Booking Hotels And Holidays
SETTING THE SCENE
A 48-bed hotel in Torquay one chilly afternoon early in October.
‘Hello, is that Reservations?’
‘Yes sir, how may I help?’
‘I would like to book a room for two nights on November 16 and 17. It’s two years since my wife and I stayed with you and we got engaged. I suppose you are fully booked, aren’t you?’
‘Well, actually we have one room left for those nights.’
‘Oh fantastic, can you hold on to it for me whilst I check a few more things?’
‘Unfortunately not sir, we only have one room left and it’s £95 per night per person.’
‘Wow that’s expensive; I don’t suppose you could do it for less, could you?’
‘OK then, I will book it. Is breakfast included?’
‘No sir, that will be an additional £10 per person.’
‘Ah, OK, I need breakfast so I will pay for that as well. I assume it’s Full English.’
‘No sir. That will be an additional £5 per person.’
‘Ah, OK, I’ll have that as well.’
‘Can I just confirm you want the booking sir.’
‘So that’s £440+£2 telephone booking fee ...’
‘Oh I didn’t know that wasn’t included.’
‘... a total of £442 for two nights ...’
A break away can be started well before you pack your bags. A holiday is made sweeter if you have booked a great-value deal or indeed had some extras added in to make it even more special.
So what’s wrong with the above? Nothing – if you don’t mind paying top whack! Below are five areas that led to that expensive deal being struck:
- 1.You gave specific dates and a huge emotional reason as to why you wanted those dates and the real desire to stay at that specific hotel. This will ring pound signs to most salespeople.
- 2.You told them you thought they were fully booked – this just restates to them that you would feel honoured if they could get you in.
- 3.When checking to see if they would bargain, your assumption was that they wouldn’t: ‘I don’t suppose you could do it for anything less, could you?’
- 4.You confirmed you wanted the room, and indeed agreed the price, before you checked or tried to include the added extras, i.e. breakfast and telephone charge.
- 5.What is the likelihood that a 48-bed hotel is fully booked for November (bar one room) five weeks prior to your dates? This is certainly low season in the UK.
THE BENEFITS OF NEGOTIATING
- Better hotels or guesthouses for your budget
- Upgraded rooms at no extra cost
- Dinner included for a B&B price
- Three breaks away for the cost of two
- Free wine with your meal
- A happy partner who loves being taken away!
WHAT’S IN IT FOR THEM
When looking at whether someone is willing to deal lower than an advertised hotel price, you first have to look at ‘what’s in it for them’. If there is a significant benefit to them, there is more likelihood that they will be willing to trade with you.
Although in their ideal world, hoteliers would gain the quoted rate for your break, what is key to them, especially if they are not over 80% booked, is your custom. Having too many vacant rooms is non-profitable, and the look of lack of occupancy may put off other guests. A fully booked hotel looks popular and makes people feel reassured with their choice.
The hoteliers realise that your pound is key to them, not only now, but also for potential repeat business and referrals. Generally speaking, they would rather have your business than turn it away or, worse still, see you go to a rival hotel.
Many hoteliers will be happy to negotiate, even if it’s in a small way, to gain your business. Be polite but confident, and make sure you know what you want before you pick up the phone and ask.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU
Knowing what you want to achieve before you book is central to a great-value break. What is important to you? Is it cheap accommodation, quality accommodation at a lower price, or a break that has meals all-inclusive?
List your key objectives and work from there.
Do read both sections here (on cheap and quality accommodation). I have listed some different tactics in each that may still prove useful whichever route you are deciding.
LOOK AT ALL RESOURCES
Research is the key to finding the right accommodation that suits your needs. Use all the resources available to you.
Internet: The internet is a marvellous tool for hunting for bargain accommodation. Use the search engines on the internet (Google, MSN, Ask and Yahoo, etc.) to find the accommodation that suits your needs. With these engines you can be specific about what you want. For example, if you type ‘Yorkshire Dales farmhouse self catering’, it will automatically list sites that include all or some of these words, helping you to define what you want.
Be aware of sponsored links and advertised sites that often appear at the top or the side, as these people have paid to be on this section and have to account for advertising costs when they offer you prices for accommodation. They may still offer great value, but it’s worth noting. I have often found great places on the second and third pages of search engines.
Newspapers and magazines. Scour the travel sections (hidden gems are often found in the classified area).
Specialist books. Local libraries and bookstores are full of B&B, hotel, cottage and guest house directories.
‘Phone a friend’. Friends are a good resource for the right accommodation, and you can be assured of an honest critique!
Tourist boards. They will be happy to send you information about local accommodation in their area and will tell you how central the locations are.
Use as many resources as time and inclination will allow. The benefits of this research will be borne out both in the holiday enjoyment and also, hopefully, the price.
Look for special deals, as this gives you further proof that these companies are keen to trade below the full rate dependent upon certain circumstances, e.g. time of year, day of week, etc.
Before you call the hotel, list the questions you want to ask and also have in mind what you want to achieve. For example, have you a specific price in mind? The hotel is advertising a room at £35 per night; you would really love to stay three nights for no more than £75. Think about what you would be happy to settle on – would £90 be acceptable?
When negotiating deals, it is important that you have at least three outcomes in mind. Firstly, your opening offer – one that you would be really pleased with achieving (still within the realms of possibility though!), i.e. in this case £75. Secondly, your good result – one that you are happy with, i.e. £85. Finally, your ‘walk-away’ rate – where any higher than this will be unacceptable to you: perhaps here, £95.
When you call them, ask for general availability around the date you want rather than saying you want to book a room for a specific date. This will show that you have a vague interest in booking but are not setting your heart on it! The keener you sound, the more they will feel you will book it at the rate offered.
Get their availability and say it’s only speculative at the moment, but you will come back to them if you are going to book. Ask them whether, if you felt that the price was a little too high, would it be worth calling if they needed to ‘shave’ a little off. This will give you a good indication if they are willing to trade.
This has several good negotiation effects:
- 1.Saying it’s only speculative implies that you are going to consider your options rather than definitely give them the booking.
- 2.Saying that you will come back to them if you are going to book is key to what you are not saying. A good salesperson will pick up what you have not said. You can’t rely upon this, but there is a good chance it will have the desired effect.
You: ‘I will come back to you if I am going to book.’
Seller thinks: Mmm ... so what he’s implying is that if he isn’t happy with the deal he will not call us back. I don’t want to lose this deal.
Implied statements can be effective.
When you have done your homework and got several options, look at the best prices and call back the top two or three (especially if they said they were willing to trade).
You can then say you are aware that the rate is usually £105 and you did promise to get back if you were still interested. You are still keen, but the rate is too high; however, you would be willing to look at £75 for three nights (don’t say ‘book’ unless you intend to, as this really is making what is known as a ‘conditional offer’ – see Glossary at the back of the book). They may agree, or offer you a counter proposal.
When you are sure of the hotel you wish to stay at, you can then make them a firm offer. Say that if they are willing to offer the room at £ x, you are then in a position to book straight away.
What does quality mean to you?
Is it the rooms or the facilities?
Is it the Michelin-star restaurant?
Is it the location?
Once you know this, you know what’s important to you in the negotiation and you evaluate with this in mind.
As with ‘cheap accommodation’, it is important to do your homework beforehand, but this time with your ‘quality’ look on things. Search the internet, ask the hotels to send you brochures so you can get a feel of the place, ask friends if they have stayed there before – what had they noticed? Ask the hotel also to send details of any specials they have on offer, e.g. Valentine’s weekend. Although you may not be booking that particular weekend, you will still get a feel of what additional items they offer so that you could try and get them to include these in the price. This could be flowers and Champagne in the room or a massage and a manicure.
Also ask the hotel to send details of any specials in terms of price – this will give you an idea of how low they will publicly go! For example, they may have a current offer of three nights for £200 when their normal rate is £100 per night. From this you know that they are willing to sell rooms at just over £65 per night under certain conditions.
Once you have done your preparation, call the hotel again about general availability over a few weeks and the prices. Be aware that a good salesperson may tell you there is ‘limited availability’ in order to get you to commit.
Once you have got all the information you need and you have prioritised your hotels in order of preference, ring your top three choices starting with your third. Let them know the date(s) you are thinking about and ask for the price. You will already know about their availability, and remember – a hotel does not like empty rooms!
Let them know you have researched other hotels in the area and you are considering booking theirs. At this point you should raise an objection and offer them a potential solution, e.g. price.
‘Compared with some of my choices, you are £20 per night more expensive. If I were to stay three nights instead of 2, would you give me a £60 discount?’
You may fully intend to stay three nights, but that doesn’t matter – you are offering them a deal.
By using this approach, you are not committing to the deal; you are only offering up an idea. At this point, they can say no, yes or offer an alternative.
If the answer is no, ask them if there is anything else that they can offer. If yes, say that it sounds good and you need to discuss things and will be back to them by a specific date, if you are booking (this may spark them to considering bettering the deal again if you book now – then the choice is yours!). If they offer something else, then you can consider it and get back to them later.
If successful with your third choice, you can then do the same with your second choice and perhaps chance your arm a little further, finally leaving yourself a great deal as an alternative (BATNA – see Glossary for more details) if your number one choice doesn’t wish to trade.
Now you have choices when you go to your ideal hotel. You are free to tell them what great deals you have been offered elsewhere. Say you would love to stay at their hotel but the price is too high – will they price match/beat? If they won’t price match, will they be able to offer something that suits your requirements? Will they come down on their price and ‘throw in’ some goodies? What can they do to get your custom?
When you are at the end of the negotiation (but not before), remember to tell them if it’s a special anniversary or event, as they may add in some extra touches, and often they are happy to ‘throw them in’ as a deal closer if asked. For example, if it’s your wedding anniversary and you tell them, you may find that
You: ‘Your rates are £20 per night more than my budget will allow. If I were to stay three nights instead of two, would you offer me a £60 discount?’
You: ‘I like your hotel and what it has to offer, but the Conrad will offer £120 a night. I realise your hotel is superior, but you’re £50 a night more expensive. If I stayed three nights instead of two, could you offer me £120?’
You: ‘You are my number one choice of hotel, but I cannot ignore the exceptional deals that your rival hotels have offered; however, I did say I would call back if interested, but I need some help with the price.’
Example conversations with hotels.
you get an upgraded room or a chilled bottle of Champagne left in your room to help you celebrate.
Rest assured, if you approach hoteliers in the right way, they will be only too happy to accommodate you (excuse the pun!). Remain positive, polite and seemingly flexible and they will welcome you with open arms!
OTHER WAYS OF GETTING THE PRICE DOWN
If you can possibly offer two or three alternative dates to them in return for a better price, this will also help, as it means they can check their room vacancies and match them with the dates you offer.
Prices will vary depending on the season; however, even in peak season deals can be made, especially at the last minute. Most people book summer holidays in advance, but if hotels and guest houses have availability at short notice, they are much more likely to negotiate. The beauty for you is that if it’s in the UK, at least this way you will have a good idea what the weather is going to be like!
Do remember that the best deals are made when both parties are happy, so ensure that you don’t push price too far, as a good holiday can also be helped by a co-operative guest house owner.
START LOW AND WORK YOUR WAY UP
In business negotiation, experts often discuss trading on something small at first, and then dangle the carrot of additional business to the seller to gain a better overall price.
Within accommodation, this can be used to great effect. Why not negotiate for a two-night stay, and when you are happy with the price see what you can get for a third night?
Maybe this is more important to you than price, in which case the tactics above can work exactly the same way. Maybe you want dinner included or Champagne in the room on arrival, instead of money off or a half-day excursion. Hotels offer many additional services (see figure below). The same principle applies: you just need to know what you want out of the deal before you try and get it.
Always tell people what you want: it puts you in the driving seat. But to make sure you are in pole position, start by asking for even more!
Examples of additional extras supplied by hotels.
I have focused more on individual breaks away rather than package deals as there is often more scope here. DIY holidays (where you book each part separately – now referred to as ‘dynamic packaging’) tend to be easier to negotiate and offer more flexibility.
However, package deals have potential for negotiation as well. Some travel agents will be more willing than others, but similar principles apply. Good preparation and an understanding of various companies’ offerings will help you whittle down the list, as similar holidays can often be had with different tour operators, and prices vary.
If you think that the average holiday abroad will cost around £750 – £1,000 per person, and profit margins tend to be around 10%, there is an amount there that is potentially negotiable. However, once individual shops’ operating costs and personal bonus schemes are taken into consideration, this room for manoeuvre comes down.
Prices also vary due to demand, which can be swayed by specific circumstances. For example, great weather conditions at home can mean that prices for package holidays abroad tumble, as people decide to stay in their own country.
It may be possible to negotiate additional extras. Meals on flights are not always included now, and insurance often has high mark-ups (though looking at annual insurance can be cost efficient, if you travel more than once in a year).
BLOCK BOOKING HOTELS
Sometimes, perhaps for a wedding or a party, you want to offer guests/friends a choice of three or four hotels/guesthouses to stay at. If you are recommending people stay in certain locations, then you can supply a ‘fact sheet’ of local information. With this, you are effectively offering the accommodation choices free advertising. In return for this, why not ask for a discount, or perhaps even a free room for you to use, either then or at a later date?
Let’s take a wedding as an example. Research the locations you would like potentially to use, and a couple of good alternatives just in case the main choices don’t want to negotiate. Do some research on each of your choices, listing their benefits, pricing, etc. (see earlier on in this chapter for more detail). Be aware that if you choose peak season and/or a weekend, then the room for negotiation is likely to be less than if it is either off-peak or mid-week.
Think of what it is you want in return for listing their hotel as one of your preferred accommodation points. For example, can they discount the rate? Have later check-out times? Offer you a free room if 15 or more people stay at the location (either for the wedding or as a treat to you and your partner a few months later)?
Have in your mind at least two outcomes: firstly, your ideal one – what it would be great to get; and secondly, your ‘walk-away’ outcome – going below that price would make you use an alternative.
Two outcomes of a block-booking deal.
With this detail, write up what you intend to put on your fact sheet about them if they agree to your terms.
An example of an advertisement on the fact sheet and the benefits to both parties.
Do this for all your intended accommodation points. I would suggest limiting the number that you put on the list, as this is the unique point for the location, and the less competition they have for your friends’ and family’s business, the more enticing it will be for them. So, if there are 20 hotels in the area, limit the number you list to around five, so that the hotels have a real incentive to be included. You may want to pick five that offer different pricing and facilities, ranging from the luxurious, with pool and gym and large en-suite bedrooms, down to a local bed and breakfast, more suitable for the smaller budget.
Then call (or meet face-to-face) your ideal locations and let the negotiations begin! Make sure you are speaking to a decision-maker when you are negotiating, as, if you speak to a junior member of staff, it’s likely they won’t have the authority to adjust the details of a deal. An example conversation for the above could go (assuming all the pleasantries of introductions have occurred):
‘We are currently preparing for our wedding on August 31, and are putting together a fact sheet that will go out to 120 guests, most of whom will need accommodation for either one or two nights. Although there are over 20 locations for us to choose from, we are only telling them of five. Our choice of locations will be made by the ones that will offer what we feel are reasonable packages and listen to our needs. The five will spread across a range of prices and quality. As one of four hotels in the area that we deem as ‘high-quality’, yours is very much one of them. If we were to advertise you in our fact sheet, would you be willing to offer us a special deal?’
This gives them the detail, setting out the number of guests who could be interested in their hotel, and that you have a range to choose from. Also, you are happy to consider them as the only 4-star hotel (flattering them in the process) advertised, if they are interested in doing a deal. You can chop and change the wording to suit the location but remember to make it sound interesting. Tempt them in such a way that they want to hear more.
Let’s assume they are interested. They could, at this stage, make you an offer. If so, consider it against your ideal outcome; it may even be better! If they ask you what you would like, then phrase it similarly to below:
‘Well, I have taken the trouble to write some wording for the advert; it contains what I believe will entice our friends to stay with you. If you are happy with the information within it, then all we would want in return for that is a guarantee, that when eight rooms are taken, you give us a free night’s stay with breakfast, and, if more than 15 rooms are taken, the offer is extended to two nights.’
This is likely to create interest with them as they will probably (unless fully booked) want to hear more on how you can deliver them occupancy of 15 or more rooms at little or no cost. The deal also has an incentive in it for you to ‘sell’ as many rooms on their behalf as you can, with the bonus of a two-day stay for you.
If the answer is yes, then read out the copy. If no, ask them what they would consider.
If they do not wish to consider a deal, politely thank them for their time, then go to one of your alternative quality hotels and go through a similar process, hopefully getting the deal that suits you and your guests.
Remember that if they say no to your proposal and offer an alternative, you can always say that you will consider their offer and let them know in the next few days. It may be worth asking whether, if you needed them to slightly better the deal, they would want you to call them back before making a decision. If they say yes, then it’s likely you can get a little bit extra from them. If no, you know you have pushed them to their limits.
The idea of designing an advertisement is merely an example and may not be for you. The most successful negotiators are ones who use their personality and style to persuade others. You may just wish to tell them what you want and go from there.