Updated June 2018
Reunion Guide: Best Practices and Lessons Learned
Thanks to these former reunion hosts for providing useful advice:
- Rick and Colleen Bullen
- Gaye Crosby Doane
- Steve Dean
- Bob Samborski
- Gayle Spear Cratty
So, you want to host a reunion? The whole process might seem daunting if you’ve never done this before, but remember—you are not alone! The Alumni Association has a Reunion Advisory Committee to help you every step of the way. We’ll answer basic to complex questions, help with contract negotiations and analyze the final contract before you sign. We’ll be there for you through all aspects of planning the reunion, including finances. The Committee will help to set a registration fee that should be sufficient to cover all your costs. Registration fees are paid to the Alumni Association, which will then pay deposits needed to secure the hotel and other facilities. No expense needs to come out of your pocket.
Selecting the Hotel
Sometimes, you have a hotel in mind and when you talk to the sales team you are just not able to come to a reasonable compromise. So you have wasted a couple of weeks and now have to start over. What we have found is that your local Visitor’s Bureau (called a variety of names but every city has one) can be a great ally. When you call or email them, tell them exactly what you are looking for and what you are expecting to pay. They know all of the salespeople at all of the hotels, and they will contact them all and ask them to submit offers of services. That way, you can select a few hotels and negotiate all at once. Final selection will be over a few differences in price or services. Most times you will have equal offers from more than one hotel. When you go talk to them, make it around lunchtime and they usually buy you lunch. This way you can sample the menu and the service.
What do I ask for?
Besides AFFORDABLE rooms, discussed in the next section, you need to have a hospitality suite and a place to eat. The venue is really your choice but, traditionally, all of our activities surround the hospitality suite. It must be big enough. It must have bathrooms close by. It must be away from other guests so we will not disturb them. And, it must allow us to bring in our own alcohol, soft drinks, and snacks. This last part is a sticking point for some hotels. Some hotels charge for the hospitality suite and also charge a corkage fee for us to bring in our own alcohol. This is generally a point of negotiation. Many hotels will throw in the hospitality suite and waive the corkage fee because you are renting so many rooms and planning one or two meals at the hotel. That is where they make their money. These two things, the hospitality suite, and the corkage fee can be a decision point you can use to negotiate between two finalist hotels. Consult the Reunion Advisory Committee on close negotiations.
With time and negotiations, you can generally obtain a room rate that is pretty reasonable for your location. The Reunion Advisory Committee has a reunion history spreadsheet that includes room costs per night, registration fees charged, and the number of people in attendance for your reference. Over the past several years, rates have ranged from $99 – $209 per night. Remember that cost is always an issue. Not everyone is in good financial shape and, while we want to have a hotel to fill all of our needs in a pleasant way, we want to keep all costs affordable for all of our members. This part is like buying a car: Never let emotion override a good deal. We can get infatuated with the décor of one hotel and it will cost our members an additional $20 per night.
You will have to decide how many people may attend the reunion and ask for a block of rooms be held, at a guaranteed rate, for a specified amount of time. The number of rooms in the initial contract commitment is spread out over several days. For example:
The Atlanta 2009 reunion had a 125-room commitment, as follows:
The Colorado Springs 2011 room commitment was for 150 rooms over three nights:
San Antonio 2013 reunion’s commitment was for 250 rooms, as this location tends to bring in more attendees:
Many people room together, so be relatively conservative in your commitment. Generally, the Association will have to pay for any rooms in the block that are not rented, so this is a critical part of the setup for the reunion. Ten rooms not rented at $125 each is $1,250 the Association would owe the hotel. This has happened in the past, so we are speaking from experience. If possible, block out rooms for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights only. This reduces commitment exposure, and you can usually get the hotel to extend their rates to alumni for a few days before the reunion and a few days after. Talk with the Reunion Advisory Committee about what a reasonable room block commitment should be.
Negotiate for as much flexibility as you can possibly get from the hotel, meaning opportunities to increase or reduce the room block, throughout the year and especially at around 50 days and 20 days prior to the event. Also, find out the going rate for rooms by getting online and checking rates. You should do this prior to negotiating with the hotels you are thinking of using. Once you choose a hotel, during the entire summer before your event, keep monitoring prices until the room block cut-off dates. Closer to the date, be on line at least once a week, making sure that the hotel is not selling rooms at a lesser rate than the one you’ve negotiated.
If they do, call them on it. You might propose a clause that states that rooms will not be sold for less than the FAHSAA negotiated room rate for a specified period before the reunion begin date, and coordinate that clause with your cutoff date(s).
Also make sure that the contract states something to the effect that the hotel agrees to make a good faith effort to resell any rooms that remain in the block after the final cutoff. The hotel may try to sell your unreserved rooms at a rate higher than the one they contracted for AND stick you with the bill for any unsold rooms. Before signing the contract, have it reviewed by the Reunion Advisory Committee.
Finally, it’s important that everyone who comes to the reunion and stays in the hotel is counted against the room block. Sometimes, for various reasons (including being able to get a cheaper rate) they are not. Ask to see a rooming list for the purpose of identifying bona fide FHS attendees and ensuring they are properly accounted for. Do this just before the cutoff and immediately after the reunion concludes.
Cut Off Date for Room Reservations by members
Thirty days is pretty standard but try for 20. Most of us procrastinate and don’t reserve until the last minute. This will drive you nuts as you try to plan. The more you contact people the more likely you will get early commitments. Use your Board and the website to advertise, as well as social sites such as the Yahoo! Group and our Association’s Facebook group. Set up a reunion event on Facebook as well.
We may wish to help accommodate classmates who are coming in from out of town who might be able to share a ride to the hotel etc. In this case, an online opportunity for members needing support could simply be listed by name and list the day (not the times – this they can do by contacting one another) they are arriving and leaving so they can coordinate their schedule. This is becoming increasingly important, as some need help! The hosts might wish to seek the support of others to help manage this area.
Food & Beverage
Calculating food costs can be difficult. Traditionally, on Friday night an informal dinner is planned either at the hotel or a nearby restaurant. The hotel provides dinner on Saturday night to coincide with the dance. The way you can calculate the cost, especially when you are trying to set the registration fee, is to get a per person rate by selecting specific menus. Hotels will help you with this and you can make an appointment to sample the options. However, hotel contracts typically require a dollar amount guarantee. The Reunion Advisory Committee can help with counteroffers, such as with a lower base guarantee. Hotels don’t care about the budget for individual meals as long as their minimum is met. Ask for a clause in the contract to read something like, “FAHSAA agrees that it will provide a TOTAL minimum food and beverage revenue of $x…” just to be sure. There is much help available once you receive a contract offered from the hotel, so don’t panic. We are here to help you with a successful reunion.
Providing wine for a meal is somewhat tricky. It can be an expensive addition, especially since not everyone drinks wine. Rather than building that into the cost of the meal, there other approaches:
- Notify the hotel that people will be buying wine/drinks on an a la carte basis (which should count against the food and beverage minimum)
- Ask for a cash bar to be set up in the dining room. Generally, there is a bartender charge and you can usually negotiate out of a minimum for volume. If the contract calls for a bar minimum, try to negotiate out of that. Alumni are not prone to spend at a cash bar when there are free drinks in the Hospitality Suite.
- Find a wine donor, but remember that corkage fee at the dinners is less negotiable than in the hospitality suite.
It would be ideal for all drinks purchased at hotel facilities to count against the food and beverage minimum, but not everyone is set up to do that (we had special wristbands to get drink discounts at the reunion in Breckenridge). It would be worthwhile to at least ask, however. The hotel may respond with a “no,” but may give a bit on the overall minimum.
Often times the hospitality suite is free, thrown in for the banquet business, especially with a food and beverage guarantee. Negotiate this with other hotels against the stubborn ones. If you have to pay for the hospitality suite, commit to Friday and Saturday nights, with an option to include Thursday night. This will help ensure that attendance numbers will warrant this additional expense. Early arrivals can meet up in the hotel lobby/bar area. Get volunteers to help to “set up” and “clean up” the hospitality suite. You really need it!
Hospitality Suite Bedrooms
Most Hotels will have a couple of bedrooms that are part of the Hospitality Suite that are adjacent to or within the hospitality Suite. The Reunion Chairs may assign these rooms to whomever they wish to occupy them. It is suggested that if you do assign these rooms and you are not using them yourself, that these parties help in overseeing the opening and closing of the hospitality suite and help in the cleanup. It is up to the Reunion Hosts to determine how long the Hospitality Suite should remain open.
This fee might be charged with the Hospitality Suite because wine, beer, and liquor are traditionally provided as part of the reunion registration costs. The corkage fee could be a “meeting room rental” fee in disguise. A room rental fee goes to Meetings & Conferences, whereas corkage fees go to Banquets. Depending upon the hotel, this could make a difference. The Reunion Advisory Committee can provide assistance.
Unfortunately, this is becoming more common. Whereas we didn’t see this much in the past, hotels are now looking at this as a way to defer their own costs. A typical Certificate of Liability Insurance policy to cover what they want cost about $95 for the Colorado Springs reunion in 2011. Also, note that they want an insurance certificate months ahead of the event. If they don’t get it, they reserve the right to cancel all arrangements, so if insurance is required, start now. It sometimes takes a while. Many hotels accept the liability as they do for all their guests, so try to negotiate out of this requirement, indicating that this might be a deal-breaker. If you go that route, it would be useful to have a couple of other places lined up.
There are plenty of hotels that would love to have our business. If you don’t like a specific sentence or paragraph in the contract, discuss it with the Reunion Advisory Committee, which consults with volunteer attorneys and professional event planners. Before any contract is signed, the Reunion Advisory Committee must look over the contract. It is recommended that only the Financial Advisor, Legal Advisor, or the current President sign any contracts. That way, there is a legal opinion to lend some clout to your negotiation. Cross out wording in the contract that is not acceptable, initial it, and send the contract back. The hotel will let you know if they can or can’t do what you ask. Remember that there are other hotels and if you and the Reunion Advisory Committee are not comfortable with the terms of the contract, try the hotel down the street.
- The Reunion Advisory Committee will work with Reunion hosts to set a registration fee that will cover costs.
- he Committee has a “Budget Calculator,” which is a great tool that provides “what if” scenarios that should be used to calculate (and justify) registration costs.
- Not much is getting cheaper. Registration fees have ranged from $125 to $170 for the past several years. Keeping expenses down keeps the cost to members down, and this should be taken into consideration.
- It is very important to have a good grip on previous years’ budgets and especially attendance. The per-person cost estimate for 150 attendees versus 125 is irrelevant if only 90 show up. Knowing what to expect (which isn’t always possible) will help with just about everything involved in planning for a reunion, and the hotels appreciate that too. The Reunion Advisory Committee has compiled a list of past reunion statistics to help planning and budgeting. It can also be a good negotiating tool with the hotel.
- Some people come in as early as Tuesday or Wednesday night. While this is one more thing on the host’s list, there should be some direction for a place to eat and a place to greet. Most hotels have a bar area where individuals can meet if they come early. If any arrangements are made for early arrivals that would cost additional money, then the early arrivals should be given the option to register for the event separately and should be charged accordingly.
- Thursday night events are traditionally no-host events at a local restaurant or are priced separately. This way, no matter how many people show up, they will be fed and will feel welcome. People are coming in earlier than they used to, and reunion planners should take this into consideration. Room blocks for Thursday night and providing the Hospitality Suite on Thursday is now common, but do not make these commitments for earlier than Thursday.
Reunion Planning Details
- Class photos are taken on the last night of the reunion, historically Saturday night. There should be an allowance in time and a good location at the dinner/dance event for the photos. Work with the alumni association photographer on time and location. Thirty to forty-five minutes should be scheduled, generally during the cocktail hour.
- The dance is an important part of Saturday night’s events. Try to reserve a space in the hotel with sufficient room for dancing. The Committee advises that you hire a DJ rather than a live band. Live bands are generally cost-prohibitive and often can’t provide the range of music our alumni enjoy.
- Consider holding extra events, such as a silent auction, on Friday rather than Saturday night. If the event is held on Saturday, be sure to plan for the time that this takes away from class photos and dancing. For fundraisers, assign someone to record winners, money pledged and accept payments, communicate this to the participants, and provide financial information to the Treasurer.
- The annual Alumni Association Business Meeting is held on Saturday morning, usually in the Hospitality Suite. Work with the Association President on the place and time of the meeting. The reunion hosts are asked to provide a light breakfast; e.g., continental with beverages. The Alumni Association will reimburse this cost, so it will not be part of your costs.
- Publish a preliminary reunion schedule/itinerary as early as possible. Having an itinerary around two to three months before the reunion helps many people decide whether they want to attend. Details can be refined as the date gets closer, and having the itinerary posted in the Hospitality Suite helps prevent confusion and misinformation during the reunion.
- One idea is to print all of the scheduled activities/events on the back of reunion badges so people don’t keep asking when they are, and they can plan their own outings accordingly. But, just having a printed agenda for reunion events helps people plan their sightseeing and side trips.
- If there are any restrictions on the usage of the hospitality suite, such as closing it down at a certain time, be sure that information is clearly communicated and included as part of the reunion itinerary.
- You will receive a box from the last reunion hosts. It will contain our banner, extra lanyards and supplies, and sometimes items that people left in the hospitality suite. Ask the hotel what is their policy for hanging our banner. They sometimes charge for this or have special requirements.
Most of all, enjoy the reunion and let others help! It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also very rewarding.
We’re here for you!
Your Reunion Advisory Committee:
Peggy Rowand Sanchez ’71 Chair
Rick Bullen ‘70
Herb Hall ‘68
Betty House ‘70
Krys Wages ‘69
June 12, 2018