You're Thinking About Hosting a Con...
How to Put on a Beauty and the Beast Convention
will want to start this process about two years before your con,
especially if you live in a city that hosts a lot of conventions. You
may wish to focus on smaller hotels so you won’t find yourself
competing for meeting rooms with larger groups and so yours will be
“the” convention in the hotel on your given weekend. Ideally,
that will mean greater attention to your needs from the hotel.
It’s possible your city has a tourist board that provides convention
runners assistance in weeding out hotels that might not be a good fit
or might not be able to host your convention. They might ask you for
your requirements and send out a Request for Proposals to many hotels
in your area, and provide you with the resulting information about
which hotels might be interested. This could help you a lot in
winnowing out what might otherwise have been unproductive contacts as
you begin your selection process.
When deciding on hotels, you may have to balance relative cost with
relative convenience. You may easily find a hotel in an area outside of
the city for really low room rates, but with no amenities close by,
making cab rides or rental cars a necessity for the fans (consider
especially the distance to/from the airport and whether the hotel may
have a free shuttle). A slightly more expensive venue may be near a
trolley stop and/or tourist attractions or near a mall with lots of
dining choices. Only you can determine the overall value of a hotel,
but keep in mind that price is only one component to factor into
Traditionally, our U.S. conventions are held in mid-July. This may mean
that in some parts of the U.S. you will not be hosting a con during
“high season,” while in others, you may. Many fans who regularly attend
our fan-run conventions expect each year’s con to be held in mid-July,
so out of consideration for that tradition and, most importantly, to
maximize your attendance, you may want to consider the traditional
timeframe to be more important than the relative cost to hold a
convention at another time of year.
Ideally you’ll lock in your hotel and sign a contract before you
calculate your con registration costs to ensure you charge enough for
registration (or close to enough) to cover your liability to the hotel.
Check web rates prior to your meetings. This will give you an example
of the lower rates the hotel might be willing to negotiate with you.
It’s strongly recommended that you use tripadvisor.com to assist you in
your hotel selection by getting information on what travelers’
experiences are at particular hotels you might be considering. This
could help you select or eliminate properties based on reviews;
obviously, you would hope to find more positive reviews than negative
ones for properties you are considering.
Also, some hotel chains (e.g., Marriott, Hilton) have tools that will
search an entire area for hotels in their brand with meeting room needs
that you specify, which can be a timesaver in weeding out hotels that
won’t work. But even if you can’t find such tools, often hotel websites
will have space charts and floor plans for meeting spaces; look for
words like Plan an Event, or Meetings, or Weddings, or the like.
As you do your on-site visits to potential con hotels, keep a notebook
with a list of questions with you and write down the answers given.
Once you’ve seen a couple of hotels, you probably won’t be able to keep
the various answers from each straight if you just rely on memory, and
your notes will be lifesavers. Take photos if they’ll let you. This is
also helpful in comparing hotels.
Also, if you arrive with questions already printed up and in a separate
folder for each hotel, the staff will likely be very impressed and
assume they are dealing with someone who really knows what she’s doing!
[They never need to know if you’re still learning the ropes!]
Here is a list of square footage of meeting spaces used by recent
conventions, according to the hotels’ respective websites:
Ideally you don’t want to have to pay for the meeting space. Hotels
generally offset the cost of the meeting room by requiring minimum room
blocks or by requiring a certain dollar amount for catering per day or
per length of convention.
These are some questions to ask/consider when visiting hotels:
- Is the meeting space available on the weekend you
to hold the
- Size [consider both adequacy of banquet seating and
space for stage
area, displays of art, Beast Bingo prizes, auction items, sales, etc.]
- Obstructions [doors, pillars, windows, etc.]
- Note all electrical outlets for future reference
- Riser sizes available, if you plan to use a stage [6
ft. deep &
8 or 9 ft. long is fine]
- Restrictions: anything definitely not
taping/nailing items to walls]
- Can you place the stage anywhere? Are plugs
available where you want
the stage/if you need plugs to operate tech directed towards the
- Does the laptop have to be in a certain place in the
room for all the
- How much time does the hotel staff need to set up for
a banquet if
tables are already in the meeting room?
- Will they ensure the hotel doesn’t move your
gathering from your
preferred meeting space to another meeting space?
- Number of banquet tables/size [seating per table –
minimum of 8 needed
at 60" rounds]
- Amount of space between tables [3'-4' is good]
- What is the availability of other tables to be placed
along the room’s
side walls (allowing extra space for chairs to be placed behind them)?
Do these tables cost extra? (No electrical outlets are usually needed
behind these tables, just table/linens covering the tables/a few
NOTE: You would want a minimum of 8-10 rectangular
tables in addition to banquet tables in the room, not counting food
service tables or water station.
- Where would tables for food service [if planning for
a buffet meal] and
daily water station go?
- Will they provide at least two large trash
receptacles and will they be
emptied more than once a day?
- Air conditioning for the meeting room - who controls
this? If hotel
staff, will they respond to requests to lower or raise the temperature?
- Are there dimmers on the overhead/wall
- Can you do a brief candle-lighting (is that OK with
- Can you get into the meeting room at least the night
(if not the
afternoon) before the convention begins to set up?
- Is there a smaller room to store boxes in prior to
moving into the
convention space, and/or to use in addition to the convention space?
- How late can we stay in the convention room in the
- How much time can you have after closing
ceremonies on Sunday
clear everything brought to the convention out of the convention space?
- How secure is the meeting room/storage room
and can you get a
- If a key can’t be provided, how quickly will staff
come to unlock the
door at your request?
- Can they ensure the hotel staff will NOT let anyone
else but you or
your designated alternate request that the doors be unlocked/locked?
- If possible, take photos inside the meeting room
where the stage might
be placed so you can see what happens when you do – is the light over
the stage adequate to take good photos from the audience? Are there
windows which glare into the cameras of attendees/obscure the face of
someone on the stage? If so, are blackout drapes available?
- What are the charges for audio-visual equipment in
the meeting room?
[Hotels usually can provide a price list for microphones, speakers,
WiFi, screen, projector, etc.]
- With respect to audio-visual, is there anything at
all that would be an
extra charge during your convention time other than what’s on the price
list? [At one con we didn’t know there was a WiFi dampener in
the meeting room until we set up on Friday morning, and then in-room
WiFi had to be arranged for/paid for at the last minute. At another
con, the same was true for hooking up the con’s laptop into the
Are there ample hotel rooms available for the
convention time period?
- Check the number and the speed of the hotel’s
- What’s the single/double occupancy rate for a
convention group of the
size you expect? Is that a better rate than fans can get booking on
- Is there an extra cost for a 3rd or 4th person in a
- Ask to see typical rooms that our rate would cover
storage, seating, etc.)
- Are renovations scheduled at the hotel during your
- Will they ensure (and include it in the contract)
that the Internet
room rate won’t be better for the same period (you don’t want to lose
people from the convention room block because the hotel offers a
cheaper rate at some point – your rate should be better OR your
contract should state that the hotel will agree to reduce your block’s
room rate should the hotel lower its rates for the traveling public.)
Some hotels separate catering requirements from room block
numbers, some don’t. A room block is the total number of rooms you want
the hotel to set aside for EACH night of your gathering – pre- and
post-convention as well as during the convention. [As an example, if
you and three other fans stay together in one hotel room for seven
nights, that’s ONE room in your block for each night.] In
general, the nights of the convention itself generate more
nights than pre- and post-con nights.
- For hotels that attach room night numbers to meeting
space cost: If the
number of room nights booked correlates to a reduction in the
cost of the meeting space, what number is required to get the meeting
room "free"? And is that a per-night room block requirement, or a total
of room nights booked for the length of the convention period?
- Are there complimentary room nights provided at a
certain room block
level? [If so, you could use that complimentary room as an
after-hours party room, or you could try to apply it to get
an upgraded room for the con room rate (e.g., a suite)]
- How far in advance must you lock in final numbers on
room nights? [This
may factor in to your deadline for registration.]
- How long does the special room rate run [request it
for pre-con and
post-con nights when you’ve planned activities around your convention
- Can all the rooms in your block be located in the
same part of the
- Can you work with the hotel to assign specific rooms
to specific people
- Are there any connecting rooms available for fans who
wish them? If so,
- Are refrigerators provided or do they cost extra? If
the latter, how
early must fans book them? The same with microwaves.
- Is there free WiFi in the hotel rooms?
- Is there a non-refundable deposit you must make once
you sign a
contract? If so, how much, and when is it due?
- Can there be a payment schedule?
- What is their cancellation fee schedule?
- Can you decrease or increase the number of rooms in
the contracted room
block? If so, by how much? And will additional rooms in the block get
the same room rate? [The hotel should warn you if additional rooms will
only be available at a higher rate. Ask them to let you know.]
recent years (since 2001, actually), conventions have provided more
meals to fans than just the Saturday banquet meal. It’s become an
expected part of a B&B convention. While you don’t have to
every meal during the con, you may find you are expected by the hotel
to spend thousands of dollars on catering to get your meeting room for
free or at a reduced rate, so you will likely provide some meals.
to spend more on catering may get you more freebies from the hotel, so
catering costs become part of your negotiation strategy. Keep in mind
you want to spend your money where the fans “see” it – it may be penny
wise and pound foolish to spend money on meeting room rentals instead
of catering, because the fans will expect the meeting rooms as a matter
of course, but will really appreciate not having to shell out extra for
a meal (and not having to leave the hotel and find a restaurant, etc.).
Buffets are cheaper than sit-down (“plated”) meals. The hotel
may have day-long-meeting packages that include light breakfasts and
lunch or a snack, and which are cheaper than separately priced meals
The hotel will have sample meal options, printed
out on glossy paper, but keep in mind these are not take-it-or-leave-it
options. Very likely they will work with you to customize what’s
offered to fit your needs. Ask. Negotiate. Do trade-offs with food
(e.g., drop soup from a meal to save a dollar or two per person, or
negotiate for a cheaper dessert option, or fewer salads on a lunch
It is sometimes the case that a hotel will charge you
the cost of the priciest meal option for each plated meal, so if you
offer, say, a steak option, a fish option, and a pasta option, with the
steak option costing $5 more than the others, they might plan to charge
you the “steak option” price for all your banquet meals, no matter how
many other-than-steak options are selected by your attendees. Ask about
this before you offer a pricey option!
you will be charged tax and service charges on top of your catering
costs. This can easily add one-third to your catering bill (and is
usually NOT counted in the catering amount negotiated in the contract).
the fans in the hotel for meals has another advantage – higher
attendance during the convention, as fans won’t be as likely/have
reason to wander away when they know a meal is going to be offered.
This translates into more people participating in events, more folks
playing Beast Bingo, etc. Ultimately, it could translate into more
money for the con charity. Think of ways to keep people “in their
seats,” and feeding them is one big one!
- The hotel should be able to provide you with a
catering menu. Ask for
it if they don’t offer it to you.
- What amount are you expected to spend on catering
- How much extra should you expect to add for service
[Often service charges/taxes add another 30% or so to the stated costs
on the catering menus]
- Are there per-day food/beverage minimums in effect?
Or can your
catering requirement be spread across the days of the convention as
long as you ultimately spend your overall requirement? [For
example, a sit-down banquet may exceed the per-day requirement, while
providing a buffet lunch on another day may not quite come up to the
per-day requirement - ask if you can negotiate on that.] IMPORTANT
NOTE: Hotels do not count the amount they charge for service
charges/tax as fulfilling part of your catering requirement.
- Ask if you can lock in prices for catering or at
least contract to pay
no more than X price increase.
- Ask if a free breakfast is included in the hotel room
- If you order a buffet, ask how long the buffet will
be left out.
Generally one hour is sufficient.
- Re: banquet tables – what are the color options for
table linens? How
often are the tablecloths changed? Are there set-up or changing fees?
- Can you have a permanent water station, refreshed
the convention days?
- How often will dirty-dish clean-up be done in the
- How much flexibility is there on menus
packages and menus are samples – you should not feel shy about asking
to exclude or include items, and the hotel should be able to provide
you with alternate prices.]
- How flexible is the catering department for food
gluten-free, food allergies)?
- How would they prefer knowing who orders what for a
banquet? [Often a
hotel will ask that you provide attendees with a little slip of paper
with ‘Chicken” or “Fish” or “Vegan” on it at each place, so make a note
so you can include that with registration packets.]
- Check out the lobby – is
it inviting? Is there a lot
- How far are the hotel rooms from the meeting space?
Do fans have to
walk from one building to another to get from hotel rooms to the
- Are there major events in the city the weekend you
want to have your
convention which might impact room availability, room cost, etc.?
- Does the hotel offer a free airport shuttle? If not,
can they provide
discount coupons for shuttles or other options? If not, what is the
average cost of a taxi or shuttle to the hotel from the airport?
- How close is the hotel to a trolley or other
- Does their hotel shuttle offer amenities besides
[e.g., transport to close-by tourist attractions/stores]?
- Can you get more than one meeting room, i.e., a
smaller room for
storage/staging or for display or breakout meetings?
- What is the shipping/receiving policy at the hotel?
Are there special
requirements (e.g., no packages accepted until one day prior to the
convention) or size restrictions?
- Will the hotel allow you to bring audio-visual
equipment in yourself?
If so, is there an access fee involved?
- Does the hotel offer audio-visual services or
equipment for rental
(mics, DVD players, screen, etc.)? Can you negotiate the free use of
any of those things (for instance, through a larger catering
- Does the hotel have display equipment for rent, and
if so, a price list?
- Is hotel parking free or available to guests at a
reduced rate? Are
there in/out privileges for guests?
- Is there a business center available? With a printer?
- Can you move goods to/from the meeting room on your
own (using hotel
carts), or is there a requirement to use hotel staff to move items?
- Can you have a sign outside the door of the room or a
board on a stand
put up for notices during the convention period?
- Is there an ATM in the hotel?
- Is there a hotel restaurant that is open for
breakfast, lunch, and/or
Other - Check
What other dining options are nearby? You may want to provide fans with
a list of these once you select a hotel, so they are aware of options
prior to coming to the convention.
Is there a convenience store nearby? [Many fans prefer to stock up on
water or sodas as soon as they arrive.]
Is the neighborhood surrounding the hotel safe? Is it a quiet
neighborhood? If noisy, are the hotel rooms adequately soundproof?
|IMPORTANT NOTE: All this advice pre-supposes that
you, or at
least one core member of your con team, are located in the city in
which you wish to hold a convention. It is immeasurably difficult to
coordinate a convention in a hotel you cannot personally visit, not to
mention the difficulties with logistics in trying to bring in dozens of
boxes of con materials to the hotel at a time when the hotel will
accept them (hotels generally do not provide storage facilities). Talk
to any past con chair about shipping costs, the number of boxes they
transported to the convention hotel the day before their convention,
etc., to get a feel for how much pre-staging is involved for a
Once you’ve selected the hotel that best meets your needs, don’t lay
all your cards on the table at once. If you know the hotel requires $X
in catering for the meeting space to be free to you, and you know you
plan to spend $X + $Y on catering, agree to spend $X at first, then use
that extra as leverage to negotiate free stuff. For example, could you
get additional meeting space (or a lower rate on the convention space)
if you up the catering by $Y? Will the hotel let you have the stage
and/or screen free if you up the catering amount you will spend, or if
you increase your room block?
You definitely want to negotiate a lower room rate for your room block
than is available online.
If your contract stipulates you must meet your room block or pay for
rooms yourself, ensure that fans indicate they’ve booked a room when
they register for the con – your hotel contact should be able to
confirm this for you. You want them IN the room block to cover your
It might be helpful to ask recent con chairs how many room nights were
booked in their block for their conventions, to help you determine how
many rooms should be in your block on each night of your booking.
ANYthing you negotiate that’s not a standard clause in a contract
should be in WRITING in the contract. Oral promises mean nothing. Most
likely the person you begin your hotel process with will have left the
hotel’s employ by the time the convention rolls around. Some con chairs
have had 2 or 3 contact changes between contract negotiations and
convention time! New hotel contacts have only what’s written IN the
contract in their files to go by.
|IMPORTANT NOTE: There is no substitute for being
there! You will not
only get a better feel for how accommodating and cooperative the hotel
staff will be, for the vibe of the hotel, and myriad other observations
that cannot be made on a long-distance basis, you need to be close by
in order to keep in contact on a routine basis with the hotel contact
person (especially if that person changes). Nothing beats in-person
relationships for negotiations and discussions with the catering staff
on meal options.
|Review, review, review! Go line by line, and don’t be afraid to ask if
you don’t understand something.
The hotel will have a standard contract form they will hand you as if
all you need to do is sign it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for
amendments. Don’t be intimidated just because it’s in print! Take it
home and look it over.
Check the dates for your convention on the draft contract (you would be
surprised how many times that information is slightly off in the first
iteration of a contract). Check your contact information, the name of
your convention, the hours the meeting room will be available –
anything they add to personalize the standard contract.
One fairly standard item that you can request a change about is when
payments are due to the hotel. Occasionally a contract calls for
payment up front, and it’s possible to negotiate smaller payments over
a longer period of time. Of course, the hotel would love to get all
their money early, but usually they easily agree to stagger payments.
If you’ve negotiated something, make sure the contract reflects it or
is amended appropriately. Sometimes you go back and forth on
the contract several times before it’s finalized to your liking. Don’t
be afraid to ask for changes. You are liable for whatever you sign, so
make sure it’s correct!
It would help you to look over contracts signed by previous con
organizers, or (even better) to run your draft contract by prior con
organizers, for hints.
If you look at prior contracts, one thing you will note is that nothing
seems to be standard! Some hotels will require a certain level of room
nights to get the meeting space for free, others will focus on
catering. Some will require your catering requirement to be spread out
over several days, others won’t care if you spend it all at one meal.
You might get some ideas about what to negotiate for by reading others’
contracts and/or talking with previous con chairs.
You likely will be on the hook for several thousands of dollars with
the hotel from the beginning, and will sign a contract promising to
spend a certain amount for catering. All this will be done prior to you
advertising your convention and actually getting registration money.
You may decide to invest in an insurance policy covering situations
beyond your control.
If a hotel will not amend a contract to include something they have
promised you orally, that could be a problem, depending upon what that
thing is. Sometimes it’s a corporate thing, and your hotel contact
doesn’t have discretion to amend that item. However, always remember
that almost no con chair has gone from initial negotiation to actual
con dates with the same contact person at the hotel. One person leaves
and the next person has no idea what you’re talking about if you tell
them the previous contact person promised you X or Y – so have it put
in the contract if it’s something important you negotiated and if
it's at all possible to do so. If there’s a clause you don’t like
(for example, a requirement that you must hire an outside security
company at the hotel’s discretion) and they tell you not to worry, that
won’t activate that clause, but you feel the least bit concerned, you
may decide that hotel is not for you. Listen to your gut, because you
are signing a legal contract.
Ensure your hotel contact will provide you with a list names of those
who have rooms reserved in your block, and will update the list for you
routinely (say, once a month or so) so that you know how close you are
to filling your block, and when you should begin asking to extend it.
Ideally, you would extend the block BEFORE fans advise you the hotel
has told them the block is full.