Emerging Meeting Data Technology That Will Help Hotels be More Strategic

By Jim Vandevender Chief Marketing Officer, Knowland | January 22, 2017

Meeting data and technology have evolved considerably since the days of the bulky,expensive mail ordered meeting planner guides and hotel catalogues. The ways in which hotels find and book groups is far different than the antiquated methods of not so long ago. As better technology surrounding meetings and events becomes available, hotels appetites for group business seems to also increase at a parallel pace making the need to keep the related technology evolving even more paramount. The companies that provide hotels with this meeting intelligence are continually developing new and more advanced methods of gathering this sought after data to keep up pace with the demand.

Ask any hotel sales manager who handles the group market about the value it brings, and you will likely hear a song of praise and frustration. Since hotels started including ballrooms and meeting space as standard must have inclusions n building plans most hotels have become dependent on meetings and events to varying degrees. The economy, hotel location, seasonality and competition can drive a hotel's appetite to be voracious or timid, but at some point most hotels have group needs that must be filled.

But is the volume of meetings really there to warrant the desire for more and more meeting data? It is indeed. "The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy Report" issued by PricewaterhouseCoopers in conjunction with the Convention Industry Council (CIC) noted in their 2014 update that more than 1.8 million meetings were estimated to have been held in the U.S. in 2012 . With an estimated 225 million participants this represents a significant opportunity for hotels with meeting space to fill. But where are they coming from? Who is booking these meetings? The same report noted that the lion's share of meetings -and meeting participants- in 2012 were hosted by corporations followed by Association/membership organizations, with SMERF and government coming in last. Companies like Knowland and HIS, globally recognized providers of meeting and group data, confirmed these findings with their own meeting data reflecting similar segment allocations and breakdowns offering very specific insight into the exact organizations and planners holding these meetings and events.

The gathering of data to reflect who is in fact holding meetings, coupled with where and when they are being held, has created a need for more and more data to be provided to hotels so that sales strategies can be leveraged. After decades of selling in a somewhat darkened vacuum due to lack of data, hotels now have the brilliant light of technology guiding them as to what organizations pose the best opportunity to meet their specific group needs and revenue parameters.

In the last several years modern technology and data tools have not only become more advanced but more attainable as well. The hotel industry's appetite for group business has grown more pointed and specific. For example, during booming economic times they are quite choosy about the market segments and the groups they book dictating arrival days, commanding higher rates and limiting meeting space usage to match guest room consumption so that rooms to space ratios are maximized. As hotel companies add new brands to their expanding portfolios they demand tools that can tell them the specific types of organizations that hold meetings in similar brands. All of these needs have created a technology and data culture.

But how is this data collected and queued up for access and consumption? For many years, it has been a very manual process. As the leader in data analysis and business intelligence surrounding group activity, a core part of Knowland's business is collecting group meeting data from venues around the world. Although a portion of this data is collected digitally from properties that share their "readerboard" information over a network, the vast majority of this data is still collected the old fashioned way: a human being walks through a hotel and snaps pictures of the boards. The picture is subsequently hand-transcribed by data entry personnel into a database, and is finally exposed as usable intelligence in the company's applications. Meeting Intelligence (formerly HIS) was acquired by Knowland in 2016 and collects its data in a similar fashion.

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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.