By Lauren Hall, Founder & CEO, iVvy
In almost any industry today, failure to keep up with future trends represents a failure to evolve your product or service according to robust and changing consumer expectations. In the case of hospitality, especially, this can be the make or break moment for properties looking to thrive in an ever-competitive market. As technology continues to advance to transform and improve the guest experience from start to finish, hoteliers realize mounting pressure to future-proof their property with the right technology, staff, amenities and unique experiences. From the mobile journey to data-driven guest personalization, boutique amenities, smart hotels, advanced booking tools and so much more, the future of hospitality looks brighter than ever before.
However — in the past, the gradual adoption of guest-centric, mobile-optimized technology seemed to focus mainly on the transient business segment. The booking process was aptly streamlined and digitalized for seamless direct booking via website or app, catering to individual travelers or small groups looking to book their next trip. While this was a much-needed industry update, it left some of us wondering — what about group business? After all, optimizing revenue requires attention to each revenue stream, so why was the group and events segment seemingly under-utilized and left behind? Considering that in the past year, as many as 1 out of every 3 group rooms were being booked outside of the hotel, the need for an industry-wide update in group booking technology and offerings became indisputable.
As with most aspects of the hospitality experience, the key for properties to differentiate their venue space from the competition lies in their ability to be highly responsive, personalized and provide the best value. To do this, hotels have to cater to the evolving demands of modern events and meetings, and the subsequent needs and expectations of savvy planners.
Recognizing the Demand Opportunity
A recent study noted that the number of business meetings only increased 5.4% from 2009 to 2017 — at a glance, this may be interpreted as a detriment to the growth of group business. However, while the number of meetings increased in a limited capacity, the number of attendees increased by 22.7%. Of course, bigger meetings and events represents an exciting revenue opportunity with higher-scope demands and, in turn, increased revenue.
When we consider the generational emphasis on experiences (we have entered the ‘Experience Economy’ after all), we also realize the opportunity for meetings and events to become so much more than they once were. As millennials become a dominant force in the travel industry, they’re demanding more opportunities for unique engagement, entertainment, and genuine connection. The ability to personalize group packages with unique amenities and experiences will, without a doubt, establish hotel properties as sought-after venue options both now and in the future.
Not only that, but attendees are showing a demand for local experience. While they may arrive at your property for the scheduled meeting or event, they’re more invested than ever before in taking the time to enjoy an authentic city experience. The venue goes beyond the hotel property to include the city around it. Once again, this presents an exciting opportunity for hotels with robust, customizable packages for groups and strong local partnerships.
The Digital Difference
So, we’ve addressed the demand and opportunity for group business — now the question becomes, how can hotels meet that demand and exceed expectations? As aforementioned, the previous group booking process was notoriously outdated and manual. This often resulted in an unfathomable influx of unqualified RFPs for hotels, while planners were left unanswered and grasping at the first property which addressed their requests. As you can imagine, this made for a flawed sales process, as hotels were without the necessary tools to remain ahead of the curve and effectively market their venue space to qualified events and meetings.
With new and improved online group booking tools, planners are finally equipped with the platform they need to search for unique venues, compare prices and book online, instantaneously. With live-availability and a comprehensive platform of critical venue details, hotels can achieve global visibility for their venue and streamline the RFP funnel to those which are vetted and qualified. By relieving the workload associated with sorting through a daily barrage of unqualified RFPs, hotel sales teams are finally able to generate leads and establish long-term relationships with prospective planners.
Not only that, but both parties will benefit from instant quotes and contracts, 3D virtual tours, easy booking management, resource management (to allow for customized menus, packages, amenities, etc.), online payments and invoicing and more. A process which was once manual and cumbersome has finally received the technological makeover it so badly needed, reinforcing the group business segment with seamless interactions and data-backed insights. Even better? The ability to advertise live availability grants hotels complete efficacy over their space and able to secure last-minute bookings — in other words, hotels never have to miss a lead again. Ultimately, this is the digital difference, and we do not doubt that those hotels which embrace this shift will reap the rewards within their group business segment, and beyond.
In a world where the digital experience and process of personalization is seemingly taking over, aligning your hotel with the right technology to remain ahead of industry trends is paramount. Consumers in the hospitality realm are now represented by digitally savvy travelers and planners, who expect a unique and genuine experience with those properties they favour. Both now and in the future, collaborating with planners and connecting with guests should be seamless. Rather than passing documents and updates through laborious rounds of approvals for every change and update, hoteliers are empowered with the ability to be attentive, responsive and just as digitally savvy as their customers.
Ultimately, with the help of new technology, hospitality leaders can create an exciting competitive advantage that not only represents revenue opportunity, but also future-proofs an integral segment of their business.