Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What information should I include in my RFPs?

Easy answer: Everything.

Realistic answer: Everything that matters.

OK, I realize that the “realistic” answer isn’t much better than the “easy” answer so let’s see if we can narrow down what that really means. And, since a successful event has to begin somewhere, let’s begin with the basics.

To start, you need to make sure you include basic information, such as your contact information (phone, email, address, etc), the deadline for submission of proposals, and when/how a decision will be made. But that is not all that is needed…

When I create a Request for Proposals (RFP), I am looking for a useful “snapshot” of my conference that a hotel sales manager can use to determine if they are able and willing to compete for my business. It needs to include information about what I need, any limits I have on those needs, and when and how proposals are due. Here are the key areas I cover for all of my groups:

Dates – When I want to hold the meeting. This could be a range (any weekday in October), a pattern (a Mon-Tues in October), or specific dates (October 23-26). If you have flexibility on dates or if there are dates you absolutely must avoid, be sure to include that information in your RFP too.

Guest Rooms – Simply put, how many guest rooms over how many nights do I think I will fill with my group. Usually, this is listed as X number of rooms for Tuesday night, Y number of rooms for Wednesday night, etc.

Rates – How much I am willing to pay for various items, such as guest room rates, meeting room rental, or food and beverage functions. In most cases, this is an upper limit (i.e. I can pay no more than a certain rate for guest rooms, or I cannot pay for space rental, etc.) but it can also simply be a way to share what I would like to pay for guest rooms, space, etc. I also use it as an opportunity to let the venue know if I can negotiate on rates or not and how much room I have to do that.

Space – An outline of the space requirements for the group: how many rooms, when they will be used, what types of room sets, and how many people will be in attendance for each event. Include everything you think you will need, but be realistic about your requirements. That especially applies to your estimated counts. If your group history shows that typical attendance for your meeting is 200 people, don’t look to hold space for 500 without some kind of solid reasoning (i.e. wishful thinking is not a good basis for this estimate).

F&B –A listing of each food and beverage function planned and the estimated number of people in attendance for each function. As with Space requests, ask for what you think you’ll need but be realistic about it.

AV – Indicate how much and what kind of Audio-Visual equipment my meeting will use (whether rented or brought) because this impacts the size of rooms needed for the group, as well as possibly representing another source of income for the venue (if they have an in-house AV department). It also helps paint a picture of what the group looks like for the sales rep.

Other Key Decision Points – If you have special requests that will “make or break” a venue’s chances of winning your business, be sure to include those items in the RFP – and this goes for any service or item that will affect your final decision. For example, if you need free high-speed internet access in your guest rooms, ask for it. If you can only book with a hotel that is a union property, state that in your RFP. That way, you will not waste your time, or theirs, by getting bids that you know up front you cannot accept. Similarly, if parking or shuttle rates are important, be sure to ask bidders to include that information in their proposal as well.

Group History – As we’ve discussed previously, having a solid group history helps show that your space and F&B requests (as well as all of the other items on our RFP) are reasonable and realistic for the group. I typically include a minimum of 3-5 instances of the meeting in the RFP, assuming the group has met at least that many times. For each “instance”, I will provide the date and location of the meeting (city and venue) on the RFP. With a typical large conference, this means I am sharing at least 3-5 years of history. For smaller groups that might meet 3-4 times each year, I usually only list the previous year or two to show that it is not just a “one-off” event and that there is a solid basis for my numbers. Believe it or not, hotels do look at your group history – especially for larger groups.

With each area, I will delve into more detail about the group’s needs as appropriate. Where I take each of the areas above depends greatly on the group I am working with and what they need. To go into those finer points here would take up way too much space so I will instead take the time in future posts to look at some of these RFP areas in greater detail. In the meantime, I hope this has given you enough to start thinking about your RFPs and what information you choose to include in them.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises