The Dire Need for Automation and Tech in Managing Group Bookings
Hotel brands frequently look for efficiency gains to provide them with competitive edge. They introduce “smart room” features to reduce electricity payments. They use advanced analytics to look at their guest and loyalty program data to offer more efficient and desirable promotions. CRM and PMS systems have evolved considerably, and allow fewer staff to perform more advanced functions. Mobile keyless room access and self-check-in are used to reduce wait times for a smoother guest experience and lower personnel overhead for the hotels. Robot room service delivery is offered by some brands, and we’re likely to see more of this type of automation that can provide efficient service.
Despite all the efficiency-centric gains, hotel brands are still holding onto outdated and cumbersome processes for managing group reservations. There are still challenges with such bookings for the hoteliers, the group organizers, and the actual guests.
According to data from Expedia, groups account for one third of the total travel industry’s bookings. In the U.S., up to 15 percent of the total room nights across all hotel segments also comes group bookings, with 30 to 35 percent accounting for the nights at full-service (more than $220 a night) properties. There are select hotels that are purpose built for conferences and corporate meetings that rely on nearly 50 percent of their bookings from groups. The industry as a whole relies on this repeated and profitable bookings segment; however, they aren’t efficiently capturing or handling such groups for maximum gain and an ideal customer experience.
One opportunity some hoteliers is missing is to focus on the “bleisure” segment, travelers that combine work-sponsored travel with an extra day or two at the destination. These types of trips are certainly on the rise, with most travelers taking a business trip at least every two and three months, with those trips tending to last between two and three nights. Hotel brands should be actively pursuing such travelers through their loyalty efforts and marketing campaigns.
The core issue facing management of groups is the lack of efficient processes and automation. It remains a manual and time-consuming task, one that requires one or more staff people to track the bookings, make arrangements, and perform other duties that could be moved to automation. So instead of managing the guests’ experience, the staff is handling the minutiae of the groups’ trip.
It is a challenge because group bookings are complex. Organizers have to take into account the group size, ages, gender, each individual’s personal preferences like race, religion, dietary preferences, disabilities etc. This does require planning. However, the processes involved are rudimentary, with the organizer collecting guest reservation data into a spreadsheet, and then making changes manually. Such moves are tedious and also prone for errors. And there’s a personal data and privacy component, where hotel brands should not have staff members placing personal information on unsecured spreadsheets that might be emailed between different staff members.
The hotel industry should shift its group management functions to the cloud, with better CRM systems that can manage groups. Such solutions will improve productivity, efficiency, and revenues, as brands will be able to manage more groups, and those groups will more likely return year after year. The corporate world is also quite small, and news will spread about disorganized hotel managers that make big mistakes, and they’ll quickly lose out on bookings. A group-based reservation system is now used by some brands, and it should be greatly expanded to better connect the guest to the hotel’s property management system while giving visibility to the organizers. This arrangement allows the hotel to connect with their guests on a deeper and more personalized level and to develop loyalty relationships with each of them through the entire guest lifecycle.
Patrick is an internationally respected business leader with more than 30 years’ experience in the hotel industry. During his distinguished career, Patrick has worked with companies such as InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton International and Pan Pacific Hotels Group. His achievements include: capital restructures, investments in developing countries, integrating hotel management companies, businesses and brands. He has received many honors and accolades for his corporate achievements and involvement in the community. Patrick now runs a private investment company from Singapore and Sydney, as well as serving as an advisor for organizations in the US and Asia.