The Small Meetings Digital Revolution: A Profitable Opportunity for Hoteliers
By Charles de Gaspe Beaubien President & CEO, Groupize Solutions | September 06, 2015
Remember the days when guests called to make hotel reservations? It was not all that long ago. However, times have changed, and the modern consumer's engagement with digital is absolutely transformative. In today's buyer-driven market, travelers prefer to shop and book hotel rooms online or via mobile device. They go direct to the hotel website or a popular OTA, only after having read dozens of peer reviews and researching options on a travel aggregator. More recently, travelers have been drawn to alternative accommodations and consumer-to-consumer options like Airbnb or VRBO.
These days, when a traveler arrives at the airport, they may use a mobile app to request an Uber car instead of a taxi service. On the drive to the hotel, they may receive a text alert that their hotel room is ready and, upon arrival, be able to check in via smartphone and quite possibly use the same device to open the door to their room, which they already know intimately from having watched a 360-degree tour online.
But, when that same guest needs to a book a small meeting – whether booked by professionals or by occasional planners-they will either need to call to inquire about rates and availability or struggle through a long eRFP process. Moreover, on top of that, it is likely that three out of four of the eRFPs they submit won't garner a response at all. Once a property is selected, the process to book and plan the meeting with the hotel sales staff can take eight days on average, according to American Express Meetings & Events, and in most cases, very little of that will be automated, interactive or handled online.
That is the shocking truth that the hospitality industry is faced. The gaps are wide when we compare the modern booking experience of an individual traveler with the inconvenient experience of a small meeting planner or group organizer. At the end of the day, guest experience is paramount; however, the same guest would have two very different experiences at the same property based on whether they are a leisure guest or a small meeting planner/attendee. Yet, their needs are fundamentally the same: comfortable space, whether that is a meeting room or guest room, great service, amenities and food and drinks. However, hotels have not embraced digital scalability or small meeting revenue management and, therefore, the planners needs seem too difficult and risky to handle online.
People expect a consistent, positive experience from a business at every touch point and a positive experience no matter that channel they access - that is the expectation of today's travel customer. Choosing not to invest in the technology and processes that allow small meetings to be planned and managed on most any platform is a far greater loss than, say, giving up the minutiae of rate negotiation. The benefits of embracing a digital meetings revolution-providing online and mobile bookings, real-time rates and availability, cross-platform communication, and packaging small meetings offerings, are substantial, especially when the small meetings industry is only growing. In the US, 80% of all meetings have 50 or fewer attendees, representing a $124 billion industry, and day meetings alone can bring in $6,000. Embracing the digital revolution in this segment can only reap more revenue, staff productivity, and better service. Here's why:
1) Automating small groups and meetings online gives hotel staff more time to focus on bigger opportunities. The fact that small meetings require so much effort to plan and book is as dismal for group sales as it is for the planners. Often this burdensome process means that sales staff ignores what could be lucrative business in order to focus on more complex groups. Conversely, sales can also spend valuable time fielding unqualified eRFPs that could be better invested in higher-profit opportunities. If small meetings are automated, and planners have tools to self-service online, the hotel wins in both scenarios: more small meetings revenue captured with minimal time investment by the sales team.
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