As the world of travel evolves, meetings and events are changing with it. Although we may not be experiencing a full industry recovery just yet, the global hotel occupancy gap compared to pre-pandemic is quickly closing, with 2022 group business making a comeback and trending only slightly behind 2019 levels.  

Growing demand and increased request for proposals shows that there’s no doubt people want to return to more face-to-face interactions. The question is: under what circumstances? 

As part of a “New Golden Rules of Meetings & Events” series, we’ve combined insights from global hospitality experts, Amadeus business intelligence data, and key strategies to prepare hotels for success as demand returns. With this in mind, here are three ways to begin mastering the new rules needed to succeed as group business returns. 


1.  Address Labor Challenges 


The new reality

A pandemic-related shortage of workers continues to threaten the hotel industry as travelers simultaneously arrive on property with elevated expectations for rapid response times and end-to-end guest experience. Even as restrictions begin to subside, hoteliers just about everywhere are desperate to hire people to keep up with the emerging demand. 

“We recently started seeing a boom in group demand again with very short-term bookings,” said Karen Marchand, Corporate Director of Catering and Conference Services, Noble House Hotels. “Now that the demand is there, we’re trying to find sales associates and it’s been difficult because we just don’t have the same number of candidates as in the past.” 
 
When staffing levels are low, on-site services, along with each aspect of the event planning cycle can significantly suffer. With smaller sales teams and shorter booking windows, the response time to RFPs can become slower. Contract negotiating and rewriting can become sluggish with increased cancellation and attrition demands. Even flipping a room between coffee break sessions can become frantically difficult with only a few people trying to take on the work of a full team. 


Tips to master the challenge

Hotels now need to consider labor challenges when it comes to event staffing to ensure service standards meet the expectations of pent-up demand, while exploring new ways to offer opportunities to upskill existing team members. With potential customers wanting answers immediately, make sure the team also has a sense of urgency when it comes to RFP responses and closing business. An acceleration in digitalization means that getting a fast response out to a lead will increase the chances of getting the deal and keeping ahead of the competition.  One way to do this is by finding the right technology to help streamline sales and event processes from lead to execution.
 

2.  Create Spaces Guests Can Feel Good About 


The new reality 

Considering the many ways hospitality has changed due to the pandemic, top considerations continue to be health, safety, and physical distancing. They also remain as deciding factors in RFP selections, especially among corporate groups. Although the industry is starting to see all things safety-measure-focused diminish,confidence remains fragile, and hotels must move with conviction to ensure the gains made are not lost.
 
“Group business is key for us to fill our hotels and our protocols have been a big factor in closing deals and continuing with events,” said Mauricio Ramirez, Commercial & Marketing Director, Mundo Imperial. “It’s part of the narrative people are looking for when planning events and we have to make sure we continue to have protocols in place.” 

A recent survey of global meeting and event planners echoes this outlook with more than half (65%) expressing their organization now has explicit language when it comes to safety and security policies, while 35% state that finding enough space to accommodate physical distancing to be a major influence of meeting location selection. 


Tips to master the challenge

When it comes to creating spaces guests can feel good about, hotels need to make sure to align early on expectations during the planning process. It’s now vital to be clear not only about the policies at the property but what the group expects for the function, including how stringent requirements are, how the group anticipates enforcing policies like mask-wearing or social distancing, as well as any specific corporate guidelines the team should be aware of.

Physical distancing also presents its own unique set of challenges for properties, as increased square footage per attendee may be required. A standard board room may no longer be a viable option to host a 12-person meeting, or a group may require a larger banquet hall or convention space than it did in the past. Planning seating charts well in advance and revisiting as the event nears can help to account for last minute changes, while leveraging a diagramming solution as part of the event management technology can ensure space is effectively planned. This will ensure a smooth experience and alleviate any customer concerns prior to the event. 
 

3.  Cultivate a Spirit of Collaboration and Flexibility 


The new reality

Due to changes in travel restrictions, budgets, and changing attitudes towards confidence levels in traveling, decisions are being made more swiftly. Over the last two years events have been booked, cancelled, and rebooked, sometimes multiple times. Now as restrictions ease, a 100-person booking with virtual components may suddenly turn into a 300-guest in-person event with room blocks. And even when rebooking, companies are still going to make sure they’re getting the most out of contracts, demanding very flexible policies, and COVID-19 clauses in their contracts. 
 
“What we’re seeing is that clients want to go back to having in-person events,” said Silvia Zamora, VP Meeting Design & Events, Associated Luxury Hotels International. “One thing we can all expect, however, is that we must be flexible and nimble as things continue to unfold in our industry.” 


Tips to master the challenge

This means hotels and planners need to cultivate collaborative relationships to define how they can make bookings a win-win for the hotel, the customer, and attendees. Perhaps the group could arrive on a Tuesday versus Thursday for reduced mid-week rates or book during lower demand periods. An extension for weekend stays could be offered to corporate groups for a value-add ‘bleisure’ trip. When negotiating, explore ways to transform small board meetings into a more comprehensive program-filled retreat.   

Make sure to keep in touch with clients to remain top of mind and ensure you’ll be one of the first to receive the next RFP. Getting a response out fast to a lead will also increase chances of getting the deal, while having the right sales and event management solution in place will ensure all the moving parts needed to succeed are supported, from lead to execution.
 
To really zero in on what’s best for both the group and hotel, hotels will have to partner with customers and planners to find areas for flexibility. Joining forces and leveraging technology to remove any friction from the planning processes will be key to all around success. 
 
As the picture for 2022 continues to evolve, so does the next generation of meetings and events. The new world order has altered the fundamentals in the way we connect and gather, amplifying the importance of addressing lingering safety and labor challenges, while earning trust through thoughtful collaboration with customers. Mastering the new rules of meetings and events means zeroing in on and reevaluating business practices, particularly when it comes to the higher revenue generating segment of group business. 

For additional market insights and key strategies, download the full “Mastering the New Golden Rules of Meetings & Events” series to learn all the tips and tricks a hotel now needs to succeed.