, give us a heads up and tell us what you know at that point about your numbers. A strong partnership is built on making each other look good. I’ve worked with event planners who go MIA around the cutoff date, leaving us in the dark. When Revenue Management is hounding us for accurate projections (which affect staffing, purchasing, and corporate scorecards), and you’ve gone radio silent, we look bad.
The same with hoteliers. One of the best lessons I learned early in my career is to tell the truth and tell it soon. In an ideal world hotels would never oversell, double book space or push back a renovation deadline. But it happens, and I’ve found that if I’m immediately honest (I messed up and forgot to block your suites) instead of assigning blame (you didn’t get the contract back in time) or just ignoring the situation hoping for a zombie apocalypse before you arrive, then everyone involved moves more quickly from being upset to problem solving. We end up looking bad when we withhold bad news from you out of fear.
MEETINGS PROFESSIONAL: As a planner, I should never assume the hotel can read my mind. I’d rather err on the side of over-communicating than to expect the hotel staff to connect the dots and interpret what I want. It’s my job to communicate what is most important to our program’s success. This means being clear on what our must haves are, and what we have wiggle room on (i.e. if room set up has to be a certain way or if they can use discretion, or if certain concessions are a non-negotiable in the contracting process).
I agree with Laura about telling the truth and telling it soon. We once had a hotel that walked some of our rooms two weeks before the program. We soon came to find out they had known for quite some time they needed to walk those rooms but had held off on telling us. We were honestly more upset that they waited so long to tell us, rather than the fact that we were walked.
How important is authenticity in a great partnership?
HOTEL: We can’t help you if we don’t know what your needs are. If you forgot to budget for something and are going to look bad to an internal client, TELL US! Instead of, “I shouldn’t have to pay for that” or “I’m spending so much money with you that should be discounted,” tell us what your situation is, and maybe we can find a way to help you! We are less likely to go to bat for you if we feel like you are an adversary or are withholding information.
The more we know you, your program goals, and your challenges, the more we can be a good partner. In this transactional world, it’s easy to forget there are humans on the other side of email. Let’s humanize ourselves in our interactions. If you haven’t chosen your menus because you are on site in Vegas trying to make sure your attendees don’t re-enact The Hangover, say that! Mention that you’re working from home because your sick child is projectile vomiting a la The Exorcist. Now you aren’t a faceless planner keeping us from finishing Event Orders, you’re a fellow exhausted mom and we are in this thing together.
MEETINGS PROFESSIONAL: A key aspect of authenticity is being up front about expectations and concerns. Our human tendency is to jump to conclusions, rather than taking the time to seek and create clarity. I can remember a recent time when an event planner on my team was frustrated with the lack of response from a CSM at a hotel. After stewing for a couple of days and thinking of various ways to inflict pain on him, she realized she needed to take a couple steps backwards, reset the relationship, and create more clarity around her expectations for the partnership. She organized a call and was able to be transparent about the support she needed in order to make the program successful. If she would have stuck with her assumptions instead of taking the initiative to create clarity, the only pain she would have inflicted would have been upon herself! Instead, the end result was a strong partnership and a great program (by the end of the event she was singing the praises of the CSM).
What role do kindness and respect play?
HOTEL: It always goes back to the basics. This means saying please and thank you. It means paying attention to our tone in emails (are we asking or demanding?) It means being thoughtful in our interactions. I once had a planner ask unprompted if I needed the contract back by the end of the month to meet my goals. I was taken aback by her thoughtfulness. You know I made sure she got our best CSM!
When you make the effort to build a strong relationship, you will end up getting more from the hotel staff. We enjoy going the extra mile because we love what we do, but when there has been kindness and respect, we’ll go beyond. You might even get free stuff: attrition waived, more meeting space, comping those flipcharts you added onsite!
MEETINGS PROFESSIONAL: I’m not sure you can have a real partnership without these two ingredients. They are what makes partnership different than a business transaction. They are also what makes a relationship with a hotel rewarding and sustaining.
Respect means giving the hotel the benefit of the doubt. If something happens, shake it off and move on. It means being present and engaged with the hotel staff – and not treating them as staff that works for you, but rather staff that works with you. It’s a slight nuance, but it’s a game-changer.
Kindness, at the core, is doing something that benefits someone else without expecting anything in return. While this may seem counterintuitive in the business world, I’ve learned that kindness is reciprocated and that being kind in how you speak to others and treat others really does help you get ahead in the business world. I’m proud of all of the accomplishments of the event planning team I lead, but I’m the most proud of how they treat others.
How do you show appreciation?
HOTEL: This might be a taboo subject, but honestly, everyone works harder when they know they will be tipped. If you plan on tipping the staff, mention to your CSM that you will need a pay out at the conclusion of the conference. First, this allows accounting adequate time to prepare. Second, you better believe your CSM is going to tell the banquet staff that this is a group that tips.
MEETINGS PROFESSIONAL: I think it is important to make appreciation a normal part of how you interact with the hotel. It means a lot when a hotel thanks me for our business, or when they give us positive feedback about our working relationship. For this reason, it’s important for me to lead with the same appreciation. This may mean sending a thank you card following a site visit, or simply looking the hotel staff in the eye and saying, “Thank you for taking such great care of our attendees.” I also agree with Laura that tips are important. If someone is generous with their efforts and their service, I believe that should be reciprocated and honored with generosity.
The best principles in life are the ones that are universally true – meaning they apply in all aspects of life. At the end of the day, what you get out of a partnership is generally equivalent to what you put into a partnership. Think about the business relationships you currently have. Are they transactional, or are they built on respect, trust and common goals? We hope you will consider the above scenarios and examples when embarking on your next hotel/meeting professional partnership.
Renaissance Ross Bridge
Golf Resort & Spa
Assistant Director of Sales
Cambridge Investment Research, Inc.
AVP, Education & Events
FICP Education Committee