Looking ahead to 2019, it will be a tough two years for group bookings, which are seeing a downturn in each of the next eight quarters, according to Cvent’s latest Group Business Outlook. The decrease in booking activity may be showing the full impact of recent commission changes, as well as the increasing hotel supply.
The outlook uses data from the Cvent Supplier Network, which saw $16 billion in unique RFPs sourced in 2018. Based on this large volume of sourced business, the CSN data can provide a good indication of the pace of group business in the U.S. Looking ahead, the number of awarded group room nights is expected to drop by as much as 3.4% year-over-year.
Here we break down the group business outlook this year:
What about that flurry of group bookings at the end of last year?
Jeffrey Emenecker, Senior Director of Analytics at Cvent, says last year’s late jump in bookings was short-lived. “While we saw a significant increase in awarded request for proposal (RFP) activity at the end of 2018, the increase in activity was likely impacted by the desire to finalize group contracts before commission policy changes made by a number of large hotel chains went into effect this year.” In fact, awarded RFP activity was down nearly 10% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2019. That’s not surprising, considering the commission cuts for third-party planners. It was surprising, however, that the average size of group room blocks and number of peak room nights both increased, up 4.4% and 3.7%, respectively.
Finding ways to overcome the group business slump
Despite that promising highlight, there’s no doubt that hotels and venues are going to have to work harder and smarter to book meetings and events. “While the downturn shown in our group business data may be attributed to external factors outside of a hotelier’s control, such as current geopolitical events, these unique insights allow hospitality professionals to find more proactive ways to attract group business and stay ahead of market trends,” Emenecker says. How can you do that? Here are a few strategies that can help you weather the group business slowdown:
- Focus on repeat business. No matter how many new hotels open in your destination, planners are always willing to at least consider a venue that gave them a great experience in the past. The success of the events happening at your hotel now could be key to filling your calendar next year. Make sure your meetings amenities and onsite service are impeccable, and work to stay top of mind after their event is over.
- Prioritize high-value group business. If you’re getting fewer RFPs, it makes sense to try to attract and win those that will give you the highest value. That means they have the potential to spend more on experiences, food and beverage, shoulder dates, and room upgrades. Depending on your property, you may choose to target planners organizing larger conferences and events with more attendees, or you may focus on luxury planners who are in charge of high-end, high-cost events. Either way, make sure you sort through RFPs and use digital tools to score them based on whatever factors are most important to you.
- Take advantage of a wide range of channels. If you can get in front of more planners, you have a better chance of booking more group business. Make sure you’re optimizing your presence on all the channels where planners are searching for venues. Using a mix of those marketing channels — from live events to online sourcing platforms — puts your property in front of more potential customers. Then, it’s up to your sales team and amazing service to close the deal.
Let the group business outlook drive your marketing plan
Hoteliers and venue managers can use the insights from the quarterly Group Business Outlook to compare their property’s performance against that of the industry. It also offers perspective that can help inform sales and marketing tactics for meetings and events. Need more help understanding what the latest trends mean? Watch the webinar to see how Emenecker breaks down the numbers and trends.
To get even more market data — including trends that are specific to your market — check out our schedule of Hotel Success Groups. These two-hour sessions (lunch included!) are also a great opportunity to network with your peers, get planner insights, and learn about ways to grow and optimize your group business. See the upcoming events here. Up next, learn more about the best ways to track your hotel's competition.