Meeting Mentor Magazine

September 2021

ConferenceDirect Solutions: Craig Hendrick

Don’t Miss Those ‘Critical Dates’ in Contracts

No matter how small a group, Craig Hendrick, CDS, takes one action immediately after going to contract. He pulls all the “critical dates” from the document — deposit, cut-off, cancellation — and puts them directly into his Outlook program. One week in advance of each date, the ConferenceDirect global account director reaches out to his client. “Here is where your pick-up is compared to what’s contracted,” he will say. “Do you want to release the rest of the rooms in your block? Purchase them for attendees you know will book close to date? Block several in your name so you have those rooms in your back pocket?”

It’s a level of customer service that his clients have come to expect. Another is to go on site with clients, checking BEOs, working the registration desk, meeting with hotel staff. “That’s where the rubber meets the road,” Hendrick said.

Indeed it does, especially as his clients — primarily unions, associations, and non-profits, with a couple of corporate accounts — book more meetings in shorter windows. Most bookings he’s handled so far in 2013 have been “in year for year,” compared to less than half the number in 2012 (which represented only 13 percent of booked room nights). And he still has six tentative bookings to finalize for the rest of this year, along with a customer in the mental health field bidding on a training meeting a month in partnership with a governmental agency. These multiple meetings just weren’t on anyone’s radar screen.

Such short-term meeting decisions are exceedingly difficult to negotiate in today’s seller’s market, with rising hotel rates, less flexibility on concessions, and next to no movement on attrition and cancellation policies. That’s one reason why his clients prefer to contract smaller blocks and perhaps hold more meetings for what they need to accomplish. They also take advantage of Hendrick’s most effective best practices:

• Favorable contracting. One of the most valued benefits he brings to his clients is his contracting prowess. Example: One union group has had great difficulty negotiating with an independent property because the contract it wants to use is “completely one-sided,” he said. The hotel refuses to use the standard ConferenceDirect contract — even though “hotels tell us that it is fair and equitable to both sides.” Because the hotel wants to get it signed for this September, Hendrick has been able to insert the appropriate attrition and cancellation clauses.

Leveraging flexibility. In-year, for-year customers that can be flexible with locations and dates — finding better availability, say, in a market like Milwaukee instead of Chicago — can exercise real leverage by “filling in holes that help hotels make budget,” he said. “It’s also harder for properties to make a big jump in rate when many of my bookings return to the same properties year after year.” These strong relationships help keep rates competitive.

• Conservative blocking. Many of his groups prefer mid-level or economy hotels with their limited meeting facilities; few require food and beverage, but instead need to be within walking distance of fast food outlets. In many cases, Hendrick has been successful “underpromising” what the block with produce for hotels. “We may contract 30 rooms a night for five nights, but end up actualizing 45,” he said, which has not been an issue, particularly in secondary markets.

• Hold back rooms. Because unions are by nature very short term in planning meetings, the cut-off date tends to be three or four weeks out, Hendrick cited. As a result, he constantly counsels clients to hold a small number of rooms under the client’s name, in case the hotel can’t provide extra rooms after cut-off. This “pulling a rabbit from the hat” is especially helpful at regional meetings, he noted, when representatives from the national entity only think about booking their rooms a week or two in advance. Since rooms generally can be canceled three days in advance, there really won’t be a financial obligation in holding a small number of them to the very end. — Maxine Golding

The Hotel Guy Speaks the Language

Hospitality is literally written into Craig Hendrick’s DNA. As early as six years of age, the ConferenceDirect global account director was accompanying his father — a hotel general manager and then vice president of a hotel company — to work. “I’d be gone, running the dish machine in the kitchen or helping housekeepers fold towels and make up beds,” he said. As an adult, he ultimately worked in every department of a hotel.

“Our ConferenceDirect clients count on us to speak their language and translate their needs to the hotels in terms that everyone understands. We do the same for hotels, which appreciate our efforts on their behalf,” he noted. “We can do this because every one of us has walked in the shoes of the sales director, or the convention services manager, or the reservations manager.”


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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 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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