How to Manage March Madness at Your Hotel

By Brett Ellison General Manager, Kansas City Marriott, Country Club Plaza | April 16, 2017

With the annual chaos and excitement of the NCAA Tournament upon us once again, this is a good time to take a closer look at how hotel professionals manage high-volume external events. From concerts to conferences, and festivals to big games, the unique challenges of high-volume special events can put a strain on even the most well run and accommodating hotel property.

When it comes to populous and high-impact events, the NCAA Tournament is near the top of the list. The impact of this extraordinarily popular yearly celebration of the magic of college basketball is significant. In some instances, the impact of the event is felt even outside of the cities where the tournament is being held. In Las Vegas for example, the 2016 tournament week was a record-setter, with an estimated 98% of hotels on the Vegas Strip fully book during the first week of March Madness.

When it comes to overcoming operational challenges and logistical issues, hoteliers need to engage in thoughtful preparation and practice strategic decision-making and increased operational flexibility. Understanding the potential issues–and corresponding solutions–that high-volume special events present is critically important for hotel professionals who want to make their hotel a popular and profitable destination for those events, and do so while providing consistently outstanding service and a memorable experience for guests who will be staying in your hotel. So, what’s your game plan?

Flexibility

All events are different, and unknowns are often simply a part of the bargain. When it comes to March Madness, you never really know which teams are going to be successful and which ones are going to lose in the opening round of the tournament. Some fans are likely to leave as soon as their team is out of the running, and hotels that aspire to be a NCAA Tournament destination need to recognize that reality. While not every special event features the same elimination setup, there is an inherent uncertainty that is an inescapable part of large and complex events.

Here at the Kansas City Marriott Country Club Plaza, for example, we understand that some fans will be leaving sooner than they’d hoped if their team does not make it past day one. Knowing that, we have to respond to this anticipated loss of business, and make a calculated gamble: we change our overall selling strategies and take significantly more reservations than we normally would. We also alter our policies as needed for the convenience of the teams and their fans, adjusting minimum length of stay requirements as needed. The ultimate goal with this additional flexibility is to strike a balance between maximizing hotel reservations and giving guests the flexibility they need to attend their events on time.

Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.