Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Site Selection Services Explained

Some companies organize their internal events like Company Retreats in-house. They usually assign employees such as the office manager, the executive assistant, or even the HR manager this massive task—on top of their normal daily job responsibilities.  While many of these employees often state they love working on company retreats and meetings, they do state it can be very time-consuming and overwhelming, especially on top of the daily responsibilities of their own jobs. And they are right. Meeting and event planning IS time consuming. And, unless you’re a seasoned certified planner, it’s stressful. And companies are leaving money—lots of it—on the table, by not using a certified planner who can always save them money in negotiations and concessions. There are tight deadlines and ever-changing budgets, managing expectations, and negotiating contracts, the list goes on. That’s not to say that the in-house “event team” cannot or should not be involved. They absolutely should. They know their company, their culture, their executive team’s idiosyncrasies.

What option do companies have? Utilize the complimentary (yes, that’s free!) services of a seasoned and certified planner. They can help you navigate the overwhelming and time consuming site selection process, and after the signed property contract they can assist with pre-planning, event management, and logistical services. And why should an internal employee have to manage the program onsite when they should be enjoying the event with their fellow team members? Let the certified planner manage the onsite logistics while you enjoy your company retreat or event.

So what does a planner actually do for a company as part of Site Selection Services?

Site selection is hard work. The amount of time and energy that goes into ONE program is weeks worth of time. The process involves four major steps: Discovery, RFP, Site Inspection, and Contract Negotiations.

Discovery is researching various venues—whether that be in different countries or different cities. Finding venues that meet the plethora of factors is a challenge.  Is the venue within the budget, it is aligned with your brand, it is located within the designated distance from airport, is the venue available during the preferred dates and pattern, can the venue accommodate the size of the program, and does the venue have the capabilities to address the “must haves”. It’s like a huge jigsaw puzzle where you need to fit all the pieces together.
Discovery: Estimate 20 hours total for one program (Assume three destinations and two properties in each destination)

Then the tedious RFP process starts. The smart planner will design a thorough, customized RFP for the program. It’s important the RFP is comprehensive and includes all the details of program: number of nights, number of people, pattern, dates, meeting space needs/setups, room rate min/max, F&B mins, AV needs, activities, and any important notes the property needs to be aware. The more time you spend putting all the details in the RFP, the less time you’ll spend going back and forth with the properties later down the road (that is if they actually carefully read your RFP). After the RFPs are sent to the properties, the waiting game begins. It’s important to be sure to include a proposal due date and a decision date in your RFP. This ensures both buyer and supplier are aware of deadlines.

Slowly, the planner will start receiving proposals, which often times are incomplete because the property didn’t take the time to read your customized notes. The planner will go back and forth via email and phone with the properties to highlight the “must haves” they missed when reading the proposal. Finally, after all the final proposals have been submitted the planner reviews the proposals to decide which ones are the best fit. Seldom, every property that sent a proposal will be a fit for one reason or another (for example, not available on the preferred dates, too expensive, not enough meeting space).

The planner presents the top properties (up to three) as potential options. That’s right, potential options. The planner ranks the top three based on many factors such as budget, travel distance, service-level, customer service, and adequate meeting space. A smart planner will never sign a contract (or advise her client to sign a contract) without first conducting a site inspection.
RFP Process: Estimate 10 hours total for one program (Assume six RFPs max)

Then there’s the site inspection. The planner flies (on her own dime) to the top ranking property for a thorough investigation of the property and surrounding areas. She meets not only with the hotel staff, but also local suppliers such as restaurants, off-site venues, and ground transportation companies.  A smart planner will also meet with a few additional “Plan B” properties in the area in case her first choice doesn’t work out. She surveys the local area to be sure she knows where the closest hospital, post office, Kinkos, and pharmacy are located. Some people think a site inspection is a vacation. It is not. Yeah, the planner may get a nice dinner and a spa treatment, but she’s working. She’s like a food critic—analyzing the food quality, the food service, the cleanliness, and the value. At the Spa she’s like an inspector—checking for cleanliness, the overall look of the facilities, asking questions of staff, and sizing up the overall service levels and customer service. She is not relaxing. During the entire inspection, she is constantly “on”-- scrutinizing the accommodations, inspecting meeting rooms and different set-ups, meeting with the Chef to discuss menus and capabilities, speaking with staff to understand how they operate and respond to guests, asking staff questions to ensure they are up to snuff on their knowledge of their department, and to be sure the service-level overall at the property is aligned with the property’s brand promise.
Site Inspection: Estimate 36 hours total for one program. (Assume two nights and three days—working 10-12 hours/day + travel/flight time + time away from other clients and family.)

If the site inspection pans out (which they usually do due to the meticulous research and work put in earlier in the process) the planner requests a formal contract from the property. This contract typically goes through several rounds of revisions where the smart planner continues to negotiate the most important hot buttons for the program and ensure maximum value is obtained. The planner reviews the contract to make sure all verbal and written promises are included in the contract. The property contract should always include a clause that states the planner’s name and that the planner will be granted the 10% commission. Planners must make sure that clause is included in the final signed contract. Once the contract is signed by the client, the planner provides a cost saving report to illustrate and highlight the massive amount of money she saved the client through smart, experienced, and shrewd negotiations. (Depending on the size of a program, a planner could save the client tens of thousands of dollars on a single event. I personally have saved clients an average of $24,000 on programs of 100 total rooms nights.)
Contract Negotiations: Estimate 8 hours total for one program. (Assume one contract.)

Did you add up all those hours? 74 hours—for one program. And that’s the time it takes someone with over 17 years experience. Imagine someone with no experience tackling this project. It will likely take much longer and not be as cost-effective.

The cost for all of this hard work and time? Complimentary. Yes, the planner doesn’t receive a dime. Only after the program is complete and usually 30 days after the client has paid their final invoice to the property does the planner get paid by the property a 10% commission on room nights before tax. The 10% commission, in theory, covers the planner’s time and any out of pocket expenses like the site inspection. The commission should cover the time spent or the planner is working for free. A smart planner will understand their time and expenses when writing a site selection services contract for their clients. For example, if the program is small (under 100 total room nights) the commission will not cover time and expenses, and the planner will usually charge a flat fee to supplement the commission. 

Do you have site selection questions? Let me know!