The PYM Town Hall: State of the Industry was a partner appreciation event hosted by Plan Your Meetings and held at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 24, 2010. The event was designed to be a group “think-tank” session between PYM advertising partners, representing hotels, resorts, tourist chamber associations, convention and visitors bureaus, special facilities, and meeting and event service providers. The list of questions was created from a pre-event survey in which partners were asked: What is the biggest challenge you are facing now? At the conclusion of the event, one representative from each table gave a summary of findings.
Here are the questions our partners had:
- How can we alleviate the frustration of peers and colleagues over the down economy? How can we help shift the negative mindset over the economy in order to start focusing on positive solutions without appearing overly optimistic? How can we keep staff motivated?
- How do we attract more business to our regions?
- How do we get through firewalls that are set up everywhere (to reach the decision makers)?
- How do we build strong market presence in multiple areas?
- How can we maintain marketshare in these competitive times?
- What marketing strategies are working?
- Why is there such low attendance at hospitality trade shows? How can we maximize our investment in them and choose which ones to attend, when there are so many?
- How do we overcome the “AIG effect”?
- How do we tailor our product in this economy? How can we hang on to current customers?
- What are the current trends for contract expectations between planners and hotels?
- How can we keep up with average daily rate and occupancy levels? What about lowered meeting attendance?
- What are the projections/predictions for 2010 and 2011?
Here are some of the solutions we found:
Staying positive and boosting morale:
- Work on creating a positive mentality. Focus on the fact that this year is looking better.
- Don’t use the economy as an excuse. Short-term corporate bookings are coming back and there’s a boom in the association business. You can’t be overly optimistic, but there is growth.
- Set achievable and realistic goals; train your staff on how to work within short booking windows.
- Foster a positive work environment. Treat everyone as if they’re all on the same team; delegate responsibility and give them ownership; utilize people’s unique talents and input.
- Tell people when they’ve done a great job.
- Educate staff and clients as to how things are going, what the financials look like, etc., so everyone’s on the same page.
- Make sure you all have the same goals; it makes it easier to achieve buy-in.
Attracting new business:
- If the phone isn’t ringing, you have to be out there making calls and getting face-time, doing trade shows and/or partnering with CVBs.
- Make your competitors your best friends. If you refer business you can’t handle, they’ll return the favor.
- Sales blitzes work better as an awareness tool, not a closing tool.
Reaching the decision makers:
- Make friends with the gatekeepers. Your personality is a plus. People like doing business with (and helping) people they like.
- Persist using different modes of communication: e-mails, telephone calls and handwritten notes.
- The hard sell is not an option. Being an “expert” in the industry helps if you’re able to get in front of planners in an unexpected way by acting as a consultant, writing articles for industry publications and/or speaking at industry functions.
- Sales 101: It’s all about relationships. Be respectful of their time. In your follow-up e-mail, ask when they would like you to follow up.
- Personalized, handwritten notes and gift baskets can help you stand out from the crowd.
- Building strong market presence in multiple areas:
- Build partnerships with multiple suppliers; ask them to include value-add deals for your planners in exchange for the partnership opportunity.
- Stay active with your social networks, creating a dialogue through them, and attend networking events.
- Partner with other properties to help bring business to your area or region.
- Be flexible with your costs. Offer planners discounts this year if they book with you next year at the regular price.
- Build partnerships within your region to build your network and share business.
- Focus on keeping sales relationships strong, especially in your “backyard” markets.
Marketing strategies that work:
- E-mail is on everyone’s computer and everyone’s using it, but make sure your e-mail marketing efforts are well-branded, well-crafted, customized, different and fun. Think monthly themes or special offers.
- The Texas Association of CVBs has TXMet — a database partners can use to prospect. Check to see if your regional tourism agency has something similar.
- Animoto.com allows you to make short videos from graphics, pictures and royalty-free music that look professional — post it to YouTube, on your Facebook page, etc.
- Try creative things to get people to follow you on Twitter or become a fan of your Facebook page. Making people laugh is invaluable.
- Partner with groups that can get you in front of planners.
- Have a rigorous screening process for FAM trips; only bring a planner in if they are attached to a tangible piece of business.
- Stay loyal to programs that help sell your destination, so you’re top of mind when the market shifts. (One partner added, “Thank you, PYM.”)
- Making the most of hospitality trade shows when attendance is down: Develop a post-event analysis system to assess if the business that develops from the trade show attended is in line with the overall costs of the event. In that way, you can narrow down your participation to the ones that deliver the most ROI.
- Focus on engaging the attendee. Allow them to start the conversation, but don’t spend all your time talking to one person. Get the basics and move on.
- Think of the shows as “social engagements.” This is the time to socialize and build connections. Shift your focus to quality over quantity.
Overcoming the “AIG effect”:
- Those in attendance agreed that we are past the AIG effect; the media cycle is over meetings and on to Toyota, but it did change some perspectives and the way we’re doing business now.
- When it happened, the industry wasn’t ready for it, but now we have six lobbyists instead of zero — the industry is working to have a voice and representation on the state and national levels. Markets have changed as a result of it, and they will change again, so be prepared.
- You need to change your message to meet the needs of your client. If they’re in the public eye or under scrutiny, help them make the meeting palatable for the media.
- The scrutiny has caused a lot of meetings to be supplanted by virtual web-based technologies. They’re not the most effective way to get messages across and they won’t completely replace face to face meetings, but meeting professionals need to know how to make them more engaging, and that’s where you can help them use the technology to augment events or increase attendance among people who couldn’t make the face-to-face meeting.
- Have a different d/b/a without “resort” in the name; use “conference center” instead.
Tailoring your pitch/product to suit the economy:
- Know your competitive set and how competitive you are within it.
- Work with other people and products to create a one-stop shopping opportunity for meeting planners that’s all-inclusive and very transparent about costs and fees.
- Be kind to everyone, because you never know who you might answer to later.
- Treat everyone with respect. Suppliers don’t have the power right now, and you may have to eat crow, so be careful.
- Know what you want. You have to make the choice between rate and occupancy. You can’t have it all.
- Don’t drop the rate so far, though, that you sabotage what you’re able to get in the future.
- Matching current trends in contract negotiations and planner expectations:
- Be more lax on cancellation and attrition; be understanding and work to find a win-win solution.
- Partner with the planner and offer to assist with the marketing for their events, using digital media, etc., at no additional cost to help them boost attendance. (“It doesn’t cost anything to send an e-mail.”)
- Build in concessions prior to contract negotiations.
- Offer all-inclusive themed meetings and events; include activities and transportation.
- Modify your proposals to include every line item cost; be up-front and transparent.
- Offer cost-saving packages for conferences to help planners stay within their reduced meeting budgets.
Projections for 2010 and 2011:
- Some in attendance are seeing an increase in RFPs and meetings and feel as if things are getting better.
- Some were forecasting 2010 flat, hoping to be pleasantly surprised, and predicting an increase in 2011.
- Corporate and social business seem to be on the rise for 2010 and are expected to be even better in 2011.
- In general, the consensus was that through 2010/2011, the economy will remain soft, but it will be an improvement over 2009, and it’ll never be 2007 again.
- The new normal is short-term bookings and scrambling and learning to do things a little different and a little better.
For transcripts, findings and video summaries from current and past Town Hall events, visit
PlanYourMeetings.com/townhall . To read the table transcripts from this event, visit the Table One page and the Table Two page.