the value of building relationships with hotels

Hyatt Regency San Antonio Q Bar

I follow several event planning blogs, including Social Tables. They had a good post yesterday about building relationships between hotels and planners. I agree with everything in the article, but it inspired me to write this post just to expound on one point that Social Tables made a bit further: the need for honest communication and building relationships.

Hotel sales people are busy. Event and meeting planners are busy. So why don’t we figure out how to work together in a way that doesn’t waste each others time?

For me, it’s all about communication and honesty. Planners are often so afraid to share information with hotels in the bidding stage – especially when it comes to the “b” word – Budget.  Planners seem to never want to share that magic number with hotels. They are afraid of losing their bargaining position, that they won’t be able to negotiate. But think of the flip side – if I have a budget of $10,000 for a meeting, and a hotel can’t possible service my meeting for less than $30,000, I would be wasting the hotel’s time, which I feel is a bit disrespectful.

But let’s be honest – everything is negotiable. Just because you throw out a number doesn’t mean you won’t be able to negotiate a better deal. Plus – the focus should be on the value of your event spend. It’s not just how much you spend, but what you get for that money.

That also doesn’t mean that planners shouldn’t dream big and still send RFPs to luxury hotels, as I’m consistently and pleasantly surprised how far those hotels often come down from their rack rates for group sales and meetings. But after the initial bid, if a hotel is clearly out of your price range, it’s best to let them know. Or, if the hotel is asking for your budget, give them a range and let them see if they can work something out for you.

I’m always careful to couch my budget numbers with some context which shows the hotel what matters most to me, because we all know that events and meetings are not a zero sum game and I know I sure don’t choose a venue on price alone. Things like service, the event space, VIP extras – these are all usually considered in addition to price. Security and privacy can be particularly important, enough to choose a much more expensive venue at times, just for the peace of mind.

That only scratches the surface of how you should be communicating with hotels. After you make a decision and sign the contract, it’s important to keep the hotel involved every step of the way. I always consider the hotel (and every vendor, really) as a partner in the event. They play a huge role in making my event a success. If I keep them informed – of changes, of priorities, of the goals of the event – I am more likely to be able to rely on their help, especially if something goes wrong.

Don’t underestimate the value in truly building a relationship with the hotels that you work with. Whether it’s for the duration of a single event, or if it’s a venue you use time and time again, it’s an invaluable relationship.

What are your thoughts on building relationships with hotel partners?

The top photo is of the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk. I chose a photo of their hotel because even though I only had one conference there about five years ago, I still remember their staff so fondly, as they did a great job with our meeting. They were one of the first hotels where I realized the value of building a relationship.

Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.

hyatt regency washington on capitol hill

hyatt regency capitol hill | amanda jayne events blog

DC is full of hotels, but only a few can boast the location that the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill has – it’s a stone’s throw from the US Capitol. Its location makes it a popular choice for meetings and events. With 38,000 square feet of meeting space, it’s also one of the larger meetings hotels in the city.

I had used the Hyatt Regency a few years ago for a few different events while working at a previous job. For those meetings, the location was crucial, particularly since it was only a short walk from Union Station. But it had been a few years since I last visited the hotel, so I made sure to come by for a site visit as we were considering it for a 200+ person event in the fall.

Since we weren’t in need of a room block for this event, I did not check out the sleeping rooms on this tour for lack of time, but I have stayed there personally in the past. My memory of the rooms is that they were completely adequate. They didn’t blow me away, but they were completely functional.

The Hyatt’s lobby is large and open, but much of it is taken up by the restaurant and lounge. There isn’t as much seating as you might expect for a meetings hotel.

hyatt regency capitol hill | amanda jayne events blog

hyatt regency capitol hill | amanda jayne events blog

The majority of the meeting space is on the ballroom level, one level below the lobby. The space that I was looking at was the Regency Ballroom and Foyer.  Here is the foyer (in use for registration for a meeting that day). It’s functional, but you definitely know you’re in the basement, so to speak.

hyatt regency capitol hill | amanda jayne events blog

The Regency Ballroom made up for this, a bit. The chandeliers are gorgeous, and there is some detail in the room that gives it a little extra something, despite being a windowless ballroom. This photo is of Regency A, which is the largest section, which is about 5,600 square feet with a capacity of up to 800 for a standing reception.  The entire Regency ballroom is about 11,300 square feet with a capacity of up to 1,800 for a standing reception.

hyatt regency capitol hill | amanda jayne events blog

Also on the ballroom level is the Columbia ballroom, which is significantly smaller, and a series of breakout rooms named for different battles in the American Revolution: Concord, Lexington and Bunker Hill.  This is a section of the Columbia ballroom:

hyatt regency capitol hill | amanda jayne events blog

My biggest gripe about the Hyatt Regency is that it feels like a meeting factory. I was there on a Tuesday morning and there were several meetings going on. The ballroom level in particular is so packed with meeting rooms that your group is bound to run into other groups. This might be fine, but most of my clients prefer a bit more privacy.

The lobby level had the Congressional rooms and the Capitol rooms. Here is the capitol room:

hyatt regency capitol hill | amanda jayne events blog

One of the Congressional rooms:

hyatt regency capitol hill | amanda jayne events blog

The hotel also has breakout rooms on the 2nd floor and the Thornton Lounge on the 11th floor, which has views of the Capitol. This is their most popular room and is more difficult to book.

Overall, I feel like the Hyatt Regency is a perfectly serviceable location. It benefits by being so close to the capitol and having so much space, that if you have a smaller meeting or event, they often have something available, which is great for planning last minute events. But there is nothing incredibly special about it.

One last note – I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the service on my short visit. I’m hoping this was just a one-off, but when I arrived for my site visit, I went to the front desk to ask the agent to call the sales assistant I was meeting. This is what I would normally do if the sales person wasn’t meeting me in the lobby anyway, but this is in fact what the sales assistant had told me to do. There was no line at the front desk so I made my request, but the agent didn’t know who I was asking for. This isn’t entirely surprising at such a large hotel, but then even when I spelled her name, he wasn’t able to find her in their phone system. He asked which department she was in, and when I said Sales and Catering, he told me, “Oh , just go down to her office. Go down these escalators, make a left, and right…” I cut the agent off, saying that I really preferred to have him call her and for the sales assistant to meet me in the lobby.  Have you ever tried to find a sales office in the hotel? They are often tucked away by the meeting space for a reason, but personally I don’t feel like I should have to go on a wild goose chase to find it, especially for a site visit.  After showing my contact’s email on my phone to the agent he was finally able to get her on the phone, but the whole interaction was less than positive. When I have a negative experience with a staff member at a hotel, I always worry how my guests will be treated.

Have you worked with the Hyatt Regency Washington DC on Capitol Hill? What were your thoughts?

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

If you’re looking to host a large meeting in Oklahoma City, your largest option is the Renaissance Oklahoma City Convention Center Hotel. The hotel has 311sleeping rooms and a few smaller meeting rooms (boardroom sized), but it is connected to the convention center, which has 68,000 square feet of meeting space. The convention center’s meeting space is managed by the Renaissance (the arena and exhibit hall is managed by a different company).

The hotel

The hotel has a large, open atrium style lobby with a lovely water feature and glass elevators on either side. The “front desk” is really four different individual desks with a single clerk, I suppose to make check in feel more intimate.  There is a restaurant and a lounge off of the lobby.

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

The sleeping rooms looked nice and relatively recently renovated (we didn’t stay – we had stayed at the Skirvin Hilton a block away). The linens have recently been updated and I thought they looked nice. The rooms seemed a bit smaller but perfectly fine for a business traveler.

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

The king suites were very nice with a separate bedroom. I was amazed that there were 88 in the whole hotel, a significant percentage of the inventory.

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

There are a small number of boardrooms and small meeting rooms that seemed nice but nothing special.

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

Overall the hotel just seemed to be having an identity crisis. It was nice enough, but it didn’t wow me. The lobby was nice, but that coupled with the decor and the carpet, seemed more appropriate for a beachside hotel somewhere tropical (I’m not sure if you know where Oklahoma City is, but it’s about as far from either ocean as you can be!). Even the spa seemed out of place with the loud salsa-like music being played outside its doors.

The convention center

The convention center is accessed via a walkway from the hotel. It’s a basic convention center with a tiny bit of western flair to let your know you’re in Oklahoma City, like these details:

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

It felt very dark, which was a stark contrast from the last convention center I visited in Denver.

The breakout rooms I was looking at for our meeting were what you would expect at any convention center – nothing particularly good or bad about them.

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

renaissance oklahoma city convention center hotel | amanda jayne events blog

Overall I was nonplussed. I’d love to see a little more character in the convention center, but the space was certainly functional.

Have you been to either the Renaissance or the convention center? What were your thoughts?

how to save money on an event venue

Hacienda Sarria | amanda jayne events blog

One of the things about special events and weddings that people find so surprising is how expensive the venue rental fee can be. Many people consider this to be money wasted, but it can often be inclusive of other items such as rental items (furniture, dishes, etc.) or staff (servers, attendants), but sometimes it is just a fee and all the other items are on top of the fee. Still, there are often ways to pay a lower fee or avoid paying a rental fee altogether.

The first thing you need to do is find out what is included (if anything) in the rental fee. For example, if the rental fee includes all of the tables, chairs, dishes, staff, and a/v that you’d need, paying a high rental fee might actually be a good deal as these items can add up. But if it only includes some of these things, or doesn’t include any tangible items (it’s just covering the space’s opportunity cost – aka allowing you exclusive use of the space at the loss of other business), it’s important to try and compare apples to apples when working on your budget.

Now, on to the suggestions:

Choose an off day

Many venues offer different pricing for different days based on demand – most people host events on Fridays and Saturdays (although this might be slightly different based on your market), thus events on Tuesdays might have a lower rental fee because there isn’t as much business. Ask the venue if they have slower days with a lower fee.

Choose an off season

Similiarly, some venues have seasonal pricing, particularly venues with outdoor components. For example, the botantical garden might be very expensive to rent in the spring and summer, but it might offer a substantial discount in the fall when it’s not blooming, but might still be very pretty.

Ask about cancellations

If you’re planning with a short lead time, ask if there have been any cancellations at the venue. If a venue has had a client cancel or postpone an event, they now have a hole in their schedule and might be willing to slightly discount the rental fee in order to fill it quickly.

Offer repeat business

If you have several events that you can place in the same venue, ask for a discount based on the volume of business you’re bringing if you can contract for all of the events at once. I’ve also had success with this tactic when it comes to getting a lower food and beverage minimum.

Offer more revenue

If you can show the venue that your event will bring signficant revenue to them in other ways than just the rental fee, they might be willing to discount it. For example, at hotels in particular, you can often have them waive the rental fee in exchange for a higher food and beverage commitment – the hotel is getting the same amount of money, but it’s all going toward something tangible, not just a fee. Note that in this case the caterer and the venue most likely need to be the same company.

Choose a venue that doesn’t charge a rental fee

Many hotels do not charge rental fees for the rooms if you commit to a certain amount of food and beverage, and the cost of giving you the space is wrapped up into the cost of the food (see above). This can sometimes make hotels the most affordable venues for events (although not always).

What are some other ways to save money on a venue? What other aspects of event planning would you like to see posts on?

Photo  of Hacienda Sarria in Ontario via Grey Likes Weddings

site report – the hyatt regency orlando sleeping rooms and amenities (formerly the peabody orlando)

Editors note: This hotel became a Hyatt Regency in November 2013. This post was current when it was published and reflects the service and amenities as a Peabody Hotel, not a Hyatt Regency.

 

See my site report on The Peabody Orlando’s Meeting Space

The sleeping rooms at the Peabody Orlando are very nice and there is a TV in the bathroom mirror. In. The. Bathroom. Mirror.

I was in a double room (two double beds) and it was plenty spacious for just me. Had my husband been with me it would have been fine for the two of us. If we had more people with us it might have been a bit crowded.

The beds were super comfortable – comfy enough that I didn’t want to get out of bed for the conference I was attending.

The bathroom though – that’s the main event. Like I may have mentioned earlier – there is a TV in the mirror! I’m not sure why I find this so exciting because I didn’t even really watch it, but I was excited that it existed.

My only complaint about the bathroom is the towels are stored under the sink and the only towel rack is over the bathtub which seems awkwardly placed. Otherwise the bathroom was perfectly functional. They even provided a digital scale which I made sure to nudge under the sink just in case I accidentally stepped on it – we wouldn’t want THAT happening!

Everything was very nice and obviously renovated fairly recently. My room overlooked the tennis courts and a swamp. Allegedly you could see gators sunning themselves in the swamp but since the sun didn’t really come out during my stay, I didn’t get to see any.

The hotel has several restaurants and room service. You get two bottles of water per room per day as part of the resort fee (thank goodness because I’m trying to drink more water but I’m too cheap to buy it). I didn’t get to try most of the restaurants since I was eating banquet food with the conference, but I did try the B-Line Diner’s quick service window because I wanted something quick when I arrived. The quick service menu is fairly limited but my caesar salad was ok.

The hotel also has an incredible pool complex. I was there for business so I didn’t try out the pool (actually I didn’t try out the pool because it rained just about the whole trip) but I did manage to snap some pictures when the sun briefly came out the day I left.

There is also a spa and a fitness center. The fitness center offers classes for a nominal fee – I was pretty excited about this as I was packing for my trip but then I didn’t get my butt out of bed early enough to take advantage. But if you find yourself at the Peabody, you should totally try the classes out and let me know how they are!

All in all, a great hotel, a comfortable room. Depending on when you go, the price can range wildly. Since it does a lot of meetings business, most groups get a discounted stay. The room rate for the conference I attended was $120/night which was VERY reasonable given the quality of the resort.

Have you been to The Peabody? What did you think?