Departments - January/February 2017

Room for Growth

Hotelier, Planner Relationships Could Use Improvement

By Deborah L. Vence

A recent study by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) found that the relationship between hoteliers and incentive planners needs some improvement, despite the often collaborative rapport between them.

The study, conducted in July 2016 by the IRF and Prevue magazine, surveyed 126 hotel sales representatives and 160 meeting and incentive travel planners in the United States about the current state of the hotelier-planner relationship, the existing obstacles to successful collaboration and realistic ways to build better partnerships. The research showed that significant opportunities exist for improvement throughout the discovery, RFP and execution phases of the relationship.

"The hotelier-planner relationship is already highly collaborative, but advancing these relationships to ones of full trust will help increase the outcomes for the partnership and carry both parties through the multiple risk issues facing programs today," stated IRF President Melissa Van Dyke.

Some key findings from the research include the following:

  • The majority of both hoteliers (69 percent) and planners (54 percent - 67 percent) in the study viewed their relationship with the other side as either collaborative or supportive.
  • Depending on the hotel role in question (national sales, property sales or convention services manager), only between 11 percent and 22 percent of planners viewed the relationship as one of full trust or friendship, with CSMs having the strongest relationships.
  • When each group was asked to rank the top challenges they face in their interactions with the other group, the survey results illustrated that both parties come from very different perspectives.
  • For both planners and hoteliers, two issues stood out as the biggest obstacles to creating exceptional programs: 1) budgets are rising slower than costs are, and 2) space and date availability frequently present challenges.
  • The eRFP process also was a common source of frustration for both hoteliers and planners, but for reasons unique to each role.
  • Survey participants also shared concerns about the increasingly transactional and technological nature of the relationship, an issue that needs to be actively addressed in order to create and maintain valued partnerships on an ongoing basis.

In addition, the study included a list of the top five things planners can do to help hoteliers:

  1. Provide your priorities (be clear on room rate/budget targets/hot buttons/deal breakers).
  2. Provide information on your attendees (don't cast too wide of a net—short RFP first) .
  3. Provide goals/objectives for your programs (be clear on objectives).
  4. Fully review and/or respond to RFP.
  5. Have a clear concept of venue needs (be realistic and understand invested).

As for the top five things hoteliers can do to help planners, they are:

  1. Fully read responses (communications: detailed, timely, personalized).
  2. Ask questions about program goals.
  3. Understand their priorities.
  4. Ask about audience.
  5. Be creative and flexible.

Survey participants also shared their input on discovering new/potential venues. Hoteliers said the most effective approach was referrals from previous clients (71 percent), followed by global/national sales reps (66 percent) and hosted buyer shows (61 percent). For planners, hosted buyer shows were the top approach (63 percent), followed by referrals from previous clients (53 percent) and trade shows (45 percent).

The number one take-away for planners is that companies need to start thinking further ahead when booking groups.

Other research findings included areas where each side adds the most value. For planners, the top three areas where they added value included: flawless execution; helping overcome layout/location issues; and timely RFP response. For hoteliers, the top three included: providing a strong vision; timely RFP response; and helping prioritize the budget.

Hoteliers also shared their thoughts on what the future holds in relationships with planners. One hotelier stated, "Planners are still thinking that it's business as usual. Planners now need to sell their programs to hotels. And put the total value of their program out there. Identify your must-haves and work with the hotel on executing them."

Another hotelier said, "The number one take-away for planners is that companies need to start thinking further ahead when booking groups. Availability, especially for larger programs, is definitely narrowing for 2017, 2018 and beyond."