The art of understanding and negotiating venue contracts

There is a never-ending list of clauses, requirements and policies to consider when securing a venue for your upcoming conference or event.

Protect your interests by negotiating with the venue up front, failing to do so may result in additional charges and unfavourable conditions. Venues can be extremely particular and inflexible with their contracts, as a result it is important that you review the contract in detail.

Before you sign on the dotted line ask these questions, they could save you a lot of money and stress later down the track. If you’re unsure about how to approach a venue contract, engage an event management company to assist you with this step.

What’s included in the price?

It’s best to assume that nothing is included except the space itself. Be sure to confirm in writing what services and fixtures are included in the contract and the price of additional items. For instance, a data projector may be permanently installed in the space however it may not be included in the room hire.

It is also worth checking to see if there are fees for services such as cleaning, a loading dock attendant or security. These can often be overlooked…

It’s also worth asking exactly what is meant by “complimentary wifi access”. Quite often this is limited to a small number of users and can be very slow for your delegates. Be specific about your requirements to see if what they are offering will even be adequate.

Last but certainly not least, are there any administrative charges you need to be aware of? GST / VAT inclusive or exclusive? We find that a lot of venues and or suppliers exclude the GST / VAT component which can be an unexpected hit to your budget when you get the invoice.

What other events are occuring within the venue?

If you aren’t hiring the entire venue, you need to ask this question. Will these other events impact your event? For instance, will your delegates share a foyer, bathrooms or entrance? Is there a competitor event happening at the same time, or perhaps a similar industry event that will conflict with your branding or confuse attendees? If so, you may need to negotiate being moved to another space to ensure the delegate experience isn’t impacted.

What is the cancellation policy?

The likelihood of you cancelling the event may be slim to none, however plan for the unexpected. These terms can vary significantly from venue to venue, as a result it’s best to ask the question.

Cancellation fees are typically a sliding scale that increases the closer you are to your event date and dependent on the size of your event. If you are aware of the fees and timeline associated with it, it may help you make a decision to cut your losses sooner rather than later.

With regards to deposits and cancellation fees a venue can charge whatever was agreed upon in the contract…

What happens if we have lower or higher numbers than contracted?

A lot of venues have a minimum spend to hire a particular space. Should you not hit your anticipated attendee numbers as per the contract you will more than likely still be liable for the contracted amount. If this happens work with the venue to maximise your investment. You could upgrade the beverage package or include additional canapes to meet that minimum spend.

Once you have confirmed your final numbers, which tends to be 5 – 7 business days prior to the event, you may be in a position to increase this by 10% up until 48 hours before the event. If you are selling tickets up until the eleventh hour, you need to have this flexibility. We find that venues are a lot more accommodating when it comes to increases, however it’s best to be clear in the contract.

How much time do we have to set up before and pack up after the event?

How long is it going to take you and your suppliers to set up before your delegates arrive? This is a BIG clause. Some venues restrict access to one hour before the event whilst others can be three. If you have a complex audio visual set up or room theming you will probably need more.

This component of the contract is often negotiable. Depending on the size of your event and the time of year, you may be able to negotiate a full day free of charge or at a reduced fee. Just ask the question!

What if I want to bring in my own suppliers?

A lot of venues will not permit third party suppliers such as caters or AV companies, whilst others may charge a fee.

You will need to determine the pros and cons and if the venue’s preferred in-house suppliers don’t meet your requirements you may need to foot the bill to make it happen with your own. Taking this into consideration, you should probably ask yourself if the venue is the most suitable option?

How many staff members will be assigned to the event?

If you need drinks and canapes to be distributed to your guests within a small window, you may need to negotiate staffing levels. For instance a venue’s contract may include a drinks station with two attendants, if you were to switch to tray pass service you may be hit with a fee.

As a final tip – even if you’ve worked with the venue before always check the contract. Changes can be made, so never assume you know what is or is not included. Also have more than one team member review the contract as they can be arduous to get through and dense with detail.

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