If your group is not locked into specific meeting dates, ask your facility about off-season rates, or pricing variances for weekday versus weekend dates. Some hotels offer discounts if you are able to plan your convention for traditionally slower periods.
Determine the “must haves”, the “would like to have” and the “not necessary but nice” options and select a facility that can offer the best match: exhibit space, hospitality suites, break-out rooms, staff lounge, early check-in, late check-out, rooms blocked together, easy access from major freeways or roads, off-the-beaten-track retreat location, waterfront vistas, etc. There are many details, and not all of them may be important to your group. Determine what is crucial to the success of your program and discuss it with the potential facilities. They may offer suggestions to meet your needs that you have not considered.
Discuss prices, including taxes and gratuities for all meals, hotel guest rooms, meeting rooms and banquet rooms. Don’t forget to include audio/visual expenses. Remember that rates and services are negotiable if you are also flexible.
Determine your groups space requirements for sleeping rooms and meeting and banquet rooms based on previous events. Be prepared to provide your historical information to the facility to help determine the amount of space needed. Know your time schedule. Ask about complimentary sleeping or meeting rooms based on the guest room block and meal functions. Remember to include set up and tear down time between functions to be held in the same room. Is there adequate space for all events? Can public areas be used for functions (lobby area for conference registration, poolside receptions, etc.)?
Do you plan on providing off-site tours of local attractions, or will you be including companion programs? What tourist attractions are available, and what type of transportation will be required for your group? Inquire about hotel van services to and from attractions. Research airport shuttle options. Make sure there is adequate parking at the facility. This is especially important if a large local attendance is expected.
Meet periodically with the catering manager as you approach your conference dates. Talk through agenda changes as it relates to different uses of the meeting rooms including set up and tear down time. Additional time may need to be reserved, or may entail extra staffing and possible charges.
If possible, spend some time as a guest of the facility to see the property as your attendees will. Stay overnight at the hotel. Ask the sales manager for a complimentary stay. In most cases a complimentary stay will not be a problem if you are flexible with your dates. Eat in the restaurant. Use the recreational facilities. How you are treated by the staff is an indication of how the conference attendees will be treated during their stay. Discuss any concerns you may have with the sales manager. Training programs, new computer systems, or renovations may be planned for completion prior to your groups arrival. Ask about any scheduled remodeling and how it may affect your group.
Insist on a pre-convention meeting with key department managers prior to your groups arrival. Typically, one week in advance is appropriate. Let the department managers hear about the special needs of your group before the attendees arrive. Give the hotel staff the opportunity to prepare for your arrival and to make any last minute changes to better serve you and your group.