Groups booking events face more competition for room nights and hotel room rates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Meetings and events business is slowly returning to U.S. hotels and isn’t evenly spread across all markets.

Many rules have also changed, making partnerships more important.

During a Hotel Data Conference panel titled “The Future of Meetings and Events,” Sarah Gulla, senior vice president of asset management at Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, said the demand segment is coming back with “a little of all”.

“In some ways, some things have never changed. Large groups are coming back, 30-50 people, but in the short term we won’t see the corporate groups,” she said.

Heather Dameron, director of event strategy and recruitment at The Journeys Group, said she’s noticed a rebound in groups of 101 to 500 attendees.

Panelists said hotels that have remained open during the pandemic are where the largest groups are staying and meeting.

Steve Enselein, senior vice president of events at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, said these hotels also host more meetings than hotels that temporarily close when demand slumps.

“These are specialty groups, in places like Orlando, not 2,000-person events, maybe smaller groups of, say, bodybuilders,” he said, adding that meetings and events are expected to represent between 30% and 40% of Hyatt’s revenue. this year, and more than 40% in 2023.

Brent Namejko, director of sales at Cvent, said third-party hospitality and event providers such as his company believe hybrid meetings will continue year-round into early 2022, but he now believes that This will not be the case.

“Blocks of rooms increase, [average daily rate] is up 9%, and in July alone, up 15%. Customers are more confident and fewer planners are asking for attrition and other clauses. They are more optimistic,” he said.

Gulla said large group planners, however, are sitting on contracts for longer periods.

“There is certainly some reluctance to contract, and force majeure clauses have gained prominence,” he added.

“Short-term business is what awaits us. For example, 500 for Friday booked Tuesday,” Enselein said.

The main challenges facing this niche of the hotel industry are the lack of manpower, the need for training and the slow response to calls for tenders.

Dameron said hospitality companies should be partners with each other, not competitors.

“There are challenges on both sides, but everyone is fed up with Zoom,” she said.

The lack of city-wide events has reduced squeeze nights — when hotels are booked at 95% occupancy or higher — and performance differs by market, all the more reason why hoteliers should work with tourism, destination and convention bureaus, panelists said. .

Steve Enselein, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, and Sarah Gulla, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, have watched events return to the US hospitality industry, but slowly and with challenges. (Terence Baker)

“Twenty-three percent of [requests for proposals] come new planners, and 71% of planners say they are unsure of the final destination when they start planning, which is quite the opposite of what it was before COVID-19,” said said Namejko.

Enselein said he instills in his teams the importance of taking the lead and suggesting to planners what might be on the agenda or the food and beverage menu.

“Supply chain and personnel issues led to the discontinuation of the Sears-Roebuck catalog. Menus are more ad hoc menus, and savings are key,” he said.

He said that while safety is extremely important and never will be, the priorities of meeting planners have shifted somewhat towards well-being, fun, sustainability, partnership and, to compensate for labor shortages -work, technology.

“The structured meeting part has gone down, especially in resorts,” Gulla said.

On the planner side, Dameron said, requests must be reasonable.

Another challenge for group businesses, panelists said, is that even if groups are willing to return to booking rooms and space, the room and space required may not be available.

“Transient is so robust that if groups want to show up, they will have to pay. And some inflation had to be absorbed as well. Most experienced planners understand the situation,” Gulla said.

Hotels must also multiply experiences to attract group companies, particularly in terms of labor.

Entertaining leisure travelers is easier, which is another strike against groups when it comes to room availability.

Event diaries should also be entertaining. The experience has to be worth it to get there, the panelists said.

“The [hotel] the industry needs to be more innovative,” Gulla said.

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Teresa E. Burton