Group Travel Innovation for Hotels
For all the talking and thinking we hoteliers do about transient travellers and what they want from us, it’s easy to forget that not all guests are laptop slinging, latte sipping millennials (as much as we love them). Group travel is still a relevant chunk of business — and could become more relevant in the future.
In recent years, we’ve seen a resurgence in bricks-and-mortar travel agencies and a sharpening focus on experiences instead of things. We’ve also seen an uptick in the number of conventions around the world. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explores this phenomenon in detail. There is a convention for every group, interest and hobby you care to mention — driven in no small part by social media and the ever-ballooning blogosphere. This too is a part of the growing group travel dynamic.
The problem with relying on transient bookings, as many hotel professionals know, is uncertainty. Bookings that take place late in the game are certainly important, and appear to be growing as global travel accelerates — but it’s difficult to run a reliable business on transience alone.
When we say “big picture thinking,” we’re talking about the next 9-12 months. Are you aware of key events in your locality during this timeframe? And are there steps you can take to put reservations on the books for each event? The answer is undoubtedly yes — and the obvious first step is reaching out to convention organizers and offering special promotions for attendees. Being an active member of your local convention bureau and of course some savvy networking with Professional Conference Organisers also doesn’t hurt. Some conventions are more palatable than others, and this must be taken into account. Here in Australia we’re less prone to weird conventions than the States — but pursuing business in this vein can still be considered branding decision.
Beyond the convention, there is a reasonable (although fluctuating) subset of travelers who move around the world in groups. The rise of “bucket list travel” is increasingly documented, and it’s no secret that Australia is on that list for many travelers around the world. So what’s the best way to capture these bookings? By appealing to the agencies and companies that organise them, of course. There are even platforms out there, such as bookingroups.com, that cater specifically to this purpose.
Diverse room configurations
In recent years, everything has been about flexibility. When hospitality experts speak of lobbies, workspaces and meetings rooms, they ubiquitously speak of abolishing old concepts in favour of fresh, versatile spaces. This conversation has, of course, extended into guest rooms themselves. Options like foldaway beds and desks have begun to inform more design and renovation choices here in Australia and across the map.
But what about the ability to configure entire rooms — even entire floors? For properties that are serious about catering to diverse group travel needs, this is a real (albeit big picture) consideration. The Four Seasons in Orlando (home to Disney World) has good and immediate reasons to lead the way in this respect. Staff are able to combine clusters of rooms or even an entire floor, according to the unique needs of the group. Quoted in Today’s Hotelier, the property’s Executive VP of Global Products and Innovation says: “You can have a section of a hotel and have it feel very private and very secluded to you.”
According to a detailed report by Oxford Economics covering trends in Chinese tourism, the vast majority (around 85%) of outbound tourism from China centers on major international cities. Speaking specifically of group travel, the report repeatedly asserts that packaged group trips are extremely popular amongst Chinese travelers, and that “organised group trips” have been a “primary driver” of leisure travel in the growing middle-class.
In other words, major Australian cities like Melbourne and Sydney have huge incentives to capture group bookings from the Chinese tourist sector — and to meet their group needs effectively. This means language support, yes — but it also means understanding why middle-class Chinese tend to travel in groups, and what they really want out of their experiences abroad.
It’s all about attracting dependable business
It’s often said that businesses only care about the next quarterly statement. In some respects this is an unfortunate sentiment, but it contains no small element of truth. Hotels will continue to rely on transient bookings for much of our business, but the more we sharpen our understanding of group travel, the more dependable business we’ll be able to capture — and in this day and age, dependability cannot be a bad thing.
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