Ms. Martin Yack

Group Meetings

Staying Relevant in the Constantly Changing World of Meetings

By Deirdre Martin Yack, Director of Sales & Marketing, Hotel 50 Bowery

As a supplier, it takes extreme creativity at the venue level. Starting with the initial design, event space must be as flexible, innovative and as Instagram-worthy as possible. In the past ten years, we have seen rooftops, outdoor gardens and terraces become the norm at emerging hotels. Planners expect expansive guest suites that can double as event space, boardrooms with views and natural light- anything but your standard meeting room. Every space must be multi-purpose and have multiple functions to have the maximum impact and success. Hotels are now competing with museums, restaurants, rooftop bars and shared workspaces for the same events and meetings. How do we stand out and not only remain relevant but exceed expectations of ownership and attendees alike? This takes a thorough plan that encompasses design, creative menus, digital presence, aggressive and empowered sales professionals, and ongoing training.

As a hotel director of sales with four hotel launches in the past eight years, it has been indispensable to have input at the design level for boardroom and meeting spaces. Small details like built-in audio-visual, cabinets for storage, and mini-bars similar to those found in guest rooms have proven to be appreciated by meeting attendees and speakers alike. Event space that can be easily converted from public space for all guests to enjoy to creative event space for a private evening event have been embraced by planners. Long, low cabinets that can cross-function as either a bar set-up, coat-check, registration desk or simply be a credenza with florals quickly turns an informal public space into a reception venue. Working with designers on counter-tops capable to take the heat of a warming dish, or tables that are portable enough to move without damage, are essential to the long-term success of a meeting room.

Today, meeting attendees and planners can easily keep up with design and style trends through social media. Today's expectations for hotel meeting spaces are high thanks to standards set by social media, reality TV and the internet. Pinterest and Instagram constantly feature magical spaces with cutting edge design, technology and locations. The customer's obsession with design forces suppliers to creatively style spaces that will make a lasting and authentic impression.

In a brand-new hotel opening or conversion, it is invaluable for the onsite property team that will ultimately market, sell and service the property to spend time with the interior designer offsite at galleries or on local shopping excursions. Once the design team and branding team moves on from the project it is vital to have continuity and an ongoing refresh in our spaces that connect with the property's more localized seasonal efforts with the original design concepts. Recently, a guest posted our whimsical rooster-shaped "Do Not Disturb" sign on their Instagram- a satisfying affirmation that our guests enjoy the little cultural details that set our property apart.

The quest to keep attendees engaged also includes creating creative and flexible menus. Attendees expect trendy food that tastes delicious and meets their dietary needs. Whether its gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, macrobiotic or paleo - the industry must be ready to cater to every eccentricity and diet that is in fashion. Chefs not only have to put out food that tastes good, but it also must have a flawless presentation. Keep in mind that today's guests and attendees bring all of their social media followers along for the ride. Whether they post a picture of their meals, the meeting room or the view - guests are always looking for instagrammable moments, for better or for worse.

Planners love to connect with menus that include locally sourced produce, a micro-beer from Brooklyn, herbs from the chef's own rooftop garden; this level of connectivity makes a venue stand above the crowd and remain not just relevant but memorable too.

My most recent hotel launch includes an Asian-centric celebrity chef and restaurant group. Groups are requesting authentic, Chinatown-inspired dining experiences that mirror the onsite restaurant concept. It adds such fun to the sales process to include a question about "how much flavor can your attendees handle".

Aside from design, and creative menus, it is equally vital that a venue's digital presence includes the most up-to-date images. Outdated photos on a hotel website now compete directly with real time images from guest posts on TripAdvisor and Google. The savviest venues are constantly posting new pictures of event set ups, menus and seasonal items on their website and social media channels. A hotel's social media channels needs to showcase images that complement the hotel's website - with the same look and feel - in order to remain genuine and build trust with meeting planners and guests. We encourage and expect our social media team to take pictures in real time of creative set-ups, inventive breaks, and even guests enjoying our programming.

Instagram Stories and Facebook Live are the perfect forum for informal posts showcasing an outdoor Yoga event or a sweet video of guests enjoying a few treats on National Ice Cream Day. Today's traveler is posting in real time. It is also the responsibility of our social media team to keep track of online guest posts that we can re-post and attribute back to the source. This creates a new level of brand loyalty and connectivity with our guests as influencers constantly seeking that endorsement.

Today's digital spend competes directly with intermediary partner and shared office network groups in market, sometimes for the same venue. Distribution is vital across the quickly growing world of online sourcing sites. In order to remain relevant suppliers need to keep a vigilant eye for listing opportunities on newcomers such as Venue Report, Liquid Space, Poppir, BIZLY and EVENT-UP. We also must be prepared to sell against shared spaces like WeWork and Breather. On-property sales professionals that offer a quick and simple bid will fare better than old-school hoteliers with overly complicated service charges, various tax rates, bartender fees and associated charges bidding against these newcomers that tend to offer simple daily minimums or even hourly meeting rates in an easy-to-read proposal.

How else to remain relevant? Let's not forget a surge in unique onsite programming to keep attendees engaged and ready to snapchat. Morning yoga sessions, afternoon meditation breaks, team-building to benefit a local charity -it is amazing to see how we have evolved as an industry from content-focus to experiential over the past two decades.

We recently had a meeting planner ask permission to add a team-building activity building which the group builds wheelchairs for their non-profit after their full day meeting. We found extra space in an outdoor garden for them to use gratis. After receiving this special request, our sales person was able to connect with the meeting planner and the non-profit from the early stages. This speaks to the importance of sales professionals that truly listen to the needs of the end-user and successfully cater to the group's requests, as well as empowerment to be as flexible as possible as a partner.

The logistics of shipping and receiving these items, plus storage space, as well as the room required for assembly, is something that needs to be communicated ahead of time. Once executed successfully, all parties felt good to be a part of it; certainly not business usual for this type of team-building.

It takes a serious level of transparency between a planner and a venue in today's industry. It is no longer simply a matter of dates, space and rates, but more an open dialogue about budgets, past experiences and knowledge about the actual attendees. The more information that can be shared upfront, the better. So often, a contract will be signed to meet a budget requirement - only to end up with disappointed attendees due to a scaled-back breakfast or skipped mid-morning coffee break in the quest to save money. Managing expectations is essential in order to effectively host a meeting that leaves the planners and attendees satisfied with less guest recovery.

Recently we encountered a group challenged with finding taxi cabs during inclement weather. These guests were not subway material; our door staff needed to think on their feet. An UBER corporate account was quickly implemented and now we not only are ready to connect guests with a ride, we can even offer a credit or discount and let them bill to their guest room or meeting master bill. A similar online partnership was developed with Caviar when our in-room dining was delayed during a hotel launch. Guests can use their personal account or the hotel account or have the option of calling guest services to place the order on their behalf. Again, exclusive discounts and the ability to charge to a guestroom or a group master account apply. This connects road-warriors with the same smart phone technology they use in their home lives while in-house at our hotel.

Finally, there is also a need for staffing that is more flexible and capable than ever before. With shorter lead times and challenging requests, today's planners and suppliers (from a sales person to the chef to an onsite banquet manager) need to be ready for last minute requests, changes, additions and unique onsite requests 24/7. Ongoing training regarding guest recovery, listening skills, and the importance of communication remain at the core of hospitality learning and development for all properties. The beauty of launching a brand-new hotel starts with the shining new staff eager to please our guests. Add to that an opening budget that includes the latest in software technology like HotSos, fresh out of the box radios and ear-pieces, plus Wi-Fi boosters strategically placed during pre-opening.

It is our job to keep up with the expectations of today's discerning consumer, with a smile on our face and a smart phone in our hand, in our quest to remain relevant.

Deirdre Martin Yack, director of sales and marketing for Manhattan’s Hotel 50 Bowery, draws on more than two decades of experience to launch the first Joie de Vivre property in New York City. Ms. Yack and her team coordinate direct sales and marketing efforts to position the hotel as an adventurous Chinatown destination. She also develops programs that connect to the city’s culture. Throughout her career, Ms. Yack’s commitment to the individual experience remains essential to her success, in both leading a team and pleasing hotel guests. Though she typically focuses on big-picture concepts, Ms. Yack’s overarching goal is an exceptional guest experience. Ms. Martin Yack can be contacted at 212-508-8000 or 50bowerysales@jdvhotels.com Please visit http://www.jdvhotels.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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