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.

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