First, we need to understand that there are some key differences when negotiating convention center contracts versus hotel contracts. It is important to know how a center is funded to know what ancillary fees can be negotiated. The key points to understand are:
- The facilities are usually government / municipally owned versus privately owned like hotels.
- Most convention centers are funded by the transient occupancy tax paid on guest rooms however some are funded by a city’s general fund. Those funded by the general fund are often more expensive but are typically more flexible with ancillary fees.
Second, just like your negotiations with individual hotels, the more information you share, the better you may be able to negotiate as all parties understand the full economic impact.
- Understand your guest rooms in conjunction with the space being requested at the center. Convention centers determine the value and priority of your event based on the number of hotel rooms booked, meeting space needed, F&B requirements and ancillary services needed. The more valuable your event, the more likely you are to get your desired date. When you understand the total economic impact of your event for the city, this gives you a negotiating advantage.
- The profit centers of a convention center are meeting rooms, electrical and parking which are costs that are usually offered complimentary at hotels.
- Can you be flexibility with your set-up and tear down days?
- Share your history of total revenue spend Start early – approval for changes has to go through a lot of people and can take much longer than a hotel contract.
- Your total sleeping rooms, F&B and other expenditures for this event, both in the hotel and for the destination
- Wi-Fi needs
- Start early – approval for changes has to go through a lot of people and can take much longer than a hotel contract.
Finally, let’s discuss tips that will help you during the convention center negotiation process. These 7 lessons are based on my experience with my current team of over 20 independent meeting planners:
- Be sure to involve your CVB. They have information that will help show your value to the facility, individual hotel or destination. In addition, they may offer incentives or rebates that will benefit you in the areas you are trying to negotiate
- You can ask for free rental, but it is not easy to secure these days as the municipalities need the revenue stream and are not in a position to waive it.
- What is included in fees (tables, chairs, linens, pads and paper)?
- Understand all costs such as:Review the entire license agreement (what convention centers call their contractual agreements).These are very detailed agreements and I would make certain that you review it carefully to make sure you understand all that you are being asked to agree on. In addition, I would also have your legal counsel review so you understand your exposure and risk.
- Parking, rigging, electrical, Internet, telephone, labor, audio patch, cleaning, garbage removal, security, etc. – may not be included.
- The use of exclusive services needs to be outlined in the contract. Many convention centers have exclusive contracts with catering companies and/or AV companies that can limit your ability to bring in your own items or have to pay extra fees if you do.
- Review the entire license agreement (what convention centers call their contractual agreements). These are very detailed agreements and I would make certain that you review it carefully to make sure you understand all that you are being asked to agree on. In addition, I would also have your legal counsel review so you understand your exposure and risk.
- Deposits – Many centers request a deposit with the signed contract to bind the agreement and continue holding the space. Be sure to discuss a deposit schedule that fits both parties’ needs.
- To have Wi-Fi or not to have Wi-Fi? Today’s conference and tradeshow attendees have high expectations. With the use of smartphones, iPads, laptops, etc., they want to be able to check their email, update their blogs, tweet and post pictures. Be sure to define your expectations in advance and what the speakers and staff will need to achieve these objectives. If WiFi is important, be sure to talk to the providers before signing a contract. Knowing your budget (will association/corporation pay, will you raise conference fees or find an advertiser/sponsor?), expectations (bandwidth) and needs (total center, Hot Spots, certain sessions, etc.) will help you negotiate all of this in advance.
- If you do a pre-planning trip, negotiate into the contract exactly what you will need for this trip. Once the contract is signed, do not assume the destination will host a pre-planning trip.
I hope this information and these ‘quick tips’ help you with your next convention center contract negotiation.