I started in the Meetings industry 25 years ago, when I moved to Vienna and since then I am dealing – among other responsibilities – with the hotel management for medium- and large-size congresses (up to 15.000 participants) in various European destinations.
In those days, before Internet made everyone aware of things we would have never dreamed about, the potential agency revenues of those size of meetings were amazing. Every supplier was ready to grant you a commission if you booked their venue, restaurant, and specially their hotel. The amount of revenues on commission staying three nights in your city in those days was enough to tell your client you could arrange the housing services of the congress “for free”.
These words were repeated for so many years that the associations, entrusting their housing services to their PCO’s, thought these were actually worthless. They never knew the actual volume of the revenue because no PCO was ever informing their client how much they were actually making, and how much potential their congress had as a source of revenue. 25 years later the picture looks a bit different. Fair enough, the associations now know that they can generate revenues and they expect part of it for their congress budget.
The problem arises when they think you get that money without effort, and expect a larger part of the pie than you are ready to share.
To properly manage the hotel allocation for a congress with about 4.000/5.000 participants can take over 900 hours of work, if the chosen destination is a new one. Of course, I am talking here about the professional management of a congress hotel allotment, where at the end of the congress all stakeholder involved will profit in one way or another:
- The congress delegates: They can rely on a selected allotment in different hotel categories in the city, secured at least one year prior out. This selection of hotels have been checked personally by us and have to meet certain expectations and standards, e.g. a location convenient enough to reach the congress center within a maximum of 30 minutes and fair rates (value-for-money) for their respective categories. We negotiate conditions that are fair for them, including guaranteed rates and realistic payment and cancellation terms.
- The association: Considering they are the ones bringing the business event to the destination, it is clear that they want to have part of the revenues produced by the accommodation bookings. It should be also clear to them that our services for accommodating their delegates, needs to be paid for. It is essential for us to put a clear and transparent price tag to our services. After our costs are covered, whatever surplus is left afterwards, of course, belongs to our client, and is only logical and fair that he gets it.
- The hotels: Clearly they want to maximize their revenues, never mind who is buying their rooms. You have to believe me when I say that from the 900 hours needed to arrange the housing for a congress, three quarters are spent on communication with the hotels. Contracting allotments, revising them almost on a weekly basis, informing them about the pick-up at any moment they ask, reducing allotments pro-actively and in-time to avoid wash-outs. Increasing allotments when specific requests arrive, monitoring the hotels web pages to avoid them selling the rooms for the same period at lower rates, and trying to convince them that it is a very short-sighted move, and so forth.
We are talking here about hard work, hours and hours of dedication, and this work has a value and a price. And it still pays at the end, if properly done.
Over all this time, we have managed to win the trust of all the people involved, including the hotels we work with. We have managed to provide housing services for the same associations many years in a row. Even if we will never manage to have all the needed rooms booked via the official congress allotment, those delegates who did, have become regular customers, over all these years.
It’s all about providing a service to our clients and their delegates. It’s about building trust in order to keep them year after year booking with the official housing agency. Because they feel secure and well taken care of, rather than just being a number in a pure money-making process … I guess is all about the personal relationship, after all.
While attending this year’s ICCA congress in Prague, just three weeks ago, it came again to my attention the challenge many Convention and Visitor Bureaux are facing when they are asked to secure a first hotel allotment for a meeting/congress taking place in their destinations.
If I can give them a piece of advice: try to understand the kind of event you are dealing with, I mean truly understand it. Then talk to hotels, explain to them what their benefits are by working together, rather than alone, and by really listening and learning about the specific needs of an event like this.
It means to be able to secure the rooms with fair rates, to block the amount of rooms and the kind of hotels that are truly relevant to the event, according to size, delegate types, actual spending capacities, etc.
Because in the end, it is definitely not a simple case of trading commodities and one of “one size fits all”!