Negotiating hotel contracts is a bit of a hobby of mine. (I know, strange hobby.) I wanted to be a lawyer, until it came time to spend a few years doing post-graduate work, etc.
Anyway, I wanted to mention a few things that you should always look for in the agreements you review (again, I’m not a lawyer, and these are personal recommendations, not legal ones).
Function Space: Include some wording that prevents the hotel from changing the space you’ve been assigned without your express written consent. This is important – just ask any group that’s been moved from a nice, big ballroom to a cramped side room when their block didn’t pick up as expected.
Furthermore, if you’re contracting function space, make sure that you consider your setup and teardown times, and get the hours of occupancy for each room into the agreement. This is good for you and for the hotel, though some hotels don’t require it in the agreement.
Attrition: Can’t say enough about this. Attrition is back, in a big way, but you can work with your venue sales contact to ensure that both parties are covered to best advantage. My favorite way to do this is to include a detailed review process that allows the hotel to take back rooms early on, if it doesn’t look like we’re picking up. I’ve even been able to avoid attrition entirely by including this clause.
Tabletop Exhibits: Make absolutely sure that the space you have contracted for these is on a 24-hour hold. Especially if you’re in New York or D.C., where it’s less likely that the venue has automatically included it.
I have lots to say about contracts, but these are the key areas on my mind at the moment. Remember, always have an attorney review your agreements. There are some who specialize in meetings-industry contracts. Check out MeCo for some recommendations.