HOTEL NEGOTIATIONS AND
ON-SITE CONFERENCE MANAGEMENT
Hosting the annual training conference requires a substantial commitment by the host agency(s) and in particular the chair of the arrangements committee. The decision to present a bid to host the conference must be made at least two years in advance of the projected conference and it is helpful to have attended ALRA conferences to fully comprehend the scope of the enterprise. A bid to host the conference is usually presented to the ALRA Site Selection Committee for review and action at the fall Executive Board meeting, about twenty months prior to the typical conference held in late July. Once a site has been selected based on a bid submitted by a host agency(s), the rudiments of a contract with a particular hotel must be preliminarily negotiated by the primary host agency representative and ALRA President and President elect. If the bid is accepted, a contract should be in place as soon after the site has been selected as is practical. The host agency will generally select a working arrangements committee to establish the social and physical necessities for the conference and work with the separately established program committee whose responsibility will be to establish the substantive component of the conference. Typically the program committee will meet the following fall at the Executive Board meeting and plan a proposed program with anticipated working sessions and potential speakers. As the program firms up, communication between the program and arrangements committees regarding coordinating the program and physical needs of the program the hotel should occur as early as practical and will intensify as the conference nears. After October and particularly during the first half of the year in which the conference is conducted is a very busy time for the arrangements committee. Early and continued communication between arrangements and program chairs is crucial.
As provided in greater detail below! deciding whether to present a bid to host an ALRA conference requires the host agency to initially determine if those involved will remain in service with the agency for the next two years until the conference is held. The relative success of the conference is most influenced by the personal commitment of the host agency(s) in planning, promoting and managing the conference.
ALRA conferences have been held in various settings, including metropolitan cities and resort-type hotels/conference centers. Most conferences are held in cities and at a hotel location where conference delegates can leave the hotel and readily access points of interest for visitors to that city. The centerpiece of the bid is the hotel of the host city, its attractiveness and access to the host city! and the hotel's ability to accommodate the needs of the conference. ALRA has had success in hotels large enough to accommodate upwards of 150-175 delegates and 150-175 advocates for Advocates' Day, and small enough that our conference (a relatively small conference by convention center standards for larger cities) is not a lesser priority competing with conferences/conventions simultaneously occurring at the hotel. If we are the largest group at the hotel we will be more likely to have their attention to attend to the needs and matters of detail arising during the conference requiring immediate attention. Some conference organizers have noted that larger hotels have greater flexibility to accommodate last minute changes to conference arrangements. The hotel's flexibility to accommodate plenary meetings of upwards of 300 people to multiple concurrent breakout sessions with as few as 25-40 persons and its catering abilities are essential.
In preliminary discussions with hotels it is frequently helpful to share a program of a recent conference(s) for the hotel to understand the ebb and flow of our conference. A sample cover letter and spec sheets to be provided to prospective hotels for informational purposes are attached. ALRA prefers a unionized hotel but has conducted conferences in non-unionized hotels provided the hotel management has employment policies consistent with the policies of ALRA. The bid should expressly cover the following:
(1) Proposed dates. ALRA conferences traditionally begin on Friday with ALRAcademy for new board members and key executive staff. The annual conference itself begins Saturday with registration and a reception normally held in the evening. Most delegates travel during the day Saturday to the conference city. The conference typically runs through the following Wednesday with a closing banquet Wednesday evening. The conference historically commences the third Friday in July, but has occasionally varied depending on hotel availability or special circumstances.
(2) Hotel. The host agency will propose one or more appropriate hotels based on earlier investigation using the above criteria. The selection of the hotel should be explained and supplemented with any written hotel literature, detailing its venue and amenities, website address, price lists, catering and other hotel costs which hotels routinely provide for conference organizations. An approximate or actual sleeping room rate must be included. Hotels frequently provide a projected room rate, which is usually established annually. Sleeping room rates for hotel contracts have varied depending on whether the particular hotel publishes the cheaper rate for conferences, the government rate (which should be cheaper than corporate or conference rates) or other special rate. The government rate is frequently one of the cheapest rates and because ALRA delegates are government employees we have had success inserting that rate as the master contract room rate. Further, some delegate agencies make their hotel reservations as the government rate anyway, which prevents those rooms from counting toward the room block if the master contract rate is higher. Indicate applicable taxes (hotel room, occupancy and sales) and gratuities for various hotel amenities. ALRA, as a nonprofit organization, is generally exempt from sales taxes.
(3) Parking. Cost of parking at the hotel or nearby parking rates for ALRA delegates who will drive to the conference.
List several sample existing round-trip airfares from major
(5) Likely social events or outings. ALRA has always offered a mix of business and social events during the run of the conference. Social outings frequently include major league baseball, if available, and food receptions at zoos, aquariums, museums, botanical gardens or other attractive venues in the host city/area. Proximate restaurants, cultural, entertainment and tourist attraction choices that may be made delegates on their free time should be considered in selecting a hotel. Enclose available brochures or literature concerning any contemplated outings. A city map showing the location of the hotel and proximity to planned and unplanned activities is helpful.
At the time of preparation of the conference bid, the host agency should have a likely target hotel(s) that meets ALRA's needs and can be relied on to negotiate a favorable hotel contract should the agency's bid be accepted by ALRA. In other words, mutually acceptable essential contractual arrangements must be understood between the hotel and the organizing committee before the bid is made. Recent sample hotel contracts will be made available to the host agency and representatives of prior host agencies are either available for consultation or serve as arrangements committee members for subsequent conferences.
ALRA and the hotel will negotiate a "master contract" covering the functions for the conference including meeting rooms, food and catering events, hospitality, logistics for program events (microphones, room arrangements, set-ups, etc.). Reservations made by delegates attending the conferences are not covered by the master contract and reservations and payment for sleeping rooms are the responsibility of the attending individual delegates. The master contract covers the common social and program functions. The contract will cover the following:
(1) Conference dates. The time of the conference, generally beginning with ALRAcademy on Friday through and including the Wednesday banquet. Frequently, ALRA will negotiate for a conference sleeping room rate for a few days prior to and following the conference for those ALRA delegates who come early or stay late on personal travel. ALRA normally receives credit in the master contract towards its room block commitment for delegates who stay at the hotel during this extended pre and post conference period. ALRA further negotiates for one rate for single, double or more.
(2) Room block commitment. The hotel contract will typically guarantee minimal attendance at that conference which guarantees the hotel certain revenue in exchange for making the hotel available for our conference. ALRA generally seeks to negotiate a lower end but realistic figure for the room block and then must guarantee a percentage of anticipated attendance (usually 80%-90%). The purpose of the percentage is that if the conference is not attended by the minimum in the guarantee, with built in reduction/alternate clauses, ALRA will be responsible for paying the hotel the difference. Although individual hotel policies differ, many contracts have clauses that allow ALRA to increase/decrease the room block at established intervals as the conference approaches. Accordingly, it is essential to accurately anticipate minimal attendance to ensure actual attendance exceeds at least the contractual minimums to avoid charges. ALRA has surveyed member agencies about expected attendance and responses should be factored into contractual room block adjustments as the conference nears. The general economy, member agency budgets and venue of the conference are normally significant factors affecting delegate attendance. However, if the guarantee is too low and the room block is insufficient, many hotels that are busy in the summer tourist season will then charge the rack rate if attendance exceeds the block. Thus, it is crucial to accurately assess the projected attendance.
Hotels will usually sweeten contracts by providing one free sleeping night per fifty used during the conference, free upgraded rooms for the run of the conference and a larger room or suite for "hospitality". A hospitality room is generally open each night during the run of the conference, staffed by the host agency and should accommodate 25-40 people. The "1 per 50" additional rooms are not for routine attendance of ALRA delegates but used for invited speakers and panelists needing overnight accommodations. In hotel negotiations it is important to expressly provide that unused room comps be applied at face value to the master contract as a credit at the conclusion of the conference. Hotels will usually attempt to have unused room comps expire at the end of the conference rather than have their value added to the master contract as a credit.
(3) Cut-off for reservations. Hotels will usually want to establish a cut-off date for delegates making reservations at the conference rate so that they can free up rooms from the room block commitment for other guests and ALRA late registration. ALRA usually is successful in getting the conference rate deadline for reservations into early July depending on the conference dates. Usually, the solicitation sent from the host agency to ALRA agencies announcing the conference is mailed in mid to late May giving delegates essentially the month of June to make reservations
(4) Function information/agenda/meeting rooms/incidental costs. ALRA historically negotiates hotel contracts, which do not include payment for meeting rooms. Free meeting rooms are generally the quid pro quo for the paid sleeping rooms, banquet and other paid events/activities. However, in recent years, hotels have been successful in negotiating payment for meeting rooms depending on the relative bargaining power for the hotel/city/time of the conference. Alternately, some hotels have negotiated clauses with sliding scales beginning at zero dollars and increasing incrementally based on total sleeping rooms sold. Hotel contracts negotiated, which have excluded payment for meeting rooms, were successful when this condition was established at the outset of negotiations with the hotel, usually at an introductory stage when the bid was prepared. Hotels frequently charge "rentals" for microphones, A/V equipment, flip charts and other incidentals, which can rapidly add up over the duration of the conference. Attention should be paid to these details (usually provided in the hotel rack rates) in the contract to avoid unnecessary expenses.
(5) Food, beverage and catering issues. Hotels will usually negotiate for food and beverage costs off a standard list that they charge at a conference rate. In the master contract the hotel will usually want to negotiate for as many catering, food and beverage events at the hotel as possible during the run of the conference because this is where they make their money. ALRA usually negotiates for a blend of on- and off-premises events in order to give the hotel some business but also to provide for off-site catering events to afford delegates a balanced experience. To this end, the hotel contract will usually contain a clause setting forth what food and catering events will occur during the run of the conference at the hotel and the minimum head count ALRA will commit to in the contract. ALRA usually negotiates for fewer events except those we know we will hold at the hotel (usually closing banquet, Monday Advocates' Day lunch, opening Saturday reception, Wednesday lunch, etc.) and also low-balls the attendance numbers to avoid liability if attendance is lower than anticipated. Remember that we can always add a food or catering event after the contract is signed but if we commit to the same event in the contract and wish later to cancel it, we may not have that freedom. Accordingly, in the hotel contract we generally commit to the Friday dinner for ALRAcademy, breakfast and lunch for ALRAcademy on Saturday, Saturday opening reception (unless coupled with an off-site event), Sunday opening brunch, Monday Advocates' Day lunch, Wednesday lunch and closing banquet. Other events may be added but are usually conducted off-site (i.e., Advocates' Day evening reception, Tuesday lunch and dinner) .See attached guidelines.
Hospitality. ALRA usually operates an informal
"hospitality room" beginning Saturday evening and nightly through Wednesday
supplied with food and beverage not through the hotel. Generally, hospitality
rooms included formally in the contract are required to be done with hotel
bartenders, beverages purchased through the hotel or pay corkage, all of which
ALRA cannot afford and does not pay for. Thus, historically an informal
arrangement with the hotel is made allowing ALRA to supply and serve its own
beverages and snacks. Usually the hotel will accommodate such activity although
it is always against hotel policy. It is important that these hospitality rooms
are isolated from non-ALRA hotel guest sleeping rooms because these rooms are
noisy and last into the early morning hours. If hospitality rooms must be near
sleeping rooms we generally arrange for
Usually, an ALRA conference will include an Advocates' Day where ALRA has promoted and invited labor and management advocates and interested neutrals from the area where the conference is conducted for a full day program and generally including an evening reception. Advocates' Day serves two important purposes. First, it enables our delegates to interact with labor relations professionals from the host area for this one day program. Second, attending advocates pay a conference registration fee (including the full day program, lunch and evening reception) which helps defray the cost of the overall conference. A successfully promoted Advocates' Day will defray substantially the cost of the conference or ensure the financial success of the conference. Although the overall goal of the conference is training and education of ALRA delegates, ALRA's mission depends on its continued financial viability and Advocates' Day serves this dual role. Accordingly, selection of a host agency/city will oftentimes relate to the ability to host a successful Advocates' Day.
Because ALRA is an organization not generally known by labor relations advocates and our conference is transient, substantial promotion is required to educate advocates regarding ALRA and its functions and the Advocates' Day program in order to attract a meaningful audience. Promotion for Advocates' Day begins generally after the beginning of the year the conference is held. Promotional activities have included "save the day" postcards, inexpensive letter size tri-fold fliers included in mailings of cooperating agencies, electronic newsletters sponsored by government agencies and interested entities (unions, management organizations, government entities, AAA, FMCS, IRRA, NAA, etc.). Host agencies are encouraged to find free or inexpensive means of early promotion and other entities are frequently cooperative or eager to assist ALRA to promote Advocates' Day.
Usually, the principal promotion for Advocates' Day is a high quality solicitation mailed to potential attendees within a reasonable radius of the host city. Mailing lists are generally gleaned from the host agency(s), other neutral labor relations entities such as AAA, FMCS, National Academy of Arbitrators, labor relations boards and commissions in the area, and state and/or regional Bar Associations, etc. Typically, 2000-4000 mailings are sent depending on the size of the area. Responses to solicitations for conferences of this nature is 3-5% of the mailings and successful Advocates' Days have generated responses of 125-150 advocates or more.
ALRA traditionally provides an upscale day including an off-site reception at an attractive venue. Usually attendance at the Advocates' Day is high among ALRA delegates, and any guests who may accompany them at the conference, while attending advocates may frequently depart for home at the conclusion of the day's formal program and skip the evening reception. Normally, about a one-hour period, depending on the travel time to the venue is scheduled between the conclusion of the program and transportation departure to the reception site. Attendance estimates for the reception should be adjusted accordingly. Advocate registration is generally priced to include a quality full day program and an evening reception. This event will usually be a key component in the financial success of the overall conference. Because the conference is conducted by an organization the advocates are unfamiliar with, is not a recurring conference that labor relations professionals in the area annually attend and is conducted in the summer when people are frequently on vacation or unavailable, extensive promotion of
Advocates' Day is essential to its success. It is strategically important for Program Committee or host agency representatives to encourage advocate speakers to have members of their respective companies, firms and organizations register for Advocates' Day as paid attendees. It is important to start early and ferret out as many free or inexpensive promotional opportunities as possible.
ALRA has received sponsorships to help defray conference costs. Sponsorships have taken many forms and certain kinds of sponsorships must be avoided. Potential sponsorships must be proposed to the current ALRA president. Government has oftentimes supported the efforts of ALRA and has made financial and in kind contributions of materials, mailing costs, printing, design work, etc., as an extension of the government policy supporting cooperative labor-management services. Jurisdictions vary regarding such policies and the availability of funds/services. Labor relations/labor law committees of bar associations have provided various support (mailing, postage, envelopes, etc.) and sometimes cash assistance for the cost of the program. Some host agencies have partnered with their labor relations infrastructure in finding creative ways to involve these entities. Early planning and outreach is essential in finding these opportunities. Other entities have provided cash sponsorships (publishers of labor relations materials, computer software company providing support service to labor agencies, law schools, labor- management committees, bar associations, etc.) ALRA has avoided sponsorships by labor relations practitioners, especially firms, entities or persons which practice before the agency or parties which come before ALRA member agencies. All sponsorships should be avoided which would compromise the neutrality of ALRA members.
ALRA Annual Conferences are independently financed through a separate account opened by the host agency usually early in the year the conference is subsequently held in July. The account may include a debit card limited to one or two users for purchase of hospitality suite supplies or other essential purchases. Appropriate record keeping is essential. Also, it is further recommended establish a credit card payment option for Advocates' Day registration payment preferably with the financial institution where the conference master account is initiated. ALRA usually fronts limited seed money to defray early expenses such as a nominal deposit with the hotel, Advocates' Day reception venue or other early expenses. Frequently, however, hotels will not require a deposit because they will be able to obtain contracts from prior conferences through their network with other hotels and ALRA's financial track record will be well known. With regard to other expenses for the conference, usually the revenue generated by early promotions, Advocates' Day registrations and delegate registrations will arrive in sufficient time to defray conference expenses. Vendors generally will understand our process and cash flow regarding annual conferences.
Invited speakers should be apprised regarding reimbursable travel, presentation and related expenses. For example, ALRA normally will reimburse speakers for coach air travel and proposed speakers should be apprised at the outset.
The institution where the account is opened must be aware
that checks will be received in Canadian and
ALRA is a nonprofit organization under the u.s. Internal
Revenue Code Section 503(c) and is exempt from most u.s. taxes and accordingly
the hotel may require ALRA's federal tax I.D. number or suitable evidence of
ALRA's tax status which should exempt sales (except in jurisdictions where
government entities and/or nonprofits are not exempt) and certain other exempted
taxes on the master contract. Partnering the annual conference account (i.e.
"ALRA Conference 2003") with the host agency is a method used to gain sales tax
exemption. Larger written contracts can be negotiated using ALRA's federal tax
exemption. Canadian host agencies stress that for conferences conducted in
The account should be kept open until all conference-related expenses have been satisfied, usually in the months following the conference and the account balance should be forwarded to ALRA for deposit to ALRA's master account. ALRA relies on revenues generated from annual conferences to fund other educational and training activities of the organization. The financial success of conferences is affected by a number of significant factors. First, a successful Advocates' Day, where the conference is conducted in a host city where an Advocates' Day is feasible, is a major factor. Second, attention to the myriad matters of detail involved in arranging a large conference of this nature with both an educational and social component has great bearing on both the financial and aesthetic success of a conference. Third, it is important to start activities early because from both the host agency's perspective and potential Advocates' Day attendee's perspective, the conference starts from scratch with no prior track record to rely on to draw an Advocates' Day crowd. Understanding our target demographic and early promotion are crucial to a successful Advocates' Day. Advocates' Days have been financially successful particularly in venues with a large regional base from which to draw advocates. Such locations can result in attendance of 150 plus generating $30,000 or more, with related expenses of about $15,000 in recent experience. Some cities have been selected where an Advocates' Day was impractical but a well-managed conference netted in excess of $15,000.
ON-SITE CONFERENCE MANAGEMENT
Usually, the first dealings with the hotel will be conducted through the marketing or sales office resulting in a master contract for the conference. After the contract is negotiated and executed, several months out from the conduct of the conference an events manager usually becomes the point person for dealings with the actual conduct of the conference. Historically, events staff are more flexible regarding our unconventional needs and requests than the sales/marketing staff that negotiate the contract and are more rigid about compliance with hotel policies. For example, the sales staff will take a hard line regarding our bringing food or beverages into the hotel or use of a "hospitality room", but you usually can make necessary arrangements ("deals") with the events managers. Examples include evening dessert bars where ALRA brought dessert items purchased elsewhere to the hospitality room and the hotel provided coffee, which avoided purchasing far more expensive dessert items from the hotel. ALRA arranges to bring liquor, beverages, mixers and snacks to the hospitality room rather than purchasing liquor from the hotel and providing hotel bartenders. Hotels will frequently negotiate the price for incidental costs that we may need during the run of the conference involving use of microphones, PowerPoint, audio-visual, etc., and/or allow us to use our own equipment where available. Duplication of materials usually can be done during the conference by the offices of the host agency. The host agency must provide identification badges for delegates and speakers, speaker identification table name cards, and other incidentals.
Uneaten meals based on inflated head counts are costly and are expected to be minimized. First, the hotels usually prepare an additional 5%-10% from the numbers provided which can be factored into the numbers guaranteed by ALRA to the hotel. You will need to request of the hotel at the outset what this percentage is. Second, in negotiating the contract it is important to minimize the amount of notice given the hotel for the final head count for each meal. Typically hotels require 48- or 72-hour notice before any food event. We usually make announcements during the run of the conference asking delegates to inform the ALRA registration desk if they will not be at meals. ALRA maintains a conference registration and information table which includes maintaining a meal attrition list of each person's name who has registered for a meal and asks delegates to inform us if they may not be present due to other plans, early departures, etc. The hotel will also have a daily accounting of the hotel checkouts from our group, which you can also use to provide accurate head counts. Through these means, we can generally provide very accurate head counts for meals and minimize ordering uneaten meals resulting in significant unnecessary expenses that will be included in the master contract bill at the conclusion of the conference.
A tip regarding buffet events, generally hotels will prepare substantially more food for buffet events because they don't know which items will be popular. Accordingly, we have generally low-balled the head count provided below those who have signed up for the event and universally still have food left over. Thus, for purposes of the contract, we generally provide a head count for buffet events approximately 10-20% lower than the anticipated attendance.
ALRA usually provides a "goody bag" given to conference registrants upon arrival which includes traditionally a souvenir t-shirt identifying the host city, food, candy, tourist info., pens and other stuff usually donated or acquired at minimal expense. At registration, conference delegates will receive a printed program of the business and social activities for the entire conference, a souvenir folder imprinted with the host city, a conference pen and name badge. Past organizers have stressed searching for goody bag sources and donors early (up to 6 months) as some will require lead time to provide their contribution.
Usually, on the last full day of the conference (Wednesday morning) the next host agency displays promotional information for the following year's conference at the conference registration table.
At the conclusion of the conference, ALRA mails a conference evaluation form to all attending delegates and the host agency compiles the evaluation results and forwards it to the president. The host agency should also prepare a summary of its evaluation of the conference noting particularly the successes and deficiencies of the conference, which will be integrated into our database to assist future host agencies.
ALRA Site Committee
Hotel Specifications Guidelines and Sample Document
The attached hotel specifications document is designed as a
guide for site committee presentation to prospective hotels in solicitation of
bids for the annual conference venue. Also, it serves as a guide for the
arrangements committee in finalizing the banquet event order (BEO), which
commits ALRA to specific guarantees for each conference event at the hotel. The
flexible document format allows for annual customization of events and
adjustments to the estimated numbers. Minimums and maximums per each item/event
are based on conference experience m Philadelphia 2000,
Primary considerations driving conference attendance historically have been the economy, agency budgets, conference venue (host city), travel accessibility/cost and exchange rate between Canadian and U.S. dollars. These factors combined with recent conference(s) experience wilt likely form a reliable basis for determining estimates per each event/item listed in the document. Providing the hotel with a single estimated number per event/item rather than minimum and maximum, is strongly recommended.
ALRA conferences have a general format and sequence of events. However, variations occur and hotel requirements must reflect the prospective conference anticipated program For example, Advocates' Day may not be an event depending on the conference location. Another example is the opening reception mayor may not be held at the host hotel or may be held on Sunday evening rather than the traditional Saturday.
A second attached document was the specification provided to
prospective hotels for selecting the
A third attached document titled Summary of ALRA Conference Sleeping Rooms and Hotel Based Events provides a quick reference guide to daily hotel based events, range of attendance and eligible attendees
ASSOCIATION OF LABOR RELATIONS AGENCIES
ANNUAL CONFERENCE HOTEL REQUIREMENTS
The following are general requirements and estimates for lodging, meeting rooms, food and beverage and other related requirements for the annual Association of Labor Relations Agencies (ALRA) conference. Details and terms subject to contract agreement between ALRA and the hotel.
Location: City/State or Province
Dates: Day/Date/Year - Day/Date/Year
Day/Date/Year - Day/Date/Year
Meeting/Other Room Requirements
Saturday through Wednesday - 1 large suite for hospitality events
Friday through Wednesday - 1 small suite
Friday through Wednesday - Conference registration and information center
Food and Beverage Requirements:
Contact: Name of ALRA Representative
C/o Local Host Agency name
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