Group travel has been one of the areas of hospitality hardest hit as a result of the pandemic. Big events have been constantly canceled or rescheduled, family and friends are being pushed back, and hoteliers have had to navigate an entirely different environment with fewer staff and less predictability than ever before.
With seven months left in the year, there is still great potential for the industry to surpass pre-pandemic levels. However, this will require adjustments from hoteliers to take advantage of the increased demand because today’s meetings and events look different from pre-pandemic standards.
To help hoteliers plan for this new era, Amadeus combined insights from industry experts and business intelligence data to identify the key forces shaping the group’s business. The research revealed five major trends.
1. Change the behavior of group travel
According to data from Amadeus’s Demand360, hotels in unexpected destinations are seeing increases in group travel bookings this year. While some US cities like Orlando and New Orleans remain popular, unconventional locations like Anchorage, Alaska and Tuscaloosa, Alabama unusually fall in the top 20 markets for 2022. Compare this to a dynamic city like San Francisco, which is seeing lower occupancy when compared to activity prior to the pandemic. .
Groups that travel not only try new markets but do so with fewer people. In 2022, Amadeus MeetingBroker data shows that 63% of event requests for proposals (RFPs) were for groups of 50 people or less compared to 58% in 2019. Additionally, the average wait time for a request for proposal was shortened. Offers from 223 days in 2019 to 193 days in 2021.
2. Lean teams should do more with less
Staff shortages are nothing new in the hospitality industry, but when it comes to sales and operations, things are getting tougher. Sales teams have to restructure to handle a larger volume of smaller deals, with lower commission and less staff. Reward structures across the board must be reassessed to ensure that they align with the type of sales offered and the requirements of sales teams as they are today, not pre-pandemic.
Operations teams also get frustrated when it comes to experimenting with combos at the property. With fewer employees, there is a limit to the number of groups a property can serve with an available operating team. Adopting technology to manage COVID-19 related disruptions while simplifying and automating daily tasks can put hotels in a much better position to interact with the current environment.
3. Hybrid and in-person meetings are here to stay
Mixed meetings and events are now a constant part of business travel thanks to significant technological advances supporting remote work. But this trend has increased the workload of hotels at a time when human resources are scarce, so managers need to make sure they have the ability and know how to present the technical elements of the event. Hiring an outside supplier to take the technical and administrative burden off internal staff can be beneficial, since service expectations from guests remain high.
Hybrid events are a major contributor to the trend towards smaller group size, but they reinforce the need for hotels to offer a distinct in-hotel meeting and event experience. It is important that attendees and businesses alike feel the benefit of traveling to an event and meeting in person, because today there are viable options for staying at home. The in-hotel experience is a vital part of the mixed package, and feedback from attendees will be critical to business for hotels looking for return bookings and positive vibes.
4. Meeting planner relationships will be key (more)
Amadeus data shows that requests for proposals from meeting planners increased by 51% in 2021 compared to 2020, which is great news for the industry. With the return of mass travel, so will the competition, making the speed of response to RFPs even more important – the old adage that the faster the response, the more likely the deal will be successful. Hotel owners need integrated solutions to help them answer quickly, accurately, and profitably.
However, technology is only one piece of the puzzle. Since negotiations remain competitive, nurturing schema relationships will be key in this climate. Meeting planners find themselves in a strong position when it comes to terms and conditions that they can request from their hotel prospects, and greatly value a degree of flexibility regarding food and beverage commitments and/or project schedules. This is another area where real-time market data can help hoteliers make the right decision about whether to respond to the RFP and what reasonable lengths to go.
5. Innovative partnerships unlock new possibilities
New alliances between hotels and businesses are helping expand reach and secure reservations as global organizations continue to innovate how they operate, including when and where meetings take place. This new paradigm has created a demand for workspace and meeting rooms for employees to meet, either informally for community-led interactions or more formally for business meetings. Some of the major hotel chains have created attractive packages for business travelers who need a space to work during the day, as well as a place for evening entertainment with clients and colleagues.
Another way for hoteliers to grow new revenue streams is to negotiate interesting partnerships with similar properties in the same market or adjacent areas, giving guests access to amenities or workspace at both properties with increased selling potential.
For large multi-brand groups or hotel management companies, a CRM solution is essential to share leads across brands and global regions. This helps keep all reservations within wallet – if the Crowne Plaza Midtown is booked, there might be a room at the Crowne Plaza in Times Square. Watching the market and thinking differently is the name of the game to unlock new possibilities.
As the picture for 2022 continues to evolve, Amadeus data shows plenty of reason to be optimistic about the return of the hotel conglomerate business in the US, but it would be a mistake to treat the rebound as “business as usual.” Behavioral changes related to mass travel In addition to the inevitable labor shortage, hoteliers are grappling with what means a new perspective must be taken on how to plan, plan, implement and ultimately reward mass travel in 2022 and beyond.