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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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.