78% of group planners are unhappy with the response they get from hotels - it’s time for hotels to change that

Seismic changes, some resulting from the pandemic and others from trends already in motion, have been shaking up the workplace for the past two years. While the most noticeable change is the shift toward more people working from home, other big factors include the Great Resignation and the entrance of Generation Z into the workforce.

As we know, in-person meetings during the pandemic have taken a hit, with virtual and hybrid alternatives replacing those where everyone gathers in an on-site conference room or at a local hotel. But now, as we enter 2023, it’s time to get ready for another shift. Despite economic uncertainty and continued pandemic fears, indicators point to a strong resurgence of live events and business travel.

While some people enjoy the flexibility of working and meeting remotely, two years of isolation are fueling a need for face-to-face contact with colleagues and customers, whether at meetings, during business trips or in the workplace. Workplace trends are in tandem with the growing desire to meet in person with team members, industry colleagues, and clients. According to a recent report in BTN and a survey from the Global Business Travel Association, business travel is on the upswing in the post-pandemic landscape. GBTA found that 75% of the 389 travel and procurement managers surveyed expect their organizations’ travel volume to increase this year over previous levels, and only five percent anticipate a decline.

Planners are Frustrated

Unfortunately, hospitality is still plagued with record-high staffing shortages, which has a trickle-down impact on the planner experience as they are left to manage tasks that used to be the hotel teams’ responsibilities. According to a Knowland survey, less than 22% of planners are truly satisfied with the response they get from hotels/venues. This is a rather enlightening statistic because it means that an overwhelming 78% of planners are unhappy with the experience hotels and venue spaces offer.

There’s also an ongoing meeting and event trend regarding short hotel lead times that doesn’t seem to be losing much speed heading forward: Shorter lead times lead to problems and frustrations for all. According to several national sales representatives for major hotel chains, planners are organizing conferences today in a fraction of the time they were just a few short years ago. Meetings for several thousand are being pulled off in less than three months; for smaller groups, three weeks is not unheard of. Some hotels are booking smaller meetings with a week's notice to only a few days' notice.

So, the question becomes – what can hotels do to win back the favor of planners that have become increasingly disenchanted with the hospitality industry over the last few years?

Focus on Meaningful Experiences

The desire for a more connected, in-person experience is omnipresent in the wake of the pandemic. With this in mind, hotels and venue spaces should strive to help planners curate events that foster meaningful connections. The intention of the event or meeting, and the tangible value or experience it's meant to offer, should be undeniable to every attendee, and planners must be able to rely on their venue space to help facilitate that effect.

As more pressure is placed on planners to curate truly exceptional and intrinsically valuable events and meetings, hotels and venue spaces must view themselves as a key partner to planners. Assuming the role of a key stakeholder of sorts, hotel teams must be ready to listen to the needs of planners and adapt their property’s unique offerings accordingly and enthusiastically. The job doesn’t end once the booking is confirmed; rather, it is just beginning, and hotel/venue teams must be prepared to work closely with planners at every step to bring their event to life.

Leverage Tech-Driven Touchpoints

Across the hospitality industry, self-service technology has become an integral part of the guest experience – so why should the attendee or planner experience be any different? Hotels and venue spaces should leverage platforms that enhance the planner’s discovery phase via engaging multimedia elements like immersive virtual tours and professionally curated digital proposals to streamline the venue vetting process.

Planners are also increasingly interested in working with properties that have embraced the technological trends set in motion by guest preferences, including contactless check-in, mobile app connectivity, augmented reality, virtual reality, and more. Now, more than ever, technology empowers a more connected experience during events and meetings, and this trend shows no sign of slowing down.

With this in mind, hotels and venues are expected to offer up-to-date, tech-driven touchpoints on-property and must be ready and willing to help planners implement any event technology they wish to bring. Suppose a property cannot facilitate a tech-driven event experience (such as the use of HD projectors or live video streaming capabilities for hybrid events). In that case, planners are likely to take their business elsewhere.

Be Flexible

On the heels of an undeniably unprecedented global pandemic, travelers remain apprehensive of hotels that do not offer flexible contracts and policies. This can be especially detrimental in the meetings and events space, as companies typically want to book well before an event but need to feel assured that the venue they select can be accommodating to their needs and responsive to current affairs. Planners expect transparency throughout the negotiating process and want to know what policies impact their deposits if they need to cancel or reschedule. Moreover, venue spaces should look beyond set packages to offer planners more customizable options, if requested, to ensure the property meets every event's unique needs.

Offset the Staffing Shortage with Marketing Automation

Did you know that group sales teams only spend 30% of their time actually selling? Even at the best of times, the group business segment of the hospitality industry is notoriously overburdened with an influx of unqualified leads and RFPs. For years, event planners have cited sales teams’ delayed response as the reason they took their business elsewhere; simply stated, planners don’t have time to waste, and traditional group sales processes and platforms are notorious time wasters. Much of this negative reputation can be tied to a reliance on legacy technology and processes and, in general, a lack of automation. Unfortunately, this age-old problem has only been exacerbated by the post-pandemic staffing shortage, as hotel and venue sales teams’ efforts are spread thin across increasingly lean teams. With this in mind, the demand for a more streamlined, tech-driven infrastructure within group sales is impossible to ignore.

Fortunately, hotel sales teams that embrace innovation by combining their sales and catering system with a marketing automation platform to automate time-consuming, manual processes. Rather than spreading sales staff too thin across countless tasks and touchpoints, hotels can trust that the primary pillars of the sales cycle (prospecting, lead intelligence, reporting, proposals, and contracts) are taken care of. This technology identifies the best opportunities with lead scoring. It puts prospecting on autopilot, empowering sales teams to focus on what matters most: closing business, personalizing events, and managing client relationships.

In-person events and meetings are coming back in a big way in 2023. Hotels that invest in the latest tools for success can flip the script and transform their relationships with planners for the better.

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