How to maximize value when booking events in destinations? The following quartet of meeting planners from around the U.S. share their experiences, strategies and tips for getting the most value in peak and near-peak seasons and across specific planning categories and program components.

The bottom line? Relationships rule, and always ask for what you want.

Marilee Sonneman, Photo by Orange PhotographyPlanner No. 1: Marilee A. Sonneman, CMP, DMCP, Founder, Spotlight Sojourns, San Francisco. Immediate Past President 2017-2018, MPI Northern California Chapter. [Photo by Orange Photography]

“Connections, communication, and collaborations form the foundation to maximize value during peak season and any season.

As we say in this $875 billion global industry, ‘It’s all about relationships.' Form connections and develop, deepen, and leverage relationships with CVBs/DMOs, hoteliers, destination management companies and other strategic and tactical allies. Value these relationships not as merely suppliers and vendors but rather as peers and partners in delivering business results, and meeting and exceeding the client’s goals and objectives.

Candid, coherent and cogent communications build an environment of trust and confidence. Blind RFPs, unrevealed budgets and unrealistic expectations do not foster a productive environment in which to achieve the client’s goals and objectives. Know the client’s (and your) hot buttons, seek value-added enhancements, and respect the partners’ bottom lines as you, in turn, expect them to respect yours.

The spirit of collaboration can reap rewards in managing budgets, fulfilling ROI, and delighting guests.

Openness to flexible program dates and patterns, to new and emerging destinations, to fresh events and experiences not only maximize value and deliver business results but also present opportunity to create experiences that resonate in memory.”

Nanci GagePlanner No. 2: Nanci Gage, MBA, Trade Show and Meeting Manager, Qfix, Avondale, Pa.

“Plotting out multiple dates when working through options for multi-city programs, I have found that asking hotels when they have a need makes them willing and excited to work with you on securing the best rates. I ask them up front when it could or would be best to add the requisite number of rooms to their revenue base, while also letting them know that’s how I’m approaching competing properties or cities.

As one example, a luxury five-star property in Miami was able to give us an exceptional rate at a need time, which allowed local attendees to extend their time for a staycation.

I am similarly transparent with the property sales team in peak season, letting them know that rates and total program cost will be deciding factors at some point. If they need the room rates to be higher due to their mix, I look for their offer of concessions in F&B or transportation. As most of my programs are end of week or on the weekend, we run into this often in more leisure markets. Focusing on ‘business’ hotels within markets helps too, as they are vying for transient leisure customers.

I love working with CVBs. They are a wealth of unbiased information, have access to resources for my whole program and want to sell their destination. Fun, new, upcoming—they know it all. Many will offer incentives to bring a program to their destination regardless of the contracting property. They are also a great resource for local amenities, welcome packets and marketing support for your program.

With hotels, ask about unique property features and ways they can help you ensure that your attendees have a memorable experience through discounts, exclusive offers and more.

When seeking the most value in category-driven aspects of the program, utilize all available resources from site selection through departure. Be upfront.

I let venues and vendors know my budget and where and what I have spent before. For off-site venues, I go for the best location that lends itself to an exceptional experience. This can include something exclusive or different, such as a sports club or city club, which may be private, but often welcome programs and are easy to work with.

If the setting is not quite perfect, I let them know they need to find a way to make it special, not with linens, flowers or decor, but with presentation, selection and uniqueness.

Scott WinegarPlanner No. 3: Scott Winegar, President/Owner, TMN Events, Boise, Idaho

“There does not seem to be a silver bullet in this economy for value dates. If our client is flexible on location and date pattern, we use our web of relationships built over 20 years of networking and taking meetings around the globe to ask for ‘holes’ that properties may have that allow for value pricing, and present them to our client.

Finding a ‘hole’ for a meeting is a set of dates where a hotel property has uncontracted sleeping rooms and meeting space typically inside of six months. Better rates are typically offered when inside the average lead time for booking meeting space. The likelihood of the hotel finding multiple suitors for the space is minimal.

We recently placed a midsize meeting (350 attendees) with large meeting space needs at a San Diego convention hotel inside of six months because there was a late cancellation. Owing to our our relationship with the property sales team, they reached out to us looking for a fit—and we found one.

When booking during peak season, flexibility in locations and date pattern again are helpful. I am working to place a two-wave, 120-person-per-wave incentive at a five-star ski-in, ski-out resort in the U.S. or Canada for peak season winter 2019. The preferred pattern is Wednesday to Sunday, but convincing the client to consider the Sunday to Thursday pattern gives us more options, at an average of 20 percent lower room rate.

When working with CVBs and hoteliers, learn from their past experiences with budget-minded clients. Always ask what they have seen other meetings do that produced a high ROI for the group. Specific to local experiences, ask about local activities and entertainment options that provide the best bang for the buck, particularly for meetings with similar demographics as yours.

Value-wise in other categories, think outside the box.

Find a large rental home, cabin or chalet adjacent to or on-property. If allowed, bring in your own F&B and perhaps a private chef and cater your own receptions, which typically runs a fraction of the cost of an on-property function. We usually house our staff in these facilities, saving on housing costs too.

For transportation from the airport to the venue in large cities, our attendees are increasingly utilizing Uber and Lyft. Most don’t mind the expense and appreciate the freedom of grabbing their bag and hitting the curb for a private transfer without being tied to a specific schedule.”

Oscar Groves, Photo by M. Gamazon​Planner No. 4: Oscar Groves, Executive Director, Real Estate Executive Council, Chicago [Photo by M. Gamazon​]

“One strategy we pursue is preceding or piggybacking other real estate shows in the same location and timeframe around value dates. An example is our meeting at the Westin in Detroit this May. Knowing that a larger real estate group had booked the hotel for the earlier part of the same week, we informed the hotel of our preference for our usual end of week program. They were receptive and gave us great value for meeting space and room rates. Stay abreast of properties that your industry peers are using. It can be a win-win for everyone.

Relationships are indispensable for all occasions. I got a wake-up call once when bringing a meeting to New York City during peak season. I was being quoted rates of between $600 and $900—at mid-tier properties!

The reason: The U.N. General Assembly was in town. My recourse was to reach out to a hotel contact formerly on the West Coast who had since relocated to Manhattan. She ended up reducing her initial quote, way out of my budget, by half. When the flexibility to go off-peak or work around set locations and dates is not there, working your relationships can net you maximum possible value during peak season.

While continuing to rely on HelmsBriscoe, I am now discovering the benefit and value of working with CVBs. As an African-American trade association, one of the goals for our upcoming board meeting in D.C. is to experience the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

That’s one hot ticket, but my HelmsBriscoe contact is engaging Destination DC for support. Their local knowledge and relationships, as I am learning, are most valuable.

With hotels, I have a budget and they have a bottom line. Respecting their revenue needs, I aim for a mutually beneficial number. If it does not work out, no hard feelings, and I’ve made a valuable new contact.

Sooner or later, there’ll be another opportunity to work together.

Technology, I find, has the most ‘comp-ability.’ Our requirements are turnkey, and vendors are generally always flexible on meeting my number. It’s less so on F&B and off-site venues, but there’s always room to negotiate adjustments and value adds. Overall, my approach is finding value that fits within my budget without being a complete demon to vendors and hoteliers.

Don’t be a diva with demands and expectations, and always aim for long-term relationships.”