When booking hotel rooms or cruise ship cabins for tour groups, don’t just accept the rates and conditions first quoted. Getting a good deal calls for some friendly negotiating with a member of the sales department, says group tour expert Marty Sarbey de Souto, who offers eight tips on how to get the best rates and best service.
If you are booking your group’s reservations with hotels, tour operators, cruise lines and other suppliers, do you simply ask for space and then accept the rates and conditions they quote you? You shouldn’t.
Travel industry pros will tell you that’s a mistake. This is not to say you must quibble over every booking. But you should initiate a conversation letting the other party know that you are knowledgeable and are looking for certain rates and conditions on behalf of your clients. Here are a few thoughts that may help you:
- Before picking up the phone, jot down your requirements: number of rooms or cabins or seats, beginning and ending dates, how many complimentaries you need for your leader, etc. Have in mind an approximate price you estimate they may quote you. Be prepared to have to move your dates to get the best rate. Note with hotels: You’ll have best results at resorts on weekdays, at downtown business hotels on weekends when most business travelers have gone scurrying home.
- When you call, be sure you’re speaking with the right person from the outset. Ask for “Group Sales.” Usually this will be someone within the sales department, not the reservations department.
- Introduce yourself with a very friendly voice. If you’ve booked with them before, remind them how much you enjoyed their services last time and that you’d now like to repeat it. If this is your first time with them, perhaps tell them how much you’ve wanted to use their services before.
- If you’re on a tight budget, don’t be afraid to say so. You might say, “Unfortunately with this group I don’t have as liberal a budget as I’d hoped, but I thought I’d just check with you to see between us what we might be able to do.” Again, keep your voice friendly and collaborative, not demanding. You want to let them know that you want this agreement to be a positive one for both of you.
- Make sure your contact knows you’re a “pro” by using correct terminology. With hotels, you might say, “I’m looking for 15 twins for three nights, in February 4, out February 7,” rather than “I need 15 rooms from February 4th to the 7th. If they quote you rates, pin them down as to whether the rates quoted are gross commissionable or net with no commission. And verify any additional charges like taxes, resort fees, etc.
- If booking a cruise, don’t be surprised if the cruise line won’t give you all cabins in the same category. They’ll most likely give you a “spread” of different categories. Many years ago, the first time I booked a group on a cruise, I asked for all the group cabins at the minimum rate! How they laughed at me. You’ll be lucky to get one cabin in a low-rate category as your “come on” price and then the rest at various rates.
- Also on a cruise, you can usually negotiate for goodies like a one-category upgrade, wine with dinner or a free shore excursion. Rare is the cruise line that will give you a higher-than-usual commission on your sales.
- Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to let them know that your company’s policy is to play fair and square with them so that they won’t get hurt with your dumping space on them at the last minute. With most hotels, I say ”By the way, we’ll be giving you a 90-day report, release of most unused space at 60 days out, and final names and prepayment at 30. Will that work for you?”
You’ll undoubtedly have some special tricks of the trade up your sleeve as to how to negotiate the best rates and the best services for your groups. Go for it!
By Marty Sarbey de Souto