Most of the time, change comes down to potential and possibilities. The opportunity to shift and thrive, whether as a business or a person, depends mostly on how you perceive your story and the way you approach the chance to turn possibilities into something more.
For the Hilton Boston Logan Airport hotel, that shift came quickly. By all accounts a hugely successful transient operation, it is the only AAA Four Diamond property connected to Logan International Airport — and has a well-earned reputation as a convenient, prestigious, and high-quality hotel. As a result, the team has, over the years, relied almost exclusively on transient business, along with citywide events, mostly handled by the Hilton’s Boston regional sales center.
Until it didn’t.
By the middle of 2018, the regional sales center closed and Autumn Mullen, director of sales and marketing, was tasked with building the hotel’s group business portfolio. That fundamentally changed the way they approached business.
Mullen and her team saw an opportunity to build a sales and marketing department that would create a sustainable base of revenue, showcase the hotel’s character, and shine a light on the unique history of East Boston. “We looked at what we had and who we were and thought, let’s start to experiment a little. Let’s change the mix of the hotel,” says Mullen.
Shifting Event Planner Perceptions
Changing the business seemed easy enough. After all, the hotel had 30,000 square feet of meeting space, a great location, and all those four-diamond amenities. Yet somehow, that didn’t help. The challenge was in planner perception: This was an “airport hotel.” Mullen and her team consistently received RFPs but ultimately lost the business. When they looked at their competitive set data, they were able to see that they were constantly losing to the downtown market.
Boston and the Downtown Group Meetings Dilemma
The popularity of downtown venues makes sense, because in Boston, you can get your bags and be downtown just 15 minutes after leaving the airport. As a result, the hotel’s proximity to downtown worked against it when it came to sourcing; every year saw more and more declines and a slower pace.
“The past few years, we were booking smaller and smaller groups,” Mullen says. “We used business intelligence to tell us that the lead size in general was shrinking and that the booking window was changing. We were still being sourced for Boston events, but they were declining. They were just going to other hotels.”
Intelligent Group Marketing
Mullen and her team went to work changing planner perceptions, using business intelligence tools to help map an advertising strategy on the Cvent Supplier Network. They purchased ad products and created messaging designed to show planners that the hotel offered an amazing experience with unrivaled convenience, plus all the local color and history of downtown. They leveraged competitive data and took advantage of advertising exposure on the network to get the message in front of the right planners — a message that included their true group value proposition.
Creating a Strong Event Planner Value Proposition
At the same time, they needed to be ready to convert more of the lead volume they knew was coming — all while creating a more robust group business footprint.
“Understanding our competitive set really, really helped in tremendous ways, because when you look at the STR report or you look at TravelClick, you’re not looking forward,” says Mullen. “The one thing we knew is that we had a great value proposition. But if we were at the same exact rate as our downtown competitors, knowing that the proximity wasn’t going to be a big deal for planners, we were able to compete on value and the experience.”
Mullen and her team set about perfecting their message and building themselves up in the group world. She knew that planners had a perception of airport hotels as a busy hodgepodge of all types of people and that they would not think an airport hotel is designed to cater to groups and meetings.
“We have this phenomenal 4,000-square-foot private event lawn. We do outdoor events. It’s totally unique because it’s natural green space; we’re literally surrounded by a park-like setting,” says Mullen. “We came up with #connectingyoutoitall and had some fun.”
Change Can Be Transformative
Paired with data analysis and the right mix of advertising, the #connectingyoutoitall ad and social media campaign created valuable awareness and engagement about the hotel's unique meetings and events footprint. The results have transformed the hotel’s business.
“People are pleasantly surprised and don’t expect that level of variation in the things that we can do,” says Mullen. “The campaign has been a great success at changing planner perception about the hotel and what we offer groups.”
From there, Mullen has employed intelligence insights to optimize sales and motivate the team. It’s been part of a plan that has changed planner perception about the hotel and transformed its group program.
Energizing the Sales and Marketing Culture
Leveraging data also changed the perception of the sales team and energized the culture.
“At first, I didn’t make a connection between how you can use a tool like business intelligence to help change a culture or enhance your culture in the office,” says Mullen. “You know, it’s just a tool, right? You think about how you can use it for its efficiencies and getting more leads. But culture? The funny thing is that it really is at the core of culture change. Response time, for example, helps to create an energized environment. Knowing response time and educating them on how important that is … then seeing the positive ROI come from it. That has really helped us change things.”
Now, the team acts with a sense of urgency because they see the dramatic impact it has on success. It’s part of a collective drive to be a best-in-class sales team, promote the hotel, and build awareness about the Hilton Boston Logan Airport’s group business offerings.
According to Mullen, it helps raise the bar in multiple ways: the response rate and the resulting team energy that comes from generating successful RFP responses, as well as the collaboration with partners to get strategic, gain insights, and fine-tune programs.
As a communication tool, it gives Mullen “intel” to share with ownership and higher levels of leadership. “It helps us be strategic, target improvements, and communicate an accurate story about our success and competitive trends,” says Mullen. “It helps, because we are an airport hotel — we have to get scrappy. We must fight a little harder than other guys sometimes. So I want to make sure that we’re taking full advantage, always improving our KPIs, and always looking for new opportunities.”