Not All Meetings are Created Equally

By Bob McIntosh Regional VP Sales & Marketing, GF Management | September 24, 2017

Let’s Start at the Beginning

Historically a hospitality selling professionals’ training typically included qualification of an event through a series of questions addressed to the meeting planner who is an employee of the company hosting the event or a sourcing manager employed by an agency of record managing travel. In the association market, the planner could be a paid staffer or even a committee member tasked with soliciting bids from various hotels. The National Sales or Global Sales force for the major brands might also act as an intermediary should that customer have brand preferences or even negotiated contract terms for all of their business.

The mission of the sales person is gain a working knowledge of the profile of the attendee, the history of the event, who the decision maker is, when the decision will be made, what are the financial resources available or budget, what the dates are, what guest room inventory and meeting space is required, what food and beverage will be required and the need of audio visual support. These questions greatly influence cost which is often a key component of where the meeting can and will be held. Additional details might be on or off site entertainment, transportation to and from an airport and parking. A Destination Management Company may be part of the equation to assist in those off site activities so sellers might typically provide feedback or contact information to assist a planner making those arrangements from afar.

Today, a larger percentage of meetings or events are being sourced through third party organizations such as Convention and Visitors Bureaus, companies such as Helms Brisco, Conference Direct and perhaps the National Sales Team working through them so the available information becomes much more challenging to obtain if not included in an RFP. Even more challenging is interpreting the sometime limited information generated by an on line RFP source such as Meeting Broker or Cvent. That said, the sales person has a more difficult job in placing their best offer first. Complications such as receiving the end users concession requirements following the initial bid making the negotiation process even more difficult.

That said, the job of the seller has become more complex and the decision to award a contract could take considerably longer. Naturally, sales managers who have established relationships with a company or planner have an advantage over those who do not or might be new to their role. Turnover within a sales team can have a very big impact on the buy decision of a planner so keeping sales teams intact over time is in the best interest of any hotel that specializes in hosting meetings big and small.

Sales teams now also need to have a working knowledge of power requirements of a group that may be training on a new software or hardware product, by downloading files or simply maintaining on line communications of attendees while away from their offices. The need for additional bandwidth might have been as simple as having a T1 line into the building. Now the requirement can be much more sophisticated including the need to set up a LAN (local area network) at the hotel. Often times someone from a company’s IT department might make a visit and assessment of the hotels capability prior to a decision being made.

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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.