Suppliers seem to be taking their time responding to meeting planners’ requests for proposals (RFPs), and planners are growing frustrated with the delays.
The delays are blamed on everything from reduced staff at hotels and other suppliers to suppliers being too busy because of the recovering economy.
“RFP response times are lengthening for some suppliers, indicating higher volume,” according to a report in Meeting Professionals International’s recent Business Barometer.
‘It makes you wonder’
“Some suppliers don’t respond at all,” complained planner Danielle Spinetta of Samantha Smith Productions in San Francisco. “It makes you wonder if they have their best people working on these things. And it’s not just hotels; it’s a lot of different vendors, like caterers and linen suppliers.”
Rick Eisenman, president & CEO of Eisenman & Associates in Glen Allen, Va., said he saw evidence of planner frustration with the RFP issue during a recent panel discussion about another subject. The subject of delayed RFPs came up, “and we spent 20 minutes on it.”
Too busy to reply?
The degree of the problem depends on the hotel and the destination, according to Spinetta. “San Francisco is busy even during a slow economy, so we are accustomed to slower responses from hotels there.”
Spinetta’s theory is that the delays or non-responsiveness might be a result of inadequate staffing, due to layoffs during the recession, so that the remaining managers are simply too busy as business begins to return. “They are trying to make do with what they have.”
Spinetta said she understands the staffing challenges suppliers face, and that they may be using contractors during busy times. “But when it comes to something as important as RFPs, you should have your A Team on the case," she commented.
“After what we’ve been through in this industry, where we went for a long time without events, if someone is contacting you about an event, why wouldn’t you reply quickly? Suppliers were definitely more responsive before the economy turned down,” Spinetta said.
“One thing hotels can do better is respond to your RFPs – even if it’s only to tell you that they had received it,” she added.
Eisenman, who specializes in association meeting planning, attributed the RFP delays to several causes, including “inexperienced people trying to prioritize.” He speculated that, because of staff reductions, suppliers’ veteran sales managers may no longer have the help of assistants. Also, he said, “maybe they’re working remotely, which might slow things down.”
Suppliers: ‘RFPs are a priority’
Not surprisingly, hoteliers claim that RFPs are their highest priority. Andrew Labetti, general manager of The Benjamin in New York, said, “You have to make that a priority. Those are the things you can’t let slip away. If there’s an opportunity for good business, you have to respond.”
When told about Spinetta’s experience, Labetti quipped, “Tell her to call me.”
Ginny Morrison, vice president of sales and marketing at Lane Hospitality, a hotel management company, said, “You have to be first to respond. This is something we really push with our properties; it is the No. 1 priority – the desire to close business.”
Eisenman said planners should cut suppliers some slack. “It’s ridiculous to say you need a response within 24 hours. If you have a really urgent short-notice meeting, you might want that kind of speed, but it’s not the norm. We usually allow 10 days to two weeks for a response. We understand that people are traveling or on vacation or have other reasons not to respond promptly.”
Not an issue for Maritz
At meetings giant Maritz Travel, executive Chris Gaia said his firm has not experienced slow responses to its RFPs. This is likely because Martiz handles several thousand events a year. “We may be in a bit of a different position, because when something comes through as Maritz we tend to get on the top of the pile,” said Gaia, vice president of marketing for meetings.
Still, he said, “it’s fair to say responsiveness has slowed down a bit. I think that’s mostly volume-driven and not a long-term trend.” The delays in RFPs vary by property, Gaia added. “Not all properties are responding as quickly as they would have a few years ago.”
This is less of a problem for Maritz because, as a high-volume meeting planner, it has already negotiated contract clauses with many hotels and chains, Gaia said. “What we are mostly checking with our RFPs is availability, and we can usually get an answer back on that pretty quickly.
“If this is happening more slowly for other planners, it might be because they have to deal with contract complexities that we already have set.”
Spinetta said she has experienced delays with other aspects of the planning process.
“I was doing an event and emailed my banquet event order (BEO), which spells out my food and beverage and space needs, and did not get a response. I sent the BEO two weeks in advance. Finally, two days before the event, I followed up by email. The sales manager did call me the next day to say she was working on it.”