By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky
Now firmly in summer and it’s safe to say that the leisure segment is back online from the druthers of 2020 – groups, not so much. While every hotelier wants meetings and events to strike back in a similar fashion, there are a few almost irreversible considerations for the post-pandemic groups landscape.
Rather than try to make it 2019 again, the wise hotelier will accept these changes and pivot operations to meet the new types of demand that are emerging. For meetings and events, this will mean fewer large-scale conventions and open-for-all receptions, and more limited, invitation-only gatherings. Starting with the growth of ‘bleisure’ as a direct result of the proliferation in remote work policies, let’s examine some of the forces at work so that you know how to build programs that will attract post-pandemic groups.
1. Bleisure as usual. The trend of hybrid travel was gaining steam prior to the pandemic but now it will soar. With so much extra effort required to go to a destination, business travelers will want to get the most of their time away. Moreover, with so many of us now working remotely on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, this means that guests of all types will be looking to intermix business with leisure. As it pertains to groups, think smaller room blocks but longer lengths of stay. Guests should be incentivized to extend their stays beyond the intended event so that they can have more time to properly explore what a city or region has to offer.
2. Hub-and-spoke company events. This is one we’re already seeing as companies choose satellite events at hotels within driving range (four to five hours tops) of their regional workforces so as to avoid the pain of going through airports. In the pre-pandemic times, when a multinational corporation held a signature conference for its vast team, this would likely entail the rental of a single venue space and flying people in from across the globe. The solution in the face of COVID-19 safety concerns and the various obstacles to international travel is hybrid meetings – local groups connecting to headquarters (hub) and other regional offices (spokes) via videoconferencing technologies. This trend isn’t going away, but in order to boost team engagement and approximate the dynamism of a centralized event, companies will be looking to venue spaces to provide more services and excitement beyond just the audio-video technologies that make the hub-and-spoke connectivity possible.
3. Private and sequestered venues. For leisure or business, people will be averse to directly interacting with strangers for quite some time, particularly for the latter segment where employers will want to limit the risk of sending employees into a potentially harmful situation. Aside from those resorts which are blessed with separate chalets or lots of open space to separate different parties, the answer for every other hotel is the full floor or full section buyout. Using electronic or mobile keys to restrict access to only members of a specific group will heighten contact tracing as well as security. One step further would be to assign team members into ‘operative pods’ to further reduce cross-exposure between attendees and staff by limiting the total number of hotel associates who are able to service a given group.
4. The excesses of business travel. The pandemic brought to light how much certain properties and airlines are dependent on business travelers. For airlines, corporate passengers often purchased first-class and very close to the departure date at yielded, last-minute prices. For us hoteliers, though, these guests helped to buoy our midweek occupancy numbers and were quite receptive to an upsell to a higher product tier on the company’s dime. While every CEO knows the value of the road warrior salesperson and meeting face-to-face to resolve issues, the very real fact is that Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams are now a permanent fixture of work life. Hotels should not expect 2019 levels of business travel and group bookings to return anytime soon. Moreover, given all the new safety concerns, those that do return will expect their lodgings to be far more accommodating in terms of working from a hotel. Fast WiFi is a must for videoconferencing, while second monitor hookups, big desks and even rentable office pods are all huge pluses.
5. Collaborative spaces for a remote workforce. Building on the previous point about how business travelers will want their hotels to do more towards providing an inspirational and ergonomic place to work, the same can be said for small team meetings. This is particularly true for a largely remote workforce within a company which will allocate reductions on office space rent towards periodic team meetings at inspiring settings. As an extension of both the hub-and-spoke model and the demand for seclusion, small groups traveling together for work will want some form of private, communal space for teamwork and fraternization. These collaborative spaces can be meeting rooms, repurposed hotel rooms, sections of an unused ballroom, sections of a restaurant or even outdoor spaces.
6. Mortality salience. While every hotelier already grasps how pent-up demand can cause a surge in bookings for such gatherings as reunions, wedding receptions, engagement parties and senior team corporate retreats, the psychological term mentioned here going one step further by describing the urge that people will have for both regrouping right away as well as spending more while at it. Mortality salience is the official phrase to explain how the more conscious you are of your limited time on this planet, the more you want to live in the moment. Carpe diem in this sense can mean not holding off any longer before scheduling the next extended family vacation or, on a more personal level, buying that Wagyu steak main instead of the chicken. For groups, consider how this will impact the sales negotiation process as well as your catering menus and service add-ons.
As an overall thought to conclude, there are numerous reasons to be optimistic about a tangible return of groups come 2022 or even earlier. But that should not be a reason to rest on your laurels. The motivations for any group event have changed and you need to pivot your operations to better address the six abovementioned behavioral shifts in order to stand apart from your competitors.
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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry or Adam directly.