From independent hotels to boutique resorts, oversized event centers to hotel management companies – every segment of the hospitality industry is changing.
Consumers are in the driver’s seat, and anyone who operates with a business-as-usual model will inevitably lose out to their forward-thinking competitors.
The changing face of “groups” is an interesting case study in how hotels must be on top of industry trends, consumer technology preferences, enterprise innovations, business and leisure travel patterns, economic cycles, and more.
There are so many factors influencing and evolving expectations. Meeting planners, groups, and individual guests all expect something different than they did five years ago, giving the venue a lot to consider and prepare for.
And depending on whether they’re hosting a business group or leisure group, it’s safe to assume the audiences likely have different demands. Identifying preferences is just the first step. Then comes the real challenge of managing the customer relationship to deliver a positive end-to-end experience.
Managing group expectations
It’s no secret that the overall experience of the group will determine the success or failure of a meeting or event. In a corporate context, meeting expectations is a non-negotiable, but exceeding expectations is the cherry on the sundae.
Meeting planners invariably ask for feedback from attendees and if the overall response is positive, then the hotel has potentially secured a regular customer.
However, there’s no formula for meeting group expectations since they differ according to the purpose of the event. People attending a small off-site sales meeting will have different priorities and interests than a wedding group or family reunion.
It’s important that a hotel event manager reach out during the post-booking, pre-stay phase to connect with the planner, establish a rapport, and learn about the group before arrival.
Then, the information can be shared behind the scenes so every department knows what’s been promised to the group, and opportunities can be discussed to elevate the experience by surprising them with a thoughtful welcome gift, activity, or amenity.
Systems play an important role here to keep data in a centralized place, but the human element of service should never be forgotten.
Juggling increased demand
Meeting planning is either a person’s sole professional responsibility or something they tackle based on business need. Hotels need to be flexible and work quickly to accommodate both types of planner, and those who fall somewhere in between.
“Simple meetings” are becoming an increasingly popular choice for businesses and a lucrative revenue stream for hotels. These gatherings are loosely defined as a meeting of 10-50 attendees requiring a meeting space, some AV equipment, and possibly overnight accommodation.
Think of a corporate team building event or executive retreat. Often these “simple meetings” are booked by assistants as part of their overall duties, so the process needs to be straightforward.
Recent innovations in event technology have come a long way, and remove a lot of the leg work for hotels and venues by exposing available meeting space online.
By allowing customers to book space directly, they have immediate ownership of reserving what they need without involving a salesperson or lengthy RFP process.
Automation software not only encourages repeat business from planners, but provides hotels with the visibility they need to schedule staff properly and forecast other projects.
- Is there a 50 person meeting with catering in the books?
- Who is onsite and available to provide AV support?
- Will the hotel need extra bar staff for the evening to surprise the group with a themed cocktail?
Navigating the competitive landscape
The competitive landscape is changing across hospitality, and this is especially true for meetings. Recent data shows that 52% of “simple” (or small) business meetings take place within a hotel despite increasing competition from unique, alternative venues.
Here’s where the use of technology and on-property experience will tip the needle in the hotel’s favor when it comes to converting bookings and capturing repeat business.
At the other end of the scale are larger, more complex events. Conventions are a massive undertaking that require months of advance planning and logistics.
The New Rule Book for Executing and Enhancing Your Group’s Guest Experiences
This eBook identifies key opportunities for hoteliers to capitalize on during the group stay. Learn how personalization for groups can enhance sales and make your property stand out from the competition.
Organizing something this large is usually managed by someone in a dedicated role, and impressing them is a pre-requisite to winning their business.
Speed of response is often seen as the number one requirement from a venue when it comes to event RFPs. And while speed is critical, it’s just as important to stand out from the competition.
Adopt technology solutions that will wow planners and help them visualize their big event at your venue. Cookie-cutter event proposals won’t do it. Planners want to work with a venue that can prove they have the bandwidth and experience to deliver a professional and customizable event.
Catering to millennial planners and guests
Age is not just a number but a driving force in a fast-paced industry like hospitality. According to Pew Research, Millennials – those between 23 and 38 years of age in 2019 – are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. And they have vastly different expectations compared to previous generations who are not digital natives.
Millennial meeting planners expect to be able to book space and equipment online, to be able to manage room allocations themselves, see 360-degree panoramic videos of the room, and select menus with the same degree of functionality they experience in their day-to-day lives.
Hotels need to understand and react to this shift to ensure that their meetings and event technology can meet these expectations.
On the flip side, Millennials as guests also have heightened expectations in today’s digital world. Whether they’re attending an event as part of a corporate business group or individually, they expect hotels to provide friendly and attentive service, and it’s up to the property to make sure every guest is satisfied.
- Have a loyalty member in the crowd? Make sure the front desk is aware so they can welcome them by name at check-in.
- Has the Wi-Fi performance been tested lately? Any hotel in demand with corporate groups should make sure their internet streaming is fast and reliable. Performing regular maintenance will help avoid guest complaints and lessen the risk of a negative incident occurring.
Adding a personalized touch
Guest-facing technology has become the norm for many hotel chains and upscale properties as a way to further personalize the traveler experience.
This goes a long way when hosting groups, so each attendee can customize their room and hotel services to fit their preference.
Remember, a corporate guest might be a potential leisure guest in the future. If their experience at the property is favorable, it’s more likely they’ll book a return visit. Hotels that entertain corporate groups should be thinking of ways to provide the best possible experience to every guest at every touchpoint.
Innovations in technology are constant and not just driven by changing consumer and corporate behaviors but also in advance of them.
The best solutions on the market are those which allow properties to automate many of the back-end and administrative components of the group business, freeing up staff and resources to deliver a truly exceptional experience.
For those operating above property like hotel management companies, technology that provides centralized controls and holistic data is critical to making more informed business decisions.
There’s no question that group business is changing along with the accommodation industry itself.
Demand for small groups is increasing while competition for that business is heating up, and Millennial meeting planners and meeting attendees are bringing a different set of expectations and requirements to the events marketplace. Technology is also changing everything about meetings, from the RFP process to personalization.
The constant in the midst of all the change is that travelers expect to be treated as individuals, even if they are in a hotel to attend a meeting. In that context, it’s important to understand that technology is there to support hotel staff, not replace them.
It can help meeting planners deliver a successful event; it can help group members optimize their time on-property; and it can help individuals to enjoy their stay.
However sophisticated group technology becomes, it’s the human to human experience which really makes the difference.
WEBINAR REPLAY! Personalizing the group experience for hotels
This event took place on Tuesday, February 5, 2019.