Mr. Pisterzi

Group Meetings

The eRFP: Growing Pains, Remedies, and Preparing for the Future

By Michael Pisterzi, Marketing Manager, Spear One

The modern bridge that connects hoteliers and meeting planners becomes more overburdened and scrutinized by the day. Through trial and error, mountains of feedback from users, and various platform improvements the electronic request for proposal has become the undeniable standard in sourcing for the meeting planning industry. However, as most of us know, the process is still far from perfect.

While some of the blame may still rest on the technology itself, it is now overtly apparent that as the eRFP platforms become more sophisticated and adaptable, we must shift our focus towards fellow users being able to use the tool effectively. We are facing a new era in the timeline of eRFP standardization where meeting planners and hoteliers are the primary determinants of the efficacy of a proposal, and it is time that both sides of the process take on more responsibility.

Understanding the Pain Points

There is no industry that exemplifies the virtue of empathy like the hospitality industry. So, to improve upon the shortcomings of the eRFP process, one must recognize the source of grief for their counterparts on the other side of the proposal.

Meeting planners depend on the accuracy and speed of information from vendors to properly relay project milestones and progress to their clients. This is no different than a hotel asking for the exact requirements in the eRFP to properly assess the availability and the possibility of accommodating their event. The eRFP process does not have inherent governance over the amount of information that is offered (although Cvent does allow for a short-form eRFP for early buying stage inquiries.) It falls to the users to provide not only the necessary information but relevant and sufficient details as well. Whether it's a meeting planner underestimating the amount of space required or an hotelier not quoting their best room rate upfront, it's always going to end up in a missed opportunity and time wasted. Kelli Orpen with the Marriott National Sales team states, "On the back end, we try and dig information up if it is provided and it can take longer for our internal counterparts to price when we have to do the homework." This issue is exacerbated with the addition of automation.

Automation has been widely regarded as a blessing and a curse in the digital age. More proposals surely will require more responses, and hotel practices that focus on leads instead of completed bookings add to the overload of information. These waves of thinly detailed eRFPs drown out the quality proposals that are later in the buying stage; increasing response times for meeting planners and overburdening the inboxes of hoteliers to the point where they're sifting through the spam to find a proposal worth bidding on. If planners are waiting a week for their response from a specific hotel, there's no telling how many others will rush in to fill that gap, especially in a world where their clients are demanding shorter lead times and fast turnaround on objectives.

The discussion of quantity v. quality cannot be sidelined in the eRFP process, and we must constantly remind ourselves of the opportunity cost associated with "blasting" out proposals and bids. Alongside the wave of automated proposals, there is an abundance of spam caused by the meeting planners that are new to the eRFP process. Casting too wide a net with their proposals means hoteliers are burning more time pre-qualifying eRFPs than ever before to avoid getting caught in a cycle of indecision and miscommunication. While it's easy to blame the inexperienced planner, it's more prudent to ask why there is a lack of required training with little-to-no barrier of entry in most eRFP platforms. It has seemingly become the norm to jump right into Cvent or StarCite and "learn as you go" with little regard towards the wasted time and attention of others along the way.

Cvent actively addresses this issue by offering eRFP courses and sending automated video messages upon logging-in that announce new features and training videos on how to properly use them. StarCite offers a full resource center on their website, complete with infographics, videos, and podcasts to help their users. With all the education readily available from the platform providers, it falls to the submitters and bidders to take responsibility for their eRFP practices. Wasting time is one thing, ruining one's reputation as a meeting planner is a much graver consequence that could impact numerous budding careers.

Tips for Improving Your eRFP Experience

Meeting Planners:

  • Target or filter the eRFP towards relevant properties - The more details you provide, the more qualified the responses will be.
  • Share your history of past venues - make sure hotels have some examples to get an idea of what you're looking for.
  • Include a decision timeline - It's not always easy getting a firm date, but if you provide an anticipated timeline, the hotelier knows what to expect. Hoteliers:
  • Read the notes and attachments - There may be vital details included in these supplements that would otherwise be lost in a form field.
  • Provide your best rate up front - Giving standard or outdated room rates in your response can result in your property being swiftly removed from the shortlist by the planner's client.
  • Explain why your property is turning down an eRFP - There could be an opportunity for the planner to adjust their proposal or consider you for an event in the future.

Embracing Relationship Building Outside eRFPs

Misinformation and proposal spam are the problems, so what are the available solutions? Sometimes the best answers are the oldest. Utilizing the eRFP as a tool to build out useful contacts with valued hotels and meeting planners typically leads to meaningful relationships that can pay dividends in the long run for both parties. This practice of getting to know the individuals behind the proposal or the bid is not a new one but has become more uncommon since the standardization of the eRFP. Once a planner has developed a rapport with a specific hotel, it is common to request a bid or site visit from them again in the future, sometimes before even starting the eRFP process. The old business principle of new customers costing exceedingly more than returning customers is still alive and prevalent.

It may seem obvious to most, but sending an email alongside a bid or proposal offers an indication of the seriousness of intent and provides a direct line to discuss details and flexibility. Picking up the phone and introducing yourself can imprint an even stronger impression. Even if the call goes straight to voicemail, it has a more personable touch than the email and carries the inherent desire to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later. There's also no harm in saving both parties' time by taking a moment to check up on their website, LinkedIn page, or a simple Google search to evaluate their needs and competency. This is especially true for hotel staff reaching out to planners as the low barrier of entry of eRFP platforms opens the door to a litany of unqualified proposals.

The recently improved and prominently featured 'notes' sections of eRFPs (especially those in Cvent) have become a useful feature for planners that previously had trouble deciphering the reasoning behind a turned down request by a hotel while scrolling their list of responses. Creating an effective note can also further your relationship building with meeting planners by including a non-automated message targeting the planner by name and asking for additional information or consideration in future proposals. This is a particularly efficient strategy for NSO's that may cover multiple properties for a hotel brand and can offer options to the meeting planner via the notes section that would otherwise be lost by a simple turned down proposal.

Preparing for the Future

Whether the eRFP of today continues to be the standard in the meetings and hospitality industries remains to be seen. In fact, there are several threatening alternatives to the current eRFP that address the bulk of issues that meeting planners and hoteliers face on a daily basis. Zentila, an eTouches company, is starting to make a move on refining the eRFP process by creating an ad-free platform that emphasizes organic as opposed to paid search to pair the most appropriate events to venues. Hotels can set different pricing for different booking dates and offer a "Super Login" feature that allows any member of a hotel sales team to see everything their other team members see in a dashboard view. Setting different pricing and options for different dates cuts down on the spam proposals by adding additional filters, and giving all members of a hotel sales team the ability to bid and sift through eRFPs in real time allows for a more efficient process.

Industry leader, Cvent, has not turned a blind eye to the shortcomings of the current system. The "RFP Showcase," Cvent's most recently added feature, allows for a "better way to receive qualified venue responses." Planners can now search by specific locations, rooms, rates, ratings, and more to get proposals from up to five qualified venues that were not considered initially but can still accommodate their needs. Looking towards the success of direct booking engines on the leisure travel side, such as Expedia, there may even one day be a meetings & events equivalent that allows more streamlined approaches to booking meeting space.

No matter what advances are made in the technology, there is still a long way to go before the eRFP process can overcome its growing pains. There are no absolute certainties in how the platforms will adapt to provide a more elegant solution for today's problems. What is certain is the need for platform providers, meeting planners, and hoteliers to bridge the gap between efficiency and effectiveness. Staying on top of new features and updates by the eRFP platforms and taking the initiative to train our teams on proper eRFP etiquette is imperative to the advancement of this technology within the industry.

Michael Pisterzi is the Marketing Manager of Spear One, a full-service meeting planning and sales incentive company in Dallas, Texas. Spear One helps Fortune 1000 clients engage their employees and sales channels through group incentive travel, event planning, recognition & incentive programs, and engagement campaigns Ė with creativity, flexibility, and a commitment to results. Spear One has won numerous industry awards, including Best Places to Work in the Meetings Industry by Meetings & Conventions magazine and a Motivation Masters Award by Incentive Magazine. Mr. Pisterzi looks to further this trend of industry excellence with the aid of emerging technologies and cutting-edge marketing practices. Mr. Pisterzi can be contacted at 972-661-6081 or michael.pisterzi@spearone.com Please visit http://www.spearone.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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