By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (www.hotelmogel.com)
There’s only so long our industry can depend on staycations, drive-to transients, workcations, hotel offices and any other localized travel trend emerging from the pandemic. Many hotels simply cannot justify their existence without a solid stream of midweek group blocks to pad topline revenues, so my hope is that the following will help you to achieve small wins in the MICE arena for 2021 in advance of a vaccine or any large-scale reopening with conventions and big events to follow.
The reemergence of groups will start with those under, say, a dozen people before increasing in size as the public regains trust that journeying greater distances is safe. While many are saying that group travel will forever be diminished from this pandemic, there are in fact quite a few reasons for why groups will be back with a vengeance. For these, understanding the core reasons will help to position your brand to capitalize upon any swell of inquiries in the near future.
- Travel debts. As previously mentioned, many meetings, conferences, corporate retreats, weddings, reunions, funerals and other leisure events have been put on hold indefinitely. In what is best described as ‘travel debts’, all the various reasons for bringing people together haven’t gone away but are lying dormant, and people will be eager to regroup once they’re allowed to do just that. Having a sense of urgency in what has also been referred to ‘revenge travel’, many of these events will simply skip a year while others will look to carve out a few days in early 2021 (or even for the upcoming holiday season).
- Employment contracts and group credits. Many businesspersons have travel built into their contracts with their parent companies, allowing for a certain number of paid-for trips each year with a per-diem spending allowance. Traditionally this has been a great incentive for keeping top talent without direct salary increases, and given this many employees with these types of perks will be looking to cash in to make up for lost time and travel that went unused during the pandemic. Moreover, while many groups were able to cancel their gatherings with a full refund or a minor penalty, others were made to settle for some sort of future credit which will inescapably have to be rendered.
- Microhubs or corporate retreats. While the massive conventions and exhibitions will be the last to return, many are prognosticating a new ‘hub and spoke’ model for large company town halls whereby those who can safely regroup at the headquarters do so while regional offices connect at local venue spaces via hybrid meeting technologies. Dubbed ‘microhubs’, we may see the perk of travel quotes replaced by more clustered events held at nearby resorts where operative pods or amalgamated teams can interact in an inspirational, secluded and sanitized environment.
- Team workcations. The pandemic has ushered in the age of remote work, which means more regular isolation and less workplace interactivity – a definite morale dampener for many. As this shift also means decreased overhead costs for sustaining commercial real estate, companies may opt to reallocate a portion of the office rent and other displaced fixed costs towards hosting more intra-company vacations so that all these newly remote employees can assemble periodically in real life and experience some of the camaraderie from antecovidian office life.
With these four reasons to travel as a group covered (and no doubt you can think of others beyond business or corporate guests), let’s go through a handful of steps you can then take to better appeal to this travel segment.
- Privacy is the new luxury. Traditionally, service equals high touch. The more luxury a product is, generally speaking the more contact between any operation or amenity and the guest. Many hotels are installing contactless technologies to allay guest fears, but often these deployments don’t have a clear ROI. So, rather than finding ways to make everything contactless, why not instead go the select service route by removing service offerings altogether? If groups are worried about room attendants touching personal belongings, then allow the entire block to opt-out of housekeeping. And if a company is worried about viral spread while dining at your signature restaurant, ensure that room service or secluded dining options are available for all meals.
- Hybrid event solutions. Videoconferencing is here to stay. Even though the number of attendees may be small, there will still be those that cannot make it for one reason or another, so you need to have good connectivity and the proper devices in place for groups to seamless loop in others that are offsite. Beyond this, smart properties are also those that have properly explored contactless technologies like guest messaging apps in lieu of having to visit the front desk, touchless payment gateways or mobile room keys – the more steps you take to mitigate contact, the more reasons you give event planners to choose your property over others.
- Cleanliness theater. Aside from being compliant with any new standards that emerge, important for winning any contract will be how the hotel gives its guests peace of mind so that they feel at ease during their stays. After all, what’s the point of holding a conference if all its delegates are too anxious to enter high-traffic areas? Brands must therefore make their cleaning practices highly visible so that all guests see with their own eyes that the property is taking their safety with the utmost seriousness. Moreover, just because it is labeled as ‘theater’ does not preclude you from the huge amount of work behind the scenes to make the production go off without a hitch.
- Physical distancing. To restate the first of these four, privacy and separation from other parties are top of mind. Guests will want to see tables properly spaced out, middle chairs blocked off to separate either end, strict limits on elevator ridership and tape marks on the floor to indicate where they should stand while in a queue. During a site visit (conducted in person or virtually), planners will also want to learn about how contact is being restricted between the group’s room block or event space and the rest of the hotel’s visitors or amongst the staff. This may compel you to forbid access to certain sections of the property before, during and after the group is using it or even having an operative pod of employees service only that group and no other guests while the group is in house.
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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry directly.