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02/16/2016

How to Maximize Group Sales

Hotels are competing with one another when it comes to group sales and catering, and providing a seamless and streamlined experience for customers is an important piece of the puzzle. Today’s operators are integrating and upgrading their technology to maximize sales, increase productivity and satisfy their guests.

“Sales and catering technology plays multiple roles in the industry today,” says Mark Haley, co-founder and managing partner of The Prism Partnership LLC, (www.theprismpartnership.com) a professional service firm serving the global hospitality industry based in Boston, Mass. “The traditional functions of contact management, rate quoting, function space management and contract generation have all been augmented with lead/request for proposal automation, function space diagramming and data-rich, robust interfaces with other strategic applications.”

With this new functionality must come ownership, says Haley. “The single most important practice for the deployment of a sophisticated technology in any enterprise, be it a single property or a multi-brand operator, is to have an owner on the business side for that technology,” he notes. “Sales and catering that lacks ownership and complete support by someone near the top of the sales function in that organization is at risk.”

Other best practices include driving standards and standardization in usage of the technology; not skimping on training of employees; and eliminating redundant processes that enable people to do the same thing manually or by using the old system instead of the new.

Integration Enables Holistic View
Whether it’s one technology platform handling all aspects of the hotel, or several different systems, integration allows for the best experience for both hotel operations and guests.

Blue Mountain Resorts LP (www.bluemountain.ca) in Ontario, Canada, uses Cenium (www.cenium.com) as its complete enterprise resource platform, which includes sales and catering. They started with the technology in 2009 and implemented one module at a time, incorporating the sales and catering piece in 2014, according to Kevin Kingsbury, director of lodging operations. In the past, each piece of the business was managed using a different platform.

“Previously, we very much relied on communication outside of the software to ensure we were well prepared to execute the various components of a group’s experience, and we used sales and catering as the hub to track planning notes or banquet event orders,” he explains. “From there we would use manual systems to communicate those requirements to other operating departments.”

When a group booked a ski experience as part of their stay, for example, manual notes had to be logged into the software that a group of 40 was planning to ski. That information was sent to the mountain operations team to preprint the lift tickets, which were sent back to the event planning team to pass the tickets on to the guests. The systems did not integrate at all.

“Now, with the system we have, anyone in the organization can see the group has a ski experience and fulfill that, whether it’s the front desk or the guest service center,” notes Kingsbury. “We are able to have a global view and can see and manage all elements of a group’s experience to meet their expectations and execute on the requirements.”

Monica Xuereb, chief revenue officer at Loews Hotels & Resorts (www.loewshotels.com), agrees that it is important to have a holistic view of a property’s demands. “Integrating sales and catering programs into existing revenue management systems enables the revenue manager and their team to make inventory and pricing decisions based on the entire demand picture that includes guest rooms and function space,” she states. “It enables a demand forecast for individual meeting rooms as well as the segments that buy that space.”

Loews Hotels & Resorts uses IDeaS (www.ideas.com) revenue management solution to streamline processes and optimize hotel rates which led to a 15 percent increase in RevPar. Xuereb stresses the importance of using revenue data to determine the optimal time to release space for catering in order to increase function space occupancies. “Dynamic pricing is used for catering and banquets to maximize on high demand times and most desirable space,” she explains. “Profitability of each segment is taken into account when accepting or declining business.”

At Hotel Elegante Conference and Event Center (www.hotelelegante.com) in Colorado Springs, Colo., the property, along with the other seven properties owned by ICA based in Odessa, Texas, is using Maestro PMS (www.maestropms.com) as its reservation, sales and catering system. As one platform, the technology makes it easy to answer inquiries quickly by accessing availability, space requirements, rates and more.

“It also includes the catering piece with menus built into it, and we can go right into the system and put in a banquet or event order, coffee breaks, breakfast, lunch or dinner,” says Rick Rhody, director of conference services at the property. “We can identify it all quickly and get answers to potential customers right away about banquet or meeting rooms and rates.”

Additionally, the system allows the hotel to hold space temporarily and then change it to the next level when a contract is sent out, and then again when it is a confirmed booking — all tracked within the software, he explains.

Data & Reporting Strengthens Sales Tactics  
With everything being tracked within the software, hotel operators can pull reports on previous activity and also forecast for the future to maximize rates and occupancy. “Reports making data available to you are essential attributes of any management system,” says Haley. “Relative to sales and catering, these insights might revolve around booking lead times by segment, better displacement estimates, what size blocks to give city-wides, not to mention salesperson productivity reporting.”

At Hotel Elegante, they look at information from past, current and future groups to review how much revenue has been generated over a certain timeframe, as well as the average rate throughout a certain month or year. They also use reporting to forecast groups into the future.

“We can look at a previous year or month to compare and see if we are growing in terms of revenue and opportunities,” Rhody says, explaining he pulls reports at least once per week. “In the past, we used two different systems so we had to pull reports from two places and now we can run one report that shows it all.”
For Xuereb, it all starts with data, and she notes that historical information should be used to forecast future demand. “This enables revenue teams on property to enact catering and function space strategies based not only on topline revenue but also on the most profitable business,” she says.  

Mobility Speeds Response Times
With most technologies utilizing apps and mobile components, Rhody is looking forward to taking the sales and catering piece mobile in the future. Right now, managers have the ability to login from a remote desktop location, but Maestro is working on a mobile component as well.

“With mobile, if for some reason a sales manager gets a call at 7 p.m. at night, they can go right into the system using their mobile phone to check rates and availability,” he notes.