How to Get the Advantage with Cruise Sourcing Services

Is it time to reconsider a cruise? Where do you start? While you can spend a weekend in any destination and visit half a dozen properties – it takes serious effort to visit even one ship in port. And since ships are mobile, you have to be able to catch one in a location that changes daily. Add to that the fact that ships have tight security and you need special clearance if you are “just visiting.”

So where does a cruise sourcing partner come in? Cruise Sourcing Specialists are unbiased industry experts who have seen and sailed on all of the ships in the market. They will tell you the difference between river, luxury, sailing, boutique, premium, mass market and mega liner categories. Additionally, they can enlighten you on the features and benefits of the various brands. Once they have your group specs, your Cruise Sourcing Specialist will walk you through the products that will best suit your program and its demographics. They help you decide whether to book a block of cabins or charter an entire ship. They are savvy on negotiating rates, and contracting protection terms and amenities that are in YOUR best interest. You thought working with a hotel was challenging at times – it’s nothing compared to working with a cruiseline – you need a Cruise Sourcing Specialist on your side to get the cruiseline’s attention

A Cruise Sourcing Specialist can also help you manage the operations of your program or provide consultation on how you can do it yourself. Meeting planners who work directly with a cruise line can find the process challenging, therefore having a reputable cruise sourcing company to guide you as you build your onboard and shore side events will ensure that what is contracted is properly executed. They act as the planner’s personal representative and deal with the cruiseline on your behalf, saving time and avoiding aggravation.

Choosing a cruise for your next incentive program should not be scary. Just arm yourself with an expert Cruise Sourcing Specialist like CEM who can help you make the right choice. CEM’s Cruise President sails over 21 weeks a year ensuring our recommendations are perfect for your group. We are proud to say that our Cruise President is a winner of the coveted Norwegian Cruise Line Incentive Partner of the year award, and two-time winner of Celebrity Cruise Lines Partner of the year – given to only one company annually. With CEM, you know you are in good hands and your needs will be met, while your expectations are exceeded.

5 Ways to Manage Hotel Attrition to Reduce Your Costs

1) Know your event’s history – If you can identify historical patterns of what your event has picked up in rooms versus what you contracted initially, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect in future years and can adjust your expected room nights accordingly.

2) Negotiate higher levels of allowable attrition up front – it’s much easier to get a hotel to work with you on allowable attrition on the front end when they are trying to gain your business than when you find your event isn’t picking up enough rooms.sheila

3) Ask for cumulative or staggered attrition – rather than on a per night basis, cumulative looks at the total number of room nights. You can also request staggered attrition that allows for attrition to be exercised earlier and offers more flexibility over a longer time period, (resell opportunities exist, as well as lessened penalties).

4) Resale clause – the concept of attrition is meant to protect the hotel in case a large portion of an event’s guests do not fill the block. On the other hand, meeting planners have to make sure they have enough rooms for attendees – a balancing act. A resale clause prevents the sponsoring organization from having to pay the hotel unnecessary recovery fees if they are able to resell rooms that will not be needed by the group between the time of providing final room counts and the group dates.

5) Registration tools – a good registration website or tool that collects all pertinent guest information well in advance, which can help you estimate how many rooms will be needed. We use this to exercise your allowable attrition well before penalty deadlines are enforced, saving you money and frustration.

Most importantly, to avoid paying attrition penalties, you should choose to work with a reputable partner, like Conference Event Management. Our strong relationships in the industry, and many years of contracting experience, have enabled us to help some of our clients out of severe attrition penalties when unforeseen circumstances arise. Take advantage of our complimentary sourcing services and benefit from our contracting and negotiation expertise to ensure you are minimizing your financial risk with hotel contracts. CEM gets you better concessions and more protective clauses all at no cost to you.

Conference Event Management (CEM) is a woman-owned business enterprise and leading provider of unique, world-class event, conference, incentive travel and meeting experiences and reward strategies, hotel and cruise site selection and contracting, individual Travel MyWay® bookings, and national speaker’s bureau bookings.

Sheila Nord, Strategic Sourcing Director, has over 20 years of experience in the events and travel industry. She specializes in event destination selection and budget analysis to ensure client events not only meet their financial objectives, but also provide the ultimate guest experience. Sheila helps clients reduce financial risk within legal contracts. She can be reached at  

Top 10 reasons why site inspections are essential for your event’s success – Part 2 of 2

Last week you learned how site inspections enable us to craft the best destination and hotel recommendations for our clients. This week we delve into the details of what to look for while site inspecting and how a site inspection pays for itself.

checklistSigning a hotel contract without conducting a site inspection is like buying a mattress without testing it out first. You might love it, or you might hate it and end tossing and turning in discomfort every night. A site inspection serves as an insurance policy to ensure the property meets your needs before contracting and helps relieve the stress of wondering if you’ve selected the right property for your group – and helps you sleep at night! Hotels are not always forthcoming on their websites and in marketing photos. With a site visit – you get to see and experience everything first hand.

  1. Experience service levels for yourself – Was the room clean upon your arrival? Did you get turn down service (and on time)? When you test the staff with a request, are they friendly and available?
  2. Check out all of the room types your group would be using – Does the “Presidential” suite actually meet your executive’s standards or have space enough for your guests at the hospitality reception?
  3. Taste the food and drink quality – What kind of menus can they provide for group catering? Does the property offer enough variety in its restaurants? Are the drinks watered down?
  4. Visit all meeting and function spaces – Will the room actually hold 300 people seated for dinner or is it better suited for 300 standing shoulder to shoulder? Are there awkward obstructions like large pillars that would block view of the stage? Ensure your meeting spaces fit the bill without any compromise.
  5. Discover if the property is up to date – If there are any repairs to be made, you can determine the magnitude of necessary renovations and the likelihood they’ll be complete before attendees arrive. Are there plans to renovate?
  6. No photo fake outs – Do the hotel website’s photos accurately depict the property or is the “glistening pool” more reminiscent of a crowed hot tub? Are guest rooms worn down (always ask to see the worst view).
  7. Test out transportation options – Is the drive from the airport to the property too long for your attendees to endure after flying to the destination (most hotels quote shorter drive times than one experiences during the site)? Are the vehicles air conditioned and do they have working seat belts?
  8. Visit local attractions – What activities are located nearby to entertain your guests? Can you take attendees off-site for dinner to experience the local culture? Are there shopping outlets or other attractions your attendees can visit during free time and are they easily accessible?
  9. Amenities to support your group – Test out the Wi-Fi – are their dead spots that are concerning? Where can you buy local gifts to avoid excessive fees? Determine quality of gifts by actually seeing the items. Many indigenous products are portrayed differently online than they appear in person.
  10. It’s an insurance policy – site inspections pay for themselves. When you visit a hotel/resort or cruise and determine that the property suits your group’s needs, you’ll save yourself time and money before booking a property that doesn’t contain everything essential on your checklist.

CEM arranges your site inspection to visit ideal properties in the area. After narrowing down your desired destination, we will help ensure your desired property suits your group’s unique needs and provide you with all of the questions you should ask, or we can accompany you on your site inspection to meet with the hotels. We then recommend a local DMC that can assist your attendees with local activities and points of interest, and they’ll steer you towards the most reputable providers. Often times, we are able to secure many concessions during the duration of your site visit.

The greatest benefit is when a site results in dissatisfaction with a hotel, before the contract is signed. About 10% of the time, a site inspection allows you to reassess your options and pick a more appropriate hotel for your group – averting a potentially disastrous situation during your event. Changing your mind is not an end – it’s a blessing. Your guests will have a better experience when you’ve ensured their comfort and you’ll rest easy knowing you’ve done your due diligence.

How Our 25 Recent International Site Inspections Protect You – Part 1 of 2

We are committed to staying up to date on the newest property openings and revisiting our long-time destination partners to ensure our recommendations to clients are spot on for their group needs. In the first quarter alone, CEM staff have visited over 25 hotels and resorts throughout Mexico and the Caribbean, including several all-inclusive properties in Puerto Rico, Playa Del Carmen, Cancun, Riviera Maya, Punta Mita, and Puerto Vallarta, as well as five cruise ships.

Site inspections are an essential part of the group booking process. Case in point, our top pick in one country quickly fell down on our list after seeing it live this month as it failed to meet our expectations. The true benefit of doing a site inspection is to avoid putting your group at a hotel that won’t meet your needs.

Are you interested in taking your group to an all-inclusive property or on a cruise? Then you’ll definitely want to give us a call to learn what we discovered on our site inspections and hear our recommendations for the perfect destination and experience specific to your group’s needs.

Benefits of an All-Inclusive Property:

  1. Unparalleled Value: spend on average 20 – 35% less for a typical event
  2. Avoid unexpected overages with a set budget
  3. Quality food and drinks
  4. Activity and entertainment inclusions
  5. Attendees appreciate not having to take out their wallets during leisure time
  6. Increased opportunities to strengthen relationships with attendees when they stay on property
  7. Heightened security levels
  8. Minimal decisions to make once on site – show up and engage with your attendees
  9. Great service
  10. Overall satisfaction of you attendees and ability to meet your business objectives

CEM is pleased to offer complimentary hotel and cruise site selection services including destination recommendation, negotiation, and contracting. We can also provide site inspection consultation services to help you ensure that the property you’ve selected is the perfect fit for your group. Give us a call today to learn about the most recent hotels we’ve visited to determine if an all-inclusive property or a cruise is the right option for your next event. Stay tuned for our blog next week which will contain the top 10 reasons why a site inspection pays for itself and what to look for when you begin planning your next group event.

The Benefits of Personalized Sourcing Services vs. Automated Site Finding Systems

Sheila Nord, Director of Strategic Sourcing

We recently had a client ask us about Speed RFP. He had tried to find a hotel in Las Vegas to host his event next year. He input his requirements, and as promised, he received responses from hotels within four hours. The only problem was that all four properties denied the business citing lack of space for his 100 attendee function. We can help you locate the best property fit for your organization’s events without the confusion and frustration of automated systems.

Do you really believe that all four properties that received your RFP through a site finding system are unavailable over your preferred dates?
The hotels are receiving hundreds of these generic form RFPs every day. They realize that the likelihood of you selecting their property is relatively low compared to all your other options, so they hedge their bets and hope for larger

pieces of business to come their way and decline your RFP. They see no reason to invest the time in building a custom proposal for your small program. We’re different – we know your business and you’re not just a number to us. We work with companies of all sizes and recognize that your program is just as important as any other. Trust us to deliver high-quality proposals tailored to your specific needs.

Do you really trust a search engine to take your objectives and best interests and turn that into personalized proposals?
We leverage our experience and relationships in the industry to get you the best value for your event dollar. Properties know that if they offer our clients a great deal and deliver excellent service, we’re likely to keep recommending their property and send them additional business, so they put in more time and commit more resources to building quality proposals.

We know you want to deliver an exceptional experience for your attendees and keep them coming back for more. That’s why we sit on your side of the table negotiating the best rates and contracting with our library of clauses designed to protect you in the instance your needs change. We don’t accept advertiser dollars, hidden hotel rebates or points. We advocate solely for you – the way it should be.

Do you really know if you need 10,000 sq ft vs 50,000 sq ft of function space?
We deliver customized proposals based on your numbers and seating arrangements eliminating your guess work of figuring out your own space requirements.

Do you really need free parking if all of your guests are flying into the location?
We pay attention to what matters most to your organization and request (and often receive!) many more concessions that actually matter to you, like complimentary meeting space or free wi-fi versus unused parking.

Do you really want to only see the properties that an automated system represents as an advertiser?
With CEM, you pick the property! We refuse to represent any particular properties or brands; we simply present you with the options that best fit your needs.

Lastly, do you really want to pay an automated service to help you make this important decision? We don’t charge for our research, sourcing, negotiation, or contracting services!

You can’t go wrong. Give us a try today!
Sheila helps clients reduce financial risk within legal contracts. She can be reached at 

When you THINK you’ve picked the right hotel

Sheila NordBy Sheila Nord, Strategic Sourcing Director

How many times have you perused a hotel or a cruise ship’s website thinking you’ve easily identified your next host property for your upcoming incentive trip or business meeting? While it happens with frequency, so does your chance of selecting a property that won’t adequately deliver on your expectations.

You wouldn’t advise your clients to purchase insurance without your professional expertise or to purchase it over the internet, so why would you even consider researching your own event destination or appropriate hotels without arming yourself with professional site selection services to reduce your financial risk – especially as these services come at NO COST to YOU!

In 2009 we had a client who booked their own hotel run into a huge financial challenge:

One of the leading financial companies in the US filed away our purple marketing packet. She didn’t plan on having a need for our services as she and her internal team of three other planners had always booked their own hotels in the past.

Two months passed and her hotel needs changed.  In contacting her Caribbean salesperson, she ran into a snag with unresponsiveness and they wouldn’t budge. She determined it couldn’t hurt to call CEM. With the event in jeopardy, CEM was given the opportunity to act on her behalf and we immediately found several hotel contractual issues and renegotiated the already signed contract – a feat almost unheard of in the industry. CEM managed to save the client $124,935 in fees that were removed from the hotel invoice. Why did this happen to such a smart financial meeting planner? The hotel took advantage of her lack of contractual knowledge which unknowingly put her company at risk.

Fast forward – today the CEM staff enjoys a trusted partnership with the company, becoming close friends with the staff. We recently celebrated our five-year working anniversary together and they’ve just joined our Million $ Dollar Club™ (the total dollar value CEM has saved them thus far with our negotiation expertise). They tell everyone they can about our services and, our client, well she got a huge promotion and we’d like to think we played a small part in helping make her look like a hero in her organization and to her CFO. The company president also recognized the value of the current internal meeting staff due to the partnership with CEM that helped them keep their costs well under budget.

You NEED an intermediary between your company and the hotel. Who is going to go to bat for you if you have a contracting issue? CEM!

Isn’t it time you reduced overspending and help set your staff up for hero status by outsourcing your hotel and cruise site selection and contracting? We assure your staff that we are not there to replace them, only to support and help educate them on industry best practices that can help your company join CEM’s Million $ Dollar Club™. No one should buy insurance without a respected financial advisor’s expertise, and no company should rely on a hotel to give them the best value and protection for the money. Now’s the time to avoid the pitfalls with our dedicated team of event experts sitting on YOUR side of the table!

Conference Event Management (CEM) is a woman-owned business enterprise and leading provider of unique, world-class event, conference, incentive travel and meeting experiences and reward strategies, hotel and cruise site selection and contracting, individual Travel MyWay® bookings, and national speaker’s bureau bookings. Sheila Nord, Strategic Sourcing Director, has over 20 years of experience in the events and travel industry. She specializes in event destination selection and budget analysis to ensure client events not only meet their financial objectives, but also provide the ultimate guest experience. Sheila helps clients reduce financial risk within legal contracts. She can be reached at  

When to Use a Third-Party Planner

By Sheila Nord, Strategic Sourcing DirectorSheila Nord

Internal staff at your company may be avoiding outsourcing to a third-party planner due to fear of the unknown. If a company has never utilized an outside expert for cruise or hotel contracting and meeting services, it may be overwhelming when considering all of the possibilities that arise with a new supplier arrangement. A company may initially fear losing control of its meetings and events, assume costs are out of reach, or even worse, be concerned about hidden costs. Unfortunately, staff may even fear a job threat associated with bringing in a third-party planner.

The response to all these fears is simple – the success of the third-party planner is to make the client’s business more effective and profitable by relying on the direction of the knowledgeable, internal representative for the company. The third-party planner doesn’t want to replace the internal staff member, instead they depend upon a liaison that knows the business and that can share information as well as bring on board the necessary decision makers.

It is those decision makers who typically approve partnering with a third-party at the request of the internal liaison who expresses the value of outsourcing. A partnership goes beyond a supplier-buyer relationship to a relationship in which both parties benefit through collaborative strategizing. A company reviewing the benefits of bringing on a partner should assess the personnel situation internally; asking “what are the strengths of the internal team and how can we supplement those strengths to meet organizational goals?” Utilizing a third-party planner takes the pressures of additional work off the desks of employees whose functional value far exceeds their capabilities as a part-time planner. A third party planner will do the same work at a greater proficiency due to years of industry experience and dedication to the client’s customized program thus setting up the client, and the liaison, for success.

An independent planning organization like CEM creates a customized experience for every client and leverages their strengths to deliver on the client’s goals. CEM has extensive contracting experience to mitigate risks for a variety of industries which reduces the client’s liability exposure. The CEM event professionals specialize in numerous capacities such as destination recommendations, travel, sourcing, experience design, website builds, attendee relations and above and beyond customer service. CEM fits seamlessly as an extension of existing meeting management teams or as a total event management partner. Contact CEM today to find how we can support your company’s meeting and event planning needs.

Conference Event Management (CEM) is a woman-owned business enterprise and leading provider of unique, world-class event, conference, incentive travel and meeting experiences and reward strategies, hotel and cruise site selection and contracting, individual Travel MyWay® bookings, and national speaker’s bureau bookings. Sheila Nord, Strategic Sourcing Director, has over 20 years of experience in the events and travel industry. She specializes in event destination selection and budget analysis to ensure client events not only meet their financial objectives, but also provide the ultimate guest experience. Sheila helps clients reduce financial risk within legal contracts. She can be reached at

Sheila’s Sourcing FAQs

Sheila NordBy Sheila Nord, Strategic Sourcing Director

What is hotel / cruise sourcing?
Sourcing is a specialized process aimed at recommending, locating, evaluating and contracting the best hotel and cruise lines for a specific client event. With our many years of experience working globally with property vendors, we have built lasting relationships that enable us to secure the best group rates and countless value-added concessions. This is extremely beneficial for our clients, saving them time as well as steering them towards suitable destinations that meet the objectives of each particular event, from function space requirements, to local activities and entertainment offerings. While many companies charge for this service, or shortchange the research process, CEM provides this service at NO COST.

If this is a free service, then how do you make money?
CEM reaches out to hotels and cruises on the client’s behalf to explain the requirements of each event. Once a property is selected, CEM collects a finder’s fee directly from the hotel or cruise line. We don’t believe in double dipping and charging you for this service as we are already receiving fair compensation. Just like booking your own leisure trip hotel online, you don’t pay a fee for that booking – you won’t pay a fee to CEM either.

For the benefit of our partnership, CEM states in our RFP that rates are not to be increased to accommodate commission expenses (our fee is paid out of the hotel, cruise or venue’s sales and marketing budget not your budget). Additionally, we also add protection clauses for the hotel or cruise line to ensure that if a lower rate is offered to any other group over the same dates that our client’s rate will be lowered as well.

I see a lower rate online through a booking engine – why shouldn’t I book through a discount site?
Booking individual rooms online is not the same as group rates. Often times, steeply discounted rooms show up on discount sites because hotels have excess inventory of a few (mostly undesirable) rooms that they want to fill to capacity. When booking through a discount site, you can never be sure of what you are going to get until arrival on property which unfortunately could include VIPs receiving rooms overlooking a parking lot, limited windows, older and outdated rooms, or even the far-away towers.

When negotiating on behalf of clients we are armed with a library of protective clauses (cultivated from years of legal experience and from the event’s industry’s leading attorneys) that offers legal protection help you protect and minimizing your financial risk. In addition, we work hard to obtain the best concessions, amenities, views, updated and upgraded rooms, and many other luxuries. CEM spends the time needed to ensure low rates, protect your financial exposure AND provide support along the way if challenges arise.

How are CEM’s sourcing services different from any other vendor?
We refuse to represent any one property, which is not in our client’s best interest. We sit on your side of the table – not theirs! We also pride ourselves on being a woman-owned enterprise built upon integrity that matches our client’s values. Our boutique size enables us to give individualized attention to clients and custom design programs to meet every need and desire. We only work with the highest quality vendors and demonstrate our value through a comprehensive list of every facet of the program where we are able to save our clients’ money.

Contact Sheila today to get started!