Emerging Meeting Data Technology That Will Help Hotels be More Strategic

By Jim Vandevender Chief Marketing Officer, Knowland | January 22, 2017

Meeting data and technology have evolved considerably since the days of the bulky,expensive mail ordered meeting planner guides and hotel catalogues. The ways in which hotels find and book groups is far different than the antiquated methods of not so long ago. As better technology surrounding meetings and events becomes available, hotels appetites for group business seems to also increase at a parallel pace making the need to keep the related technology evolving even more paramount. The companies that provide hotels with this meeting intelligence are continually developing new and more advanced methods of gathering this sought after data to keep up pace with the demand.

Ask any hotel sales manager who handles the group market about the value it brings, and you will likely hear a song of praise and frustration. Since hotels started including ballrooms and meeting space as standard must have inclusions n building plans most hotels have become dependent on meetings and events to varying degrees. The economy, hotel location, seasonality and competition can drive a hotel’s appetite to be voracious or timid, but at some point most hotels have group needs that must be filled.

But is the volume of meetings really there to warrant the desire for more and more meeting data? It is indeed. “The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy Report” issued by PricewaterhouseCoopers in conjunction with the Convention Industry Council (CIC) noted in their 2014 update that more than 1.8 million meetings were estimated to have been held in the U.S. in 2012 . With an estimated 225 million participants this represents a significant opportunity for hotels with meeting space to fill. But where are they coming from? Who is booking these meetings? The same report noted that the lion’s share of meetings -and meeting participants- in 2012 were hosted by corporations followed by Association/membership organizations, with SMERF and government coming in last. Companies like Knowland and HIS, globally recognized providers of meeting and group data, confirmed these findings with their own meeting data reflecting similar segment allocations and breakdowns offering very specific insight into the exact organizations and planners holding these meetings and events.

The gathering of data to reflect who is in fact holding meetings, coupled with where and when they are being held, has created a need for more and more data to be provided to hotels so that sales strategies can be leveraged. After decades of selling in a somewhat darkened vacuum due to lack of data, hotels now have the brilliant light of technology guiding them as to what organizations pose the best opportunity to meet their specific group needs and revenue parameters.

In the last several years modern technology and data tools have not only become more advanced but more attainable as well. The hotel industry’s appetite for group business has grown more pointed and specific. For example, during booming economic times they are quite choosy about the market segments and the groups they book dictating arrival days, commanding higher rates and limiting meeting space usage to match guest room consumption so that rooms to space ratios are maximized. As hotel companies add new brands to their expanding portfolios they demand tools that can tell them the specific types of organizations that hold meetings in similar brands. All of these needs have created a technology and data culture.

But how is this data collected and queued up for access and consumption? For many years, it has been a very manual process. As the leader in data analysis and business intelligence surrounding group activity, a core part of Knowland's business is collecting group meeting data from venues around the world. Although a portion of this data is collected digitally from properties that share their "readerboard" information over a network, the vast majority of this data is still collected the old fashioned way: a human being walks through a hotel and snaps pictures of the boards. The picture is subsequently hand-transcribed by data entry personnel into a database, and is finally exposed as usable intelligence in the company’s applications. Meeting Intelligence (formerly HIS) was acquired by Knowland in 2016 and collects its data in a similar fashion.

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.