Getting Out of your RFP Comfort Zone

Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read

As sourcing tools and booking platforms have evolved, RFPs have become ever-more efficient and streamlined, especially for small and straightforward meetings. But there is another trend at work for RFPs in 2022. New complexities for both planners and hoteliers are emerging as a result of greater societal work around equity, inclusion, and belonging; the increasingly evident impact of climate change; new policies adopted by companies responding to employee and consumer demands; and, of course, the ongoing pandemic.

This will be the year of the tough question, as planners redesign RFPs to require more than just yes or no answers on a range of potentially sensitive topics. Let’s review some of them.

Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging

In the past, if this subject was included at all, it was enough for hotels to have a policy on diversity or to respond that yes, the venue is LGBTQ friendly. Now, planners will need to push hoteliers for more details. How are marginalized populations represented among hotel staff? Is there a DEI officer on the executive team? Does the hotel’s preferred vendor list include minority-owned or women-owned businesses? Have hotel staff completed anti-bias training?

Environmental sustainability

The green revolution started a long time ago. What’s new is a demand for targets, data, and proof. It’s no longer enough to provide a checkbox for whether a hotel has a recycling program or not. Companies have set targets for their own carbon emissions, and meetings and travel are significant contributors to those numbers. So, meetings departments have a big part to play in helping their companies reach their sustainability goals. Hotels can help by sharing specifics, including details about protocols along with data. How much food waste does the hotel avoid annually? How much trash is diverted from landfills by the hotel’s recycling efforts? What is the building’s energy-efficiency data? Can the property help to calculate the carbon footprint of the meeting?

Groups in-house

Planners commonly include questions in their RFPs about avoiding sharing hotel space with competitors. With political polarization at a peak in the U.S., planners might need to make a longer list of groups they’d rather not cross paths with, while hotels need to be even more attuned to which types of groups have overlapping dates.

Covid protocols

Covid protocols are moving targets, impacted by CDC guidelines as well as regional and city government rules on masking, proof of vaccine, and capacity restrictions for events. Variant outbreaks and local case rates are also factors in managing large gatherings safely. This section of an RFP will need to be flexible. There are also cost issues to address. Who is paying to have masks on hand for any attendees who want them? My advice is to err on the side of caution over cost-savings. Breakthrough cases can still happen at in-person events even with Covid protocols in place, but planners want to have demonstrated that they have taken all the necessary steps to avoid them.

Then planners and hoteliers need to go a few steps further. What happens if someone tests positive and must quarantine? Is the company liable and paying for all or part of the quarantine costs? How long can the person stay in the hotel room? What costs will be covered by the client and what costs will the hotel absorb? Are there other responsibilities of the client or venue if the person goes home to their family and exposes their partners and loved ones? All of these scenarios should be considered and planned for ahead of time.

Staffing shortages

For meetings, one of the most lasting impacts of the pandemic has been the slow return of laid-off hospitality workers to their jobs. According to the February jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in leisure and hospitality is still down nine percent (1.5 million workers) since February 2020. However, the BLS report also revealed the tide may be turning, with leisure and hospitality leading job gains in Q1 2022.

For now, planners need to get more specific in their RFPs regarding staffing — something they rarely had to think about pre-pandemic. For example: What is the percentage gap between current staffing and full staffing? Which departments are most affected? Are any outlets (F&B, spa, shops) closed or open limited hours because of staffing shortages? How will the hotel mitigate staffing shortages, especially during peak periods? Don’t assume anything about staffing. Some hotels have had to shut down rooms, shut down floors, decrease housekeeping, even lay off security. At a certain level it affects service, and that is a real issue. Normally the hotel bar is a hot spot for attendees. What if there’s only one bartender? Or no waitstaff? If a hotel says yes, we have security, what does “yes” mean? How many security staffers? Are they on duty 7 days a week? 24/7?

Bottom line

Planners today can’t be as trusting as they once were when it comes to RFPs. They will need to ask difficult, sensitive questions and address all the 800-pound gorillas in the room. To put a positive spin on it, challenging conversations often lead to deeper relationships and hospitality is still relationship business, after all. Hoteliers are having to address these issues in their own companies as well and should welcome the chance to tell potential clients about it.