Maximize Occupancy and Revenue During Big Events

Introduction

Hoteliers have an opportunity to boost revenue when major events come to town. Ensuring that bookings turn into profits and boost reputation requires smart planning and smart systems.

Annual events allow hoteliers to fine-tune their strategies, using historical performance as their guide, but hotels can still benefit from competitive insights and can draft strategies to compensate for post-event drop offs.

In the case of special events which happen each year in a different city, calculating the impact on demand may be trickier - each market is unique - but there is sufficient data available on the bookings trends from previous events, as well as future trends to help hotels craft a more effective strategic plan.

As we learned from experienced hoteliers, getting the most out of big event business is not guaranteed. Knowing how and when to offer stay packages, getting onboard with event organizers by drafting strong responses to RFPs, setting the right rules for room guarantees, and planning transient stays or smaller groups around the event can make a difference.

The right tools can even help properties outside the epicenter of highest demand - further from the event site or main attractions - identify new opportunities to serve guests to their city.

The impact of big events

Attendees plan early for big events, and hotels should too. Take the Super Bowl, for example. Early bookings rose dramatically, compared to previous years, at both Minneapolis/Saint Paul and Atlanta.

Historic demand showed a YOY increase in bookings by over 11x for Minneapolis and over 20x in Atlanta 180 days prior to game day. Those bookings were also coming in at 174% higher ADR in Atlanta and 107% higher in Minneapolis.

Some annual events have found a home in a particular city, which allows properties to plan well in advance and refine their strategies over the years, but even recurring events can present unique challenges. The Sundance Film Festival, for example, coincides with peak ski season but there can still be some fluctuations in demand especially in the festival’s second week when the higher profile attendees are already gone.

Even when they are not recurring, similar opportunities: festivals, conventions, etc. are all determined months, if not years before the event occurs, which gives the market ample time to prepare and compete for bookings at a premium. By engaging with organizers early, participating in RFPs, hotels can gain an advantage in bookings, but it’s important to build the right relationships with organizers as potential brand ambassadors - far more influential than so-called influencers. It’s also important not to over-allocate capacity at a discount out of an eagerness to ensure rooms fill up.

“The first week of Sundance is incredibly popular to attend, especially for all things Hollywood. Basically, you have your A, B and C clients over that time period. Your A-listers will be there in the first three to five days making sure that they are seen. A lot of sponsors want to get their products out there with those A-listers. Then, the second week, or second half, of Sundance festival is more on-the-ground work; movies are being purchased and productions are being approved for purchase. Your A-list celebrities are gone, so there’s not as much interest level in the second week. We drop our rates considerably because of that and our activity slows down. Depending on the year, that’s probably the biggest portion of the fluctuation.Sometimes you have client who will want that second week and other years you’re trying to book something like a pharmaceutical conference, because you just don’t see a demand.”
Bill Ekblad, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Park City.

When the fair comes to town

For one-off events and large conventions, it’s important for properties to present their best offerings early, while event organizers and local tourism and business councils are still in the planning stages.

For cyclical events, like associations and large conventions that pick different destinations each year, planners will publish large RFPs in advance to one or more cities and properties. Various event organizing companies support that service - so hotels should take this early opportunity to highlight their competitive edge.

“With sales and catering automation, hotels can collect the RFP details and have them routed to the appropriate salesperson. That allows you to review whether or not you have the ability to support the event. Electronic proposals allow you to respond back, and then you process that through the contracting activities."
Jacki Brown, product marketing manager at Amadeus

Another approach is to reach the convention and visitors bureau of the city where the event will take place.

“They are trying to get multiple hotels, different brands and different types of properties that are around the convention center or in different places in the city,” Brown says. “They will route planners to the individual hotels that they believe will best accommodate that type of meeting - whether it’s guest rooms or meeting space.”

Hotels that are part of large global brands will also have a dedicated global sales force that targets organizers of meetings and conventions to earn listings.

Industry groups will also serve as a conduit for big events. “The NFL, for example, works with multiple locations,” Brown says.

“They will help on a couple of different levels; for big events - like the Super Bowl - they may also negotiate on behalf of the teams in the cities, for the different games they will play over the course of the season.”

Amadeus has feeds that go through each of these different touch points and route relevant information into the business engine.Based on established rules, the system will deliver RFP information to the appropriate business function. “They get enough information so that they can respond quickly to those opportunities as they occur,” Brown says. “The way that you respond, and how quickly you respond impacts your ability to win that business. It’s rates-based, based on space, and based what you can demonstrate as your additional value to people coming to your city or coming to your property.”

For big events like the Super Bowl, properties can highlight their proximity to the venueWor to tourist sites, nightlife and entertainment that might encourage visitors to stay longer.

Properties in cities with recurring events must plan to allocate capacity and optimize ADR. Their advantage is experience, wisdom and historical data, as well as the established relationships and loyalty of previous clients. Those that can access forward looking data will have an even better-informed view of future demand.

For example, hotels serving guests who come to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah can count on demand year after year and well in advance. By building relationships with return visitors, they can book rooms around the festival more than a year in advance.

“For three contracts that I have done, I ran a proposal on January 1, 2019 for 2020, which means that they wanted a proposal for the following year before the 2019 Sundance even took place,” he tells us. “They are probably consuming, in a ten-day span, around 300 total room nights and they are already definitely contracted. That’s the lion share of some of our availability during that time period. Everything else will be one-offs, or some corporate clients will book later. The leisure crowd starts filling in the gaps heavily by about September through November.”
Bill Ekblad, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Park City

The hotel’s booking policies keep cancellations and drop-offs to a minimum. The hotel requires pre-booking and non-refundable pre-payment sixty days in advance of the stay during the first quarter of the year - when demand is highest - including for Sundance guests. As a suite-only luxury property, catering to VVIPs, the hotel can do that.

Knowing your target customer when planning the offering is an important element of planning ahead, for one-off and recurring events alike.

Planning ahead

The proposal strategy - including promotional packages - should be driven by the group segments and desired mix that the that the property wants in house, based on overall market demand.

“Hotels get the best value by having individuals coming in off the street,” Brown explains. “If you’re in a location where people might be walk-in - if you are right next to the airport, for example - then your need to have ancillary back fill decreases. If your mix is related to the group, say that you have a pharma group on the first week, you won’t likely get another group on the second week.”

As they think of ramping up for the big event, it’s important for properties that have fewer walk-ins to develop a buffer around the peak dates. That could be achieved by attracting bookings from smaller events, both social events or local corporate.

An engaging easy to use website detailing relevant visitor information can help attract leisure visitors associated with the big event as well as transient visitors around event dates. Having the tools in place to attract those higher ADR guests can boost profitability.

For group bookings, it’s important to get planners to the location early for site tours to work out event logistics and to ensure that they like what they see. Another approach is to engage influencers in advance of big event days to help get the word out about your property.

Those influencers could even be event planners or group representatives, not necessarily someone who has high followers on social media channels. What matters most is the reliability of the reputation the individual influencer has in the community you’re trying to attract.

“In New Orleans, we have the Sugar Bowl and some college football events. What we see is that the hotels that have bookings related to the event do much better because the teams have such an impact on the travel decisions,” says Katie Moro, regional vice president at Demand360 Data Partnerships at TravelClick.

“Being able to secure a relationship with the committee, or any opportunity to procure those types of contracts with teams will influence how their fans travel.”

Ekblad has found frequent guests and event sponsors to be effective influencers.

"Building those relationships is incredibly important. I think a lot of that comes down to this being the appropriate venue for their premiere. They are inviting other clients to see the documentaries or films that they are planning to get accepted. With others, it might be a program through exclusive credit card memberships by invitation only.”

“Participating in those relationships is essential,” Ekblad adds.

“Whether it means flying out to Manhattan and nurturing that account to make sure that they know we are an extension of what they are trying to accomplish. With those clients that we maintain on a leisure basis, we certainly want to be sensitive to their travel needs and give them first option on those dates when they check out.

"The biggest thing we’re doing for them is to recognize them throughout the year, maybe make them an ambassador of the property, knowing of course that if they travel to Park City we do our best to handle a rate sensitivity that they need to travel with and I might set up a spa treatment through the property. Also, since we work with a well-known brand, we might reach out to other properties so that they know to treat them like VIPs.”

One eye on the market

If making getting the word out and polishing the presentation is important to pre-planning, so is the process of gathering intelligence about what competitors are doing and what other properties have done in similar circumstances in other cities.

“A hotel in Miami Beach, preparing for the Super Bowl may want to have an understanding of what’s happening in the hotels near the sports venue because it will cause overflow to the beach,” Moro explains.

Paul Nojaim, director of revenue for Epic Hotel in Miami, doesn’t shy away from contacting similar properties in other cities to ask for insights.

“When I know that there’s a large event - like the Democratic debate - when I’m setting up for that time, to block out that time period, I’ll reach out to hotels that have been through that in particular,” he says. Nojaim will ask questions about the share of bookings associated with group and the share of transient guests. “Third party partners, like OTAs and may also have information,” he says.

Having access to the right historical data in other cities influences the hotel’s strategic for one-off big events like the upcoming Super Bowl. “We have strategy meetings and discuss what we all think is the rate that we are comfortable with, along with the length of stay.”

Historical data is useful, but having up-to-date information on what competitors are doing can also help avoid panic discounting.

“The key is not to discount too soon, or to discount too much capacity, and confidence on typical booking windows helps. With the right data sets, hotels can gauge whether demand has peaked and it’s time to attract a greater share of the bookings that remain, or whether to hold higher rates. It’s also important to study what is happening beyond the hotel’s or event’s immediate area to ensure that they do not lose opportunities for higher ADRs."
Paul Nojaim, director of revenue for Epic Hotel in Miami.

Extended stays

Hotels can also optimize revenue by encouraging extended stays. The right package offerings around big events can also increase the likelihood of ancillary revenue. With large corporate conferences, there may be an opportunity to convert the trip from business to bleisure, encouraging guests to bring family along and spend a few extra days enjoying the sites. There are also opportunities to boost participant productivity and networking opportunities, by promoting hotel facilities.

“What you want to be able to do is talk about the things that guests can do in your area that would attract both pre-stay and post-stay,” Brown adds. “Talk about the activities that are available within the properties. Promote activities on your website. You can also promote other things to do in the area - like a visit to Alcatraz booked around Dreamforce - to persuade guests to stay longer.”

There are ample opportunities for properties to forge partnerships with event organizers, local restaurants and local tourism sites and design packages to promote on the website and social channels.

There are also opportunities to add ancillaries to packages, like spa services, restaurant discounts, and themed packages like pre-convention beauty packages, convention decompression packages with restorative spa services, or packages offering meeting rooms and food and beverage for team-building exercises, pre-event scrum and brainstorming.

A strategy to extend stays is important, even for properties that can count on recurring bookings for big events.

While there’s a high interest level during the first week of Sundance, Guy Morris, vice president of sales and marketing at Stein Lodge in Park City, sees the drop-off that occurs in the second week of Sundance as an opportunity . “We have learned to be a little structured when it comes to holding to our rack rates,” he says. “The pressure isn’t the same for the second half.”

Partnerships with organizers and local tourism boards can also help address drop-off by organizing smaller events that encourage extended stays, and hotels can also promote local activities.

“The best time to ski here in Park City happens to be during the film festival because nobody is on the mountain,” Ekblad says. “They are all at the festivals, the premieres, the parties and the mountain is empty. It’s one of the most expensive times to come skiing, but if you have the funds and you don’t want to share the mountain, you have the mountain to yourself.”

The big show

The event itself is all about reputation management - keeping guests happy and monitoring the conversation around the property on social channels is essential to long-term reputation management. After all, a big event can be an opportunity for properties to reach a broader audience of potential customers who will book in future.

“Social channels like Facebook and Instagram offer excellent options for targeting prospective guests that are interested in an event,” says Scott Falconer, executive vice president and general manager of TravelClick Media Solutions. “For instance, if you are a Miami hotel wanting to attract guests for the Super Bowl in Miami in 2020, you can target Facebook users that are browsing Facebook pages or engaging with content on Instagram related to Super Bowl 2020 and Miami with ads that highlight amenities relevant to the Super Bowl, e.g. the hotel’s pre-game party or its free shuttle service to the game.”

In addition to attracting traffic through social media, flawless operations will also drive visitors and guests.

Brown says: “The core Amadeus side is focused on operational execution, which drives TripAdvisor scores and encourages people to come in. It’s just as important to ensure that your rooms are clean, or that guests can find their rooms ready if they arrive early, or that they know that they can stay late. You want to address any customer concerns while they are there, to avoid any negative comments that will drop into your online presence.”

Because hospitality is all about people, staffing and training around the event is a priority.

“It helps that we know our level of occupancy by the first quarter of the year,” Ekblad says. “For us, Christmas week is a big ramp-up period. We know we’re going to be extremely busy with holiday travelers. We ramp-up for winter season and then we carry through to the end of March. We will actually have a lot of staff that know there is good money to be made over that time period. They may only be seasonal employees.We’ll reach out to them and they reach out to us on when they can start back working for the property. We also have students from Europe, Brazil, Australia that would like to work and gain work experience to go back home and finish their degree. They’ll pick up extra shifts at multiple locations during Sundance. They will work two full time jobs over that time period. So, mainly through organic reach, the workforce builds well.”

Conclusion

We all know hotel nights are a perishable commodity - big events can make or break your year.

But it’s not just about getting the rooms filled, it’s about optimizing revenue in the limited time and space available, which requires having a strategy and the right tools in place long before the fair comes to town.

Checklist to winning large event groups

  • Use data tools to maximize occupancy and revenue.
  • Manage booking pace with forward-looking demand tools.
  • Maintain rate parity.
  • Strike the right mix between group and transient business.
  • Understand overall market capacity between the traditional hotel segment and short-term rentals.
  • Advertise to your target audience with travel agent and digital media.
  • Convert more bookings through an attractive and easy to navigate website.
  • Keep guests engaged prior to arrival, during their stay, and long after they’ve left with effective Guest Management.
  • Manage your reputation by addressing critical reviews and promoting positive ones.
  • Ensure a positive guest experience with proactive maintenance.
  • Create promotions like a welcome package, enhanced food and beverage offerings and pre-bookings for transportation services.
  • Provide concierge services and additional service and/or staff for peak periods.

Find out more

Request a demo to learn more about how TravelClick’s Business Intelligence, Digital Media and GDS Media solutions and how Amadeus' Sales & Catering Software can help you maximize occupancy and revenue during big events.

TravelClick offers innovative, cloud-based and data-driven solutions for hotels around the globe to maximize revenue. TravelClick enables over 25,000 customers to drive better business decisions and know, acquire, convert and retain guests. The Company’s interconnected suite of solutions includes Business Intelligence, Reservations & Booking Engine, Media, Web & Video and Guest Management. As a trusted hotel partner with more than 30 years of industry experience, TravelClick operates in 176 countries, with local experts in 39 countries and 14 offices in New York, Atlanta, Barcelona, Bucharest, Chicago, Dallas, Dubai, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Orlando, Ottawa, Paris, Shanghai and Singapore. The company also provides its hotel customers with access to a global network of over 600 travel-focused partners.

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