Hoteliers Look to Automate Bookings as Demand for In-Person Meetings Grows

By Dan Berger Founder and CEO, Social Tables | September 25, 2016

A decade ago futurists and armchair analysts were convinced that the internet would move face-to-face interactions online and therefore kill the meetings & events industry as we know it. Instead of joining together under one roof, we'd educate ourselves via webinars, make new connections exclusively over LinkedIn, and swap catered lunches for granola bars and iced-coffee at the office.

So, what happened to this dystopia? Today, it's evident that technology is having the opposite effect on events. We're actually seeing that modern connectivity and social networking is driving higher demand for face-to-face interactions. In the past, we predicted that broadband would make in-person meetings redundant. The reality is that technology is fueling the fire. It's made it possible for new communities to form, and galvanized niches that had once been limited by geography.

Technology spurs the creation of entirely new communities and the desire for individuals to congregate as a result. Hoteliers today are jockeying to capture the opportunity of new revenue in a time where guest-room and function space supply is struggling to keep up with demand. The hospitality industry is facing a fundamental shift in its approach to group sales. Hoteliers are looking to optimize group sales with technology that automates bookings in an online marketplace. The question is - why now, and what are the rules that make an online marketplace viable for modern planners and hoteliers?

In-Person Meetings Are Here to Stay

In-person meetings and events are growing in size and occurring more frequently. Corporate executives today recognize the power of events as a viable marketing channel externally, and an engaging employee platform internally. Take for example, Salesforce.com's annual conference, Dreamforce. With the goal to educate and inspire customers, the first Dreamforce event brought together just over 1,300 attendees in 2003. 12 years later, the last Dreamforce is estimated to have drawn more than 150,000 people. What's more is that the event itself has matured into a legitimate revenue generator for Salesforce. Today, ticket prices are set to $1,800 for early bird registrants.

Beyond revenue growth, organizations are seeing continued success in events and tradeshows as a way to spur new transactions within their industry. In a recent interview with the Meeting Mean Business Coalition, Mike Gallagher, President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, described what's possible when events foster the opportunity to create new business relationships.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.