Expectations are changing in the world of group bookings, with experts saying hoteliers need to do a better job in showcasing what makes their properties and markets unique and how they can drive return on investment for meeting planners.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While the supply-demand dynamics for group bookings is playing out well for the U.S. hotel industry, experts said hoteliers still need to adapt to evolving expectations among meeting planners.
Speaking on Hotel News Now’s “Meetings mean business” webinar, Adam Korchek, director of sales and marketing for the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, said strength in the group segment can help overcome marketwide underperformance. He said his property was able to grow revenue per available room at more than twice the rate of Chicago overall.
“And that’s through both occupancy and (average daily rate) in a market with increased supply,” he said.
According to data presented by Francesca Vereb, senior director of product marketing hospitality cloud for Cvent, a majority (52%) of recently surveyed meeting planners said their budgets have increased, while about a third (31%) said their budgets remain unchanged. Planners are also planning more events, with a decrease in those saying they’re planning one to two events annually and a corresponding increase in those planning six to 10 events.
Jan Freitag, SVP of lodging insights for STR, Hotel News Now’s parent company, noted that demand in the group segment has recently increased. While demand was up just 0.9% during the first half of 2017, it was up 2.1% for the first half of 2018.
Steve Goodman, managing director of MeetingAdvice, said he has seen that increase in group demand translate not into demand for larger events but more events of similar sizes. He also said the increased budgets for events has gone to covering increased costs.
“All the related expenses around events have gone up, including airfare, hotel rates and (food and beverage) costs,” he said.
He added that meeting requests are “similar to the trends we’ve seen over the last couple of years; there’s just more of them. We’re getting more requests than ever before.”
How to win that business
Vereb noted that digital marketplace for meeting venues is increasingly important, so hoteliers must ensure they’re making their information available and transparent on digital channels.
“Now regardless of whether they’re using computers or mobile, (planners) are increasingly relying on internet resources,” she said, noting people are looking for “snackable” information.
Korchek agreed that being able to quickly engage planners online is increasingly vital.
“Getting information to them in a focused, efficient and eye-catching way is the name of the game,” he said.
Panelists agreed that trends in the group space mirror those in the transient space where more and more planners want you to show them how you can deliver a unique experience for their event or meeting.
“Meetings planners and attendees crave those experiences and memorable, Instagrammable moments,” Korchek said. “Attendees won’t leave saying, ‘Wow, how cool was that ballroom carpet?’” he said. “That’s important, but it doesn’t stick in their brain unless it’s really impactful. So it comes down to your ability to provide a differentiator.”
He said that often comes down to excellence in the F&B space, where his hotel has its own full-time butcher shop on-property and promises that things like pasta and salad dressings are all made in-house.
How to make even more money
While many hoteliers might be apt to ask how they can drive more revenue from events, Goodman said it comes down to showing planners that they can get more bang for their buck if they’re willing to spend on extras.
“I think at the end of the day, clients are looking for value; they’re looking for return on their investments,” he said. “Although I’ve never seen any group where someone offered up more budget than what you need to run their event, there’s frequently a basic budget to get exactly what you need to host then incremental additional dollars available if you can showcase (return on investment) or added value for additional spend.”
Korchek said for hoteliers that translates to showing planners how spending a little more will bring things like new and interesting networking opportunities for attendees.
“At the end of the day, they’re eager to make their current meeting better than the last meeting or add some local flair or experience that can add that ROI,” he said. “It might not start with the budget on paper but it might grow into (the budget) because they bought in to the experience you can provide.”