Group business is vital to hotels large and small, independent or chain. Is your hotel ready for the next wave of change? How can you leverage these changes to maximise group bookings for your hotel?
And when does a new idea become a trend?
TREND 1: Expect disruption from new 3rd parties and shared economy models like Airbnb as they enter the fray
Airbnb addressed their interest in the meetings industry openly in a recent vendor conference in Las Vegas. Chip Conley, their head of hospitality and strategy was careful to explain that they are not out to directly challenge hotels and that it was about them being a peripheral player in the meetings industry.
This excerpt from a Skift report shows Airbnb’s clear steps in this direction. “Airbnb is promoting technology such as online widgets that planners can embed in their event websites to direct attendees to groups of Airbnb listings, which are available on specific event dates within a certain radius of the event venue. Meaning, the responsibility is on attendees to find their own Airbnb listing, versus booking directly inside the block.”
And read on about how San Francisco’s interesting relationship with Airbnb has developed. Plus in one of the latest developments, Airbnb’s collaboration with three of the largest global Travel Management Companies including Carlson Wagonlit, Amex and BCD is likely to make further waves. Is it time for hotels to really panic?
Imex exhibitions recently organised a panel seminar on “How is the sharing economy impacting the meetings and events industry, and what is driving the robust growth in demand?” in Frankfurt. It says that the goal of the session was to “provide unbiased insight in a non-alarmist forum to help clear the air on a highly controversial subject”
This article says “The number of meeting and convention attendees booking Airbnb is going to grow exponentially in the future due to the overall value proposition for individual travellers with a thirst for local exploration and discovery.”
Moving away from Airbnb, it is not just hotel rooms being shared, we now have sharing food experiences as well at Meetings and Events. Food-sharing platforms like Paris-based Vizeat are expanding their operations into the lucrative meetings and events sector, based on demand among conference delegates craving a more locally immersive business travel experience.
Find out some of the group booking companies in the news recently here.
TREND 2 – Millennials need for instant gratification sets high expectations
Millennials – who are they? Simply put, they are people who were born between 1980 and 2000.
Why are they important? Goldman Sachs explains “One of the largest generations in history is about to move into its prime spending years. Millennials are poised to reshape the economy; their unique experiences will change the ways we buy and sell, forcing companies to examine how they do business for decades to come.”
And so how does that affect the hotel industry and specifically the group market?
According to Skift “Millennials are set to disrupt the way the meetings and events industry does business – if they haven’t already. To them, technology is everything. They want their answers now, on the screens of their smartphones. It’s also where they want to see the bottom line, and be engaged with all their friends and colleagues”
Millennials are made for group travel – they like to travel together. 58% of Millennials prefer to travel with friends, and that is 20% more than older generations (HVS). Social trends will result in more group travel for Millennials. Should you be treating Milennial Meeting Planners differently?
Millenial business travellers are interested in group travel discounts for leisure travel. More millennials travel with family and friends when compared to non millennials.
Technology all the way from pre-booking research to post check-out; Millennials expect technology to simply work–so you’d better make sure that it does. They see their social media activities and technology devices as an extension of their person.
So what does this mean for your hotel?
Help with their need for self-service using technology. Millennials want everything in real time. In terms of group bookings, this translates to a majority of meeting planners and organisers wanting realtime availability and pricing and more than just sending e-rfp’s.
In addition, they tend to organise events with shorter booking lead times. Millennials have a shorter booking window of less than 75 days compared with 93 days for older travellers, and they are more likely to make snap travel decisions in real time (HVS).
In recent years, major hotel chains have been trying to bridge the gap between short-term meeting demand and empty meeting space by developing branded services to drive late bookings. Hilton launched Meetings Simplified; Marriott created Workspace on Demand in partnership with LiquidSpace, and Westin offers its Tangent all-in-one telepresence rooms.
TREND 3 – Expect a return of the Unconference
The idea of an antithesis of a regimented conference or event has been around for a while – expect something of a resurgence in view of all the other disruptions.
So what is an unconference? A loosely structured conference emphasising the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following conventionally structured program of events: (oxford dictionary)
The premise behind the unconference idea is that, as entrepreneur Dave Winer put it, “the sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of the expertise of the people on stage.”
And here is how a hotel group is getting involved.
Business development and education events are big business for hotels, and people of all kinds love self-improvement, TED-style. Morgans Hotel Group Co., through a partnership with global education firm General Assembly (GA), is combining those two virtues in an event and hospitality platform called “Unconferences.”
Clearly growth of other ideas and innovative technology is supporting unconferences. Group Note-Taking – Many unconferences support collaborative note-taking through the use of online wikis or sharable digital documents. This lets conference attendees in other sessions see what’s going on at sessions they couldn’t attend.
Some applications like Picatic give more power to the organisers. Picatic is a free online ticketing and registration platform that empowers event organizers to run more successful events by removing unnecessary service fees.
TREND 4 – A move to less traditional meeting spaces and meetings becoming experiences
Increasing demand for unique experiences comes on top of the list for many meeting planners. What unique aspect of your hotel can you highlight for events?
Another trend is use of temporary sets which are around for a short time like 3 to 6 months. Highlighted by companies such as London Pop-ups.
London bars like ‘Alpine Ski Lodge’, The Lodge in Clapham North, the Winter Chalet Bar at York & Albany near Regent’s Park, and Dick’s Magic T-Bar at Dinerama in Shoreditch have all created the feel of an Alpine winter, using set dressing, props and so on. There is also Skylounge’s new ‘Treehouse’ themed bar in the city
Atypical venues; “Giving people the opportunity to experience something new and innovative starts with the venue. Look for a unique place in your area like a national or state park, zoo, theme park, escape room, restaurant, or bar to host your next live event. Bringing the creativity of the pop-up concept to events, creating one of a kind event experiences in empty lots, warehouses and rooftops.”
TREND 5 – Giant strides in interactive technology for Audience Engagement
Could it be a throwable Microphone that catches your fancy or the first eye tracking virtual reality set from Fove that gets you excited? Or further breakthroughs in augmented reality systems with Oculus Rift (Facebook) and Magic Leap (Google). Whatever they are, interactive technology is set to play a major role.
A collaborative effort between Marriott and PCMA identifies the possibilities of sensory analytics in meetings and events “ Imagine sensors that can take the pulse of the room. Are attendees too hot, losing interest, responding positively to the material? Advancements in data analytics, as well as cheaper and smaller physical sensors, are simplifying the ability to collect data about physical experiences, analyze the inputs and make adjustments in real time.”
Or it could be a comprehensive meeting management app like Quickmobile that covers your needs?
At the hotel level, Checkmate is making great inroads in communicating with the guest throughout the stay.
TREND 6 – Some progress on group booking technology that works
Somewhat a holy grail, group booking technology for hotels has struggled to get off the ground – and understandably due to the complexity involved. However, an increasing number of companies are targeting the ‘manageable’ side of group bookings ie the small meeting market.
Groupize is one of those companies that is creating a few waves with their integrations to both large online distribution systems including the GDS and providing easy connect to hotel websites.
Recently Groupize partnered with TravelClick to enable their clients to book small groups directly without following the e-RFP route.
Another company that has done some good work in the group booking technology for hotels is Evolution Distribution. Seemingly driven by the needs of member hotels of its sister company Great Hotels of the World.
As a hotel, it is no longer enough to have a booking engine for individual bookers. Small meeting bookings should be possible without to and fro communication with hotel teams.
TREND 7 – Lower lead time for group bookings
Although there is some discussion on this, lead times have continued to reduce partly driven by millennial behaviour we discovered earlier.
“Booking lead times have continued to shrink, with 42 per cent of meetings for up to 10 delegates booked a week or less in advance”.
Carlson Wagonlit’s 2016 report on events and meetings suggests that meeting planners allow more lead time – as hotels in high-demand markets no longer hold space when responding to availability requests.
Some hotels try to counter this in another way by offering clients 10 to 20 % off on meetings packages if they book 90 days or further in advance.
TREND 8 – Growth of healthier (but more imaginative) eating options
Shared tables; There is a growing resistance towards separating tables, when the goal of an event is to get people to meet. Shared tables and food join a group together. It’s no longer, “That’s my table, that’s your table.” A benefit of this shift? Fewer complex seating charts to manage. (Amex)
Research among the 400 members of the International Association of Conference Centres, emphasised the importance of food among meeting planners. According to Mark Cooper, IACC’s CEO, “Planners are always looking for new and interesting ways to nourish and invigorate their conference attendees–food has become so much more than just fuel. Recently there has been an enormous shift towards health and the impact that food can have on concentration and productivity”
So did a report by Destination Hotels & Resorts which states that “the food and beverages served throughout a meeting is instrumental to its success. In fact, 74% of the 200 meeting planners surveyed said diverse culinary offerings are important when selecting a meeting venue”.
TREND 9 – Evolution of more sophisticated hybrid meetings
NH Hotels hosted the first-ever holographic press conference of the cinema industry, organised by Sony Pictures to present the new film CHAPPIE to the Spanish media.
Although many companies are still struggling with the right way to use modern technologies for effective hybrid meetings, the trend is set to grow.
TREND 10 – Development of tribes and social groups make an impact
Technology is helping to create a sense of community, or tribes, by connecting people with like-minded individuals, such as Meetup groups and hack-a-thons. Meeting planners will need to provide opportunities for these small-group networking experiences before, during and after events.
As a way to achieve better results, the group expects the planning, execution and measurement of meetings will adapt in a way that fosters smaller group connections to heighten the overall experience. Meeting venues will also need to adapt to facilitate a more tribe-focused approach that supports collaboration through adjustable infrastructure and technology.
Make it Social – uses innovative and reliable technology to make it easier for people to do more with more of their friends.
As a hotel, what can you do to take advantage of these trends? One message is clear – listening to clients is even more important as their needs constantly evolve. Understanding the pain points of meeting planners and clients even more so. And the flexibility to adapt and provide experiences beyond the standard conferences becomes crucial. Use of technology to convert small group and meeting bookings should be at the forefront of a hotels online strategy.
What other trends are emerging? The changing world of corporate and group travel is the next big thing – hotels need to keep a close eye on this emerging scenario to maximise revenues.