Hotel Specific Business Basics

There are some general things about the hotel business that are worth mentioning, to sort of set the table before we look at contract specifics. Hotel employees are experts in the hotel business; you aren’t. Hotel employees are experienced business people, and they deserve our respect. They negotiate convention deals for a living; you do this as volunteer service work. Check your ego at the door. Even if you are the #1 salesperson at the surgical supply company you work for, that doesn’t give you any experience in the hotel industry. Always remember that you are playing poker with a card shark. But like elsewhere in our program, we get power by admitting powerlessness.

The hotel’s #1 concern is putting heads in beds.

“Heads in beds” is hotel jargon for selling sleeping rooms. An empty hotel room makes no money. If the piece of business you’re offering is going to fill a significant portion of the hotel’s sleeping rooms, it’s a good piece of business for the hotel. You should never feel sheepish about the fact that we don’t spend money on liquor or on lots of group-paid meal functions, or that we’re loud and up all night. The sleeping room revenue you’re bringing to the table makes us good business, especially on a weekend when the hotel’s calendar is empty. Hotels measure how well they’re doing with “heads in beds” by keeping track of their “percent occupied rate” (sometimes just called “percent occupancy”), i.e., # of rooms sold divided by total rooms available. Ask for the percent occupied rates for the dates you’re considering. Hotels are often reluctant to give you that information, and some hotels may refuse to give it to you. If they refuse, then ask them to at least tell you what a few of their slowest weekends were last year.

Although hotel salespeople work on commission, the get little or nothing for sleeping rooms.

Look again at the previous point: The hotel’s #1 concern is putting heads in beds. But that doesn’t mean that’s your salesperson’s #1 concern. She is concerned about maximizing her commission. And that almost invariably comes from selling you the extras: food and beverage functions, meeting space charges, etc. Your salesperson doesn’t need to sell you on sleeping rooms; you came to her looking for convention space, and obviously your attendees will need to sleep somewhere, right? So the hotel gives its salespeople a financial incentive to push the other stuff.

Be sure the hotel is aware that you are in a competitive bidding situation, and that location rarely factors into the site selection process.

As we already mentioned, it is important that the hotels know that you are only one of many committees bidding for the opportunity to host the next year’s conference. And just as the hotels you’ll work with will each have their pitch about why their hotel is better than the others in town, they’ll have the same kind of pitch about their city as compared to other cities. You will need to explain to your hotels that the site selection committee gives little if any consideration to the destination. We don’t really care that much about Disney World, Times Square, Hollywood, the

French Quarter, or ___________ (fill in whatever tourist attraction is in your city). For that matter, we’re not deterred if your city is in the Rust Belt and is dotted with abandoned buildings. We’re much more concerned with a hotel package that makes good financial sense.

“Young people” doesn’t mean the same thing to the hotel that it does to us, and mention of “alcoholics” can make hotel people nervous.

The term “young people” often makes hotel folks think about a church youth group or a high school cheerleading convention, i.e., minors. It will be helpful if you explain our demographic up front: some attendees under 18, some over 35, with most attendees somewhere in between. Otherwise, the hotel folks have a picture in their heads of their hotel being overrun by a pack of unsupervised children. Needless to say, that is not a mental picture that will help get you the deal you want. And to people not familiar with our Fellowship, the idea of a “sober alcoholic” can seem like an oxymoron (think ‘jumbo shrimp’ or ‘military intelligence’). No hotel wants their establishment turned into Animal House. (“Eric Stratton, Rush Chairman. Damn glad to meetcha.”)

So while it may be obvious to all of us that young people in Alcoholics Anonymous aren’t a bunch of crazy drunken frat boys, it’s not always so obvious to others. So be sure to let the hotel know that while we may be overly enthusiastic sometimes (yes, that’s a euphemism for “loud and occasionally obnoxious”) and that we’ll smoke more cigarettes and drink more caffeinated beverages than any other group they’ll ever host, we’re all sober.

Never count on your salesperson being at the hotel when your conference happens.

As we already mentioned, turnover in the hotel business is high. So there’s a chance your salesperson won’t even work for the hotel by the time your convention rolls around. But even if she does, it’s unlikely she’ll be there during your conference, because salespeople generally work during normal business hours.

Typically a hotel will have a convention services staff that works with you during your conference weekend. An analogy may help here. Think of little Johnny and a puppy he wants. He says, “Mommy, please please please, can we get a puppy, please?!” Little Johnny is like your salesperson. Now what happens after Mom brings home the puppy? That’s right; Mom has to take care of it. Think of Mom as the convention services staff. Because your convention services manager can make or break your conference weekend, tell your salesperson you would like to meet with your convention services rep before signing the contract. If you don’t think that person will be a good fit, tell your salesperson so, and ask that someone else be assigned to your convention.

Be sure to have all your written agreements handy during the conference weekend.

There may be times where you have to enforce the terms of your deal in real-time. 

An example of this is the dance ending time. Your contract may say that the dance goes until 2 AM-or at least that you have the room until 2 AM-but hotel security or the manager on duty (or “MOD”) on Saturday night wants to shut you down at midnight. If you have a copy of your contract handy, you can show it to whoever wants to shut you down. This example happens frequently. Not know having the proper information is important you mush have the proper documentation as well. It is unlikely that your sales person or anyone else that will back you up from the hotel will be available at midnight.