In my 27 years of handling events large and small for a variety of different nonprofits, one of the greatest discoveries I’ve made is that a Hotel Site Selection Partner can be your very best friend. Maybe even your knight in shining armor. For too many years, I muddled through a process of guesswork when trying to find just the right venue, just the right price for guests, just the right configuration of meeting space. . . and even after a successful site visit I’d often still wonder if I had overlooked the best deal the city had to offer.
One year about a decade ago, a “booking agent” reached out to me out of the blue. I had never even listened to a pitch before, but was particularly swamped at the time and was perfectly primed to think about letting her help me. I think that year was the last that I booked a venue without the help and expertise of an agent by my side.
WHY HAD I NOT CONSIDERED OUTSIDE HELP SOONER? We all know the commission has to come from somewhere, right? I just assumed (wrongly) that for an agent to make their commission, it would mean increased costs for either the association or it’s attendees. Surely, all this expertise isn’t just FREE to the nonprofit, is it? What’s the catch? Are the attendees going to pay a higher room rate?
HOW DOES THE AGENT GET PAID? Turns out, the agent does indeed make a commission, but it’s not on the back of the attendees or the association. The agent will make a percentage of rooms booked; usually 10%. I always thought that the hotel would make this up on our backs; they would offer higher room rates to cover the cost of paying that commission. Wrong again. Hotels these days have an entirely different way of covering the commission. It comes out of their marketing budget. That’s right, their budget. Not yours.
THE HOTEL PERSPECTIVE: These days, “agents” come in many different forms. Sites like Expedia and Travelocity are considered agents, just like personal service agents such as our preferred partner Prestige Global Meeting Source. Hotels know that upward of 65% of all bookings these days come through some sort of agency or third party, whether it be an online booking clearing house or a personal service agent like we use. Because of this, they know they’re going to be paying some costs for all this exposure. Hotels much prefer to pay an agency like Prestige their 10% commission, than pay an online source like Expedia 18%. That’s right. All the personal service and expertise costs LESS than other sources. Of course, the hotel will still prefer to work directly with an association or individual, in order to pay no commissions at all, and probably make fewer concessions for the group.
THE NOT-SO-OBVIOUS BENEFIT: One year, we booked a convention through our agent. The entire Board of Directors went for the site visit with me. We loved the venue. When we showed up for the event, there was no lobby, no bar, scaffolding everywhere. . . it was a total disaster. SURPRISE!!! A renovation nobody mentioned! Instead of wringing our hands and fighting with this chain, our agent (that’s right, the knight in shining armor), swooped in and took care of everything. He took issue, and got a sizeable refund for the association. And I didn’t have to lift a finger. It stands to reason that this chain cares way more what he thinks than what I think, right? Our little association could go away for good, and who cares. But they definitely don’t want an agent denying them business, possibly to the entire chain, because of this sort of travesty. the Agent is on your side. It’s true. He is your champion.
WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE USE AN AGENT THEN? Still suspicious? I was for a long time too. To me, it was just that I didn’t understand how the money flows. Now that I get it, I’m a lifetime convert. It’s possible that some folks consider creating an RFP, collecting hotel proposals, creating a comparison grid, negotiating the concessions, and then trudging around to countless venues for site visits a really good time. But for me, it was a dreaded process that took way too much time; precious time I just didn’t have to spare.
In a small or medium-sized association, it makes more sense to empower the planning team to focus on the bigger picture for a concise, well-planned and successful event – and let the agent carry the weight of selecting site options, negotiating rates and handling the hurdles.
Take time to understand the model, and you’ll never go back! Still have questions? Call us at 605-470-0707 and we’ll fill you in.
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