REPORT FROM THE U.S.—During the past 12 months, the sales and marketing team at Red Lion Hotels has launched a number of different promotions with hopes of reigniting lackluster group business and meetings sales.
Some campaigns targeted meetings planners. Others reached out to travelers in specific segments. But in the months since AIG’s ill-advised corporate retreat just days after receiving an US$85-billion government bailout, none have proved enticing enough to draw planners en masse past the stigma to organize company meetings.
Red Lion’s sales and marketing team hasn’t given up hope, however. Like hundreds of other hotel companies throughout the country, the group is continuing to contribute to the industry’s group marketing frenzy with creative new campaigns designed to get business travelers’ heads back in beds.
The latest initiative is perhaps the company’s most ambitious. Since early April, Red Lion will beat any competitors’ best existing corporate travel negotiated lodging rate by 25 percent.
“The other programs and promotions that have been out there have become white noise,” said Mark Mahoney, VP of sales for the Spokane, Washington-based family of 47 full-service hotels.
|The 320 Guest Ranch is leveraging its nontraditional assets, such as horseback riding, through its Back to Basics Meeting Packages.
But Red Lion isn’t the only company attempting to break from the fray with unique and creative incentives. The 320 Guest Ranch in Big Sky, Montana, is leveraging its nontraditional assets through its Back to Basics Meeting Packages.
Planners can choose from three packages, which include such activities as horseback riding, fly fishing and rope lassoing in addition to standard conference accommodations.
“(Meeting planners) are looking for activities or teambuilding exercises that are germane to their business and are unique,” said John Richardson, the property’s GM. “It’s not like sitting in the typical conference room or ballroom where they’re all doing the typical teambuilding exercises.”
The message and the medium
While companies like Red Lion and the 320 Guest Ranch have attempted to lure customers with incentive packages, the management team at Lane Hospitality has adapted its information delivery and works with clients to make its meetings business more accessible than ever.
“The goal is to become very transparent to the buyer so they can get in and see what we have to offer and to make ourselves as easy to do business with as we can,” said Bill DeForrest, president and CEO of the Northbrook, Illinois management company that has 19 hotels in its portfolio.
As part of its Meetings Matter campaign, DeForrest and his team have enacted a number of client-friendly initiatives to meet that end. At the Hilton in Jackson, Mississippi, for example, Lane sales representatives will tailor a meetings package to a client’s specific needs and wants within a two-hour window. At the High Peaks Resort in Lake Placid, New York, representatives are available to customers via a 24-hour-a-day monitoring system.
In addition to sheer manpower, Lane Hospitality also is leveraging technology to put as much information as possible on each property’s Web page.
“The other thing we’re trying to do is to use our Web technology and trying to put as much information out there so that people who are very time sensitive can manage their purchasing needs, manage their room blocks, manage their budgets through the use of technology,” DeForrest said.
A given hotel’s Web page includes information on packages, pricing, hotel floor plans and each sales representative’s biography, areas of expertise and contact information.
The market’s response
The response to these marketing campaigns have varied in the early going, but each company representative remained hopeful of their long-term potential.
DeForrest said Lane Hospitality saw less of a response in the first quarter, but then bookings began to pick up for the second and third quarters.
“We have some very good presold numbers as we get into May, June and July, but not across the board,” he said.
The Back to Basics package has taken a bit longer to gain traction.
“Unfortunately, with the negative press that meetings have received lately, we’re finding that those corporate meeting planners are a little more reluctant to book right now,” Richardson said. Still, he remained confident that the ranch provides a good value option for planners.
Though it was too early to gauge the success of Red Lion’s discounting promotion, Mahoney said he expects to increase market share. When asked about the potential long-term effect on rate integrity, the company’s VP of sales said he’s not concerned. For the short-term, the company will pull in guests with the campaign. Rates naturally will increase with an industrywide increase in rate that likely will occur in 2010 and 2011.