Before you sign that contract: The Ten Commandments of venue selection
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
A lot goes into locating the perfect venue for your event — endless time with online research, phone calls, emails and site visits compounded by internal discussion and debate. After hours upon hours of effort, you have narrowed the field and are ready to sign the venue contract.
Halt! Before you commit, make sure you have completed the following 10 steps to ensure that you are getting everything you need plus more for your company and your participants.
1. Read the entire contract
You would be surprised at how many people skip this critical step. Don't just read it; understand it. Every word in every clause on every page.
Venue contracts can be chock full of terms that are only seen in contracts (force majeure, anyone?). If you don't understand something, ask. Cvent provides a great online resource for contractual definitions here.
If you have in-house counsel, send the contract to them to read and ask for advice and/or recommendations. Don't assume anything.
2. Don't be afraid to rewrite the contract
Everything is negotiable.
Every venue (especially the larger chains) has a standard contract created via A/B questions. Meeting or special event? Number of guests? Food and beverage requirements? Sleep rooms requested? Once these questions are answered, a pricing model and standard contract is created.
Don't hesitate to strip out entire clauses and add your own to protect yourself as well as your vendors and sponsors. Do what needs to be done to create the optimal experience for your guests and attendees.
3. Ask about construction
On average, hotels have four-year renovation cycles. They are not obligated to tell you anything about anticipated renovations. In addition, most properties do a "touch up" every year. That can mean anything from replacing mattresses and select furniture to painting and replacing carpet.
Ask about new building projects — adding a wing and building a new parking lot means disruptive noise, ugly views and detours. "Don't worry, they only work during the day, your sleep won't be impacted." Yes, but have you ever tried to give a presentation to 500 people over a jackhammer? And then walked 20 minutes to the building next door for lunch to avoid the hard hat zone?
This applies to all venues — not just hotels.
4. Don't undervalue the site visit
Taking the time and money to travel to your designated location before signing the contract can be hard to justify to management. But would you host a personal private event at a location without seeing it? No.
You must see the space to know whether it works for your program and all its facets. Meet the staff so you can be confident your guests will be treated as they deserve and your brand will be protected.
The venue you choose is an extension of your reputation. Make sure you create the perception you want your guests to have. In addition, if you want to negotiate, you have to have a rapport with the hotel, and that cannot be established online and over the phone.
5. Don't get trapped
Many venues have in-house services and preferred vendors. This can be helpful, but what if the situation means it's their way or the highway, and you are required to use their vendors and/or in house services?
Make sure that you can bring in your own vendors at no penalty.
6. Details, details, details
Don't leave anything to verbal agreement; put every detail in writing. Is part of your program outside? Then you need a Plan B and maybe even a Plan C; get it in the contract.
Make sure the actual name of the room/space where your program will take place is specified. Venues have a habit of saying, "appropriate space for group size" so they have the flexibility to keep selling space to fill the venue long after your contract is signed — even if that means bumping you from the room you chose.
Ask how many other groups and from which industries will be at the venue at the same time. If it is important that yours is the sole group in-house that day, then speak up and put it in the contract. Bonus: Be abundantly clear about move in/out dates and times, package handling, fees and cancellation clauses.
7. Room attrition — understand it
When a group doesn't fill the sleeping room-block commitment stated in a contract, a payment is required to make up for the rooms not rented, according to the terms of the clause in the contract. The hotel is counting on the revenue from those rooms and will charge you to recoup costs of not selling those rooms and holding them for your guests.
But there are options to avoid these fees. Some hotels even allow you to roll unused room nights into a future program. The best thing you can do is understand your options and have them written into your contract from the beginning to save yourself from trying to backpedal, beg and negotiate your way out from under these fees.
Meetings and Conventions has great article to read more about room attrition here.
8. Free meeting space? Yes please
Did you know that over 80 percent of the time room rental fees are waived when a client spends enough on other outlets such as food and beverage and sleeping rooms? Find out what that tipping point is, and you could save a bundle plus end up with top-tier food items and free rooms in lieu of a basic menu and meeting room charges.
9. See the whole picture
When assessing venues and comparing costs, go beyond reviewing the bottom-line room rental, food and beverage, fees and taxes. Look at everything that can impact your total program cost: Internet, parking, hotel airport shuttles, complimentary breakfasts and afternoon/evening receptions, shipping fees — plus additional concessions such as complimentary room nights.
Still like one venue better and they won't budge on bottom-line pricing? Ask them to start adding these items into the contract — see No. 2 above.
10. Always ask for more
Plain and simple: If you don't ask, you won't get anything. Ask for what you want and stop talking. There is no need for a five-minute explanation, there is no need to apologize. It's just business after all.
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