RFP Responses – Part 2: How turning down an RFP can still bring in business

by | Sep 8, 2023 | For Hoteliers

This is a continuation of our 2-part article series on hotel RFP responses. In this article, we focus on how responding to an RFP can build a relationship with the planner for future business. For part 1, where we cover why hotels should reply to every RFP, click here.

Part 2: How turning down an RFP can still bring in business

Don’t leave meeting planners hanging

In 2020, Groups360 conducted an extensive double-blind research study on the needs and preferences of event professionals. One of the most common frustrations among meeting planners was the lack of timely responses to their RFPs.

Every RFP represents a planner. Here’s another way of looking at the industry’s low response rates: For every 100 planners who ask a hotel for information, 55 of them are left hanging.

If a planner has to chase you down—and not many of them will—you’re hurting your reputation and reducing the chance this planner will source your hotel in the future.

Coming in a close second among planner frustrations was the lack of information in the responses they did receive. Among the hotels that submit a proposal, they often don’t take the time to address the planner’s specific questions. Without enough information, the planner can’t make an informed decision.

It’s just as frustrating for hoteliers to lob emails back and forth with customers over every detail. You can streamline your communications by paying attention to attachments and answering the RFP with meaningful details at the outset.

A bit more investment on the front end will save you time in the long run and increase your chances that the planner will award the bid to your hotel.

Respond to every lead. Take a moment to properly evaluate planners’ requests and provide the requested information. You will greatly increase your hotel’s visibility on a planner’s list of possible hotels.

The real difference between ‘no’ and ‘maybe’

‘No’ is an acceptable response

If you’re interested in a planner’s piece of business, propose. If you’re not interested, decline. It’s common courtesy to thank a planner for the opportunity, even if you can’t accommodate their group.

No is a helpful response. Planners are waiting to hear from you. Turning down the business helps them move on to those who can. They’ll cross you off their list for now, but not forever, because you were considerate enough to reply to their RFP.

No is also the easiest response. Make sure your no is an honest no, and not simply the easy way out of a more thorough proposal.

‘Maybe’ can start a sales dialog

If you can’t accommodate a group over the planner’s specific dates, suggest an alternative timeframe. Remember that this person has received very few responses from other hotels. They may be willing to make adjustments to have your hotel host their program.

You may have to give a hard no to a planner who needs 10,000 square feet of meeting space but your hotel only has 5,000. But if you have 8,000 square feet, you have room to negotiate.

A fruitful alternative to no is maybe.

Same goes for a planner who may be asking for more space than is reasonable given the room block. You might be inclined to turn it down. But she may be especially interested in your hotel and open to adjustments to make it work for the both of you.

Whenever possible, let your no be maybe—a starting point for negotiations on space, rates and other revenue-generating pieces of the program.

Be strategic in your RFP responses

You may be staying busy and filling the books, but are you booking the right business?

Sales managers have the responsibility to ensure that the most advantageous pieces of business are getting prioritized. The best sales leaders take a strategic and analytical approach to evaluating leads and booking group business, and they train their people to do the same.

Here’s an extreme example of this principle. Groups360 worked with a client who had a program that would have bought out an entire hotel, not to mention all the revenue from food and beverage, equipment and other ancillary revenue.

While negotiations were underway, however, the hotel sold two small room blocks to other customers over the same set of dates. What’s worse—they wouldn’t correct this astronomically expensive mistake.

If you’re responding to every lead you receive—even those across the same set of dates—you have the opportunity to choose among those you win which one most benefits your hotel.

Revenue management is critical to the success of the hotel

Revenue management brings the much-needed analytical eye to competing pieces of business. Is one more valuable than the other? Do the arrival and departure dates allow for additional business on the front end and back end?

Let’s say you have two groups looking to book over the same set of dates. One is a corporation for 500 room nights, while the other is an association for 1,000. At first glance, 1,000 room nights looks like the better choice.

Meanwhile, the value of the corporate program is $1 million, while the association is $750,000. Not to mention that a property that large could easily fit two of those kinds of corporate groups at the same time. You still bid on both, but when it comes time to choose, there’s a clear winner.

The time it takes to have a business review meeting and evaluate these kinds of outcomes is more than worth it in the long run.

Be a team player

Salespeople with myopic goals present a challenge to this strategic approach. Some would rather book their particular pieces of business than collaborate on what’s best for the hotel.

Business review meetings can prevent this tendency because, frankly, revenue management doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings. It’s about the bottom line.

A successful sales team does what it takes to win the best business for the hotel.

When sales colleagues each have rival groups, the strategic approach is to use the interest of one to push the decision of the other. In other words, you have Planner A with a more valuable program than Planner B, but Planner A hasn’t signed the contract yet.

You call them up and let them know you have another group interested over the same set of dates, which may accelerate negotiations.

This situation also presents an opportunity to increase the value of Planner B’s lesser piece of business. You let them know there’s another group that’s outbid them, but you could probably escalate their program by increasing the room rate another $20.

Revenue management might give the thumbs-up as long as they’re ready to sign the contract.


Get creative with back-to-back bookings

You don’t necessarily have to choose between two good pieces of business if you’re strategic about the flow of your groups.

You can keep your hotel filled on an ongoing basis by playing a bit of Tetris with the room blocks.

The key to accommodating the most groups is to arrange their dates in such a way that you can run them back to back. As you’re bidding on groups with competing sets of dates, you can call the planner and offer them an adjusted set of dates—and make it worth their while by cutting them a deal.

Find ways to fill your room blocks. Adjust arrival and departure times, room blocks and meeting space to your advantage. This is a strategic way to capitalize on as many groups as possible.

When we used this approach at Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee, we sold somewhere between 750,000 to 1 million rooms over the course of two years—the most back-to-back rooms ever recorded in the industry by an individual hotel.

This level of success is all a matter of getting the puzzle pieces to fit. But you can’t play Tetris if you’re not looking at all the pieces—which means evaluating and responding to every lead you receive.

Small meetings fill space

The vast majority of RFPs are meeting planners organizing small meetings, usually 20-25 people. Unfortunately, these leads are just as likely to get delayed or ignored as any other.

One reason this happens is because many hotels deploy their sales teams based on the size of the groups. More seasoned and successful sales executives take on the larger, more complex group bookings.

RFPs for smaller meetings—the highest volume of leads across the industry—are assigned to the greenest salespeople. Conference managers just beginning their careers have less experience and need more guidance on how best to respond. This creates extended delays in responses and hinders converting these essential pieces of business.

Larger, more complex events are typically booked months, even years, into the future. In the meantime, the more short-term business that simpler meetings provide can help fill your calendar.

These simpler programs may not be the most lucrative for your hotel, but such meetings still fill space, often when you need it the most.


It’s time for a change

As hoteliers ourselves, we know the kinds of pressures sales leaders and their teams face on a daily basis. There are better ways to do business.

The first step of the sales process is to acknowledge the planners inquiring about your property. Send a response to every RFP you get.

When you properly evaluate and respond to leads, you increase your chances for more and better business. At the same time, the courtesy you show meeting and event planners demonstrates you’re a hotel they’ll want to source again when the next program comes around.


We’re striving for the solution

After decades in hospitality, we’re now part of an industrywide solution to the antiquated process of searching, sourcing and booking groups.

We designed GroupSync, the leading marketplace for groups, to provide planners with a better sourcing experience and hoteliers with higher quality leads. During a planner’s search, the platform’s algorithms display only the hotels that can physically accommodate the planner’s room block and largest required meeting space.

There are also no paid placements, which often result in indiscriminate leads to hotels that aren’t the best fit.

When a hotel receives a lead from GroupSync, they’re not one of 40 hotels. They’re usually one of seven to 10, which can increase your chances of winning—provided, of course, that you respond.

And GroupSync makes it quicker to populate a response with basic availability or with more detailed responses to any attachments the planner included in their RFP.

Expand your hotel’s reach on the fastest growing hotel marketplace for groups. Learn more about our hotelier solutions here.


This completes our article series. For more info on GroupSync, and how to automate your hotel’s group booking process, connect with us here.

Click the following to read Part 1 of our article series, ‘Why hotels should reply to every RFP’