Every day, a new adventure awaits. Perhaps you’re searching for ways to attract special occasions to your venue. Or maybe the task at hand is to redesign your meeting space into something a little more open and inviting. You might even be working on a plan to improve upsell revenue.
The point is, there’s never a dull moment. A million small steps go into creating an exceptional (and profitable) event experience at your venue; as a hospitality professional you play an important role in making all of it come together.
That's quite a challenge.
But it's also an incredible opportunity. Consider, for example, that sleeping room occupancy hovers around 80% — while meeting space is empty roughly 70% of the time. That's a promising situation that many of your competitors are already leveraging, with a group event sales team taking care of customers, finding new events, and creating relationships.
The truth is, however, no matter how familiar you are with group event business, running the operation efficiently and profitably can be difficult and confusing. So, whether you’re new to the world of event hospitality or have a long track record of success, this guide is designed to help you crack the code on what it is, how it works, and why it’s so important to your business.
The Basics of Group Business: Supply and Demand
In general, group meetings and events are all about the supply of hotel rooms, amenities, and meeting facilities matching up to the demand of planners who need to arrange an event. While the balance between supply and demand can fluctuate, the CWT Meetings & Events “2019 Meetings and Events Future Trends” report says the increased demand for meetings may result in higher hotel rates, which will help to spur new construction, especially in locations outside major cities. Here’s a look at each side of the event industry marketplace:
Driven by planners and other companies responsible for meetings and events, no matter how large or small. They organize and plan events, source and book venues, manage registration, and handle event check-in. Typically, they also manage the onsite experience, and are very interested in attendee satisfaction. They’re often in charge of reporting an event’s return on investment (ROI) as well as the overall experience.
Provided by hoteliers and other venues who have the meeting space and resources. They provide sleeping rooms, food, beverages, and other amenities that align with what the demand side wants. Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) also fit here, because they represent destinations. In doing so, they often provide leads to hotels and help arrange the connection between planner and hotelier.
The Group Business Ecosystem
As planners drive the demand side of the business, venues strive to meet those needs with technology, marketing, and relationship-building. It’s vital to know how these relationships work, because it shows how the success of group events is built on a complex ecosystem of dependent organizations and people, all working to keep supply and demand in balance. Here’s a basic definition:
- Planners: These professionals are responsible for designing and arranging meetings and events. They work for companies, associations, organizations, specialty agencies, and more. Here at Cvent, we see planners as falling into seven different categories. If you’re a hotelier, you should commit each type to memory, because they’re the ones who are searching for and booking your venue.
- DMOs: These organizations promote travel to specific locales. It includes tourism bureaus as well as convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs). Consider them almost an extension of your sales team, because they’re always eager to promote the area — and your hotel. Many of these professionals are also tasked with finding venues for planners.
- Venues: Facilities, restaurants, and many other locations qualify as venues for meetings. In fact, recent trends show that the traditional idea of a conference room at a hotel is making way for more creative choices. For example, some corporate planners are now looking to create a more festival-like setting for their event.
- Technology: From large online sourcing platforms and digital marketing to lead scoring, analytics, and operational software, companies like Cvent help venues and planners with innovative solutions.
How Trends and Shifts in Customer Behavior Change Group Event Business
All things considered, event business could be considered straightforward. You have a hotel room and the conference center. Maybe a restaurant as well. They want to use it to host a party or talk business. Simple, right?
OK, maybe not. The fact is, the booking, registration, and management of an event is complex and dependent on thousands of shifting factors that include cost, availability, and customer expectations. On top of that, today’s environment of fast-paced change forces hospitality professionals to stay abreast of the latest trends. With every great idea, planner expectations can shift — and that means venue managers need to be prepared to adjust, optimize, and apply when and if a trend becomes a permanent reality. Here are a few to consider:
- Think customer power. Before the internet and social media, customers had limited power to complain. Now, however, you get their feedback in real time. That fact alone has driven the need for increased customer satisfaction. The reality is that digital media has created an environment of transparency and shared experiences that empower customers in terms of gathering information and influencing others.
- The sales process is increasingly in the hands of marketing. Planners are accustomed to researching products and services online. By the time they are ready to talk to a salesperson, they have narrowed down their choices and often have a clear idea which hotels and vendors may meet their needs. Your challenge is to reach planners earlier in the process and deliver the right message at the right time.
- Privacy and data security is vital. Planners want more personal experiences but they also want increased privacy and security. In an era of massive data breaches, unsecure Wi-Fi networks, and inconsistent point-of-sale standards, that can be a tall order. Increasingly, hotels have moved data protection and privacy to the top of their list. In Europe, venues are tasked with meeting the personally identifiable information (PII) requirements detailed in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). No matter where your hotel is located, however, there’s a need for data safeguards. In the era of big data, hospitality professionals need to first protect and secure customer data.
- Technology becomes part of the experience. Just a few years ago, Artificial Intelligence (AI) was a Hilton concierge robot named “Connie.” Today, it’s much more — and poised to become an integral part of all venue operations. From chatbots to voice-activated technology, AI and other types of technology are helping to make group business more efficient. Take a look at how planners view technology as it relates to the event experience.
Technology Brings the Group Ecosystem Together
Technology powers all aspects of the group business ecosystem, connecting planners and suppliers throughout the research and consideration of venues. Planners use technology to source, create, and manage events of all types and moments, from planning to registration and post-event analytics.
On the other side, venue professionals use digital platforms and technology to help grow revenue opportunities and create operational efficiencies. That includes marketing tools, workflow technology, and more.
The real-world use of these two connected units looks something like this:
- Planners go to online sourcing platforms to research venues, send RFPs, and make a selection for their event. These are powerful platforms that attract event planners responsible for billions of dollars in venue spend.
- Venues compete on these platforms for leads and interest by using digital marketing tools. It’s a good place for suppliers to forge one-on-one relationships with planners.
- Once the venue is selected, hoteliers leverage communications and operations software to help maximize the event experience, and the value of the business. That includes solutions such as room block technology, analytics, and more.
The Seven Benefits of Group Business
Why should hotels continue to navigate this complex group business landscape and the technology that powers it? Here are seven advantages of making group business an important part of your revenue mix.
- Improved forecasting: Booking lead time for group business is longer than for leisure customers, so hotel managers can get greater insight into future performance — and plan accordingly.
- Hedge against uncertainty: Group events are a great insurance policy against leisure customers who may cancel because of bad weather, a change of plans, or even a cheaper rate down the street.
- Leverage: A nice, consistent balance of group business allows a hotel to price transient segments correctly, without the need for steep discounts.
- Incremental revenue: Group customers spend more per room than transient customers, and more on food and beverage.
- Easier to manage: With a single buying decision, a group contract results in a high-value transaction. It takes many leisure bookings to bring in the same amount of revenue.
- Retention: Groups are more likely to repeat their program at the same venue if the experience was good. A single piece of group business might make a customer for life.
- Year-round availability: The group market represents potential business for peak and off-peak seasons, and different weekday patterns.