Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2018

ConferenceDirect Solutions: Meredith Vazquez

NSOs: Powerful Allies in Meeting Negotiations

Negotiations came to a screeching halt for Meeting Group #1 when the hotel, which nearly always signs no contracts without a resort fee, refused to budge. Meanwhile, year after year Meeting Group #2 couldn’t make meeting in a Chicago hotel over the dates it needed a possibility. On their behalf, Meredith Vazquez (left) drafted a powerful ally to assist her at the negotiating table — the hotel’s own national sales organization (NSO).

With demand high, and occupancy and rates up, “it’s getting more and more difficult to book my clients’ meetings exactly as their request-for-proposals read,” said Vazquez, vice president of global accounts at ConferenceDirect. “And with fewer hotels being built, there’s a lot less availability. So my customers are being forced to be more flexible than ever.”

While NSO support in the above cases greatly improved the meetings’ prospects, Vazquez also changed the negotiation dynamics in an important way. What’s getting hotels’ attention these days — and helping groups meet budget — is multi-year contracting, so that’s the direction Vazquez is taking her clients. “Multi-year programs bring so much more to the bargaining table,” she noted. “But they are challenging to book. With two, three, or four different cities and dates, there’s a much higher chance that one year will prove impossible to book.”

In the first case she cited, the NSO’s strong push to book this six-year program resulted in an eleventh-hour waiving of the resort fee at the desired property. In the second case, the NSO for the hotel brand helped craft a four-year agreement that brought the group to Chicago for two of the years.

“With so much uncertainty in the economy and the meetings industry, a multi-year commitment can be quite scary for groups,” she acknowledged. “But that’s where we come in with strong clauses for attrition, cancellation and force majeure. These minimize the risks for my clients. They may be uncertain of their convention’s performance in the coming years, but they’re certain they will always have me as a strong advocate on their side when and if things go wrong.”

ConferenceDirect’s NSO relationships and buying power are particularly vital to meeting negotiations, she asserted, since “some groups may not have the abilities or confidence to push on their own.” And Vazquez packs a double wallop. She not only burnished her skills in planning meetings at a D.C.-based association, she learned how to market events in ways that make her clients money.

Example: An association with nearly 90,000 members who span three generations had been struggling to drive enough attendance to pay for its conference at a bare minimum. The model could not be sustained. In guiding this client towards attracting Gen Yers, Vazquez focused on spending dollars only on actions that would enhance the conference experience and “wow” those in attendance.

Out went save-the-date postcards and ad placements in magazines members didn’t read. In came a Facebook and Twitter campaign: the name of one early-bird registrant would be drawn to receive a substantial prize related to the field. “We’re absolutely seeing more response and activity,” she said. “Taking that off the planner’s plate gave her more time to focus on other activities, such as finding sponsorships. To date, she’s raised more money on this meeting than ever before. And there’s an excitement and ‘buzz’ about the convention that hasn’t been there for a long time.”

As associations see their budgets cut, it becomes even harder for them to drive attendance. “They are trying to keep a balance between making conferences meaningful and also enjoyable, but not a boondoggle,” she noted. Example: Some of her clients are in the field of education, where days out of the classroom can be an issue. So she counseled them to shift patterns, maximizing weekend days that are good for both teachers and hotels.

When two clients lost either their number-two or support staff last year, Vazquez rolled up her sleeves and relieved them of key tasks. Example: She visited one customer’s office in the run-up to a meeting. Down a person, the staff was also dealing with the mayhem from Hurricane Sandy. Vazquez plunged into the food and beverage worksheets, meeting room sets and registration, essentially functioning as this client’s number two. “Attendees do not care if you’re down a staff member, nor do they know how stressful planning a conference can be. They care that they don’t have a badge at registration. My customer didn’t have time to hire and train someone…she needed a planner.”

For meetings to be successful, Vazquez believes it’s important to build confidence between the meeting group and the hotel. This can be accomplished through very specific, and at times unusual, concessions. Example: One hotel partner, to show that it truly appreciated the core values of the association client, agreed to: (1) donate a raffle prize directly related to what the association does; (2) lay the groundwork to connect the client with a local arts icon; and (3) host a VIP event for state leaders that helped strengthen relationships. These went a long way to cement the client-hotel relationship for years to come. — Maxine Golding


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About ConferenceDirect
ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 2,500 corporations and associations through our 325 Associates globally. www.conferencedirect.com

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, the leading publication for senior meeting planners, is circulated to the clients, prospects and sales associates of ConferenceDirect, which books more than 3.87 million room nights. www.meetingmentormag.com

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