July 07, 2021

Smaller Groups Lead Meetings Bookings at Hotels; Corporate Expected to Return in the Fall

US Secretary of Commerce Expects To See Business Travel Uptick After Labor Day

The pandemic eliminated most group business on the books in 2020, and hoteliers are relying on smaller groups and social groups until the expected return of corporate travel in the fall.

During the American Hotel & Lodging Association's The Forum Speaker Series, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said getting more people vaccinated and reopening international travel corridors, such as the one between the U.S. and the U.K., will be key to reviving business travel.

"I'm actually hopeful that post-Labor Day, we really will see a nice uptick in business and international travel," she said.

Here's a roundup of some of Hotel News Now's recent coverage on how the industry is bringing in group business and preparing for the return of corporate business.

When looking at future group business and events bookings, hotel brands and operators said meeting planners are asking for hybrid events, "which include combinations of in-person meetings and conferences with teleconferencing and online meetings," HNN's Sean McCracken writes.

Steve Enselein, senior vice president of events for Hyatt Hotels Corp. and one of the leaders of their Together by Hyatt platform, said hybrid events have opened up new revenue opportunities across the portfolio as select-service brands can now host and participate in large conferences rather than in the past where events could only be held at the big-box hotels.

"Our customers are really the ones driving this," he said. "They're trying to regionalize and let [attendees] drive instead of fly. They're drawing a circle of maybe a four-hour driving radius and figuring out which cities [can host in that area]. We're not making customers source all 40 locations, though. Our team coordinates the logistics so a meetings planner isn't planning 40 meetings."

The large corporate groups have yet to return, but small- to medium-sized conferences with 150 to 400 attendees have "already returned in surprising numbers," HNN Contributor Harvey Chipkin writes.

Bjorn Hanson, adjunct professor at the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality at New York University, said those smaller groups include accompanying persons, speakers, staff, vendors and exhibitors, and are being held by organizations that need to meet in-person "to satisfy organizational or continuing education requirements and/or to generate operational revenues. These might be banking associations, medical specialty groups or professional designation groups."

On the social groups side, hoteliers said rebooked wedding ceremonies pushed back from 2020 will dominate weddings business in 2021, HNN's Danielle Hess writes.

Jasmine Simon-Wallace, area director of sales and marketing at Real Hospitality Group, said 50% to 60% of the weddings on the books at her company are rebooked events.

Kasey Bussell, event manager of wedding and social events at Margaritaville Resort Orlando, said these rebooked weddings have left little room for other couples to book an event this year.

"Couples who have no or little flexibility in their wedding dates are quickly finding that their date may not be available," she said via email. "Those who are flexible are quicker to go to contract and book, especially during peak or desired times to ensure they lock in their venue."

Group demand isn't as robust as leisure demand, but it's coming back to hotels in the form of social, military, educational, religious and fraternal groups, HNN's Bryan Wroten writes.

This has led companies like Aimbridge Hospitality to qualify group sales leads in a different way than prior to the pandemic, Chief Marketing Officer Andrew Jordan said.

A significant portion of Aimbridge's group sales has come from weddings and traveling sports teams, and extended-stay hotels have also generated a good amount of group demand.

“We’re netting it out differently to make sure that we’re optimizing the space,” he said.

The pandemic also led to more smaller meetings being booked on short notice, Hess writes.

Vanessa Claspill, vice president of sales for Davidson Hospitality Group's lifestyle hotel management division Pivot, said her company went from booking smaller meetings with a week's notice to only a few day's notice in summer 2020.

“All of our hotels have learned how to be agile and flexible,” she said. “In our industry right now, it’s a balancing act of the middle of the week where we’ve got really tough occupancies, and yet we wanted to take advantage of these customers who are wanting to have some sort of meeting."

Copyright 2021 CoStar Realty Information Inc. All rights reserved. From https://www.costar.com. By Danielle Hess, Hotel News Now.

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