Mr. Pesik

Group Meetings

Ten Most Effective Ways to use Technology as a Meeting Selling Tool

By Greg Pesik, President and CEO, Passkey International

Technology is a key catalyst to group meeting success and hotels should embrace these solutions to make their venue more attractive to planners-whether for large groups and corporations, private weddings and parties. Here is a look at some of the must have technologies of today.

1. Collaborative Online Block Management Solutions

Room block management is a huge challenge. Why? It's difficult to accurately predict how many rooms you will need to accommodate your guests BEFORE you know how many will be attending. Set aside too many and you may be eating the cost of rooms that never get used. Set aside too few and you will have angry attendees who are forced to stay elsewhere.

Collaborative online block management solutions let planners and hotels give attendees the opportunity to make their reservation online in a contracted block. In many instances the reservation site is tied directly to the event site, making the process even easier. Planners and hotels can then monitor all activity in real-time through reports and event information. If a block is almost full, the planner can quickly add additional rooms. If a block is under-booked, the planner can release rooms and save money. While these solutions cannot predict attendance, they can remove the guessing game.

2. Automated Room List

A second area that hotels have begun looking at are room list management tools. When a planner has established its final list of attendees, standard practice requires they email the list or drop it off with the hotel. However with heightened security concerns, sending confidential information via email or dropping it off at the front desk no longer falls into the "best practices" category (imagine how many eyes view a registration list that has been faxed over to the hotel's front desk or in sent via email). Additionally, these methods are plagued by errors usually stemming from the manual entry of reservations.

Room list technologies automate several time-consuming processes in a completely PCI compliant environment, eliminating potential errors (sometimes by as much as 50%) and security flaws. Specifically the solutions let planners upload the rooming lists anytime at a secure Web location. The hotel can then import the lists directly into their own reservation systems, eliminating the manual labor component and freeing planners and hotel staff to focus on other urgent matters.

3. The Blackberry

The Blackberry is one of the most popular phones on the market today because it allows users to stay completely connected to their business regardless of their location. What's ironic is that the hotel industry, where success rests on delivering 24/7 customer service, has lagged behind when it comes to deploying these devices.

When it comes to the planning and execution of a meeting, having real-time, 24/7 connectivity to all vital information is critical. In many situations, when an issue has to be addressed, staff are forced to retreat to the nearest PC to take action. This takes time and also removes them from the action. Blackberries allow meeting planners to connect with hotel staff regardless of their location and exchange vital information, all from their phone. In doing so, the event staff remains connected and the execution of each activity flawless.

4. Smart Alerts

For those of us who are Outlook addicts we know the value alerts play in helping us make it through each day without missing a key deliverable. Today there are solutions available that transport the alert into the event realm. Called "smart alerts," these solutions let teams automate the key actions surrounding an event.

Let's say there is the issue of managing room blocks. One minute you have 20 rooms open and the next the block is full. With the use of smart alert solutions, the planner sets up "event conditions" so when, for example, a hotel room block passes the 80 percent full mark, an email alert is sent telling the team that it may need to increase the block size to meet unexpected event interest. Whether you are at your computer or out-of-pocket with your Blackberry, the alerts reach you and give you ample time to remedy the problem.

5. Wi-Fi - In Room

In my opinion this one is a "must have." If you are trying to bring group meetings to your hotel, you have to give these people the technologies that allow them to remain connected to the world that they have left behind. After all, just because they are away does not mean their business goes offline. In room Wi-Fi is critical and should be a standard offering with venues that are hosting corporate events. What's surprising is that there are still many hotels that do not offer this connectivity to their clients. This is a missed opportunity and a sure fire way to miss some tremendous meeting opportunities.

6. Wi-FI - Venue-Wide

In addition to in-room Wi-Fi, hotels need to begin taking Wi-Fi outside of the room and into the event venue. When you consider the fact that most events require attendees to remain "connected" to all activities for extended periods of time, giving Internet access from any location has many benefits. First, it gives them instant connectivity to the world they left behind and the ability to remain involved, all while letting them become immersed in the event itself.

For the event team, the venue-wide wireless also allows show planners to maintain connection to their team. Need access to the online registration system? Go online and check it. Need to contact a colleague during an important speech and don't want to disrupt the proceeding with a loud ring of the phone? Use instant messenger and communicate without interrupting the flow of the event.

7. Wireless Check-In

Staying with the wireless theme, many venues have begun to embrace wireless hand-held devices that tap into their property management system in real-time. These solutions free staff from the front desk by giving them the ability to check guests in from anywhere in the facility-curbside, in the convention room, at the company cocktail reception, you name it. These wireless devices allow hotels to get the guest's name into the system, process the credit card, and print the receipt in a more personalized and convenient manner (i.e. no long wait at the front desk).

8. The Kiosk

An alternative to the handheld check-in model is a self-service focused registration system such as those you see at the airport. These kiosks allow travelers to avoid the long-lines with a quick swipe of their credit card. In a hotel setting, self service kiosks let attendees check into the system at their own convenience. Once in the system, they can check room status, upgrade rooms, get their key, and more. The kiosks then alert the management team and everyone else involved so no development goes unnoticed. One additional benefit of the kiosk is that they allow the conference team and hotel to operate with a smaller crew or to distribute members of the team to other tasks.

9. In-Room Technologies

The evolution of technology is happening all over hotels and now is moving into the guest room in the form of interactive television technologies. These technologies take the traditional in-room TV experience and turn it into an entertainment center/personal assistant. Now guests that are in town for an event can turn to their television to update them on anything from the local weather to events taking place in the area. These systems can also be customized for the event so that when a guest checks in, the television screen contains vital information specific to their event-the most updated agenda, featured speakers (including their topics/biographies), interactive surveys and more. Not only does this enhance the guest's experience but it also gives planners the ability to keep them completely in the loop on all activities, including last minute changes.

10. Going 3D

For the technology geeks (present company included), this last item may interest you the most. I am talking about 3D planning solutions that allow planners to design and set up the look and feel of an event from the comfort of their computer. While not yet common, the benefits these solution bring to the group meeting equation is obvious. These solutions let planners arrange tables and the allotment of chairs, select color schemes (even down to the color of the napkins) and determine the placement of the video screens. Some solutions even allow planners to walk the virtual floor to gauge the set up from the perspective of a potential guest. Once the set up is completed, the planner can forward it to the hotel which then comes back with a breakdown of costs and next steps.

When it comes to a successful meeting, a hotel has to bring more to the table than just a stellar reputation, luxurious amenities and the most informed employees. These qualities are clearly important success drivers but they alone do not guarantee success. Adding key technologies to the process can help ensure your meeting goes off without a hitch and will keep planner coming back.

Greg Pesik is President and CEO of Passkey. He served as SVP of Transport, Travel, and Hospitality at Talus Solutions. Where he helped position the company as a leader in profit growth technologies. Greg has overseen a portfolio of hotels, passenger airlines, cruise lines, cargo, ocean shipping, rail, trucking, and rental cars. He was VP and Director of Business Development at Aeronomics, held lead positions for Andersen Consulting and KPMG Peat Marwick. Greg holds an MBA from the Johnson School at Cornell and a BS from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Mr. Pesik can be contacted at 617-237-8200 or gpesik@passkey.com Extended Bio...

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