Response times do matter: when a customer asks be quick

Be it for choosing a meeting space or the perfect hotel venue, the way consumers and professional event planners shop for and purchase group travel is changing rapidly. HotelPlanner, a deals-based online group booking platform, believes that in this environment brands can and should do more to keep up.

In a rapidly evolving world where new technology is changing how consumers purchase, Bruce Rosenberg,executive vice president at HotelPlanner believes there is no room for complacency in the group-planning segment.  But why? To find out more, put some questions to Rosenberg who joined an expert panel at this week’s Travel Distribution Summit, North America.

EFT: In your view, how is technology changing the group booking game?

BR: What we are finding is that sourcing hotels using ‘request for proposal’ (RFP) technology from brand sites and third-party companies like HotelPlanner is becoming the preferred way to shop for and then contract for group travel. So, with automated tools gaining preference in the market, hotels need to evolve how to do business through RFP online channels in order to successfully book group room nights.

EFT: How important are response times in this environment?

BR: Very. In terms of pricing, the speed of response and bidding effectively is critical. Hotel group pricing for rooms and/or meeting space needs to be submitted within 24 hours, or better still instantly using available technology to book group business.  For example, to deliver instant pricing to the market, HotelPlanner uses ‘Automatic Offer’ functionality, which allows hotels to return pricing instantly to event planners. Hotels utilising ‘automatic offers’ have complete control over pricing, terms, conditions, blackout dates and more. 

Quite simply, hotels responding to RFPs using ‘automatic offers’ and/or providing pricing within 24 hours book more business than hotels that take 48 hours or longer to respond.  My view is that hotels need to think about group pricing as an ‘on demand’ channel just as they do retail channels for transient or individual leisure travel.

EFT: So what is the best way to achieve this?

BR: To meet client demand for speedy response times, hotels have to better align revenue management and sales to address the group market in the most efficient and effective manner possible.  They can do this by using technology to gain an advantage, allocating sales resources properly and empowering sales people to actively work leads to book business.  In fact, in the time it takes for a sales person and a revenue manager to have internal discussions about a group booking, the client may have already booked another property.

EFT: What tools do you recommend?

BR: Sales and revenue management need to use the tools provided by group RFP providers (be they internal or third parties), to best match the business needs of hotels.  As an example, HotelPlanner offers a comprehensive profile as well as sales management settings that filter leads in and or out for the hotels.  We believe this technology allows each and every hotel to establish a profile that delivers the optimum group leads.  Profile settings on HotelPlanner include group size, pricing, length of stay requirements, sourcing by city and more.  The more accurate the profile of a hotel, the more likely it is to higher quality leads.  Also hotel profiles need to be actively managed to reflect changes at the hotel or the competitive environment. 

EFT: How important is it that hotels give an accurate description?

BR: Well, hotel descriptions need to sell the property to group buyers.  Information must be up to date and relevant to a group decision maker.  Photos and other media need to be loaded on site and must accurately showcase the hotel’s attributes. The set-up and ongoing investment in keeping profiles updated and accurate delivers a payoff in booking more group business.When responding to leads, hotel sales people need to go beyond just providing rates and dates.  Sales people need to sell through online channels not just respond to leads with rates and dates.  Hotels need to provide the information that makes the client understand why their hotel is the perfect fit for a group stay.

Hotel sales people also need to build relationships with RFP organisations that have field sales teams, which work with planners to book groups.  HotelPlanner has an extensive field sales force in the USA and Europe that works with group event planners.  The closer relationship hotel sales people have with organisations that have direct contact with group planners the better.

EFT: What are your recommendations for group planners in 2014?

BR: For business planning for the group segment in 2014, hotel management teams need to evaluate the best way to drive business from online group channels.  To win business, a proactive approach is needed to assess, evaluate and respond.  HotelPlanner and its affiliate partners will generate 650,000 group leads in 2014.   Of these leads 40% will be accepted by group planners then contracted with hotels.   Online group channels offer a wealth of business for hotels that take the time to learn the new ways of selling online to event planners.

HotelPlanner is a sponsor of the Travel Distribution Summit, North America which took place this week in Chicago. 

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