We are living in a digital era — a realization which directly affects the way we approach our life, work and leisure. Across generations we witness the prioritization of a digital experience, a large-scale appreciation (and in most cases, demand) for the ability to remain connected 24/7, without interruption.
This expectation for a modernized, refined digital experience has evolved the way we work, and the ways in which businesses connect with consumers and third parties. Within the hospitality realm specifically, prospective travelers and agents have long-since expressed a need for a seamless, time-conscious booking process. While this solution has long existed for individual flights and hotel reservations, industry professionals have been faced with a notorious gap in the booking process for groups and events.
In fact, the process of booking events and meetings is largely outdated, broken and still trapped within a manual format that creates a wealth of headaches and neglected leads for planners and hotel sales managers alike. This represents a frustrating injustice to hotels and planners now, perhaps more than ever, as we continue to shift into what could be called the “experience economy”. It seems that regardless of political uncertainty, austerity and inflation, consumers are spending more on experiences rather than material items. With this interest in unique experiences and events ever-increasing in the eyes of the modern guest, hotels are faced with a unique opportunity to capitalize on an influx of small, medium and large-scale events. This is music to a hotelier’s ears, as they visualize years of potential revenue through means of events and group bookings.
In a digital-forward world, why has the events and group venue booking process lagged so far behind?
There has traditionally been a major breakdown that happens between the demand for venue space, and the answer to that demand. Why have hotels, up until this point, been largely unable to effectively streamline and automate processes to capitalize on the group booking revenue stream? Why are both sales managers and event planners constantly stuck in limbo between emails and approvals, frustrated by a system that isn’t evolving to allow them to meet and exceed expectations?
So the driving question becomes: What solutions exist to remedy this long-standing roadblock, to allow hotels to (finally) truly maximize on event-based revenue potential, while catering to the modern planner?
It’s time to give planners what they want
Nothing will negatively impact your hotel’s relationship with a prospective event or group quite as much as the friction created by too many barriers between the initial RFP and the final booking confirmation. This becomes especially true in the case of digital-savvy planners trying to find options for their next event or corporate meeting. Guess what they expect? A digital-savvy hotel with a seamless, time-efficient process in place to manage RFPs and qualified leads.
Hotels are currently converting online group business as low as 1-2%, despite the groups and meetings segment representing over 30% of 495 billion in hospitality revenue worldwide. Much of this can be attributed to a constant barrage of mass-distributed leads, many of which are likely unqualified, that quickly overwhelm the capacity of a hotel’s sales management team. With so much time being wasted simply sorting through leads to vet those which have merit, sales managers are often unable to respond to inquiries and solidify leads at a real-time pace. In fact, 2 out of 3 requests aren’t answered, and if they are answered it’s often in days rather than minutes or hours.
Rather than engaging in a perpetual series of delayed phone calls and emails, planners should be able to access all critical information they need at a glance (before even submitting an RFP). After all, hotels offer this upfront convenience to guests looking to book rooms online, so why is it so challenging to do the same thing for group business? By making pertinent information (hotel rules, accommodation capacity, catering options, virtual tours, availability, rates etc.) available from the beginning of the booking process, hotels are empowering planners to make educated inquiries. 81% of planners note that they want availability and rates right away — so don’t hide this information from them. Booking a venue for an event shouldn’t be a shot in the dark.
When the RFP process is streamlined effectively to provide qualifying information right away, hotel sales managers can truly focus on the qualified leads and fast-track the confirmation process to forge a positive, profitable relationship. It’s a win, win for everyone. And what is the best means to provide the information, at a glance, to prospective planners? Online. Meet them where they are doing their business (websites, third party apps, social media).
After all, we should never underestimate the power of instant gratification. Whether online shopping, booking an individual flight or hotel, searching for information on Google — we are all used to instant connectivity, responses and confirmations. And yet, booking for groups or events has (until now) remained in the dark ages so to speak. By dark ages, we mean planners literally have to chase down prospective venue information on the phone or via email, discussing and confirming all event details in what comes to a primarily manual process. Who has time for that? Definitely not the modern-day planner.
Fortunately, technology is finally nudging the events segment in the right direction, as hotels (for the first time ever) can invest in group management solutions that offer planners instant, online group and event bookings. Much like booking a flight on Expedia, hotels can now utilize an integrated booking engine that provides planners with real-time availability, 3D virtual tours, packages, booking details, applicable rules, rates and the option to easily generate eRFPs. With this information at their disposal (and an easy click of a mouse) planners can better identify suitable hotels for their event, and reserve or book instantly online. Get this — they can even pay online. With these steps summarized visually into a digital platform, readily available 24/7, hotel sales managers are free to engage with prospective planners, provide instant quotes, contracts and streamline communications through the platform with cloud-based access. Rather than constantly playing catch-up, your sales manager will feel empowered to target and genuinely engage with planners and prospective customers.
This isn’t just the future of event and group bookings within hotels — this is here and now. This is the digital booking experience for the digital-savvy planner. Fast, efficient, profitable and digitalized for the modern hospitality landscape. Would you really want to have it any other way?
Lauren Hall is the award-winning Founder and Chief Executive Officer of iVvy.
Lauren is a passionate entrepreneur with more than 25 years’ business management experience at Executive and Board level, successfully building multiple companies from startup to strategic and financial exit. With a background in programming, accounting and marketing, Lauren’s expertise spans manufacturing, retail, advertising and technology industries in both South Africa and Australia.
Since its 2009 launch, Lauren has overseen iVvy’s continued growth and global expansion to New Zealand, Asia, Europe and North America.
Ernst & Young recognized Lauren as a future global leader of industry through the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women Asia-Pacific program. Lauren has also won 4 prestigious Global Stevie Awards for Best New Product, Entrepreneur of the Year, Innovator of the Year and Entrepreneur of the Year (Asia Pacific). She has been awarded the Queensland iAwards for Best Innovation in the Digital Economy, as well as Gold Coast’s Business Woman of the Year, Innovator of the Year and was presented with the Gold Coast Mayor’s Award for Innovation.