How to sell outbound group meeting and incentive travel

 

Improving your group and incentive sales

 

Improving your group and incentive sales to the U.S. Meeting Planner and Incentive Houses is as simple as it is difficult.  We have been the liaison between international hotels, their sales teams, and the U.S. Planner for nearly one quarter of a century and understand the gap between cultures, expectations and deliverables that impede effective sales efforts to outbound group and incentive programs from the United States.

 

Most sales people are always in continuous touch with their accounts, but we ask why then do they lose the business?  How much business are you losing without even being aware of the reasons why?

 

Here are a few pointers that may help you and your international hotel or resort.

 

  1. Acknowledge receipt of all Request For Proposals [RFPs].

 

I can’t tell you how many times meeting planners tell me that they don’t know if they should even expect a response because the hotel they sent the RFP to never even acknowledges the receipt of their RFP.

 

It is very commonplace for hotels that CANNOT accommodate the group because of date availability, size of group, lack of meeting space or inadequate function space to simply not respond to the Planner at all.  Not even a “courtesy email” thanking the planner for thinking of them and advising them that they cannot accommodate their request.  Communication, courtesy & hospitality should always be part of the sales process even if the hotel/resort cannot accept the group.

 

2.    Late responses. 

 

Let us start by saying that while a great many hotels already respond to RFPs in a timely manner, many do not and the General Management is unaware of this occurrence.  While we understand that hotel and resort sales people are very busy traveling, in long meetings, taking care of customer requests as well as the needs of General Managers and other Executive Committee members,  they must understand that the U.S. meeting planner is pressed by a variety of other requirements, including time. A standard response is a maximum of 48 hours and of course after acknowledging the receipt of the planner’s proposal.

 

3.    Incomplete & Unformatted RFP’s. 

 

In many cases sending an incomplete response in many cases is even worse than not responding.  It takes Planners time to read the partial replies only to have to make further requests that more often than not, go unanswered.  If a Meeting Planner requests information about meeting space specs, banquet menus, and for the hotel to complete a specific RFP questionnaire, the least the Sales Manager MUST do is to provide the full and accurate information, fill in the questionnaire, and return it within the specified 48 hours!  Planners will not consider a hotel’s standard proposal formats if they have sent you a specific questionnaire and your hotel will not be presented to their client.  Many planners use specialty software that scans these FORM responses and sorts them for simple and quick presentation to their clients.  Sales personnel may think they are providing the Planners with at least some of the details needed, yet they are not.

 

4.    Language and customs.

 

While many international hotels have been hiring English-speaking sales managers, there remain many idiosyncrasies and literal translations from Spanish, Portuguese, French or other languages that simply do not make sense in English.  It is very important that each hotel have a native English-speaking professional read through their current proposal templates for accuracy and clarity so that Meeting Planners do not have to decipher the offer being presented, often requesting clarification.  Planners are not ignorant, they are just confused by unclear English templates and different customs in countries where they may not be as well-versed as in the US.

 

Since the downturn in the economy, the ability for companies to plan and budget for a meeting or conference is left to a late priority.  The decisions on the venue are based on a series of factors:

 

  • Pricing
  • Convenience for attendees  

 

5.    Room to negotiate.

 

It is a common misconception among international hotels that there is always room to negotiate.  Many times hotels start off quoting rates that are way higher than the client’s stated budget, and/or they do not provide most of the concessions/value added items requested by the planners. Later,  upon follow up with the planner, they find out their property has been ruled out  because of some of the above reasons, when it is already too late!  Please, if your proposal is your “best offer”, by all means go ahead and present it, but if you know that you have room to negotiate, please be forthright and extend what you can offer from the beginning…don’t wait until it is too late and your property has been already ruled out to react!

 

Make sure your proposals, contracts and documents explain succinctly what you can and cannot offer.  We recently had a client contract with a property, plan all meals, activities, work on BEO’s, and two days before group check in found out that the hotel DID NOT accept credit cards for master account payments, only payments via wire transfer or personal/company checks.  Can you imagine?  To say the least, this situation certainly put the meeting planner in a pickle!  All because within the contract, it never stated that ONLY wire transfers or checks were accepted and that credit cards were not.

 

This article was written by Michelle Anseeuw- MBA, CMP, CHSP, Vice President Global Sales, Valorem Group.

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