Hotel blocks .. a guide to setting them up, understanding the lingo and informing your guests!
You're planning a wedding that involves guests traveling so of course they need somewhere to stay. You do a quick Google search to see what hotels are in the area and think "Great! I'll just call and they will be able to put rooms aside for my guests!" Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, it's never that simple…
I'm here today to share everything you need to know when looking at hotels and how to understand hotel verbiage (I mean, WTF is attrition right?)
For those of you who don't know - before starting my own wedding planning business, I spent years working in hotels. My career in hospitality began as a Guest Services Agent at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, then I became a Catering Sales Manager at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel & Spa in New Castle, NH and eventually a Director of Catering Sales. I have spent about 5 years working in the hotel industry and really enjoy helping my brides through this stage of the process. So, let's jump right in with everything you need to know about setting up hotel blocks!
1) Where do I even begin?!
Well, Google or your venue are a great place to start to see what is in the area. Proximity to the venue, amenities and nearby rehearsal dinner locations are extremely important. In my opinion, 25 minutes is about as far away from the venue as your hotel should be. Anything more and scheduling multiple shuttle departure times becomes difficult as the shuttles just don't have enough time to get there and back. It's also a courtesy to your guests who may prefer to drive themselves to ensure their lodging is somewhat nearby. Plus, god forbid one of your bridesmaid’s forgets something in her room (trust me, I once had an entire bridal party forget to bring their ID’s and shoes!), having the hotel nearby ensures someone will get these things to you in a timely manner!
2) Start Calling!
Once you have an idea of options in the area, it's time to pick up the phone! You will want to ask to speak to someone in the sales department. At larger hotels, there is often a designated salesperson (or two) that handles social blocks (i.e. weddings!). This person will be your contact throughout the entire process - so make sure you get a good first impression! Things to know before calling -
- What days are you looking for a block?
- Approximately how many guest rooms will you need?
- What type of guest room are you looking for? Will you want a suite to get ready in? Will your parents want a suite to stay in? Make sure you discuss the number of single rooms (one larger bed) or doubles (2 beds per room) on the first call too!
- Are you considering hosting your rehearsal dinner, after-party or post-wedding brunch on the property? Bring this up on the first call as bundling Food & Beverage functions can sometimes give you some negotiating power on room rates!
3) Understand hotel lingo!
Here are some of the most common things you are going to hear when calling to set up your hotel blocks:
- "There is a 2 or 3 night minimum" - during peak season in high tourism areas, this is extremely common. What this means is that all guest rooms need to be reserved for a minimum of 2 or 3 nights. If your wedding falls on a Saturday, guests can't just reserve a room for Saturday night. They would need to stay either Friday/Saturday or Saturday/Sunday. It's frustrating but common and there's usually not any way around it. It's the hotel's way of protecting their "inventory" and ensuring those shoulder nights (i.e. Friday & Sunday) sell out. In most cases, this mainly applies to Saturday night weddings. If you have a Friday wedding, a great perk when it comes to hotels is they will often permit 1 night stays (and at a lower rate!)
- "Your block is subject to 85% attrition" - 80% or 85% attrition is most common but I have seen some hotels do as low as 50% attrition. Attrition means you are legally responsible for filling a minimum percentage of rooms that you block. For example, let's say I booked 20 rooms with 80% attrition. This means that I am responsible for filling at least 16 of those 20 rooms (or 80%). If you come up short on meeting this obligation, the rate for each room you are short would be applied back to your master account (you are essentially paying for nothing if you can't meet your attrition!) It is always better to be somewhat conservative when setting up blocks with attrition as you can usually add later on, but you can't take away once the contract is signed!
- "There is a 30-day cut-off" - A cut-off date means any rooms left in your block at this date will be released and guests can no longer reserve in the block or at the block rate. A 30-day cut-off is very common though I have seen as close as 7 days and as far out as 90 days. Make sure to remind guests to reserve early and put a deadline on your wedding website (I suggest a few days before the block actually expires) to motivate guests to start reserving! You can always ask your sales manager for a pick-up report at any time to show who has made reservations in your block (then you can reach out to those that haven't and remind them of the deadline!)
- Courtesy Blocks - these are THE best. When you get a hotel offering a courtesy block, even if you are only somewhat considering it, take it! Courtesy blocks mean they will hold rooms aside for your guests until your cut-off date arrives with NO obligation to fill. Even if you don't fill a single room in the block, they will just release them back to general inventory at your cut-off date with no repercussions. Great, right?! It gives you a back-up option if you set up a block at another hotel and they sell out before all guests make reservations.
- Food and Beverage Minimums - If you are planning to host any sort of additional function where food & beverage will be served, be prepared to see a Food & Beverage minimum listed. This is not something to brush over as it is non-negotiable once you sign your contract. This number is typically assigned either by your estimated guest count times the average menu price OR by the function space (some hotels have a minimum per room and it's the standard for every function regardless of guest count or menu). This is another area that I would recommend being conservative. if you think 50 guests will attend your breakfast, then guarantee for 40. This gives you some wiggle room in the event you have people not able to attend. You can always exceed the minimum, but you can't come up short.
4) Read the contract!
This seems like a no brainer but I can’t tell you how many times I would get contracts back from clients at my hotels and they would act shocked when their cut-off date came or they realized they weren’t going to meet their Food and Beverage minimum. I would always hear “I didn’t even know we had to do that.” I can’t stress enough – make sure you know what you are signing. If something is confusing, ask the sales manager! Most people in the hotel industry understand that brides and grooms don’t regularly set up hotel blocks and may not understand what the contract means. If nothing else, make sure you at least know the following:
- Your block cut-off date
- Guaranteed check-in & check-out times – typically this is 3pm or 4pm in the afternoon and then either 11am or noon for check-out. Don’t expect for your guests to show up at 1pm and expect to get into their rooms. Hotels in busy areas are often hosting multiple wedding blocks and everyone wants to get in early to get ready for the wedding. It is not guaranteed unless the guest wants to pay extra for early check-in
- Number of rooms and room types in the block
- Your block attrition (if any)
- Any Food and Beverage minimums and dates of when counts and menu selections are due
- Policies regarding cancellations
- Policies on gift bags (only if you intend to create welcome bags for your hotel guests). Many hotels charge a delivery fee for gift bags so you should thoroughly review your contract and ensure you know the fee.
** Helpful hint – this is often an area that you can negotiate so it never hurts to ask for a discounted or waived fee!
5) Inform your guests of how to make their reservations
Once the contract is signed and the sales manager notifies you that your block is live, make sure you inform your guests on which hotels you have rooms blocked at and how they can make reservations. Some hotels will create an online link where guests can reserve online directly in your block while others require guests to call the hotel and reference the block name to make a reservation. I suggest adding hotel block information to your wedding website as well as including an Accommodations card in your invitation suite. Guests should also know the deadline as to the last day they can make their reservations at the group rate. It is your responsibility (or mine as your planner if we are working together!) to ask your sales manager for pick-up reports so you can monitor how many rooms you have reserved so far and see which guests still need to make a reservation.
Well that was a ton of information! I hope you found all of this information to be helpful when it comes to setting up hotel blocks for your wedding day!
Until next time, happy planning!