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HHS Conference Procurement and Planning Tookit

Procurement and Planning Requirements and Guidance for Conference Hosts

Chapter II – Conference Cost Drivers and Tips for Efficient Spending

This chapter highlights major contributing factors to conference total costs and provides tips on how to minimize spending while still meeting core conference requirements.  This chapter is relevant for both contract and program staff. 

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The following factors have been identified as contributing to conference costs.  Consider these tips when conducting market research and defining your requirement to help minimize conference expenses.

Conferences/meetings that last more than one day

  • Booking overnight hotel guest rooms often leads to better rates for the meeting space.
    • TIP:  If your meeting requires participants to stay overnight, ask hotels for per diem pricing for the meeting space and sleeping rooms at the same time.
      • Agreements with hotels for meeting space are often based on assumptions that attendees will stay at the hotel.  Such agreements should not commit the government to reach the projected booking levels or have the effect of an unfunded liability.
      • Familiarize yourself with the prohibitions on and exceptions to paying for non-federal travel under contract.
    • TIP:  Check existing federal space first, if there are no overnight guests.

  • If you plan to hold a meeting at a hotel that has a great deal more sleeping rooms than meeting space, the hotel’s revenue and willingness to negotiate cost is driven by the number of sleeping rooms associated with your meeting. 
    • TIP:  If you do not expect many of your conference’s attendees to stay overnight, look for a hotel with fewer sleeping rooms or consider a non-hotel venue.
    • TIP:  If you do expect your attendees to stay overnight, you should be able to get the conference space at a deep discount if the venue anticipates, but do not commit to a certain number of guest rooms to be booked as a result of the conference.

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Schedule Impacts

  • Time of year can be an important factor in determining conference costs. 
    • TIP:  If your conference is taking the place of another one that was cancelled, you can most likely get better rates.  Ask your target venues if they have any cancellations you can fill.
    • TIP:  If you have your conference dates, look for a location that has the best rates at the time of year you want to hold the conference.  Similarly, if you have flexibility in location, see when the venues in your target location could give you the best rates.

      Example:  In the D.C. area, conference venues may offer lower rates during certain months.  Other locations may have different seasonal cost drivers:
      • January/February – slow season; venues and hotels have more flexibility on rates
      • Last week in November/ December – holiday time; venues and hotels have more flexibility on sleeping room rates, private-sector holiday parties may consume some meeting room space

      These months may mean higher rates for your conference in the D.C. area:
      • March/April/May – Cherry Blossoms and tourist season; venues and hotels have flexibility with conference space, but sleeping rooms will be more expensive
      • June/July/August – wedding season and vacation time; with many people out of town, venues and hotels have more flexibility with meeting space (except on weekends) and room blocks
      • September/October/early November – high season for meetings; meeting space and sleeping rooms are in demand and venues and hotels have little flexibility on price

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    • Location of the venue is also a factor in price.  Hotels located near public transportation are generally a good idea for government meetings, but locating near a tourist attraction may mean higher rates.
      • TIP:  Locating your conference on public transit routes but away from tourist attractions could save you money, especially during the spring tourist season.
      • TIP:  If you have many participants flying in for a conference, locating in an airport hotel may reduce your costs in an area where public transit is not available. 
      • TIP:  Locating your conference more geographically central to the greatest number of HHS-funded attendees will reduce your travel costs and may lead to a lower total conference expense even if the venue cost is higher.  Venue and travel costs should be carefully weighed for events where HHS is funding a large number of travelers.  GSA’s Travel Management Information Services (MIS) Travel Planning Tool can help you in identifying conference locations with low travel or other costs.

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    Food and Beverages

    • Since food and beverages cannot be included in the venue contract and/or provided by HHS conferences (see HHS Policy on the Use of Appropriated Funds for Food), pay close attention to this during the competition and review of quotes/proposals.
      • TIP:  HHS conferences cannot include food and beverage; therefore, per-attendee rates may be more difficult to negotiate and you may get better overall pricing with a flat-fee approach.
      • TIP:  Make sure potential venues have or are located in proximity to restaurants, coffee shops, etc.  Alternatively, ask the venue if they can provide readily accessible meals, snacks, and refreshments on a self-paid basis for the attendees, and provide seating and tables for such breaks.  Additionally, ask the venue for a listing of local restaurants and/or meal delivery options. 
      • TIP:  HHS can arrange for a food or beverage service, in which attendees pay for the food and beverage provided, to be located at the event; HHS may not pay for any food or beverage for conferences.  See HHS Policy on the Use of Appropriated Funds for Food.

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    Resort Options

    • Sometimes resort destinations offer the best prices even though they may not be favorable from a public perception standpoint, especially during slow times for vacation destinations (i.e., summer on the ski slopes, winter in a beach town) or if a previously planned conference has cancelled. 
      • TIP:  Use GSA’s Travel Management Information Services (MIS) Travel Planning Tool to identify conference locations with low travel or other costs and obtain estimates for the cost and environmental impact of potential conference and meeting sites.
      • TIP:  Save your contract files; specifically, the quotes/proposals you receive from potential venues when planning your conference, so if a resort location offers the lowest price, you can support your fair and reasonable determination if questioned.
      • TIP:  Resort destinations often follow a weekend-to-weekend arrival and departure pattern.  If your conference spans five business days with attendees arriving and departing on the weekends, this kind of venue may be a good option.
      • TIP:  Note, many hotels add on a “resort charge” at the end of the bill, which may present challenges with travelers being reimbursed for such fees or add to the overall cost of the conference.

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    AV and Technologies

    • Audio/Visual (A/V) equipment and services can be a significant conference cost.  Conference hosts should review the HHS Guidance on Audio/Visual Services, Costs and Agreements (Section 4.2 of the toolkit).
    • Carefully weigh the costs of using technologies like webcasting, podcasting, and video conferencing and of having your meeting transcribed and compiled into a report against your mission priorities.  While the use of technology and reporting may reduce your costs vs. increasing in-person attendees, unnecessary use of these services can significantly add to HHS’ conference spending.
      • TIP:  Document your file with a tradeoff analysis (also called best value) that compares conference costs without webcasting, etc. to those with.  This may help clarify why you are willing to pay a high A/V or technology rate by showing how many more attendees you’ll reach at a reduced overall cost per person.

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    Negotiating Recurring Events and/or Venues

    • If you have a recurring conference or multiple conferences, submit your conference competitions to venues or hotels as a portfolio that includes a number of years or different events.  The venue or hotel may offer you better rates if they know you have repeat business.  However, the appropriate options for additional conference will need to be in your CLIN (Contract Line Item Number) structure and funded in accordance with the bona fide needs rule.
      • TIP:  Holding a conference at the same venue or hotel multiple times will allow the facility’s staff to become familiar with your requirements, leading to better service and a smoother conference experience.  It is also possible that over time working with the same hotel or persons may lead to better rates for future conferences.
    • If you choose not to plan recurring conferences together in advance, do begin planning your next conference immediately after the last one concludes.  You may be able to leverage the relationship you built with the venue or hotel during your event and you may get better rates as a repeat customer.  Also, you’ll have real-time insight into where you can cut expenses in the next conference.
      • TIP:  If something went wrong with your conference but you are considering using the same venue or hotel again, planning your next conference immediately will allow the venue or hotel to show they want to continue to have your business by offering you a good value and ensuring better service in the future.  However, make sure you inform them they must compete for the follow-on requirement with other venues/hotels to comply with CICA (Competition in Contracting Act) and the Federal Acquisition Regulation.  Additionally, you cannot obligate any funds towards the next conference until you have submitted a request and been approved (and satisfied the bonafide needs rule of Appropriation law).

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    Know the Market Value

    • During the evaluation phase (Technical Evaluation Panel) of the contracting process, ensure the rates quoted/proposed by a venue are a good value, compare them to rates offered under a standard HHS conference contract vehicle or benchmark them against the results of a market rate analysis.  Rates from the HRSA conference BPA are available from the conference workgroup, as well as rates gathered through a D.C. area market analysis of federal and hotel conference venues.  Rates for other locations may be available from BPA contacts listed in Section 4.1.2.
      • TIP:  If you need to hold similar conferences in multiple locations, hotel companies may be willing to negotiate standard rates across locations at similar hotels.


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    Related Information:

    Chapter I – HHS Conference Standard Operating Procedure

    Chapter III – Programmatic Considerations

    Chapter IV – Contracting Considerations



Content created by Assist. Sec./Financial Resources-Grants/Acquisition Policy
Content last reviewed on July 18, 2014