Getting group: It’s about more than room blocks
Getting group: It’s about more than room blocks
18 APRIL 2019 7:24 AM

Group operators are looking for more than rooms when making hotel decisions. What is the property’s role in the planning?

Group is one way to grow revenue, and myriad factors play into capturing this business. From an operations perspective, one of the most important elements is balancing what the group is requesting with what the hotel is able to offer.

The sales team books the business and the operations team follows through. Expectations from sales must be met with operational logistics. The relationship between our on-property teams is especially critical in making sure groups enjoy a flawless experience.

Many groups inquire about citywide events in certain markets for social events, sports groups and tours. I had a moment to sit with a few industry experts to chat about what they believe is important. Tim DeKime, VP of sports operations at NBC Sports, manages rooms for the channel’s technical team for events throughout the year. One of his main focus areas is rooms for Sunday Night Football—every week, he books about 440 roomnights for Sunday games.

DeKime scouts out hotels that can best accommodate his team’s needs. His four must-haves, in order of priority, are:

  • Quality: What is the property rating?
  • Amenities: What’s in the room and on property, what are the hotel’s F&B options and what restaurants are nearby?
  • Price/inclusive cost: Are there parking fees and is breakfast included?
  • Proximity: Is the hotel within 30 minutes of the venue?

Repeat business grows group organically. Stellar guest service from operations helps the sales team win the same group next time around.

“If I’m happy with a hotel and I’m happy with a price, I will rebook that hotel in that particular city every time we are there,” DeKime said, offering poignant advice to operations. “When we stay at new properties, we evaluate the following week to decide if response was positive.”

What makes the best impression? DeKime offered the following suggestions:

  • Be sure the hotel is adequately staffed at critical times. If there will be 40 guests in valet, all needing to be at work by 8 a.m., then the hotel team must be ready and able to make that happen.
  • Be flexible. Changes are inherent with group bookings. One person may be a no-show and another person may replace an arrival.

Andrea Casperson, director of athletics sales and partnerships from BookMyGroup, a group travel organization specializing in hotel accommodations, seconded the need for bending a bit to accommodate each group’s unique requirements.

“Be flexible,” Casperson said. “It can be done; just sometimes you need to be creative.”

Whether groups book directly or not, the operations team is still responsible for managing and coordinating with the group planner. We must maintain our inventory and keep a close eye on arrivals and bookings. It’s important to establish contact with someone traveling with each group to ensure that requests and payments are scheduled accordingly. When working with a group, it is vital to keep their requests separate from others while keeping in mind that transient requests are just as important.

When hosting a group, operations must consider the requests and manage the expectations. Are the requests doable? Will honoring the request put any other guest in a negative situation or not benefit the hotel as a whole?

Each segment of group has a different expectation and reality when it comes to their stay. While wedding guests may want early check-in, sports groups may be more focused on complimentary breakfast. It is important to remember that what may be a priority to one type of group may be irrelevant to another. Jackie Berry, executive assistant to the CEO at LM Media Worldwide, Kleinfeld Hotel Blocks, said, “Response time to the couples is super important.”

As a GM, I want to have a hand in the group booking process so that I’m aware of the requests and requirements of every incoming group. This is critical in seeing the bigger picture, with the balance of transients and groups in mind.

Celeste Johnson has more than 10 years of hospitality experience, working in many different roles within major brands including Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt. Career highlights include opening Hampton Inn & Suites in Bellevue WA – the brand’s 2000th property. Celeste is currently the General Manager of Hyatt Place Garden City; she is specifically focused on blending operations, sales and revenue management with a passion in employee relations.

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