SEPTEMBER FOCUS

Hotel Group Meetings: Demand vs. Supply

 

3 Ways to Rethink Your Group Sales Strategy

By Amy Draheim Founder, ABD Creative | September 13, 2020

When it comes to group sales, the rules of engagement have changed. Yes, there will come a time when people will gather again, in large groups, with unproblematic breakfast buffets in the morning and double-dip enticing chocolate fountains in the evening. Until that day comes, sales team must adapt in order to land group business amidst the disruption.

The things we love most about group gatherings - shared stories, team building, s'mores roasting and fireside chats - haven't gone away. It's still possible to meet, retreat, stay safe, and be well.

During the pandemic, something unfortunate has happened: sales and marketing teams are crystal clear when it comes to what guests cannot do, instead of being explicit about what guests might be able to do, instead. Of course, we must abide by laws and rules. We must protect our team members, hotel guests, and our own reputation. But with all of the focus on what can no longer be done - what must be postponed, cancelled, and refunded - we haven't given much thought to what is still possible.

We're Helicopter Parenting Our Group Business

As a parent to a two year old, I should know. Sure, large scale conventions are cancelled, fundraisers have gone online, and your cousin's wedding is pushed to next year, but let's not create more fencing inside of fencing. Let's instead look beyond it for a moment. Let's be visionary, and take a more expansive look at what might be possible. Maybe instead of protecting a hotel's reputation, we can fortify it, and emerge as an industry leader.

I did some soul searching on this topic. I thought back to some of my favorite experiences attending conferences, annual meetings, weddings, events, meetings, and retreats. Then, I considered how things have changed. How would the most memorable experiences look in today's lens (a lens that's more like a House of Terrors mirror than a bifocal, let's be honest). Certainly, there are components that aren't pandemic-proof, but there are still plenty of experiences that are possible today.

In order to rethink group sales strategy, we must begin by breaking down a new set of wants and needs. Meeting planners and attendees are looking for a place that's close to home, a safe place to work and gather, and flexibility above all.

3 Ways to Rethink Your Group Sales Strategy

1. Go from Macro to Micro

When the state of New York allowed corporate offices go back to work, albeit staggered and wearing masks when in range of a coworker, that sent up signals: it's safe, or somewhat safe, to resume business. For the most part, it's worked. Instead of an office filling up to 100% capacity, employers are breaking up their teams so that each group gets a couple of in-house days per week. "All Hands" meetings now involve a monitor and a login, which creates some sense of togetherness while being safely apart.

The same approach can be applied to group meetings and events, but it's up to the sales and marketing teams to package up this offering and share it. With A/V technology already in place, it's possible to promote a meeting or event in which half of attendees join via Zoom, while others attend in person.

When it comes to breakout sessions and meal service, the same idea applies. Instead of planning a buffet brunch for all attendees, planners will be looking for grab-and-go lunch options, boxed lunches, or in-room meal delivery during the breakout period. Another option might be to serve a buffet-style meal outdoors, where attendees are able to practice social distancing and may feel more comfortable networking.

The show must go on, after all. That's good news for meeting planners, wedding planners, and hotels. Events are beginning to make a comeback, albeit on a micro scale. When weddings were canceled, many brides-to-be found an alternate route: an intimate, fall or winter wedding close to home, surrounded by the people who matter most. We're going to see more of this: fall elopements, winter weddings, and mini-moons close to home.

The same goes for corporate meetings and events. The hospitality industry should take the lead here. If we aren't planning to meet again, how can we convince businesses to gather at our hotels and do the same? As many hotels move into budget season for 2021, here's an idea: plan your own meeting on property, complete with an overnight stay, micro-meetings, and break out sessions. Then go through with it. Stay. Meet. Retreat.

It's not every day that low occupancy allows us to utilize our own space - take advantage of it. Now that you're intimately familiar with what it might be like to meet and retreat during the pandemic, use these experiences to build a marketing campaign that will attract group business.

Finally, use the macro to micro concept to hone in on your target market. Focus on the driving range. I'm not referring to golf, we'll get to that later. Group business will mirror what we've already noticed from the transient market during what The New York Times coined "The Summer of Road Trips." We're all longing to travel again, but for now, we're limited to where we can drive. The same is true for group business, so tighten up your list of contacts to those within driving range, for better results.

2. Zoom, it's Here to Stay, So Use it to Your Advantage

From gloom to doom, and then to Zoom. If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. This has been the trajectory for employees across nearly every industry, who now intimately familiar with the acronym, WFH (work from home). With fewer LOLs shared around the water cooler, businesses turned to video conferencing using Zoom, Google Meet, and others, to stay connected. It's no surprise that when it comes to group meetings and events, the Zoom concept will continue to expand.

Your mission? Adapt new technologies as quickly as possible. Make it clear that meeting packages include a comprehensive suite of A/V equipment and tools to connect to remote attendees virtually. Take what feels like a limitation, and make it just the opposite. Maybe you'll provide Zoom backgrounds that match your property's rooms or exteriors, to help virtual attendees feel immersed in the experience. Or maybe you'll convert a few rooms into broadcasting or recording studios for company heads and keynote speakers. There's a lot you can do.

If an entire conference has gone virtual, there may be an opportunity to gather small groups of attendees under one physical roof. Create a screening room to project the virtual event while allowing attendees a space to gather with fewer bodies.

While you're at it, think like it's the off-season. Until we're on the other side of the pandemic, think about the incentives and offers you've built for groups to travel in the off-season. Use that content as a template to create a package that's relevant now. Maybe instead of discounting rooms, you're offering plenty of value adds, like individual, boxed lunches, team building events, and complimentary A/V technology. Technology will be in high demand to connect with remote employees who are either unable to attend, or who have been asked to attend the event virtually - how can you package this up?

It's one thing to come up with half a dozen ideas, it's another to communicate your offerings. The biggest mistake I see sales people make is to only communicate when they have a discount offer. Sure, put together a package that's pandemic-approved, but continue to engage with your prospects list even when there's no offer on the table. If you have outdoor space that's ideal for distancing, go ahead and share that story. If you only ever communicate with your prospects when you have a discount, you're not selling your brand as much as a discount. Besides, an offer alone isn't going to convince a planner to plan a meeting out of thin air.

You'll be better served by sharing relevant stories about your property's offerings consistently, which keeps you top of mind. By communicating storylines that position your property as desirable for a number of reasons (least of all, a discount), you'll create a lasting impression that will pay off when it's booking season again.

3. Team Building and Beyond

Take another cue from transient business and what we know about the changing psyche of travelers today: make a fundamental change to the way you run meetings. Namely, move meetings and events to outdoor, open air settings when possible. Move the marketing focus from conference room floor plans and capacity charts to team building. During the pandemic pause, take some time to build out team building and programming. Maybe you have unused outdoor spaces typically reserved for wedding receptions, or maybe you have space that's used as informal, breakout space.

Many properties are moving their check in and dining experience into open air settings: building pop-up gardens and outdoor dining rooms in spare parking spaces, adding twinkle lights to turn outdoor corridors into courtyards, even partnering with local outfitters to offer team building programming offsite. While it's true that decisions can be made on Zoom and it's possible to meet online, virtual meetings will never replace physical gatherings. Zoom hasn't cracked the code on team building, and this aspect of group business will continue to be in demand. Build out your offerings, and share what's possible with your prospects.

In your communications, remember to focus on what's possible, instead of what's not. Maybe you'll offer outdoor yoga with a local instructor, a chance for teams to come together and practice mindfulness during uncertain times. Maybe you'll offer to organize a golf tournament at a nearby public course, or a round robin pickle ball competition between virtual meetings or intimate, in-person sessions. Maybe a fleet of cruiser bicycles become fodder for an afternoon scavenger hunt, and a chance for a team that's been distanced for months to problem-solve and work together.

You may even take a cue from Disney World hosting the NBA finals, or La Quinta Resort hosting ABC's The Bachelor, and position your property as ideal for buy-outs. For planners who need to gather a large group in a closed circle, this is a great option. Again, package up this offering so that it's clear what's possible. Build a dedicated landing page to promote buy-outs, send an email to your group sales database list to gauge interest, and follow up as you normally would with a group sales lead.

Remember to market all of the things that are possible-outdoor gatherings, social distancing virtual screenings, recorded events, catering to-go options, the safety and security of having the entire property to yourself - instead of focusing on the limitations.

Out With the Board Room & in With the New

Now, it's up to you. How can you rethink not only your marketing strategy, but your group sales offerings, to appeal to today's meeting planners? How can you turn limitations into a host of new offerings? How can you create new, better ways to meet, retreat, and gather? Maybe you'll go after elopements and intimate winter wedding business, or maybe your property is best suited for buy-outs. There's no one size fits all approach, so take some time to review each strategy. Create solutions that will work for your property and resonate with your customers.

Go from macro to micro - in just about every facet of group business. Get creative about offering hybrid events, and beef up virtual offerings. Lean on modern technologies and innovate to create one of a kind meetings and events that will surprise and delight planners. Instead of limiting your offerings, build them up. Think expansively about team building opportunities, programming, and partnerships to ensure gatherings are not just safe, but also memorable.

Ms. Draheim Amy Draheim is the founder of ABD Creative, a marketing agency specializing in hospitality. After publishing her novel, which won a New York Public Library Award, Ms. Draheim traded fiction writing for steaks and spas. She has gained a robust portfolio of travel, hospitality and lifestyle clients around the world since then-working as a marketing strategist to develop and execute campaigns that do more than sell a room, they inspire. Based in Bend, Oregon, Ms. Draheim documents her travels on her blog, The Traveler's Journey, where she has worked with Travelpro, Walla Walla Wine Alliance, and Red Travel Mexico. A published author, marketing expert, podcaster and blogger, her unique career experiences have formed her one-of-a-kind perspective as a storyteller. Ms. Draheim can be contacted at 305-677-3904 or amy@abdagency.com Please visit http://www.amydraheim.com for more information. Extended Biography

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11. MEMBERSHIP FEES

Hotel Business Review Subscriptions

If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.

12. PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION

Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Richard Walsh
David Harouche
Janet Gerhard
Sheetal Singh
Peter O'Connor
Kevin Krapp
Gio Palatucci
Claire Way
Clifford Ferrara
Coming up in November 2020...

Hotel Design: Home Away From Home

With the rise of the sharing economy and the peer-to-peer marketplace for lodging options, hoteliers are re-thinking the look, feel and appeal of their locations. There is an emphasis on re-creating a feeling of homeyness - a comfortable, cozy and inviting space that feels like home. 'This is accomplished through the careful selection of furniture design, paint colors, lighting design, artwork, bathroom fixtures and textile accessories. In addition, some hotels are providing their guests with upscale amenities, such as a book and movie library, home-style kitchenettes, a coffee machine with locally-sourced beans and tea, or even a batch of fresh-baked cookies. Similarly, there is a growing design trend based on the concept of place-making. Travelers are searching for experiences that are unique and authentic to the locale in which they find themselves, and so hotel designers are integrating a sense of place into their work. This is partially achieved by incorporating traditional artisanal crafts and other local artwork into hotel rooms and communal spaces. Another design trend includes the creation of full-service, co-working environments within the hotel. Guests don't like to stay alone in their room when they need to work, so now they can go downstairs to the lobby-or up to the roof-to work among others. These areas encourage guests - and non-guests alike - to stay as long as they like and to partake of hotel amenities. Finally, recognizing the importance of the Wellness Movement, some designers are exploring how room design can increase the likelihood of deep and restorative sleep. Creating dark and quiet spaces, blocking excessive light, providing guests with a selection of different kinds of pillows, and the ability to control room temperature, are a few of the best practices in this area. These are some of the architecture and design topics that will be covered in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.