Contracts, negotiations, legal language – any of it intimidate you? If so, you are not alone. Contract negotiations are an area where the UMC Support Travel and Meeting Planning Team are asked for help the most. For good reason—an excellent contract can leave you legally and financially protected, provide you with many discounts and concessions, and establish a positive base for your relationship with the hotel/ convention center/ retreat center/ caterer/ etc.
Here are 5 tips to consider the next time you need to negotiate a contract:
1. Everything is negotiable!
From what meeting room the hotel has a specific breakout session in, the cost for shipping boxes to the hotel, the legal language in the contract, and even what font is used in the contract – everything in a contract is negotiable. A contract after all is an agreement between two parties, so do not be afraid to ask for what you need. The old saying goes “if you never ask, the answer is always no,” so what is the harm in asking for edits to the cancellation fees to match up your cancellation dates with when registration closes or when the executive committee will set the agenda of the meeting? Might as well ask for gratuity and tax rates to be locked in when signing a contract for 2 years down the road. Negotiate what you want, but also know when it is wise to walk away. There are always going to be those non-negotiables that you should know for your specific group and specific meeting; know those and be ready to take your business elsewhere.
2. You can ask for more than you think.
Similarly, to the fact that everything is negotiable, you can ask for whatever you want in terms of concessions. It does not mean you will get them, but you can always ask. Concessions are things that you would like the vendor to provide for you, either at a discount, for free, or provide where they usually would not. It cannot hurt to ask for more than you think you will be granted. Always suggest a request like one free room per 50 room nights (staff must go somewhere, right?), free Wi-Fi in sleeping rooms and meeting space, discounts on A/V, discounts on catering menus, free parking, in-house restaurant discounts, a specific room rate you desire, and complimentary meeting space. Hotels are looking at the full revenue your group will bring in when giving your group a response to your Request for Proposal (RFP) – they very well might be willing to give a free room night for each 50 rooms sold and free meeting space when you are bringing them $10,000 in revenue in food and beverage costs or waive all parking fees knowing that you are bringing them 100 sleeping room nights. Throw it out there and see what is agreed to!
3. Identify your non-negotiables and be flexible on other things.
We are lucky to live in a world full of choice, which allows us to have things that are negotiable and non-negotiable. Identify your non-negotiables early on and be ready to walk away if they are not met. Can your group not afford to pay more than $150 a night for a sleeping room? Then you should not consider a hotel who is not going lower than a $210 room rate. Do you have to have the location offer a free airport shuttle because the transportation company quotes are more than you can budget for transport? Then do not pick the downtown convention center property even if the meeting space rate is better. Do you have to be able to bring in your own outside Audio/Visual? Then do not settle for a hotel that requires you to use their overpriced AV team. There are always going to be those non-negotiables that you should know for your specific group and specific meeting, identify them and be ready to take your business elsewhere if the vendor does not agree to them. But be flexible on all the other things! Sure, free parking would be nice, but if you know you only have 4 guests driving in, it is not worth arguing about; instead, focus your time on getting the free hardline internet you will need for your 20 individuals who are zooming in to your meeting.
4. Always get multiple quotes.
If you were selling your house or buying a new car, would you just look at one of the 10 offers that are presented to you or just ask one person what they would offer? No. You shop around. So why would you do the same with a vendor contract that could be more expensive than either of those items? Simply put, ask around and see who is willing to make an offer on your event. Even if you have always gone to the same convention center for a specific meeting or event, shop around! You may know you intend to go back to the same convention center for your next event, but without a competing offer, you may never know you have been overcharged for electricity fees or internet for years. Consider all your options in each location, over your given dates, and that can work for your meeting. And then make those offers work against each other! Let hotel A know you really want to bring your meeting to them but that hotel B offered you a $55 less a night room rate with free breakfast. Consider what it would mean to move your meeting to better fit your meeting and budget. A risk that can occur with this strategy is not knowing your meeting specifics and looking at the proposals holistically. Make certain when comparing multiple offers that you conduct a full cost analysis of hosting your meeting with that vendor, as it does not matter if your room rate is $15 less per night if you are paying $25 more per meal per person and serving 3 meals a day.
5. Read everything!
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when negotiating a contract is not knowing everything that is in your contract. Read, reread, and when you do not know what something means, search for it or get professional help in that area. We all look at things from our lens of expertise. As a travel and meeting planner, I look at contracts from a logistical and technical side, whereas a lawyer might look at it from a legal protection side, an accountant may look at it from a budgetary perspective, and the meeting owner may look at it from a programmatic side. Use your resources, the people around you and your best judgement when reading and reviewing a contract. Never allow the first draft of the contract sent your way to be the one you sign. Comb through everything and find at least one thing that needs editing. After 12 years of contract negations, I have never found something that did not need editing, extra clarification, or an addition in a contract. So read and reread with your editing red pen ready! Ask for updates from the vendor before you sign the contract.
Is all this still sounding like too much to tackle? UMC Support has a Licensed Attorney and Certified Meeting Planner ready to source, review and suggest edits to your contracts for any of your upcoming meetings.