April 24, 2024

Family Reunions, Weddings Help Keep Smaller Hotels Competitive in Capturing Group Business

Food and Beverage Key to Small Group Profitability

There's no stopping weddings and reunions, and hotels of all sizes are poised to benefit from that demand.

Bookings from small social groups such as weddings and reunions returned more quickly after the pandemic than group business from major conferences and citywide events. But even now as convention calendars fill back up and the size of group room blocks swells back to normal at big-box hotels, demand for small social events among groups of families or friends has remained consistent. And that sort of group business is a demand generator even smaller hotels can capture and generate revenue from.

For example, at the Moxy Virginia Beach Oceanfront in Virginia Beach, Virginia, an estimated 80% of its group business is from small groups, said sales manager Abigail Cashman.

"As a smaller hotel with only 134 rooms, we cannot accommodate the large groups that large full-service hotels can. We heavily rely on these smaller groups that are looking for an intimate and vibrant social scene," she said.

Bethany McCann, director of sales for The Inn at Stonecliffe on Mackinac Island, Michigan, said this type of business is important at luxury resorts like hers. The resort is slated to reopen in June after a $30 million renovation.

"Small social groups are a huge piece of what drives success in hotels, especially at our boutique location. While we do not have the capacity to host large events, focusing on small groups allows us to provide a personalized, high-class, special experience," she said.

McCann said smaller social groups are looking for an experience that sets their event apart from the norm. Sometimes all that's needed is creativity to refresh a meeting space or restaurant private room or an unforgettable dinner menu.

"Whether that is a unique space, the atmosphere of the facility or specialty food and beverage items, it's important that the client's vision is seen and executed," McCann said.

Some resorts in the Aimbridge Hospitality family are seeing a healthy amount of small social group guests. Jess Johnson, area director of sales and marketing at Aimbridge, said groups such as weddings and family reunions are an important piece of business at resorts like Cheyenne Mountain Resort, a Dolce by Wyndham in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Westward Look, Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa in Tucson, Arizona.

For example, Westward Look has hacienda-style meeting rooms and gathering areas with fireplaces that allow small groups to bond and spend time together.

"It’s a comfortable environment that really makes these groups feel like they’re home," he said. "When we work with groups, we’re flexible, and we try to meet their vision — all while also being mindful that they don’t have to break the bank."

Generating Repeat Business

One of the best ways to generate consistent small group business is through referrals and repeat guests, McCann said. The Inn at Stonecliffe works with local and regional event planners to keep industry specialists aware of its offerings.

Johnson added a good guest experience can turn into repeat business even if it's from a one-off event.

"This level of attention can pay off, too, because someone coming for a wedding might have a great experience and then go back and recommend it to someone else," he said. "We’ve had those scenarios happen, which can lead to really beneficial business opportunities."

Outside the U.S., demand among small social groups for hotel space is similarly consistent. At the Kilkea Castle Hotel & Golf Resort in County Kildare, Ireland, small social groups meeting for religious events, significant birthdays and high-end weddings are hosted almost every weekend of the year, said Adrian Mooney, director of sales. The 12th-century estate also attracts golf groups and equestrian groups, and has been booking bridal showers and other all-women groups since the property opened a new wellness spa.

Izzy Kharasch, president of consultancy Hospitality Works, said small and midsize hotels are likely to continue to be the right type of property at the right price for family gatherings and social events. He added hoteliers should stay proactive and create packages, promotions, and special amenities and services to hopefully grow their share of this demand segment.

Family reunions, for instance, might book as much as an entire floor of a hotel and even more, Kharasch said. Often these guests will then add a hospitality suite, which remains open all day for family members to visit and enjoy snacks and beverages. In addition, they also will use the lobby bar a great deal over the weekend, and they will rent a banquet space, purchase dinner, and have a bar or two available for the entire event.

"The hotel needs to provide a great package for food, beverages as well as offering lower pricing for rooms. The secret for the long-term success is for the director of banquets and catering to talk to the host at the end of the event and get them to book for the next year," Kharasch said.

The small groups are first and foremost looking to be treated like a large group. Even if it is a group of only 20, they want all of the amenity options.

"The small groups are the life blood for hotels in terms of day-to-day business," Kharasch said.

Stephen Szczygiel, senior associate at Hotel & Leisure Advisors, said small social groups such as family reunions and weddings are part of a resurgence in group business for hotels. Weddings in particular have always been a big piece of business that used smaller spaces.

Family reunions are often looking for affordable menu options and often want a casual vibe, such as a BBQ theme, he added. Some smaller wedding groups are the complete opposite, wanting to go all out for their guests with high-quality food and top-shelf open bar packages.

Copyright 2024 CoStar Group. All rights reserved. From https://www.costar.com. By Laura Koss-Feder, HNN contributor.

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