he hotel industry has seen personal travel come roaring back since the pandemic shutdown in 2020, and recent figures show that business is back, too. In the second quarter of 2023, group business bookings were up nearly 102 percent from 2019. Imagine what attracting a bigger slice of that pie could do for boosting revenue and occupancy rates.
Hosting these events not only fills rooms, but also leads to additional revenue through catering, event space rental, and other services. Previously, we discussed how hotels and resorts of all sizes can attract personal business travelers – here are seven ways to attract the entire office.
1. Develop a Group-Friendly Infrastructure
Before you can attract group business, you need to ensure your hotel is equipped to meet their specific needs. It’s one thing to have a comfy co-working space or quiet rooms for personal business use, but it’s quite another to host a group of potentially hundreds of coworkers. Use this checklist to make sure you’re up to speed:
- Flexible Event Spaces: If you don’t already have them, invest in versatile event spaces that can accommodate both small meetings and large conventions. Make it your top priority to make sure they’re well-equipped with state-of-the-art technology and ample seating arrangements.
- Audio-Visual Facilities: If you’ve ever been to a speaking engagement where the tech won’t work, you know why it’s essential to equip your event spaces with the right equipment for both live and virtual presentations. Projectors, screens, microphones, and reliable Wi-Fi are at the top of the list, along with a tech expert who can be on-hand to troubleshoot.
- Dedicated Event Team: In addition to an IT guru, assemble a team of dedicated event planners and coordinators who can assist groups with their planning and execution needs. Offering these services in-house can be a significant selling point for potential clients.
- Catering Services: Meals are a big deal during group meetings – especially when everyone is spending hours and hours in a meeting hall. Be sure to offer catering services (either in-house or with a trusted partner) that are tailored to different group sizes and dietary preferences. A variety of menu options can make your hotel more appealing for event planners.
2. Leverage Digital Marketing
In today’s digital age, your online presence plays a crucial role in attracting group business. Especially if you haven’t been in this space previously, a smart digital marketing campaign can go a long way toward reaching the business travel demographic. Here are a few ideas for maximizing your digital marketing efforts:
- Your Website: Create a dedicated section on your website for events and meetings that highlights your event spaces, services, and testimonials from past clients. This section can be used as the landing page for your digital marketing CTAs.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Use SEO techniques to improve your website’s visibility on search engines. Target keywords related to corporate events and include them in your content. In addition, be sure to update your Google My Business page to reflect your meeting and event content.
- Social Media Presence: Maintain an active presence on social media platforms, especially LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, where many corporate event planners search for venues. Share high-quality images of your event spaces and engage with potential clients.
- Email Marketing: Build an email list of potential business travel clients and send out newsletters with updates, special offers, and success stories related to corporate events at your hotel. Personalize your emails to cater to different segments of your audience.
3. Network with Event Planners and Corporations
Online marketing campaigns get an extra boost when you’re able to meet event planners face-to-face. Networking is essential for any business, but building relationships with event planners and corporations can be a powerful way to attract group business. Here’s how to do it:
- Participate in Industry Events: Attend industry conferences, trade shows, and networking events to connect with event planners and corporate decision-makers. Your presence at these events can help establish your hotel as a go-to venue for corporate gatherings.
- Familiarization Tours: Offer complimentary tours to event planners, allowing them to experience your hotel’s facilities firsthand. Showcase your event spaces, accommodations, and amenities to impress potential clients. As an added bonus, offer them a free adult beverage.
- Collaborate with Local Businesses: Partner with local businesses that often require event venues. These partnerships can lead to referrals and joint marketing efforts, which helps both businesses thrive.
4. Create Customized Packages
Get creative when it comes to your meeting spaces and meeting capabilities, because each group will have unique needs. Brainstorm customizable packages that cater to different needs and budgets. Or, ask your event planner contacts for strategy help. These are just a few of the possible options:
- All-Inclusive Packages: Planning an event can be stressful if it has a lot of moving parts. Bundling accommodations, event space rental, catering, and AV equipment rental into a single price simplifies the planning process for event organizers.
- Discounts and Incentives: Entice larger groups, multiple events, and repeat customers with special discounts on future events or other incentives. You could even consider a loyalty program just for repeat group business clients.
- Unique Experiences: Differentiate your offerings by including unique experiences, such as team-building activities, spa treatments, or access to nearby attractions. Partnering with local vendors and attractions is a surefire way to create detailed, unique itineraries for your conferences and meetings.
5. Showcase Past Successes
If you’ve had a wonderfully successful event in the past, show it off! Highlighting your past achievements in the corporate event space can instill confidence and reassurance in potential clients. At Hawthorn Creative, we’ve found success with these tactics:
- Case Studies: Showcase the positive experiences of past clients. Include the meeting’s goals and challenges, your solutions, customer and attendee testimonials, photos and videos, room layouts, and other relevant details.
- Photo and Video Galleries: Build an Insta-worthy media gallery on your social channels and website featuring photos and videos from past corporate events. Invest in a professional photographer to make your venue stand out, then link to the gallery in your marketing efforts.
- Reviews and Ratings: These days, reviews are equally as important as your internal efforts, if not more so. Encourage past clients to leave reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor, Yelp, or Google, because that firsthand recommendation is worth its weight in marketing gold.
6. Offer Exceptional Customer Service
Outstanding customer service is a key factor in attracting and retaining group business. When your guests arrive, they usually bring a lot of stress along with their luggage, so it’s your job to make their time at your property as easy as possible. Train your staff to provide exceptional service at every touchpoint:
- Dedicated Event Coordinators: Assign a single point of contact to assist clients throughout the planning and execution of events. This personalized approach can make a significant difference, especially for busy executives who are pulling double duty and working while they’re on-site.
- 24/7 Support: Ensure that there is always someone available to address the needs and concerns of event organizers, even outside regular business hours.
- Post-Event Feedback: Forge a long-term relationship with clients by engaging with them after the event is complete. Gathering feedback not only makes them feel like a part of the refinement process, but it also shows your commitment to continuous improvement. (If they return for another event, show them that you listened.)
7. Stay Up to Date with Industry Trends
The hospitality industry is constantly evolving, especially since the world emerged from the pandemic lockdown. Staying on top of the latest trends is a great way to attract group business, because it shows your relevancy and industry knowledge. These are some of the current trends to watch closely:
- Tech Integration: Invest in the latest event technology for both front-of-house and internal efforts, such as virtual reality tours of event spaces or event management software that simplifies the planning process. These days, the expectation for attendees is that on-site tech will be readily available, accessible without delay, and easy to use.
- Sustainability Initiatives: More and more, travelers are choosing their lodging based on a commitment to sustainability. If your property has implemented green practices, be sure to highlight them. And if it hasn’t, make it a priority. Impressive tech and cool meeting space aside – sustainability could make or break a contract.
- Health and Safety Protocols: Develop and communicate robust health and safety protocols to reassure event planners and attendees, especially in a post-pandemic world. Show them that you have clear emergency protocols in place should the attendees need to evacuate the space.
What About Boutique Hotels?
Attracting group business can be more of a challenge for smaller properties that don’t have pre-packaged meeting space, but it’s not impossible. If you manage a boutique property, focus your outreach on what you have that they don’t – things like charm, a unique atmosphere, more personalized service, or killer dining options.
If you don’t have a traditional meeting room, get creative! Can your dining hall be temporarily rearranged for presentation seating, or is your giant front yard the perfect home for a tent? As long as you have the right event tech, any space can be used as a gathering space.
In addition, focus your marketing efforts on niche industries and companies that travel in smaller groups. If your hotel is in a scenic location, for example, try marketing to nature enthusiasts or companies in search of an intimate, private executive retreat.
And finally, if you’re struggling to land that first client – show them what’s possible by hosting your own event. Capture photos and videos that showcase your spaces, food, and tech, gather testimonials from happy guests, and create a social media marketing campaign.
Remember that a “group business meeting” doesn’t always mean a giant conference with thousands of attendees. Focus on what you have that makes you stand out from the competition, and market your unique value proposition to business travelers with the same goals.