By: Ram Mohan
Group business is unique in terms of having two sets of customers to satisfy, the meeting planner and the guest attending the meeting. In this article, we take a look at some ways hotels can improve profitability while exceeding expectations of both the customers.
Please the Planner
Following are some areas where hotels can exceed expectations of the planner while keeping an eye on profit
A Harvard study concluded that responding to a lead within an hour generates 7 times the conversations as compared to later responses. Finalizing the venue is one of the first decisions that impact many other activities and waiting on response from hotels is the last thing planners want to do.
In many cases, especially with smaller meetings, planners today expect a quick way to book rooms, meeting space, F&B, A/V, etc. online. A recent survey by HSMAI, in fact concluded that some of the planners won’t even consider hotels that won’t allow them to book everything online for certain kind of meetings.
While major chains like Hilton and Marriott have implemented small meeting booking online on their websites, smaller chains and independent hotels still have an RFP form that gets planners a delayed response. Primary problem is that they don’t have the technology resources to develop such an application and third parties that have developed the systems are adding to the cost by charging a commission for booking on the hotel’s own website. While majority of the vendors charge a commission per booking, companies like GroupRevMax are disrupting the model by offering a flat-fee subscription for any number of bookings.
In short, the more channels you can provide a planner to book through, the better chance you have that they will not be dissatisfied and your own website is definitely the most important as it avoids commissions and gives more bang for the buck you spend on digital marketing.
While web bookings are a great way for planners to book small meetings, most larger events need more human interaction and when that’s the case, faster response can only be achieved through improved sales efficiency. Following are a few possibilities.
Hotels get leads from various sources including several third party sites, email, phone, CVB, etc. Consolidating all the leads in one system makes managing and tracking the leads much easier. Systems that automatically read lead information from all the sources can improve efficiency.
In group markets, many hotels deal with several leads every day. Lead scoring technology enables hotels to ensure that the leads that are the best fit and most likely to convert get the quickest response and is a must have especially for convention hotels.
Once consolidated and scored, leads can also be assigned automatically to the right sales person to further reduce inefficiencies.
Pricing strategies at hotels range from a simple minimum rate per day to revenue managers quoting each rate – to rates being decided in meetings. Hotels need to ensure maximum profitability with minimum red tape. Automatic pricing is imperative to achieving this and systems, but in case of groups, these systems must focus not just on demand forecast but also on costs since costs related to middle men and group demands continue to eat up a significant portion of the profit.
Another expectation a planner has is to get all the information that she needs as quickly as possible. While the expectation can be met in simple ways, hotels that up their game through the following ways will improve conversion significantly
Hotels that personalize proposals to each group have a much better chance of converting groups as compared to ones that send a boiler-plate proposal. However, we also have to draw a line between delivering a personalized experience and the time it takes to create it so as to not impact speed to market.
Thankfully technology exists today that can create personalized proposals quickly by changing content based on the attributes of the group, segment, account, etc. so each proposal looks like it’s been hand-written for the specific group.
Proposals are sometimes the first impression that a planner gets of the hotel, and hotels that want to impress their customers now implement technology like e-proposals so they can present immersive content like videos or virtual reality walkthroughs. Combined with personalized content, these proposals can deliver a strong first impression and improve conversion significantly.
Ease of Planning
Newer technology like virtual reality can make meeting planning easier and cost effective by eliminating the need for site visits and traditional diagramming tools. Hotels that implement such technologies will stand out in the crowd.
Please the Guest
This is the guest who is attending the meeting and will have all the expectations from the hotel that a leisure traveler would have, but there are a couple of differences worth mentioning.
Ease of Booking
While online booking for leisure travel is prevalent, most hotels make group attendees call reservations or send them to generic websites that requires them to enter a code to get the contracted rate. This is the time to make the first impression on the guest and hotels have a chance to personalize the booking site to the group to create a better experience.
Business with Pleasure
Another popular desire of guests attending conferences and meetings is to mix business with pleasure. Hotels that provide such information upfront will improve the customer experience and also open up opportunities to upsell and cross sell to the needs of the customer. For example, a guided tour of attractions the day after the conference has opportunity to upsell room nights and ancillaries.
There is also opportunity to provide such information and enable targeted cross sell on mobile apps if hotels provided such an app for events at their hotels.
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