Marketing to Unmanaged Group Travelers: Are You Getting Your Share?
By Mike Stacy Chief Executive Officer, Groople.com | January 27, 2012
Marketing to unmanaged group travelers presents several challenges, but the opportunity presented far outweighs the barriers. An effective marketing program targeted at group travelers requires several key elements, some of which are technical and some of which are simply conceptual or philosophical. First, I would like to address the types of travelers that comprise the group travel market. Second, I will discuss ways to effectively reach these customers.
The first thing to realize is that, even if you are not currently targeting group travelers, your current audience and customer base is comprised of group travelers. Data from the recent PhocusWright study, Groups and Meetings: Market Opportunity Redefined suggests that approximately 30 percent of leisure travelers who book transient travel also plan and book group travel of one kind or another. This is a very important piece of information. It means you are already reaching group travel consumers, but if you are not currently capturing much group business it also means your messaging, product, ad creative and site functionality are not speaking to the consumer as a group traveler.
The fact that group travel includes many disparate customer types means it is important to understand to which customers your property or properties is likely to appeal. A team of 13-year-old softball players along with their coach and parents needs something different in a hotel than a group of 5 to 10 corporate executives.
On the one hand, a sports team wants interior doorways, free continental breakfast and adjacent rooms. They probably want to keep the costs down and are highly likely to put four people in each room. On the other hand, the corporate meeting traveler would prefer a higher quality hotel, a business center, exercise facilities, meeting space and a much higher level of service. This just highlights a very common sense marketing requirement: know your customer. If your hotel or resort is not appropriate for certain customer segments, do not waste your resources trying to reach that audience. Instead, use the diversity of the group travel market to your advantage by targeting the most appropriate group or event types. Actively research these customer segments to determine the services and amenities that most appeal to each one. You may be surprised at what you learn. Be creative, and use your research to implement something that makes your hotel compellingly different than competitors in your market when it comes to group travelers.
What can you do at the property level to capture more group business? You can train your staff, especially your concierge and desk managers, in the services groups are likely to request. Incorporate these services into your hotel's offerings. Anticipate the customer's needs so that you can over-deliver on the promise of a great group travel experience at your hotel. Run group rate promotions to generate awareness and excitement around your property or brand. Consider creating packaged deals for group travelers, including meals, guide services and other add-ons. Create a real sense that your hotel is the perfect place for a group of people to spend some time. Consumers will never assume you are the right choice. Tell them you are the right choice, and then prove it to them by delivering a great customer experience.
Then there is the question of how to reach these unmanaged group travelers. Because your current customer base already includes group travelers, you certainly can start your efforts by reaching your existing customers and potential customers. By updating and refining your messaging and marketing collateral, you can begin to create awareness that you are a great option for groups. Highlight the amenities and services your property offers that are attractive to specific groups. Basically, if you want to actively go after unmanaged group travelers as customers, you have to make it part of your brand personality, brand messaging and most importantly, the services and amenities your hotel offers. This may be the most cost-effective approach for your hotel in the short-term.