What Are You Doing To Help Maximize Your Attendees' Experience?

Rally to Ridgecrest

As a meeting planner, you can do a great job planning and marketing your event, but if your attendees don’t have a good experience your event could be seen as a flop. So, the question is: What are you doing to help your attendees maximize their experience?

This morning I came across an excellent article dealing with this very topic. It was directed to those attending the upcoming Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference at Ridgecrest and was titled, Maximize Your Conference Experience. The post, written by Michelle Cox (a member of the event’s faculty), was an excellent example of trying to help event attendees maximize their time and experience.

Based on her post, the following ideas and tips could help your attendees maximize their conference experience:

  • Travel directions – Help to take away any concerns attendees may have related to how to get to the conference location.
  • Home away from home – Tips on the conference facility and what it has to offer your attendees.
  • What to bring – Let them know what items they should bring to help them get the most out of your event.
  • Clothes/Weather – Answer the questions, what should I wear and what will the weather be like.
  • Homework – Is there any work that needs to be done prior to the conference? If so, be sure to spell that out so your attendees can come prepared.
  • Prayer – Don’t forget to ask your attendees to help pray for the conference and the role God would have them play in it.

What else have you done to help your attendees maximize their experience at your events? We would love to get your additional suggestions!

What Should My RFP Include?

In a previous post (read here), I discussed why anyone planning an off-site meeting or event should utilize an RFP (request for proposal) process. Using an RFP process will result in more competitive and complete bids, less telephone tag, smoother negotiations and no big surprises.

The best way to achieve these positive results is by creating your own RFP. Should you choose to do this, here is a list of items you will want to consider including in your RFP:

  • Name/address of sponsoring organization
  • Your contact information
  • Preferred method of response (mail, fax, email, phone, etc)
  • Deadline for RFP submission and schedule for decision making process
  • Title of the meeting/event
  • Brief description of meeting goals, objectives and/or purpose
  • Meeting history for the past 3 years, if possible
  • Overview of attendee demographics
  • Preferred city or region
  • Possible meeting dates, including days of the week meeting is held and whether or not dates are flexible
  • Type of property preferred (i.e. downtown, airport, resort, Christian facility, etc.)
  • Projected sleeping room block, including info on arrival/departure patterns and estimate of single, double, triple, quad occupancy, etc.
  • Desired room rate range (this will help hotels know if they can be competitive or not)
  • Meeting space requirements, including size of rooms, registration area, staff area, 24-hour holds, etc.
  • Meeting schedule for each day
  • Exhibit information (i.e. # of booths, type of booths, set up and tear down times), if applicable
  • Food and beverage needs (i.e. breaks, catered meals, dietary requirements, etc.)
  • Expectations related to waived meeting room rental and complimentary rooms
  • Any other information that will help make your group more attractive to the hotel or conference center

While this may seem like a lengthy list, it’s not all inclusive. What other information do you include in your RFP’s?

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.

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?