Adapting To Digital Meeting Channels

We all know digital advancements have impacted and will continue to impact the way we reach and transact with customers. We’ve seen this most prominently to date with the OTAs and other similar electronic accommodations channels. However, the meeting and conference business has yet to feel the full brunt of this evolution.

This is not to say group business has been ignored by Internet startups — they are just warming up in terms of how much these new channels will influence the way hotels acquire their meetings revenues. Websites like Hotel Planner, Group Hotels, Groople and meetings.com are all viable candidates. Two I am quite familiar with are Cvent and eVenues. The former, which I’m sure many of you already know, is a publicly traded company specializing in facilitating large meeting RFPs and registration. Still in the gestation phase, the latter allows any venue provider to post their space for private rental.

The word I want to focus on from that last sentence is “any” — on eVenues, it’s not just hotel spaces proffered to customers but also less conventional venues like theaters, bars, churches, town halls and barbershops. Unlike Cvent, where the target audience is primarily meeting planners, at eVenues it’s the “everyday” meeting/event organizer — or the attendees. Your first gut reaction may be to view this as the Airbnb for meetings. But it’s not — it’s simply another channel for hotels to compete in, only now the playing field has been widened to include many other contestants.

Developments like eVenues raise a confounding dilemma for hoteliers: how does one compete? The first step must be acceptance. You must acknowledge these technological ideations have and will continue to occur. Just like with the now-accepted practice of extensive Cvent usage, you must go where your customers are searching.

But simply meeting consumers and displaying your wares in an arena where they happen to already be browsing isn’t enough. Just look at how this played out with the OTAs. If we all just start posting our products to a website with a standardized layout, then, outside of location and proximity to a desired site, price becomes the top point of differentiation. This leads to commoditization, which inevitably drives product price down.

For a channel like eVenues where you will be cross-compared by consumers with venues such as loft studio spaces and community centers, you simply cannot compete solely on price. Hence, you must fall back on your brand’s reputation and your “quality guarantee.” That is, only you can guarantee the power and Internet will work, whereas a bar or restaurant might not necessarily have enough power outlets near the arranged tables. And if the Internet isn’t up and running, only you, the hotel, will have a qualified technician on standby. Additionally, unlike a church basement or an empty office on a weekend, you can cater vastly superior F&B for your attendees with a far greater selection.

Facilitating a quality and productive meeting requires more than just space; it needs the care and diligence only an experienced operator such as a hotel can provide. The bottom line: compete on service quality, not on price. (And this motto extends to all other digital hotel channels, whether they are for leisure, business or both.)

The next dilemma is how you go about communicating these values to the average modern consumer who might not read too far into each choice’s description or features list. Essentially, you must convey this guarantee of service instantaneously in order to properly entice those who aren’t already acquainted with your product. The first solution I employ to this end is some clever copywriting — concise descriptions with all the fat trimmed and the most pertinent information on display at the top. The next one requires a bit more work upfront, but pays off tenfold: YouTube video tours of your various meeting space offerings. In this way, you are literally showing them your guarantee of service.

Beyond these two sample methods of enticing new consumers to favor your hotel meeting space over some other low-cost entrant, it all comes down to reaffirming the value of your services during the time attendees spend with you. Strive to always deliver your best, and consumers will recognize this and stay with you instead of whatever new competitor or bargain-basement offer comes their way.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in HOTELSmag on April 4, 2013)

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