Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: January/February 2011
Stop Leaving Money On The Table
By: Michael Bennett

“In business you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate” ⎯ Chester L. Karrass. This quote serves as a stern reminder that despite all the best of intentions, the supplier/meeting planner negotiation is often difficult despite a shared desire for a successful outcome.  There is nothing worse than arriving at the bargaining table willing to meet an adversary halfway, only to find your counterpart already standing on the dividing line wanting to push you further away from center, because you lack the tools and information necessary to conduct a skillful negotiation. It’s a lot like playing poker where your opponent knows your hand. They keep upping the ante and you keep playing despite a weak hand.

Are you getting the best deal? It’s probably safe to assume most of you have left money on the table. This is not meant as a slight, it’s just a fact of life.  Business dynamics change rapidly. What was in vogue as a negotiation tactic one minute is gone the next. In football, good teams usually take away your best offensive options forcing you to change tactics. Is there a way to combat these ever-changing dynamics? Before we answer that question, we reached out to a couple of meeting planners and those who have negotiated on behalf of an organization to get their input on the challenges faced by today’s meeting planners.

In response to a question on negotiating with a particular hotel Suzette Eaddy, CMP, director of Conferences for the National Minority Supplier Development Council had this to say, “In 2009, when the economy had taken a downward turn, negotiating contracts was easy…I suspect that the hotels are going to try to make up for the revenue they lost in 2008 and 2009.”  One theme that surfaced continually is the question of timeliness. This from Roy Jay, national chair for the National Alliance of African American Chambers, “timeliness of some hotels is questionable…waiting a week or two for a response is too long.”

Eaddy says, “It never ceases to amaze me the number of hotels and/or venues that don’t respond to queries in a timely manner. One would think that they have all of the business that they want…” When we asked what is your favorite and least favorite part of the site selection process, pretty much no one had a favorite part. One of the two most common responses was being taken to locations that never meet my organization’s criteria. The other had to do with contracts. “I don’t like reviewing contracts — all of that extraneous language,” says Eaddy. “You have to be very careful. One word can change the meaning of everything. It’s very easy to make a mistake that you have to pay for later.“

LaVette Henderson of the National Dental Association says, “it’s getting harder to negotiate with tier one cities on hotel rates. Although the hotels have been flexible on other areas to try to accommodate the rates that doesn’t always work for my group.” Knowing the disdain most meeting planners have for the site selection process and contract negotiations, we asked if any of them would ever consider using a third party to assist if it would eliminate stress and cost them absolutely nothing. From Jay, “I may consider a third party, but only if they are in lock step with our desires. It’s no longer rates, dates and space. Properties must demonstrate they want part of the $42 billion African-American travel and tourism industry by showing their local, regional and national track record.”

And this from Eaddy, “There is no free lunch. I don’t believe in using third parties for site selection. The same money (rebate) they get from the hotels, the organization can get. If you add up the dollar value of what the third party is getting, usually the amount they get bares no relation on the effort they put in. Yes, they can leverage your business along with the rest of their clients…if you have a meeting professional that is strong in negotiating and contracting you can get the job done.” Rosa McArthur, CMP of Meeting Planners Plus says’ “I would consider using a site selection for some programs, but not all. Some programs have very specific needs around privacy, room and space layout, destination and surroundings, etc.”

Henderson says, “I’ve been considering more and more third parties because of the short staff we have at NDA…I have tried a couple of third parties and the rate was slightly higher than what I got doing it myself.” Many of our readers are familiar with Brenda Scott. Scott served as president of the Mobile Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for seven years where she became the first African-American women to head a CVB.  Scott received the Shinning Example award as the top CVB in the Southeast, the American Society of Association Executives Certificate of Achievement ⎯ the second highest honor of the Gold Circle Awards and several other honors that could fill this magazine.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Scott is now manager of Global Accounts for HelmsBriscoe ⎯ a global leader in meetings procurement. HelmsBriscoe can evaluate, research and present the ideal venue for your meeting based on criteria. Scott’s talents as a 23-year professional on the supply side and the HelmBriscoe brand is a match made in heaven. She brings credibility and understanding to an often-contentious process ⎯ negotiations between suppliers and cash-strapped meeting planners, who must put on a world-class event in terrible economic times on a shoestring budget.  Scott is particularly concerned about the minority meetings market. Reaching out to African American meeting planners and working with them to get the best deals possible. How does HelmsBriscoe stack up in meeting the meeting planners needs?

“We at HelmsBrisco are client centric. I do not represent any specific brand or region and take a customized approached to each client’s needs.” HelmsBriscoe has buying power, as the largest buyer of hotel rooms in the world; hotels treat our individual clients and their meetings as if they are the largest customer. In 2010, HelmsBriscoe contracted over 3.8 million room nights in 86 countries. As the largest private source of group rooms, HelmsBriscoe clients benefit from special offers not available to others.

Scott says “It’s business by design not by chance.” “I don’t influence a client to select one property over another for any reason other than it is a good fit for you the planner, because every planner has varied needs.” So what exactly can HelmsBriscoe do for you? HelmsBriscoe technology and resources expedite the hotel response and provide a full excel report of hotel bids so you can make crucial decisions and they can expeditiously engage in deeper negotiations. There is no cost to you the client. They are paid a placement fee by the hotel, that fee is not passed on to you the meeting planner in rates or rebates.

Don’t get caught leaving money on the table ⎯ it costs you nothing to test the waters. Scott can be reached at or call 713-266-2062.