A local organizer seeking to book a medium-sized conference at a hotel is likely to find him or herself in the position of a first time car buyer confronting a showroom salesperson. The salesperson does this every day for a living. It is hardly a fair match.
If the conference is being sponsored by a large professional organization, they may be able to negotiate for you. If your budget allows, you can hire a professional event organizer to help with the local organization and negotiate for you, leveling the playing field. There may be an office within your university that will help, though they may be more interested in renting you expensive space within the university. 🙂
If you find yourself on your own, here are a few pointers from my limited experience:
- Plan as far ahead as possible, to give you and the hotel flexibility with dates.
- Remember it is a negotiation. Meet with several hotels, and don’t be afraid to play them off against each other.
- The hotel is likely most interested in filling their beds. They can give you discounted or free meeting space. They can also throw in other goodies, like free rooms for conference organizers or invited speakers. The more bodies you can provide, the more generous they are likely to be.
- Try to minimize cancellation penalties.
- Seek a good room rate for your attendees.
- If your conference sponsoring organization is not a legal entity, you may need the backing of your university, which may wish to share in “profits” in return for assuming risks. Another negotiation. 🙂
A few promising looking links providing more professional advice: