For some in the hotel industry, religious groups carry a stigma of being too frugal, conservative and overly concerned about other groups occupying the hotel over the same conference dates, making it difficult for faith-based planners to get the space they want. By working the following ideas into your speaking points and strategy, you can take steps toward beating out corporate business to secure your top choice of hotel for your next meeting—and perhaps break the negative stereotype.
1. Seek to gain a missional partner, not only a signed contract.
Spend time with the hotel team, inviting them to invest in your mission and attendees, and to view themselves as an extension of your staff. Esther Hong, who coordinated hotels for seven national and 13 international Passion Conferences, says cultivating an authentic relationship with a hotelier was key to a positive experience for all parties. “You want them to understand who you are, and you to understand who they are,” Hong says.
2. Know your group’s spending habits.
The hotelier’s sales staff looks at the overall picture. “The value of a group is more than just guest room space, dates and rates,” says John Visconti, director of sales and marketing for Wyndham Atlanta Galleria. Maybe you’re not serving meals during your meeting, but your constituents bring their families and will dine in the hotel’s restaurants, and some will even stay a few extra nights for vacation. All of these things mean the hotel will generate more revenue from your group, so be sure to mention them. You can equip yourself with this data by asking hotels you’ve occupied previously for a post-convention resume, which provides a summary of what your guests spent in rooms, banquets, room service and other on-property expenses.
3. Remember both sides have goals.
Jamie Cargill, who has hosted eight singles retreats for North Point Ministries, says initial conversations about cost with hoteliers sets the tone for the entire relationship. She doesn’t assume any privileges will be given. “If discounts are offered, great,” she says. “We budget like we have to pay like anyone else.”
4. Be honest and upfront.
If you’re not interested in a hotel, don’t lead on the salesperson or ask for an RFP. “If both sides start from a point of transparency, it makes the relationship smoother and things get settled faster,” Visconti says. Similarly, speak up if you have a specific budget. The hotelier has a responsibility to disclose information to you as well. “It would be wrong for me to book a religious group wishing to meet quietly if I know loud teenagers are here for a baseball tournament,” he says. “I should share that and see if the planner could be flexible on dates.”
After the contract is sealed, don’t let the personal investment die, Cargill says. “We don’t treat hotel staff like they’re only here to execute our contract,” she says. Follow up to thank them, especially if you anticipate returning.
Leigh Jackson Harper is a communication and event specialist. Follow her on Twitter, @leighstweets.
Illustration by Clint Poy