Leveraging Our Conference Dollars

African Americans are the convention industry's biggest customers–to the tune of $5.6 billion. it's time we flexed our collective muscle and cashed in on some benefits

lower rates, particularly on events tied to themed local events.

Benefits can be very extensive if organizers allow enough time for planning. If a group is interested in pursuing money or perks from a city or local convention bureau, for example, the group should plan to get on those entities’ budget cycles at least a year before the event. The perks garnered can amount to thousands of dollars, depending on the entity and what’s offered.

The NAMD offers a case in point: It marketed 2002 as being its 50th annual celebration as a black group and used that to bargain with city leaders and the convention bureau in Washington, D.C. for the 3-day convention. The result: The group landed a $129 rate for up to 400 rooms at the Washington Plaza Hotel, rooms that typically run $200 each per night. “The key is [to] have supporting data [showing] what you can bring to the city,” Allen points out. “Specifically, things like your group’s economic impact, [the] number of attendees [to the event], and [your group’s] spending power provides strong leverage to bargain with.”

Black groups should be cautious of contracts with attrition clauses where a penalty is assessed by a hotel when room, and food and beverage goals are not met. In other words, if your group figures it will need 1,000 hotel rooms for an event but only uses 500, it might get stuck paying for those 500 unused rooms.
“People will sign contracts guaranteeing numbers they hope to get rather th
an what the group’s history at conventions dictates they typically attract,” says Riscoe. “That’s why it’s very important to understand the worth and value of your business.”

Black groups also fail to work with local convention and visitors bureaus or local governments, entities that often offer funding and other breaks for conventions, Allen says. By doing just that, NAMD landed a $35,000 promotional grant from the state of South Carolina and the local county in 1997. It was an incentive to encourage the group to hold its 1998 conference in the city of Columbia. “That’s significant because that has become a checkpoint item we now use as a key strategy in our negotiations when looking for future conference sites,” states Allen.

Typically, a NAMD conference costs between $200,000 — $230,000 depending on when and where it’s held. Those expenses can include $30,000 for promotions and advertising, $15,000 for printing, $20,000 for food and beverages, $30,000 for special themed events, and $5,000 for audio-visual services. Financial aid from government entities or guidance from the local convention and visitors bureaus captures a big chunk of those expenses.

A lot of people are not using or getting bids from local convention bureaus, limiting their ability to get the best rates when it comes to crucial things such as hotel selection or other services needed for the event.

Moreover, black groups should assess how the selected location can affect their budget. Larger cities, such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, typically charge

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