GLOBAL REPORT—To attract company holiday parties to their hotels during December—a slow time for meetings—many hoteliers started their marketing efforts in July.
For the first time, The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa in Asheville, North Carolina, conducted a Christmas in July promotion, in which sales staff brought baskets of gingerbread and the resorts’ holiday menus to companies in Asheville and the surrounding communities. “If we can target them early, it gives us a better idea of what we have on the books,” said Pola Laughlin, director of group sales, The Grove Park Inn.
The resort—which hosts the National Gingerbread House Competition annually and experiences plenty of local and out-of-state traffic at the holidays—has not needed to seek company holiday business in past years. However, several new competing venues in Asheville led the sales staff to take a proactive approach and ensure holiday parties were booked early, Laughlin explained.
In addition to the company visits, a tagline encouraging people to book their holiday events at The Grove Park ran on all of the resort’s Internet ads in the latter part of the year. And, as an internal incentive, the hotel’s sales staff was offered a percentage of the food and beverage revenue for any groups they brought in.
Because of the property’s marketing efforts, Grove Park increased its local catering business 30% this December, compared to last year. We already have the Christmas in July date set for next year,” Laughlin said. “We like the process of doing the promotion. It was the hottest day of the year, so to see the look on their faces when we brought in baskets of gingerbread and some Christmas was great.”
The Holiday Inn Charleston Airport & Convention Center in Charleston, South Carolina, also runs a Christmas in July campaign every year. “If they book the holiday party or event in July, we give them 60% off their meeting-room rental,” said Betsay Painter, director of sales for the Holiday Inn Charleston.
The Christmas in July promotion helped the property fill meeting space at a “very slow time of year” in Charleston, Painter said. “With the economy the way it is, companies are wanting to treat their employees this one time,” she said.
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Another effective pre-holiday party-marketing campaign was conducted in September by the Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort & Casino in Philipsburg, Saint Maarten. “Our sales manager took a very popular Dutch cookie wrapped in a nice Christmas box, along with candies and Christmas cards, to companies,” said Juan Fernandez, GM of Sonesta Great Bay. When visiting the companies on the island, the sales manager offered a 15% discount on the meeting space, which companies could use during the holidays or apply it as a credit toward future events on the property.
Then, Sonesta Great Bay’s sales staff visited companies that likely would bring their families to stay at the hotel because of its location on the beach. “We went to more of the blue-collar companies, such as construction networks, and gas and electric firms that do more with families. We offered to create an event that is geared toward the entire family going, and some companies decided to create a family holiday treat,” Fernandez said.
For both holiday campaigns, Sonesta Great Bay’s sales staff sent out e-holiday cards to the companies as a follow-up and conducted additional digital marketing. “We were able to book three parties/retreats that we had never had. In addition, we are at approximately a 35% increase year over year in catering sales in December,” Fernandez said.
Because the slower season for the Hilton Garden Inn Gatlinburg in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is typically January through March, the hotel’s sales director conducted a direct mail campaign in November. “I send out a rolling photo DVD of the Smoky Mountains National Park, with the message that ‘we are still just as beautiful as last year,’” said Melissa Keith, director of sales and marketing at the Hilton Garden Inn. The campaign is mailed to groups that have utilized the hotel in past years, previous inquiries made to the hotel and groups that have inquired at the city’s convention center.
While the hotel is very active in the social-media space, “if we only rely on social media, we forget about the power of sight with this particular area,” Keith said.