Mr. Fliess

Group Meetings

Group Business Strategies for Every Season

By Kevin Fliess, Vice President Supplier Network Product Marketing, Cvent

Seasonality is a blessing and curse for hospitality professionals who want to plan ahead. Cvent's customer success team receives calls, emails, and tweets every day from hoteliers looking to take the reins of the data they've already collected to fill need periods. Whether they want to maintain repeat group business or expand to new markets, so many of our partners value the importance of using predictable, recurring behaviors to make strong sales and marketing strategies that last.

Group business accounts for approximately 30% of a hotel's revenue (Frost & Sullivan). But even for venues that know their meetings and events sector inside and out, seasonality is often left as an afterthought. That's why anticipating sales cycles and adapting your practices to support them makes a huge difference in the volume and pacing of your group business. As soon as you know what data you should be looking for, developing plans gets much clearer.

Here are some of Cvent's go-to tips for improving seasonality-supported strategies for hotel sales and marketing teams.

Lean on Your Property's Year-Round Appeal

From your sales and marketing teams to the meeting planners you serve, you already have a dedicated team of ambassadors to show you what they want and how they want you to conduct business with them. You are the expert on your property's strengths and weaknesses, and your destination is the backbone of your venue's appeal. Use your expertise and data collected to refine your value proposition and break it down into seasons.

Know What You're up Against

Take a look at your competitors and their value propositions. Compare properties within your destination and similar venues across the country and the world. Observe how their marketing messaging changes to complement the season. While climate and temperature are obvious characteristics to consider, think about world events, holidays, and local attractions that structure booking patterns at certain times of the year. For example, the National Cherry Blossom Festival comes to Washington, D.C. every spring, and the event's "Preferred Hotels" offer promotions to visitors during that week. That means that hotels should start marketing their group space well in advance to attract planners while they source.

Ask Planners Directly

Host live events for planners in your area to market your property and destination. You and your team should attend the events and familiarize planners with your group services and facilities, answer questions about your property, and expand your network of planners. These can be networking events or happy hours, or you can add more structure by inviting speakers to give presentations that are relevant and useful to their peers. Ask planners what their booking patterns are, when they start to source, and what they look for at different times of the year. Event professionals are happy to share their experiences, especially with suppliers who can improve the experience from the start.

Reward Customer and Employee Loyalty

Work with your team to identify planners' booking cycles and their gaps to build detailed plans that help you fill them. Honor planners who return to your property and explore what kept them coming back. It's helpful to loop in your destination marketing organization (DMO), if the planner hasn't already, to get the buyer perspective on what you can offer.

Get Your Team on Board

Provide incentives to your internal teams so they're more excited about setting concrete seasonal sales and marketing plans. Show teammates the segment behavior patterns you know to be true, and they'll start looking out for others they might notice. For example, annual kickoff meetings tend to occur from January to March, while executive retreats follow in mid-year. Leisure travelers tend to increase during the summer and winter holidays, while the business transient audience tends to break for June and July.

Follow up with Existing Customers

Meeting professionals who have already worked with your property are much more likely to return with additional groups and refer colleagues to you. In fact, 19% of planners say that peer recommendations are the number one influence on their sourcing decisions (Cvent Planner Sourcing Study). So, make the process as smooth as possible and reward repeat clients who have seen your venue at its best.

Your database makes it easy to reach out and offer promotions and discounts during your slow periods. Consider offering a referral bonus during specific times of the year. Once you know what your slow times are, you can start an outreach or referral campaign to previous customers with enough time to fill the dates you need. Our data shows that advance booking windows can range from six months for smaller conferences to fourteen months for larger events, so consider the long game when you want to start promoting.

Gather the Right Data

Do You Know Exactly When Your Slow Periods Are?

If you only have a vague idea of the booking periods that need the most help, now's the time to get crystal-clear. Take advantage of custom dashboard reporting that can help clarify booking behaviors, patterns, and periods of peak demand. Keep a close eye on the competition too, which should guide how you score your own tactics and practices.

Encourage your team to absorb industry reports and publications on the latest trends and patterns, but not just in the hotel and travel industry at large. Check out your destination's marketing organization to see how they're attracting and promoting meetings and events nearby to see what works. What are the travel trends? Why are people visiting, and at what time of year? Tap into local planners and see what they're observing online and at their events.

Build a Results-Based Marketing Strategy

Take your property's value prop, destination insights, and competitive and planner intelligence to determine a technique that is agile enough to adapt to the seasons, but flexible enough to last more than a year.

Collect Patterns and Target Accordingly

Separate your audience in segments that make the most sense for your property. Whether it's the size of event, the event target market (education, corporate, or association business groups), or the average booking window for those types of events, find what's the most efficient for your need dates. Most hotels have strengths with particular groups, so it's likely that you'll find that you get a higher return on investment in one group instead of multiple. Big data, often attainable through industry partners, can be used to correlate several of these factors and let you know exactly what patterns to expect and which to pay the most attention to.

After choosing your ideal group size and their booking windows, you can work backward to create a more granular marketing strategy. Use marketing analytics to determine which platforms and methods tend to be the most effective in getting customers to book. If you don't have that data yet, use tagging and tracking to collect information on which referrals are coming from which venues. You need at least 90 days of data to be able to draw a conclusion about whether a specific method or venue is getting results, but it can vary depending on the number of visitors and conversion rate.

Explore Behavioral Retargeting as a Marketing Tactic

Target specific offers, incentives, or messaging to planners who have taken a specific action, whether that action was visiting a campaign-specific landing page on your site, opening three emails out of a series, or attending a live event. That way, you aren't bombarding planners with ads they might not find relevant. It's more cost-effective for you and more meaningful to potential customers.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Having industry-wide and location-specific knowledge will show you exactly how to position your property within the group space. Does your website explain the value of your property during specific seasons? You can research local industry events, conferences, or tourist attractions as they change throughout the year and make sure that your website highlights them to groups sourcing locations.

An effective strategy paired with competitive data can go a long way in helping hoteliers attract and win group business in any season. Use data and analytics to do the hard work for you. Partner up with a company that can find the exact data you need for each segment of your business - leisure, group, and business transient. Business intelligence should come at the beginning and the end of all your sales and marketing plans and their execution, showing you how to improve and strengthen plans as each of your segments grow. It's just a matter of choosing the right data sources to dissect.

Out of the $250 billion of hospitality revenue from transient and leisure business, only 10% is spent on marketing. And although your hotel website provides the top source of marketing ROI for your organization, meetings and events are a close second. Build your marketing plans to support planner behaviors all year, and you'll quickly fill your group business need dates. With business intelligence and support from your destination, you'll be able to use seasonality to build brand awareness, develop stronger relationships with planners, and intercept the competition before they even see it coming.

Kevin Fliess has spent the past two decades in leadership positions across B2B and B2C technology companies. He’s led marketing, product management, and general management functions across a spectrum of ventures – from early stage start-ups, to growth companies, as well as established world-class brands. Mr. Fliess is currently VP of marketing at Cvent, where he leads product marketing, demand generation, and customer marketing for the Hospitality Cloud division. This includes Cvent’s Group Marketing Solutions which span three online marketplaces that support a variety of meeting planners – the Cvent Supplier Network, EliteMeetings.com, and SpeedRFP.com – that expose hoteliers to hundreds of thousands of planners. Mr. Fliess can be contacted at 866-318-4358 or kfliess@cvent.com Extended Bio...

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