Meeting Planners 411: 10 Ways to Save

Highlights from an education session at The Motivation Show (late September), “10 Ways to Cut Costs and Retain Quality”—the mantra of meeting professionals in this challenging economy. The discussion was led by April Mescher, executive director, travel, at Dayton, Ohio–based Excellence in Motivation.

Here is a recap of the important tips shared at the event:

Classroom style meeting space at the Hilton Los Angeles / Universal City Hotel

1. Timing is everything. There are almost always savings to be found when you can be flexible with your meeting dates. Consider peak versus shoulder periods for both weekly and annual patterns, and seek out the “hot dates” when your hotel has pressing holes to fill.

2. Negotiate upfront. Prioritize what’s most important to your meeting and communicate that clearly and concisely in your request for proposal as part of a competitive bid process.

3. Look for value. In a down economy, with meetings being cut back and cancellations common, seek out last-minute hotel deals. Don’t be afraid to ask what’s available.

4. Scrutinize program content. Put your meeting under a microscope, with an eye toward cutting anything not directly adding value to the content or the experience. Several attendees noted the savings to be found simply by weaning attendees off bottled water, with one association planner boasting a $67,000 savings by eliminating bottled water at a three-day meeting. Another strategy: Combine incentive rewards with a meeting by upgrading the winners’ accommodations or tacking the incentive portion of the trip to the tail end of the meeting.

5. Destinations with a purpose. Match the sponsor’s goals with the meeting venue and activities. An executive wellness event has “better optics,” said Mescher, than some more traditional resort activities, and eco-tourism and volunteer programs are becoming expected. “But people don’t want to build a bike anymore,” Mescher said, referring to events confined to a hotel ballroom. Attendees, she said, want to connect with the communities they visit. A close look at exchange rates is another purposeful way to select a destination, says Mescher, noting that many exotic destinations, such as South America, Africa, and Asia, are surprisingly affordable.

Hilton Universal City Executive Meeting Experience, Los Angeles Conference Venue

6. Buy on consumption. Negotiate flat, per-person rates for things like coffee breaks and bar tabs. And if you do have leftovers, one attendee pointed out, remember that they’re yours. He asks for leftover breakfast items to be served at morning breaks and extra desserts to be served at evening gatherings. Another tip: Hotels typically have décor stored away. Ask what’s in the back room that can liven up your meeting or banquet at little or no cost.

7. Rediscover your backyard. New hotels and restaurants continue to open around the country that can delight your meeting and incentive attendees, avoid jetlag, and keep North America working, said Mescher.

8. Try an all-inclusive. Mescher saw a “huge surge this year [in the use of all-inclusive properties] because clients could anticipate costs.” One planner in the audience warned that it is important to know what is and is not included for guests, to experience the property yourself, and to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples when evaluating several all-inclusives.

9. Consider cruising. A cruise meeting offers similar budget controls to an all-inclusive property, and you can have an international experience while paying in U.S. dollars. It’s a great fit for meetings that include spouses and families, Mescher said.

10. Guarantee exchange rates. By making deposits early for international meetings, the budget won’t be affected by inflation or currency fluctuations. “I’ve been blown away by what our international suppliers have been willing to lock in,” Mescher says.