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By Joanie Phillips and Ken Lyons | Feb 11, 2021
Ask anyone in the industry and they’ll tell you: RFPs are a necessary evil. Whether you’re a third-party agency, a CVB, a DMC, or a hotel, it takes a lot of time and energy from a team of people to put together a quality proposal. It’s a laborious process that includes sourcing with supplier partners, creating a pricing mix that meets every need, and developing a proposal that will win over clients. But now, the RFP process must also address Covid-19 protocols and concerns.
RFPs aren’t going anywhere. They are the start of the client relationship and critical to showcasing a third party’s experience. But our world has changed; our teams are leaner, budgets are tighter, and the need to demonstrate the value of incentive travel is more important than ever. This requires us to work together with all parties to streamline the RFP process.
Here are five steps we can all take to save time and costs associated with RFPs.
1. Take time for upfront conversations.
Covid-19 has made us aware that many of our existing processes could be more efficient. For example, how many times have you been up against a deadline, anxiously awaiting venue or hotel information, only to get bogged down by emails back and forth trying to clarify your original questions? This could be avoided if we’d simply pick up the phone to conduct a brief, scheduled pre-proposal discovery call. Sparing 15 minutes to be on the phone is the least we can do—we’re all working toward a common goal of meeting clients’ needs and winning their trust.
2. Stop sending unnecessary information.
We all want to go above and beyond, but much of that effort is unnecessary in the early stages of the RFP process. For example, third-party agencies are likely to have already vetted DMCs and have a lot of background information on file. So, don’t waste time resending it. If we need your capabilities presentation, we will request it. Also, don’t go to the trouble of putting a third-party logo on your cover sheet or creating a lengthy PowerPoint presentation to share your information (unless it’s requested). We don’t need that level of detail (again, unless it’s requested). Plain and simple, we just need you to answer our questions.
Another time-saving tip for hotels is to re-evaluate your information in Cvent. Are you writing the content for the third-party agency or the end client? If your description reads “our hotel staff…” or “our luxurious accommodations,” third-party agencies have to take the time to reword each of those instances to read “the hotel staff” or “the luxurious accommodations” to use it in an RFP for their client. 
3. Trust your industry partners.
Have you ever skipped questions on an RFP because you assumed they were generic and not specific to that particular request? Have you ever asked, “what’s your budget?” only to be frustrated with the lack of response? Collaboration is key to open and honest conversations and a faster RFP process, and the need to collaborate is even more urgent these days. Before Covid, third-party agencies had some sense of space availability, but now we are starting at zero and must cast a wider net and solicit information from more hotels. If you don’t think our request is well qualified and therefore not worthy of your time, push back so we can start a conversation.
Patience will also be important as we navigate post-Covid planning. Downsizing has gripped our industry, which means we might be working with new salespeople at hotels and DMCs. Let’s be patient with each other and work together to gather the information for a quality RFP.
4. Protect the DMCs.
The protracted contracting process for meetings and incentive programs can take weeks or months, and, as a result, DMCs can get left in the lurch, waiting to hear if they’re booked. As an industry, we must do a better job of protecting them. DMCs are our “insurance policy” for destination knowledge and relationships, helping us design outstanding experiences that we couldn’t do alone. Creating an interim service agreement or letter of intent can go a long way to protect DMCs from the start.
Similarly, it’s important to clarify key elements of the process, like site-inspection costs. These are usually complimentary as part of the program—but what happens when the program doesn’t materialize? Another question to clarify is when the work of the DMC actually starts. We know we need to pay for DMC labor, but does that begin when the contract is signed or when we start the RFP process? We must be good industry partners by making sure everyone understands the process going forward.
5. Allow for Covid-related questions.
Undoubtedly, such questions will appear in all new RFPs. Safety protocols from hotels, CVBs, and DMCs are already in place. We need to stress this to our clients. DMCs will need to provide even more details about the destination to put our clients at ease. We must ensure the new look and feel of incentives is still desirable, despite social-distancing and mask guidelines. We’ve all heard the phrase “hotels not hospitals”—clients must feel confident that hotels have the right safety protocols in place, but also that they can create an inviting and celebratory atmosphere. We are in the hospitality business; we create excitement. The conversations won’t always be comfortable, but we must maintain this level of excitement and trust once the pandemic ends. When business resumes, we want travelers to have an amazing experience.
In the end, a quality RFP takes a lot of time and effort. By working together and recognizing that we each have our own skill set and local expertise, we can generate a proposal that not only saves us all time, but also strengthens our industry.
Joanie Phillips is the director, purchasing and design, at One10, a Minneapolis-based full-service meetings, recognition, and marketing services company. Ken Lyons is director of KL Communications, a Dublin-based marketing and sales agency.
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