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Feb 16, 2012

Meeting Planning in Difficult Economic Times

We are all feeling the effects of the struggling economy. The effect on you, the SPS conference organizer, is that while your primary goal is to produce a successful conference -- you now find yourself in a position of having to manage the conference budget more tightly and you are forced to find ways to accomplish more with less. Here are a few tips from other conference organizers for getting the best deals from hotels and convention centers:

  • Contact the local convention and visitor’s bureau (CVB). They can save you time and energy by identifying which properties in the area are right for your conference. They can also help by offering services for free or at greatly reduced rate. Watch out for CVBs who operate solely on hotel commissions. Some of these kinds of CVBs will not secure the best room rates for your conference.
  • If you have your eye on a specific hotel but it is out of your budget for the dates you want to hold the conference, consider shifting the dates to a time of year that is considered “off-season”. For example a hotel room in Arizona in August is $50 to $100 less expensive than the same room in October.
  • Another option is to be flexible with your arrival and departure dates. A conference can lower rates by starting just one day later or earlier. Ask the hotel representative what you can do to create a better piece of business for the hotel, i.e. checking in on a Sunday instead of a Tuesday could make a significant difference.
  • Sometimes a hotel will negotiate with you to create a better deal if they have other bookings from your company. Check with the SPS staff to see if there are any planned IEEE events at the chosen hotel. Other cost saving things you can do include:
  • Lock in food and beverage menu prices during the contract negotiation and have any potential increases included in the contract -- an increase of up to 3% per year is standard.
  • Keep track of the contract deadlines such as food and beverage guarantees and room block audit dates. When you can, adjust the numbers to help keep costs within the budget. The hotel will appreciate knowing what to expect and are more likely to negotiate better terms and rates if it becomes necessary.
  • Look for sponsors to help support the conference in exchange for showcasing their product or service to your attendees.
  • Evaluate the number of breakout sessions you need. Reducing breakout rooms can save meeting room fees and audio-visual charges.
  • Work with the hotel to serve foods that are in season to cut cost of the food. You can also ask your hotel to plan a menu based on your food budget. Other ways to save on food and beverage include; offer drink tickets (two per person is standard) to reduce consumption and serve smaller versions of croissants and bagels for breakfast. SPS conferences typically require a lot of audio-visual equipment which is expensive. If the hotel or convention center has an exclusive AV vendor, get a quote before just assuming that is the best deal. Some hotels may allow you to hire a non-exclusive AV vendor for a small fee which can be cheaper than hiring the hotel’s vendor.

The best practice of all is to have a good working relationship with the hotel or convention center. A quality hotel wants your conference to be successful so that you will consider holding the next conference there and/or you will recommend their property to a colleague. A good conference is the best advertising they will ever get.