The PYM State of the Industry Roundtable was a luncheon held in Aspen with local meeting industry professionals in August 2010.
1. President/CEO of a local chamber/tourism bureau
2. Director of Sales of a resort hotel with condo and vacation rentals
3. Director of Sales and Marketing for a family owned hotel
4. Director of Sales and Marketing for a historic ski lodge
5. Director of Sales and Marketing for a conference resort
6. Assistant Director of Sales for a conference resort
7. Sales Manager for a luxury ski resort
8. Sales Manager representing home and condo rentals
9. Group Sales Manager of a local chamber/tourism bureau
10. Director of Sales and Marketing for a luxury boutique hotel
11. Sales Manager for a ski-in/ski-out luxury hotel
How’s business? Is group pacing above 2009?
11: Hard to tell, still last minute booking. It really depends on which month you look at. We are single digits up. Group is coming back faster than leisure. We are seeing an increase in incentive over the last couple of weeks, its all over the board. Weddings are still strong. We have had to alter rates at times, like everyone else, but for the most part rates have held.
6: We are seeing more inquiries, but its harder to get commitments. Planners seem to be shopping around to get more bids than in the past. They are asking for more concessions, and there is much more hesitation to commit, much more negotiation.
5: I handle the internal clients which are mostly institutional-nonprofit, and it has remained strong throughout.
3: Group is pacing higher [and] stronger thanks to strong partnerships, thanks . We are already filling up for 2011.
9: [addressing the group] Are you finding that the groups are getting larger?
3: It’s difficult for me to tell, but they do seem to be growing. Planners are not wanting to book the larger space and blocks initially, but might add as time goes by.
11: We are seeing groups move to previously soft times. I don’t know if that is rate-driven behavior, or just different groups coming to our property, but this is quite novel. I’ve seen a displacement of where groups used to book on the calendar, and where they are booking now.
7: I am seeing the same thing with no real explanation as to why.
9: [addressing the group] Are you hearing the same thing from our comp set cities like Telluride and Vail? Is it different in beach destinations?
10: 2011 group business is pacing ahead. Planners are less hesitant to put pen to paper. It’s allowing us to fill out next summer already.
3: We are running out of space; it’s definitely getting better for us. We are able to use this diminishing space as an incentive to book now. Many groups this year plan to book very short-term and have found the space was no longer available. We also remind them that prices will rise if they wait closer in.
5: That’s the way it’s supposed to be [everyone laughs]
8: [My company] is new to group business. We acquired ResortQuest condos in Aspen. So we are now at over 200 properties. We are realizing quite a bit of the repeat business committing in the peak winter months. Overall, we are pacing well in months that were typically soft periods. We are at a good place, but we still would like to be filling our new product more effectively. It’s ebbs and flows. Phones buzz for a few weeks and then go dormant. Still feels like a buyers market.
How has planners’ expectations changed from 2007 to 2010?
4: We are a small historic property built in 1954, soon after Aspen’s resurgence. We focus on our core leisure in the summer and winter, and meetings in off-season. Repeat business is our core. We can’t really do groups for fear of agitating our core customers.
2: We do a fair amount of CME meetings, but meetings/groups are tough for us because planners are still gun-shy at placing their attendees in condos. We enjoy quite a bit of the overflow from other groups in town.
7: Planners want no attrition penalties, Discounts on A/V, F&B, always a comp policy, Waived room rental fees. Planners want to move the cut-off dates as close to the meeting as possible.
9: Open forum educational events like PYM Live give planners ideas on how to navigate the negotiation. By attending these events, you can almost feel the planners’ relief in knowing that it’s “their turn.” I believe that before the fall of 2008, planners had become so beaten down by raising rates and [being] charged fees to drive ancillary revenues. It probably is coming back to more level growing, but has definitely been a large swing.
5: We don’t see as much negotiation from nonprofit, with the exception of a few attrition clauses that we have upheld to the present.
6: We also have started doing different rate structures, as well.
5: We did roll out higher rates in the peak season to entice them to book in the slow season, but it’s not really working.
How are you selling and marketing to groups? How has it changed over the past few years?
11: Heavily through PR. Our executive chef is a farmer, he has been featured in a number of media outlets, such as “Martha Stewart” and the “Today Show.” We feature him in our campaigns. We aim to capitalize on the uniqueness of [our property].
10: The budget is moving more towards online. With a focus on RFPs. Not as much face to face, but increased leads. There is feeling that the personal touch has dissipated, but more of the marketing dollars flow from corporate, and less is available at the local level.
5: Electronic is dehumanizing.
6: We are also dealing with the trend of corporate stealing dollars and sometimes they don’t get to Aspen, but instead end up at other properties. It’s frustrating.
11: We are happy to pay 10 percent, but we never know how much it’s a lead or a prospect. PYM should match their branding channels with quality lead channels.
3: Many people have changed their tune lately on third parties.
10: Most of the time a client won’t commit until they have all the data in front of them. Therefore, you end up competing with properties wildly different than your own.
11: I have not heard many success stories from electronic third parties in this market. If an individual property has landed one Cvent or Starcite booking, we’d be lucky.
5: So you are saying if they went away, you wouldn’t care? I think it’s a matter of location, I hear the city properties are doing very well.
How do you sell luxury in this market without rate-cutting or dropping standards?
9: This is a point of pride in Aspen. We aim to deliver quality service and maintain high standards, regardless of the market we find ourselves in. I think everyone here will agree.
[And they do, so we move on!]
What is working?
7: Phone or face-to-face sales. Relationships are the key. Timely follow-up is what the planners appreciate the most.
8: Regardless of where the lead is coming from, follow-up is everything. We are working on building out infrastructure on our website, as group is relatively new for us. We are getting organized, and it is helping with sales.
4: Personal relationships are key. We have groups that have been with us for many, many years.
9: Again, personal relationships. This starts with face-to-face with personal calls or a live event. Digital communication is then much easier if your client can put a face to an e-mail.
6: I find LinkedIn groups useful when I am doing research on a potential client.
Who is ultimately the decision maker? What ultimately determines what flies past the bean counter?
11: Our Director of Sales & Marketing. It’s all about ROI, though there is some confusion as to the most effective way to measure. Our media partners, third parties, etc., must prove themselves first. We ask that they bring us business before we will begin spending money on a program.
2: We find much more success working on a grassroots, local level.
5: It’s half and half: global and local.
How are we doing as an industry? How can we improve?
11: Targeting is the key. We need to focus on the small/medium-sized niche, so programs that don’t address this market are not valuable.
5: I want to see who else got the lead [third-party RFP]. Why can’t we know? Also it would be helpful to know who else the lead went to. This information is currently not available.
2: We would like more detail on the planners we have contact with.
10: At a recent event I attended, a HelmsBriscoe representative showed us the lead sheet they send to planners; it makes it impossible to differentiate your product from the competition. About the only thing you could do is to clearly define city vs. resort!!
3: It’s very hard to sell yourself without a conversation.
11: Recently I participated in Cvent online training. In the training, they said they’ve sent out 7 billion rooms. I am not sure how this can be true. If I had a recommendation for PYM, it’s know your planners as well as you know us in Aspen. It will go along way towards offering a superior product in the marketplace.
For transcripts, findings and video summaries from current and past PYM Town Hall events, visit PlanYourMeetings.com/townhall .