billl_heaney Tips from a Former Meeting Planner-Turned Hotelier

Proud to BE

September 15, 2006

Truth is, working as a hotelier or meeting planning professional are two very big career undertakings.  We take care of people away from home, create an experience for them to be all they can be, and help companies, organizations and educators accomplish all kinds of successful ventures. In addition, we do all this while making our employers and/or ourselves profitable (really key).  Frankly, our role deserves all the respect that we in our business know it earns.

Let’s begin with the hours. As far as I know, most rocket scientists sleep in their own bed most nights and their hours are not 24/7 (by the way, I use “rocket scientists” figuratively here, so I hope they take no offense).  After considering the multitude of hours, consider the environment where our role takes place – a vocation that puts balancing values at a pinnacle; where pairing family and endless travel with long hours make for a constant tug. That includes trying to control and deliver when much is beyond our control.

Preparedness, thoroughness, and creative competence are givens, even considered second nature to successful planners and hoteliers. When things go well, it just happened.  When they don't, it was our fault. The objectives and demands that are steadfast must be achieved even when an act of god intervenes. 

The next is “change,” a steady date for all meeting planners and hoteliers, and one that requires a lot of maintenance. Flexibility is by far manifested in its highest form with hoteliers and planners. Most professions allow for a little crankiness.  But not ours.

I hope that now you are respecting yourself volumes and know that what you do is as important as rocket science.  When the Monday morning quarterbacks chime in (and they will), take all the input with a grain of salt. My wife says it best when we are out together – “You can drive if you have any more suggestions."

By Bill Heaney

Rodney Dangerfield said, "Just can't get any respect." And you’ve heard, "This isn't rocket science" many times over.  Then there are the backseat drivers and Monday morning quarterbacks who share all their suggestions with you, all the while making everything about your job sound just SO simple!

The Internet & Meeting Space

September 14, 2006

By Bill Heaney

While the Internet has had very positive effects for hotels and meeting planning, it has also created some "new" issues.

When I first began planning programs in large hotels with enormous amounts of public and meetings-dedicated space, I assumed that this space was part of the hotel and "no extra expense" for the hotel to provide. Having a room for a reception and another for gathering was never an issue. In time, as we all know, things changed, and now planners’ expectations are that using the hotel’s space will cost something, either a fee, the purchase of catering, or both.

As the hotelier, there are definite views towards space and that is a revenue driver. The revenue is earned directly or by using the space to draw more customers to use sleeping rooms (usually both). In fact, for hotels, the return on investment in the public/meeting space is a strong consideration of viability for the project. When planning a meeting or event, this is always a negotiating point: how much for the space and what is the relationship to sleeping rooms?

The internet has provided a way for hotels to sell hotel rooms, albeit transparently, because when a hotel is fortunate enough to book a large meeting and the competition hasn't, a potential issue comes into play. When a hotel books a meeting, the rates reflect the use of the hotel’s total space so they, in fact, will sometimes be higher priced than the few rooms that are offered as a discount on the internet. And just because one hotel in a market has booked the meeting, competitors may not be as fortunate and it could be a downtime for them. Thus, the competitors are offering discount rooms at rates that may be lower than those negotiated at the hotel holding the meeting.

You know the rest of the story: the planner wants attendance at the meeting, the hotel wants its sleeping rooms filled, and the attendee wants to save money.

In the case of citywide conventions, some cities suggest there be a surcharge for attendance if the attendee does not use one of the convention-prescribed hotels. For individual hotels hosting meetings, if the attendee is not staying in the hotel, they could be asked to pay their share via a surcharge. Obviously, it is incumbent on the hotel to work with the planner and ensure that attendees cannot book lower rates outside their block.

The internet is slowly moving from a discount distribution channel to one that is viewed as convenient, thorough and user friendly. The transition will help alleviate this problem, but for now, it is an issue to recognize.

The Dilemma

September 13, 2006

By Bill Heaney

A few years ago, a national hotel brand was offering Palm Pilot electronic organizing devices to meeting planners who booked a qualifying program at one of their hotels. At the time, I was supervising several hotels that already had the program in place.

First, it reminded me of a program I once ran in an off shore destination famous for a certain kind of jewelry. One of the big attractions for attendees was to have an opportunity to shop for this jewelry. In the destination, the various jewelers competed to organize hosting the

attendees in their stores. One day, a very reputable and well known jeweler came to me and explained that they would be giving 10% commission for recommending their shops over others. Word was they were the best and most reliable, so to help the attendees avoid the more scrupulous vendors, this jeweler was chosen to recommend to them.

The question was posed, "Where did I want the commission money to go?" I replied, "To the company that I represented."

Well, what a surprise when a few months later into the program, the owner of the jewelry company asked to meet me. I was the first planner who had said, "Send the commission to the company." Was I naive or what!

Second, while the Palm Pilot program was going on, I heard stories of planners who wanted it delivered to their home, their boss, or just picked up discreetly. I sensed some discomfort, but at the same time, the program was really successful in getting incremental meetings business.

Today, the meeting planning industry is faced with a similar dilemma with gift incentives and loyalty club points being offered from myriad sources. It is important to point out that it seems the rewards are there even after very favorable negotiations on the part of the meeting planner, and for like and similar facilities and services.

From the hotelier's point of view, the rewards are a way of competing for the planner's business and hopefully getting some attention by way of a site review, and of course, a potential piece of business.

As an hotelier, how important is it that these programs be competitive? I am not convinced that there are planners who book a program solely because of an awards-based thought (unlike the road warrior point junkies). Many questions exist:

-Should hotels offer these awards?

-Should meeting planners take them?

-Do the awards, in fact, affect the negotiation?

-Do these incentives (and I assume that is what you call them) make planners uncomfortable?

-Do hotels and hotel companies hurt themselves by offering the awards?

-Has this become an industry standard?

I would be interested in your thoughts.

The 4 B’s of Negotiating

September 12, 2006

By Bill Heaney

Negotiating in the hotel and meeting planning business is like change, constant and on-going.  There are many sophisticated negotiation trainings and even advanced negotiation training.

But for me, it is the 4B’s...

    Be Prepared

    Be Attentive

    Be Thorough

    Be Yourself


Before beginning any interaction, you PREPARE with what the objectives are, what specifically is needed to accomplish the objectives, and already there is anticipation of items that will be issues of negotiation. Knowledge is power.  Use it to make the job easier.


Everyone likes attention and when interacting, particularly in negotiating, giving one’s undivided and genuine attention is a must. Of course, being ATTENTIVE also prevents you from missing anything that comes up.


By being attentive, you will also be THOROUGH. This is important because going back and forth, again and again, can be mitigated by being extra thorough from the beginning. Use tools and repeat items of discussion, and it will make it easier and clearer.


Be YOURSELF.  There really isn't any other role that you are expected to play. Unfortunately, preconceived notions of expected actions are common and we have all recognized them being put to use. Others quickly see when you are not in your role and it slows the process. When you are you, there will be straightforward and productive interaction.


Enjoy the 4B’s!

The Two Points of View

September 10, 2006

By Bill Heaney

Whenever I am asked how I started in the hotel business, I answer "as a customer."  Planning meetings, conferences and travel arrangements for large groups of customers on a daily basis brought me into contact with numerous hotels and their associates. What made my transition into the hotel business easy is what I believe to be one of the most fundamental and important talents of meeting planning: understanding the other's point of view and appreciating why. Of course, being honest with yourself about what you believe the other's point of view to be - even if runs contrary to your own - enables a very expedient meeting of the minds.

So, before actually working in the hotel business, I already knew much about the "hotel" point of view. And now in the hotel business many years later, my first hand familiarity with the "meeting planning" point of view has proven invaluable.   

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