The PYM Town Hall: State of the Industry event was a partner appreciation luncheon hosted by Plan Your Meetings and held at Dave and Busters’ Dallas-Frisco location on March 5, 2009. The event was designed to be a group “think-tank” session between PYM advertising partners. The list of questions divided among the tables was created from a pre-event survey, in which partners shared their concerns and current challenges. At the conclusion of the luncheon, one representative from each table gave a summary of findings.
Here are the challenges and solutions our partners found:
How do you help your clients keep their meetings from being cancelled? What’s the business case for meeting? How can you help them prove ROI?
- Content is going to be king. Meetings have to have good content, or else they won’t show value.
- Be the planner’s partner. Be flexible. If they call about canceling, offer F&B alternatives, things that might save money or salvage the meeting.
- Give them a call in advance and ask them how it’s going. Don’t wait until you’re two weeks out; ask them six
- months out.
- Ask ahead if there’s anything that might come up between the booking and the actual event; be proactive.
- Talk about attrition and cancellations in the contracts early. Start with a low attendance number and then go up, rather than starting high. Work in conjunction with them.
- Help them market their meeting to the company with letters and e-blasts.
- Throwing the city or town’s weight behind any effort really helps.
What do corporate planners need? What’s happening to that market? How do you reach them?
- Planners are complaining about getting too many phone calls.
- If you are going to call, have a reason: Offer citywide tickets to festivals; invite them to see renovations.
- Be on their phone call list; if they know you’re calling regularly it’s not intrusive and it may salvage a relationship or prevent suprises from happening down the line.
- Package events and activities, offer wine tastings; give the group more reasons to come.
- If you can’t service the group yourself, send them to a competitor. They’ll come back to you because they’ll remember the great service and that you’re their point person.
- They’re worried about losing their jobs, so be aware of that and help them out.
- There’s been so much negative press. We need to use the media to get a good message out and control the message a little bit more.
- Sometimes having “resort” in your name is a liability. If you have “resort” in your name, think about creating a different d/b/a or name you can use to get that out. One suggestion is substituting in “conference center.” It’s still true, but carries a different perception.
How do you deal with attrition and cancellations? If the group doesn’t want to pay those fees, how do you collect without damaging the relationship?
- Flexibility is key. You’ve got to be flexible and work together.
- Negotiate cancellation and attrition clauses last, after everything else is agreed upon.
- How do you convince your boss that travel and/or marketing expenditures are necessary?
- Those that stand out at this point will win in the end.
- You need to market in a down economy.
- If the municipality requires paid parking, and groups don’t want to pay, how can you deal with that?
- Build it into a cost.
- Find revenue sharing opportunities.
- Give added value for the parking, so you’re not just paying for a parking space.
- Encourage the group to use public transportation, instead.
How have your consumers’ buying habits changed? How are you adapting to those needs? How can you develop new revenue streams to offset losses sustained by cancellations? How do you find new business? How do you grow existing business? How do you turn a NO to a YES? How do you get planners to commit to booking the business? How can you develop new revenue streams to offset money lost on shrinking and/or canceled meetings?
- It’s all about going back to using the personalized approach, the extra touches, the customer service. We may have gotten too complacent in the good economy, now we need to go back to the basics of doing business.
- Make sure lists are accurate.
- Bundling and packaging is really a trend for both leisure and business/meeting travel. Be able to look at different things in your backyard that you can bring to your program. Bundling and packaging works the best in turning NOs around.
- Corporate is a lot smaller of a marketplace. Companies don’t want to send people a long distance. Go after your backyard business.
- The buzz word last year was “staycation” but people are still traveling closer in for shorter periods of time. A lot of friends/girlfriends are traveling together.
- See what can you do that’s free, like social networking (Facebook and Twitter). On the Twitter side, use it to promote the events you have going on.
- Tripadvisor is not only hotel reviews, it’s also for restaurants. Businesses need to monitor what’s being said on these Web sites. See what they’re saying and monitor, participate in the conversation. People think that having a blog gives people an opportunity to talk about the negative, but the blog sites are triggering the people who have a good experience but may not have communicated that to respond to negative posts. They are turning the negative into a positive.
- CVBs should share information found online, both positive and negative, with those businesses in your community.
- How can you do things differently? Think outside of the box.
How can you help planners do more with less? What are some creative ways you can help them stretch their planning dollars?
- Understand what it is that the planners are looking for — what they may think is important may not be the core, key elements they really need.
- It’s about finding out more about your client and utilizing your resources to best meet those needs.
- Forming partnerships gives you the ability to offer more value to planners.
- Know what it is that you can sacrifice and what you can’t. For example, if you’re paying a flat rate for Internet, maybe you can give the group free access.
- See if your food purveyor is offering specials. If planners can be flexible with menus, you can pass those savings on to them.
- Understand the bigger picture of what you’re doing.
- See if piggybacking groups can use the same menus and room and A/V set-ups so they can take advantage of the economy of scale.
- Packaging gives more perceived value. But sometimes it’s a hard sell, because they don’t understand what they’re getting. Break out what it would cost a la carte, so planners can see how much they’re really saving.
What kind of concessions are planners expecting? How can you afford to give them what they’re asking for?
- Planners are asking for no attrition clauses, free room rental and steep room rate discounts.
- A lot of planners have a standard request list, and it’s what they do every time, whether it’s key to them or not. So make sure what they’re asking for is essential for this meeting.
- A comp policy is going as low as 1 per 12 with some requests, when it used to be 1 per 50.
- Planners are asking for food and A/V discounts.
- Know your property and business model, whether it’s something dictated by corporate, city tax dollars or something your independant property has found. If you know what your revenue margin and patterns of occupancy are, you know where you can give.
- If someone wants to come during peak and you know you can get rack rate, often they’ll get nothing. If they pick a time frame when properties are not busy, they’ll get a lot more, potentially more than they expected.
- There has to be flexibility on both sides. Planners need to realize it’s a two-way street and they need to make concessions, too.
How do you maintain price integrity without losing business or cheapening your brand? How can you compete with properties/destinations that are undercutting you?
- It’s key to maintain price integrity. To do that, you must differentiate yourself from your competition.
- Know your audience. If all they care about is price then that’s where they’ll go. But if you’re going after a more discerning clientele, that won’t be all they care about. Great service costs more. And those who want it will be willing to pay for it. So, target the like-minded audience instead of engaging in a price war.
- While groups are with you, go ahead and see if you can get them on the books for next year by offering a
- locked-in rate.
How can you get a second chance to bid if your first quote is too high? What can you do to get them to come back for a requote?
- Utilize a clause in the proposal that lets planners know you are open to negotiate any part of the quote.
- Communicate that you are open to reworking the proposal, but let planners know that they also need to be flexible about what they want to get the price they’re looking for.
- Soft sell items like handwritten notes, personal touches, dropping off cookies are a good way to build communication and relationships.
How can you attract local (backyard) business? What are some marketing strategies/incentives you can use?
- Put ads in local papers.
- Cross-merchandise with local partners, using tie-ins with local businesses.
- Sales blitzes of local companies or companies in the closest major cities.
- Participate in networking groups.
- Keep on top of lists; make sure they’re fresh. Don’t depend on someone else; update lists on your own.
- A proactive measure CVBs can take is to offer lists to local partners.
- What’s the best selling strategy in today’s market? What’s not working?
- Relationship building is the old standby.
- Keep relationships active; keep your name out there. People need multiple touches before they’re ready to book.
- Know what vertical markets are strongest, what industries are still active and consuming, so you can target them.
- In a down economy, marketing is a successful strategy to grab marketshare and people who used to go to your competitor. You can’t contract; you need to market.
- For groups that tend to come every year, make sure that their meeting planners “feel the love,” feel valued and know that you appreciate the volume of business they bring you.
- Flexibility is key, especially with attrition. When things turn around, planners will remember the properties that were flexible and willing to work with them.
What forms of marketing are giving the best ROI? How can you distinguish yourself from the competition?
- Use more Internet/digital strategies like social networking. The great thing about using Facebook is it’s all opt-in. The first round of people you invite, you know — and then it’s viral after that. It grows exponentially. It’s a great way to get the message out about short-term soft dates. Guests who come every year feel compelled to leave notes. And, it’s all free. You can send a message to all the members because they’re all fans of your company; they’ve all opted in.
- Some companies are all about print; some are all about digital. The best approach is the splintered approach because planners need multiple touches before they buy.
- Partnering between CVBs and properties is critical — have everyone working togehter to get people to the destination.Having events that cultivate regional synergy works, because if you can get them to the region or state, then the properties can vie for the business. But the important thing is getting them to the region, first.
Hotels & special facilities, what do you need from your local CVB? CVBs, what do you need from your local partners?
- Hotels need CVBs looking for new pieces of business, really beating the bushes. When the CVB can share lists and everyone shares the follow up, it’s great, regional synergy.
- Small properties are asking CVBs for business, but the product needs to be improved to be more sellable. Hotels need to know that lying about the property, not being honest about the quality or trying to fit a square peg in a round hole is not going to get people back in the long run, so it’s important for properties to be honest and use integrity when promoting the product.
- Short term business generated by CVBs is critical because cancellations are killing properties. So it’s important for the individual to bring value, or not be involved at all.