When it comes to getting the best meeting package, timing really is everything.

Most meeting planners are overworked, juggling overlapping tasks for multiple meetings. It’s not uncommon for planners to fit in sourcing when they have the time or to source at a specific time out of habit.

However, the timing of your venue search has a massive impact on your event and budget. Industry experts agree that sourcing at the wrong time can be extremely costly. Booking a program too late could affect your incentives, rate offers and attrition/cancellation allowance. While, also limiting your options and undermining your negotiating power.

On the other hand, sourcing too soon could mean receiving less-than-ideal offers from hotels. For dates far into the future, a hotel’s primary focus is booking base business with full-house groups or programs requiring a minimum of 80% of the property’s guest rooms and meeting space.

The ideal sourcing period is a delicate balance that requires leveraging meeting data that is readily available to planners.

We spoke with Ryan Morris, vice president of the Groups360 Meetings Advisory Division and former associate director of sales at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Conference Center. He shares what every planner – from newbies to veterans – can do to determine their program’s ideal booking window:

Understand the Value of Your Meeting

The rule of thumb: The best time to source is when hotels want to sell. Understanding the value of your meeting and what it means to a city and its hotels is crucial to locking in the best deal, said Morris. One fundamental element many meeting planners tend to overlook is a city’s supply and the demand. After all, a city that is at 60 percent occupancy over your event dates will offer a drastically better package than a city that’s already at 90 percent occupancy. Other vital factors that impact your booking window and your meeting’s value include the amount of guest rooms and meeting space required.

Having a grasp of their program’s value changed the game for the National Swimming Pool Foundation, resulting in a savings of $21,000. Planner Michelle Kavanaugh wanted a unique destination with room rates under $170 for the 4-day program (260 rooms on peak). Within minutes, we found their preferred markets of Baltimore, Cincinnati and Detroit were more than 83-87% full over the event dates, with rates right at $170 and up. Meanwhile, Norfolk/ Williamsburg, VA was coming up with rates starting at $130 – $160, with lenient attrition, favorable concession packages and cancellation agreements.

Arm Yourself With Relevant Destination/Market Data

Don’t lean on assumptions or even past experience in a city. Markets change all the time. What you may have experienced when booking a spring event in Denver last year, will unlikely be true today. Instead, become familiar with the market occupancy (as mentioned above) and a city’s expected rates BEFORE sourcing.

Imagine how much stealthier you can work armed with this type of data for all major cities looking out to the next 10 years. Knowledge is power and this gives you a favorable position when negotiating. Having this information ahead of time is vital to both narrowing down destination and hotel choices and driving educated decisions. Plus, this info will tell you if a hotel’s offer is in-line with market expectations.

Hotel sales and revenue managers rely on data throughout the sales journey. You should, too.

Gauge How Much a Property Values Your Business

Recognize when a property genuinely wants your event or is simply accepting it. Determine how relevant you are to the hotel by watching response times and follow-through. Is the sales manager making sure your needs are met? Answering questions quickly? Did they include the leadership team in the site inspection? How about their internal partners, such as conference services and audio visual staff? Ideally, meeting planners should uncover eager properties earlier in the process by starting their search with destinations that show lower occupancies.

Offer to Sign Within a Tight Timeline

Hotels sales managers are motivated by quarterly closings and sales goals. So, they will be more driven to close with meeting planners serious about sourcing, site inspecting and signing in a timely manner. In addition to your decision timeline, they will want to know if you cast your sourcing net far and wide. How many other destinations or properties are you considering? Are they one out of 30 hotels or 10? If they have a higher chance of winning your business, they will be more motivated to offer the best package possible.

Achieving the ideal booking window doesn’t simply mean glancing at the calendar and working in reverse by several months or fitting it in when you have a chance. Understanding the value of your event and leveraging market data is the secret sauce to smarter sourcing.