Date, venue and rates are critical and typically given priority in the earliest stages of the meeting planning cycle. However, leaving audio visual (AV) equipment services to the end could be a costly mistake, especially when negotiating these services with a hotel. Many hotel contracts mandate use of an in-house AV provider and contain clauses prohibiting use of other vendors or charge for the privilege of using the planner’s preferred vendor. Knowing this and other nuances associated with AV services contracting can help contain event costs and access to the optimum AV solution.

Related: Bringing Advanced Audiovisual to the Stage

Timing is Everything

You have the most negotiating power before signing the contract. That is when many hotels will make concessions on AV services to prevent losing a customer. Still, some high-demand hotels are unlikely to negotiate on AV or other services, especially during peak demand periods in supplier markets with high occupancy rates, so it is important to leverage all the power you have.

If AV systems will play a dominant role in the event programming and/or require a large percentage of the meeting budget, convey those needs for equipment and labor in as much detail as possible as soon as possible.

Contracting Out vs. In-House

The other consideration is whether the event will be best served using a hotel’s in-house AV services or an outsourced vendor. Cost is one consideration. The hotel is often paid a commission from the in-house vendor ranging from 35 percent to 50 percent of the AV invoice, making them more costly than outsourced vendors. A larger vendor pool also generates more competitive bids for better pricing.

Choice is another thing to consider. Many outsourced vendors offer specialized expertise and capabilities. Given their wider range of AV equipment, outsourced vendors could provide more creativity and ideas to leverage AV technology for dynamic, ‘wow’ experiences.

Questions to ask when considering AV services include:

  • Qualifications of the hotel’s in-house AV technicians or electricians
  • Insurance coverage
  • How the price compares to other bids

Areas for Negotiation

When negotiating with a hotel to forego its in-house option, consider offering to pay for other services, such as Wi-Fi, installation of ceiling rigging points, electricity and connecting to electrical outlets. The property could also require a supervisor to oversee the planner’s outsourced vendor. Many hotels will ask for a surcharge as a condition of using a preferred AV resource. The planner does not have to accept the clause. Booking the same hotel for multiple years can help secure a contract waiver of AV-related surcharges.

Conversely, if you agree to use a hotel’s in-house AV provider, consider asking for other concessions, such as using the hotel’s contractor for breakout sessions and your own preferred AV resource for the general session.

If the hotel remains firm on the use of its AV vendor, the planner can elect to block fewer rooms or purchase less in hotel food and beverages to compensate for higher costs.

By understanding some of the negotiating nuances associated with a hotel’s AV service policies, planners can make the right decisions, secure possible concessions and contain their event’s overall costs without compromising on its success.

Related: New Audiovisual Tech Boosts Meetings

Bill Johnson is a national account executive with SmartSource, specializing in the successful execution of conferences, large and small.  He has 20 years of experience in a variety of venues, including hotels and convention centers.