Mr. McIntosh

Group Meetings

Not All Meetings are Created Equally

By Bob McIntosh, Regional VP Sales & Marketing, GF Management

Let's Start at the Beginning

Historically a hospitality selling professionals' training typically included qualification of an event through a series of questions addressed to the meeting planner who is an employee of the company hosting the event or a sourcing manager employed by an agency of record managing travel. In the association market, the planner could be a paid staffer or even a committee member tasked with soliciting bids from various hotels. The National Sales or Global Sales force for the major brands might also act as an intermediary should that customer have brand preferences or even negotiated contract terms for all of their business.

The mission of the sales person is gain a working knowledge of the profile of the attendee, the history of the event, who the decision maker is, when the decision will be made, what are the financial resources available or budget, what the dates are, what guest room inventory and meeting space is required, what food and beverage will be required and the need of audio visual support. These questions greatly influence cost which is often a key component of where the meeting can and will be held. Additional details might be on or off site entertainment, transportation to and from an airport and parking. A Destination Management Company may be part of the equation to assist in those off site activities so sellers might typically provide feedback or contact information to assist a planner making those arrangements from afar.

Today, a larger percentage of meetings or events are being sourced through third party organizations such as Convention and Visitors Bureaus, companies such as Helms Brisco, Conference Direct and perhaps the National Sales Team working through them so the available information becomes much more challenging to obtain if not included in an RFP. Even more challenging is interpreting the sometime limited information generated by an on line RFP source such as Meeting Broker or Cvent. That said, the sales person has a more difficult job in placing their best offer first. Complications such as receiving the end users concession requirements following the initial bid making the negotiation process even more difficult.

That said, the job of the seller has become more complex and the decision to award a contract could take considerably longer. Naturally, sales managers who have established relationships with a company or planner have an advantage over those who do not or might be new to their role. Turnover within a sales team can have a very big impact on the buy decision of a planner so keeping sales teams intact over time is in the best interest of any hotel that specializes in hosting meetings big and small.

Sales teams now also need to have a working knowledge of power requirements of a group that may be training on a new software or hardware product, by downloading files or simply maintaining on line communications of attendees while away from their offices. The need for additional bandwidth might have been as simple as having a T1 line into the building. Now the requirement can be much more sophisticated including the need to set up a LAN (local area network) at the hotel. Often times someone from a company's IT department might make a visit and assessment of the hotels capability prior to a decision being made.

Today, most meeting destination hotels have a team to support these requirements but the seller still needs to give assurances along the way that the capability is in place. Owners and management companies have the burden of providing this infrastructure and then face the decision on what costs can be passed on to the customer and what will simply become the cost of doing business. Remember that just about everyone is carrying a wireless device or devices. Each of the attendees coming to your hotel will no doubt place a burden on your band width both in your public spaces and guest rooms. Streaming video requires a great deal of bandwidth and you may find your wireless connection to be extremely slow as guests settle in for the evening and fire up their tablets and laptops.

Most hotels today have two networks handling internal needs and another to address the guest in other parts of the hotel. If they do not, they are under pressure to provide that as they make improvements to their infrastructure. A new wrinkle to the planning phase now involves executing food service. When I was a young man, the big question was how vegetarian options should the hotel have on hand? Today, we have to consider gluten free, vegan, religious influence on menu choices, nut allergies and list goes on. Those of us who chose the hospitality profession now must wear even more hats or be supported by a community of associates who can handle any number of variables that a customer can throw our way and be totally comfortable giving the right answers.

Not All Meeting Rooms are Created Equally

When I was starting out as a Convention Service Manager years ago, my role was so much more straight forward than it is today. Most sales managers could follow a capacity chart and reserve space accordingly for their clients in the contracting phase. Most clients would seek meeting space without windows so the audio visual presentation could be clearly seen from the back of the room without it being washed out by sunlight. Today, we have clients seeking natural light and relying on the vastly improved lumen ratings of projectors, video walls and flat panel televisions to display their messages and graphics in vivid color that was unimaginable back then. Remember the overhead projector? Hotels now provide econometric chairs in boardrooms, banquet chairs are better designed and provide much more support to a meeting attendee who might spend 6 hours or more sitting stationary without fidgeting.

How about those fancy aluminum tables with the spandex privacy screening! They may be light weight to carry but to buy them is a significant investment on the part of ownership. The brand might compel an owner to invest or they may choose this route to maintain a cutting edge advantage on a competitor.

They do provide some cost savings over having to change and launder table cloths especially those fitted to traditional school room and banquet tables. This also is a green initiative to improve a hotels carbon footprint which can be a component of an RFP if an organization is being socially responsible in their choosing a meeting location. Most hotel brands can provide dashboard data on their ability to reduce the environmental impact of a guest stay or by hosting a meeting at a particular property.

More Choices Outside of the Meeting Room

Much of the benefit of bringing people together at a meeting is the social interaction beyond the meeting room. Hotel design is changing at an accelerated rate. Gone are the days when the hotel lounge was dark, overly masculine and protected by four walls. Today, the meeting attendee is by and large almost equally male and female and can expect open concepts that are well lighted, have communal tables where colleagues can meet and dine informally and plug in and stay connected to work and home. Computer stations equipped with printers are the norm. Multiple televisions broadcasting sports, weather and endless news channels are everywhere. The wants and needs of travelers both on business and leisure are becoming one and the same. Expectations of service levels are higher than ever and few seem willing to compromise so the hotel brands change and grow. Those who do not will lose precious market share, revenue and return on investment. My company thrives in this environment as we offer services that address these issues and are adjust accordingly.

Room service is becoming a thing of the past due to cost and the inability of the industry to get it right consistently. The added delivery charges, gratuity and time it takes to get to your room is often a disappointing and is reflected in guest scores especially for value for price paid. The answer from our industry is to have a fully staffed market place where fresh product can be sold and rotated out daily. Want that Starbucks coffee and a Panini? You can find that more often now and as owners renovate hotels, the market place concept will be the standard.

Some of our best hotels regardless of brand have maintained three meal restaurants offering regional and core brand menus as well as the market place concept; fine dining too, if a market can support it. The commitment of the owner and operator must be substantial in these cases and works best with a balance customer base of corporate, group and leisure travel into a property.

Today's traveler from Baby Boomer to Millennial is very brand conscious so the addition of these food outlets and shops has added another dimension to the product affiliations the large hotel brands have cultivated over the years.

Time For a Good Night's Sleep

Hotels have been innovators of the bedroom for many years now. What brand has the most comfortable bed or the best shower with curved shower rods. Bath tubs are disappearing in favor of walk in Showers with beautiful tile and glass to rival custom baths at home. The showerhead has to be special and towels are now the very best terry that money can buy. Thread counts of sheets are now a question asked during a site inspection by planners as is the content of pillows and duvets. Some hotel brands actually retail their guest room products to the public through major retailers. Starwood used to market themselves not just as hotel brands but lifestyle brands with everything you see, taste and smell communicating in a specific brand's language.

The best hotel new builds and renovations include additional sound proofing between rooms so the noise from the 50 inch TV does not interrupt the sleeping pilot or flight attendant next door. Forgot something at home? Any hotel worth their salt can provide you with the absolute necessities so you can make the general session or interview in the morning and look your very best.

It is now the norm in any hotel brand to have the ability to plug in your phone or laptop in multiple locations without having to reach under a desk or find an outlet that does not have multiple lamps plugged in.

So, What is Next?

Those of us who have been in this industry successfully can attest to several constants that will never change. Cleanliness, well trained and motivated staff willing to do whatever necessary to please a guest, consistent delivery of well prepared, healthy food and beverage options, timely maintenance and upkeep, a safe and secure environment and adequate technology available 24/7.

We will constantly review our report cards from the brands and maintain positioning in the top 5%-10% in guest satisfaction and work towards the number one position. Communicate back to our guests who use social media and services such as Trip Advisor to provide feedback.

The most successful will do all the above and blur the lines of differentiation between "select service" and Upper Upscale brands. Value is truly in the eyes of the customer and there is virtually little difference between the expectation of our biggest corporate customers and the infrequent guest attending a wedding far from home. Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials are only labels and at the end of the day, they are our guests.

Innovation will continue in our industry and as the world changes, so must we. This is not a business where just anyone can thrive and the best make it look easy which it is not.

These are just Good Fundamentals; stick to them!

Bob McIntosh is Regional Vice President of Sales and Marketing at GF Management. Mr. McIntosh joined GF in 2014. GF is an acronym for “Good Fundamentals” and that is the cornerstone of core philosophy and culture. His role is to provide strategic support and guidance to a portfolio of owned and managed hotel assets for this privately held company. This role requires ongoing travel to those assets in the field to monitor plans, actions and results against competitors and owners expectations. Mr. McIntosh is a 39 year hospitality veteran with a proven track record in operations, sales and marketing and pre and post opening of upper upscale hotels and resorts. Mr. McIntosh can be contacted at 973-945-6892 or mcintoshb@gfhotels.com Please visit http://www.gfhotels.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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