Why Should I Use An RFP?

When it comes to planning and booking your next meeting, retreat or event, utilizing a well thought out RFP (request for proposal) process can be a great time and money saver. Obviously, the larger the meeting, the more critical it is to use an RFP, but that doesn’t mean RFP’s aren’t beneficial for smaller meetings as well.

Johnson Spring - Ridgecrest

When you choose to use an RFP process, you basically have 2 options. The first option would be to utilize an RFP form provided by the facilities you’re interested in using. Here are some examples: Ridgecrest/Glorieta, Marriott, Crowne Plaza, Lake Williamson. The advantage is these are generally online forms that can be completed quickly and submitted to the facilities electronically. The downside is they are usually pretty generic and don’t ask for a lot details. You also give up control of how their bid comes back to you, thus making it more difficult to compare all the bids to each other.

The second option, which definitely takes a little more time on the front end, is to create your own custom RFP. After creating the RFP, you would then send it to each of the facilities you’re considering for your event, have them complete it and return to you. Having each facility complete the same RFP makes it much easier for you to compare “apples to apples” when it comes to all the financial details of the proposal.

While either option is better than just picking up the phone and calling facilities, I would definitely recommend taking the time to create your own RFP. In the process of creating your RFP, go through your meeting day by day and account for everything you will need from the facility. Doing so offers the following 4 advantages:

  1. More complete and competitive bids – The more information you give, and ask for, in your RFP, helps the facility to better understand your group’s needs. This should then allow them to be more competitive in their pricing.
  2. Less telephone tag – While I sometimes enjoy a good game of telephone tag…NOT! Simply, the more information exchanged in the RFP, the less the need for follow up telephone questions.
  3. Smoother negotiations – Because the facility knows all of your needs up front, they will usually be more open to negotiate. As a hotel operator, I was much more inclined to play give and take with a client that had laid all their needs out on the table. The last thing I wanted to see happen was for me to make a concession, only to see the group come back and ask for more stuff I was not even aware they wanted.
  4. No big surprises – This one’s huge. Neither you, or the host facility, want to get hit with big NEGATIVE surprises during the event. By taking the time up front to create a detailed RFP, you go a long way towards eliminating those big surprises no one wants to see.

What about you? Do you use RFP’s? Please feel free to share what has worked for you in the past.

3 Tips For Negotiating With Hotels

When it comes to planning a Christian meeting, conference or retreat, one of the more challenging tasks can be negotiating with the hotel or conference center for your sleeping rooms, meeting space and catering. Am I getting the best room rate? Why do I have to guarantee anything? What does guestroom to meeting space ratio mean? These are just a few of the questions you may find yourself asking.

While those are all valid questions/concerns, hopefully we can give you a few tips that will help to lessen any anxiety.

Room rates – There are numerous variables that go into deciding the rate a hotel or conference center quotes a group. These variables include size of group, time of year (high, low or shoulder season), arrival/departure pattern, transient demand, how much meeting space group requires, amount of food & beverage revenue to be generated from event and meeting history for your event.

The slower the season, the better the rate you can negotiate. The same is true if your arrival/departure pattern is opposite the majority of the hotel’s normal business. In other words, if the hotel is primarily a business oriented property you can usually get better rates over a weekend, while a leisure destination location will usually give better rates for Sun-Thu business.

Two other key factors a facility considers before quoting rates to a group are the total revenue value of the event and its meeting history. The more your group commits to spend on food, audio/visual, etc can help you in your room rate negotiations. Also, a group with a consistent history of meeting their room block is much more likely to get a better rate than a first time group with no history. From the hotel’s point of view there’s just less risk with the group that has a good track record.

Guestroom to meeting space ratio– Almost all hotels/conference centers have guidelines by which they determine how much complimentary meeting space to allocate to your group. While this ratio will vary by facility, meeting space will always be tied to the number of sleeping rooms your group commits to. The more guestrooms you use, the more space you’re entitled to and vice versa. In some cases you may be able to rent additional meeting space, but that will depend on how much overall space the facility has available.

Contract guarantees – All hotels are going to require some type of room guarantee in your contract. This is to protect the facility should you fail to pick up your contracted number of rooms. However, it is fair to insist on some type of sliding scale. The further out you release your rooms, the less you’re responsible for, as the hotel will have more time to recoup their loss by selling the rooms to someone else. Hotels with high transient demand will be more open to this, while facilities with low transient demand (such as Ridgecrest and Glorieta) have less likelihood of reselling the rooms and thus have more to lose.

Negotiating with a hotel or conference center should not be adversarial. I’ve always believed a good deal is made when both sides are happy. When that happens the groundwork is in place for a successful event. When it doesn’t…run, don’t walk…and find another facility that will by happy to partner with you and help make your event a success.

5 Common Meeting Planner Mistakes

Ridgecrest Conference Center

At Ridgecrest and Glorieta conference centers, we host hundreds of groups each year, ranging in size from 8-10 people to over 1,500 in attendance. I say this, not to promote Ridgecrest or Glorieta (well maybe just a little), but to point out that we have the privilege of working with many different types and sizes of meetings and retreats each year.

With that in mind, I recently asked our event coordination staff at Ridgecrest to give me the five most common meeting planner mistakes they encounter over the course of the year. Here are their responses:

  • Failure to make a site visit prior to the event/meeting. – This is absolutely critical for large events, but can also be very important for smaller events or retreats as well. Taking the time to make this visit allows the meeting planner to get a clearer picture of the facility’s layout, how the meeting space will work best for their event, how much time to allow in the schedule to move from space to space and to build a greater level of trust with, and confidence in, the facility staff.
  • Failure to read the information sent from the meeting facility. – The purpose of this information is to minimize the chances for miscommunication between the meeting planner and the host facility. Whether it’s the facility contract, pre-planning details or catering forms, it’s critical for the meeting planner to thoroughly read and understand all the information given to them. Before the event is the time to ask questions, or clarify details, not once the event starts.
  • Lack of communication among the group/faculty planning the event. – When this happens, the result is mixed information being sent to the meeting facility. This significantly increases the opportunities for mistakes being made during the event and for the group to incur additional, and maybe unnecessary, expense. We suggest your group have one primary contact person with the venue so as to avoid confusion.
  • Planner makes assumptions about the meeting facility. – My wife always tells me I should never assume anything and the same is true when planning a meeting or event. Every facility/hotel is different and a planner should not make assumptions based on where they met last year, even if it’s the same facility.
  • Waiting until the last minute to send in their information to the facility/hotel. – The earlier a meeting planner can submit their information (i.e., rooming list, catering requests, meeting room set-ups, etc.), the better for everyone. This allows the facility/hotel to be better prepared to provide the best possible experience for the group.

We would love to hear from any of you that plan meetings or events. Do you agree with the list? Anything else you would like to add? What about on the other side? What are the most common mistakes made by the hotel/facility that you have to deal with?

An Important Top 10 List for Planners

Making a top ten list of reasons to attend your event is a great way to market your event. To start your list, grab a piece of paper and start writing down all of the things you feel are attractive about your event, for example:

1. Free speaker sessions
2. Number of meals
3. Free networking events
4. An excuse to come to (insert name of great city)
5. Meet current clients
6. Free parking
7. Mention entertainment
8. Opportunity to visit local attractions
9. Door prizes
10. Mention keynote speakers

Brainstorming from an attendees point of view may make your list easier to compose. Now you have the list you can use to promote your event.  If possible keep the list items short in description. This way it can be added to virtually any medium, like a box on your event website or printed material. Or maybe a banner ad on a website or support material for your event newsletter.

A simple list can go a long way in sparking interest from potential attendees.

6 Mistakes To Avoid When Planning A Leadership Retreat

Leadership retreats are supposed to be something to look forward to: spending time in a relaxed setting, developing plans without the constant distraction of the office and the strengthening of team relationships and dynamics.

If that’s the case, then why do so many people dread a leadership retreat like the plague? They don’t want to go and when they get there, they can’t wait for it to be over. Pretty much like many of us guys feel about our annual physical!

The answer lies in the structure of the retreat itself. Avoid the following, commonly made mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to having a successful, productive leadership retreat.

  • Don’t get lost – The old saying, “if you don’t know where you’re going, how will know when you get there?” is definitely applicable to planning a leadership retreat. You need to have predetermined objectives. Otherwise  attendees will come with their own objectives/agenda, or none at all. In the months leading up to the retreat, maintain a list of what you want to accomplish. Then prioritize your objectives and announce them to your team prior to the retreat.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew – Too often we try to cram more into the agenda than we can possible accomplish. As a result, discussions get rushed, or cut short, and people get frustrated. Instead, only select the number of objectives that can be thuroughly discussed in the time set aside for the retreat. Be sure to give yourself enough time to determine next steps and create a timeline.
  • Don’t keep people in the dark – When people don’t know why they’re attending a retreat or meeting, they can tend to become close minded. Definitely not what you want! Be sure to share the topics, objectives and goals of the retreat far enough in advance so that people have ample time to get prepared.
  • Don’t self-facilitate – You, as the boss, should not facilitate your own leadership retreat. I’ve personally made this mistake… more than once. If you facilitate, the tendency is for your people to simply follow your lead and offer the answers they think you want to hear. Guess what? Those may not be the best answers! Instead, bring in an experienced facilitator. Someone objective who can ask the hard questions and hopefully lead the group to come up with fresh answers.
  • Don’t shy away from fireworks – Bringing together people who are passionate about their ideas can often times create ‘fireworks’. Don’t be afraid of this. I know this is something I struggle with. When the sparks start to fly among my staff, I tend to want to become the ‘peacemaker’ and try to keep everyone happy. The result can be a watered down meeting that frustrates everyone. Next retreat try going into it hoping for fireworks. They’re a great sign of passion and creative energy.
  • Don’t drop the ball – How many times have you attended a retreat that generated a lot of great ideas, but then nothing happened? Did that frustrate you? I know it does me. Don’t make the same mistake. The end of the retreat should be just the beginning. Before ending the retreat be sure to clearly communicate next steps, project assignments and a follow-up timetable.

What about you? Any mistakes you’ve seen made (or made yourself) that you could share?

8 Ideas For Promoting Your Church Retreat

You’ve picked the location. The theme is nailed down and speakers lined up. Now all you have to do is sit back and get ready to enjoy a great retreat…right?

WRONG! All of those things are critical, but if you don’t also spend time on strategically promoting your retreat, you may end up with a great retreat that no one attends. Certainly not what anyone wants to see happen!

With that in mind, here are 8 ideas for helping to promote your upcoming church retreat. While certainly not an all inclusive list, hopefully these ideas will at least get you started.

  • Start your retreat promotion as early as possible. Four to six months out is a good time to begin. Be sure to include information on theme, speakers, dates, location and pricing.
  • Assign an idividual/team to promote the retreat via email and/or church website.
  • Consider offering a monthly payment plan so that potential attendees can avoid dealing with a large payment at the time of the event.
  • Consider offering an some type of early bird registration discount. This gives people an incentive to register early and helps you, the planner, gauge interest in the event.
  • Have excited attendess staff a registration table outside your sanctuary on Sunday mornings.
  • Encourage folks to sign up for an entire lodging room and then invite their friends to join them on the retreat.
  • Make follow up calls, or send follow up emails to those who have expressed interest in the retreat but who have not yet registered.
  • Enlist prayer warriors to pray for the retreat and the attendees by name. Prayer is powerful and we should never underestimate it. (At our conference centers, we have a team of employees who pray every week for the groups coming in that week.)

What other retreat promotion ideas do you have? What has worked well for you in the past that you could share? We’d love to hear them. Please feel free to add your ideas to the comment area below.

Creating a Stand-out Meeting Experience

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for Christian Camp and Conference Association’s InSite magazine entitled, “A Stand-out Experience” (read article here). The purpose of the article was to provide Christian conference centers with some strategies they could use to compete with local hotels.

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At Ridgecrest and Glorieta, it’s not unusual for us to compete with a secular hotel or conference center for many of our groups. This has become especially true as we’ve added new and upgraded facilities that are equal to, and in some cases, nicer than our secular competitors. However, it’s not the nicer facilities that we believe differenitiate us from other hotels and conference centers. Here are the three things I believe set Ridgecrest and Glorieta apart from our competition and allow us the opportunity to create stand-out experiences for our groups.

Ministry Serving Ministry – Unlike our secular competitors, we are a ministry and we see our role as that of serving other ministries. Our sales and event staffs work hard to build genuine relationships with our group leaders. We want to know what their hopes and dreams are for their ministries and then look to see how we can partner with them to help achieve their ministry objectives.

Spiritual Environment – Ridgecrest and Glorieta were built for the specific purpose of helping to equip the saints. Our mission is to provide the best conference center environment for experiencing spiritual transformation and renewal. This is not to say the Holy Spirit can’t move at a secular hotel or conference center, but that’s not why they exist. Our purpose is to point people towards Christ and to provide a place where, away from the distractions of the world, people can have a fresh encounter with our Creator.

Personal Service – One of the realities of the hotel industry is the larger the hotel, the less personal the service. Even when the service is excellent (Broadmoor example), the great majority of the hotel employees will have no idea why you’re there. Again, not their focus. On the other hand, at Ridgecrest and Glorieta, we have a group of employees who pray each week for the groups and individuals scheduled to arrive that week. We work hard to communicate to all of our employees why a group is on campus and what we can do to personalize the service we offer to each group.

What about you? If you plan or go to meetings/retreats with your ministry or church, what makes them a stand-out experience?

Hotel Terms to Know

Recently I was talking with some meeting planners about how confusing “hotel lingo” can be. I agree, the terms we all use in our work may not be recognizable in others.

Here are a few definitions you should know.

Request For Proposal (RFP): An RFP is not a contract.  RFPs are considered an invitation for an offer to be made and potentially a contract issued.

Banquet Event Order (BEO): BEOs are the internal document generated to communicate to the hotel staff what the requirements of your meeting are.  BEOs will list your meeting set up, food and beverage, audiovisual and any other specifics about your meeting.

Cutoff Date: The cutoff date is the date the hotel releases your room block back to the general inventory.

Indemnification: To indemnify means to guarantee against any loss or damage that another might suffer.  These clauses in contracts are used to protect both parties against the negligent acts.

Force Majeure: Irresistible Force – the purpose of a force majeure clause is to protect both parties in the event that a part of the contract cannot be performed due to unavoidable causes which are outside of either parties control.

Attrition: Hotels set a value to your contract.  An amout of money they expect your business to generate.  “Attrition” occurs when a meeting is held but fails to reach expectations, either in number of rooms or the food and beverage revenue to the hotel.

Avoid These 7 Commonly Overlooked Steps When Planning Your Meetings

Creating and sticking to your budget when planning meetings and events sometimes are two different things.  Here are seven commonly overlooked steps when planning and executing your meeting that can help you stick to the budget.

1.  Allow contingencies in the budget for the unexpected.  Don’t cut it so close that you set yourself up for failure.

2.  Include tax and services charges in the budget.

3.  Include labor costs in the budget.

4.  Communicate clear policies to speakers and staff.  What will you pay for?  Set limits on meals, travel expenses, etc.

5.  Review your master account daily and limit the number of people authorized to add charges to the master account.

6.  Rely on your history not attendance when giving your meal guarantees.

7.  Know the value of your business, when you are negotiating your contracts make sure you are getting the best pricing based on the history of what you have spent in the past both on and off the master account.