Many group travel planners make the mistake of comparing hotels based on star level and price per room? They reason that a hotel is a hotel and so long as the above two criteria are met, the rest is all the same.
This could not be further from the truth.
Booking a hotel for your group is very different from booking an individual reservation. There are many more things to consider before you make a decision. By the end of this article, you will learn:
- Compare Hotel And Staff
- Compare contractual terms are important for groups
- What amenities are most requested by different group types
Let’s start by getting group rates for hotels
Group Hotel Rates
Hotels typically offer groups anywhere from 10-70% off the typical room rate (The average is around 22% for a 3-star hotel). The discount depends on the number of rooms booked, room types, and the time of the year. Getting group hotel rates is no longer the hassle that it used to be. A decade ago, you had to call hotels all over town and, after a lot of phone tag, you would get group rates from a few of them.
Now, all you have to do is fill out a group hotel rates request form(takes five minutes) and hotels from your desired city and budget will respond with group rates via email. It is not uncommon to get dozens of hotels responding to your request in less than five minutes.
This automated service provides the lowest group rates for hotels because our system compares the rates being offered with other websites prior to the email being sent to you. In addition, hotels know that they are competing with everyone else through this system so they tend to offer a better rate. Competition is the key.
Once you have group rates, it is time to start comparing hotels. It is quite natural to start by looking at the room rates and narrowing the field from there, but we would ask you to look a bit deeper. Read the following three sections and you will be able to narrow your choices considerably.
Compare Hotel And Staff
Experience with group type
Does the hotel have any experience with your type of group? It is always a nice touch when a hotel has worked with your group type and can anticipate your needs without you having to ask. For example, when we planned a meeting in Orlando, Florida, the hotel provided us with extra cables, a microphone set, and copied our agenda ahead of time knowing that we would end up needing those things.
Flexibility of sales manager
When you go on a site tour, make sure to assess the flexibility of the sales manager. A hotel that is hungry for your business will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. They will introduce you to the rest of the staff, provide a meal, and may even comp your stay if you are there overnight. The opposite would be true if they do not really care for your business.
If all else is the same, select the hotel that has a friendlier sales staff. Those are the folks that will help you during your group event in case something goes wrong.
Experience of management staff (high turnover vs. low turnover)
In meeting with the staff, make a mental note to ask how long the managers have been at the hotel. If the hotel your are looking at is constantly shuffling managers in and out, then that is not a place to book your group.
Look around during your site tour and see if the staff is smiling. Are they friendly? Are they in uniforms? Nametags? Ask the front desk area related questions to see how helpful they are? Ask for directions to see if they will voluntarily print you a map.
Most hotels have what they refer to as show rooms. These are the most perfect rooms in the hotel and are rarely reflective of the actual condition or cleanliness of the regular rooms. Once the hotel shows you this room, ask to see a different room type (Like an accessible room, or a pet friendly room). This is the room that you should use as a true measure of cleanliness.
Make sure to walk all public areas (Inside and out) as well. Watch for maintenance issues and loose trash.
Many groups are sensitive to the location of the hotel. Sports teams may want to stay closer to the field that they are playing at. Class reunions may want to be closer to their alma mater for easy travel back and forth. Whatever, the reason, if the location is important, then take that into consideration as well when booking your group rooms.
Sites like Tripadvisor.com, Yelp, and Google provide a great insight on what others have experienced at the hotel that you are considering. These reviews are (for the most part) unbiased and reflect opinions of real travelers. Consider the hotels ratings on these sites before booking a group.
If there is a particularly bad review, bring it up with the hotel staff during your meeting and see how they respond.
Compare Hotel Sales Contract Terms
The cut-off date is the date that the hotel will release any unreserved rooms in the block for general sale. Any additional reservations past this date may not get the same group rate or may not even get a room if the hotel is sold out. This can impact many group types like reunions, wedding room blocks, sports teams, government travel, and corporate travel.
When comparing offers, hotels that offer a cutoff date closer to the event (Less than 4 weeks) should be given preference as it will give more time to market the event. Also, you can take more last minute reservations.
Attrition rate is the percentage of rooms that you are guaranteeing. If the number is not met, then the group is responsible for payment of the unused rooms. For example, if your attrition rate is 80% (typical), and you have blocked 100 rooms for your group, then you are responsible for 80 total rooms. If your group uses only 75 rooms, then they are responsible for the 5 additional rooms as well (Even if the hotel resells those rooms).
When comparing hotels, ask that they remove any attrition clauses. Most hotels will remove the clause entirely if you are willing to commit to an open block (what is that?) or will lower the attrition rate.
This clause is very important and you should make every effort to lower the percentage. The wrong attrition rate can cause some serious financial damage to your group or company.
Did you know that hotels will offer free rooms to groups based on the total number booked? This is best explained with an example. Let’s say you were booking a meeting for an association in New York City and needed 100 total hotels rooms. If the hotel offered you a comp ratio of 1:25, then they would give you four free (comp) rooms.
Groups typically get comp ratio’s in the range of 1:20 to 1:30 (i.e. One free room for every 20 or 30 paid rooms). Higher end hotels typically offer comp ratio’s in the range of 1:50.
Deposits should be negotiated with a hotel prior to deciding on a final choice. Many hotels initially ask for a large deposit to book a group, but that does not mean that you have to follow along.
Negotiate a lower deposit amount or no deposit at all if your room block is smaller than 30-50 total room nights. When comparing hotels, don’t just look at the initial deposit amount. Take into consideration when the rest of the money is due as well. Other considerations are:
- When is the final payment due? Is the deposit a fixed amount or is a percentage of expected total? If so, how does the hotel calculate the expected total? Do they include taxes and gratuities in the total?
- Is the hotel open to maintaining a schedule of payments over the course of the year instead of a large deposit upfront? This comes in very handy when booking an event like a class reunion or a family reunion where the planner does not have much money up front.
The cancellation policies at most hotels get very stringent as the event gets closer. Many hotels will not offer a refund on any deposits made after a certain date.
When comparing hotels for your group, give preference to a hotel that offers a full or partial refund in the case of cancellation. Many will balk at the thought so try to negotiate a contract that states that in the case of cancellation, the hotel may charge the full deposit if they cannot replace the business or rent the meeting space for an equivalent amount of money.
Is there a resort fee? A fee for baggage handling? Corkage fee? Package handling fee?
Hotels, much like airlines, have begun to charge for previously free services. Many hotels will not include these add-ons in their original group hotel rates or quotes so its best to ask a simple question “Can I have a list of fees that your hotel assesses for different services that are not included in the group hotel rates you provided”.
Having this list will provide greater clarity on why a hotel is able to offer a cheaper rate versus another more expensive option that includes everything. Depending on your needs, a more expensive all inclusive hotel may be cheaper than a hotel that offers a lower rate.
Tax and Gratuities
Taxes and gratuities can add up to some very large numbers. Generally speaking, this number is around 25% for banquets and 10-16% for hotel rooms. When comparing hotels, some may charge less gratuity that others so make sure you keep that in mind.
Consider the type of amenities that are important to your specific group type before blocking hotel rooms. What a bride may consider important (Hot tub, Bridal Suite) may be very different from what an annual association meeting might (Free WiFi in meeting rooms). Listed below are common amenities and the groups that specifically request them often.
- Wi-Fi/Wireless LAN (all group types)
- Free Parking (all group types, especially in big cities like San Francisco, New York, and Boston)
- Airport Shuttle (Business meeting, corporate travel, Government travel, Association)
- Fitness Center/Spa (Government and business groups and meetings require this often)
- Non-Smoking Rooms (all group types)
- Swimming Pool (Family reunions, weddings, sports teams, Girl and boy scout groups, Fraternity/sorority groups)
- Family Rooms (family reunions, military reunions, class reunions, weddings, family events like graduation etc.)
- Rooms With Two Beds (Family reunions, sports teams, school groups, church travel)
- Hospitality Suites (family reunions, military reunions, class reunions)
- Pets Allowed (all group types)
- Restaurant (all group types, especially work crews)
- Rooms/Facilities for Disabled Guests (all group types)
- Business Center (all group types, especially corporate group travel)
- Concierge (all group types, especially corporate group travel)
- Golf Course (Corporate groups, government groups, association meetings, charity events)
- Kitchenette (Family reunions, birthday parties, graduation parties, and extended stay work crews)
- Massage / Beauty Centre (Corporate group travel, and wedding room blocks)
- Bridal Suite (Weddings)
- Babysitting / Child Services (Reunions, graduations, birthday parties)
- Banquet Facilities (all group types)
- Bath / Hot Tub ((all adult related group types)
- Beach Nearby (Leisure groups like weddings, family reunions etc.)
- Casino (Class reunions, military reunions, corporate incentive travel, conventions)
- Conference Room, Meeting rooms (All group types)
- Connecting Rooms (Reunions, wedding groups, family related events like graduation and birthdays)
- Currency Exchange (all group types, especially corporate incentive travel and )
- Excursions (all group types)
- Multilingual Staff (all group types)
- Self Laundry (Family related groups)
- Luggage Handling (Bus tours)
- Welcome Receptions (All group types, especially bus tours)
Booking a hotel for a group can be a trying experience if you don’t what to look for. With the tips above, we hope you have learned how to compare group hotel rates, contracts, and amenities that are important for your group type.
What should you do next?
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