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Tech to Grow Group Bookings
By Lin Grensing-Pophal, Contributing Editor
In the competitive group booking business, the right technology systems can help hotels nurture leads, showcase their properties, and ultimately win contracts. Operators know they must stay up-to-date and many are turning to hosted solutions to help them do that. Just as hotel properties come in all shapes and sizes, so too do sales and catering systems and operators must sift through the smorgasbord of options to find the right companion for specific needs. From new nimble solutions, to fully integrated suites, hotel operators tell HT about the sales and catering tools helping them capture group business.
Balancing speed, service & simplicity
For a hotel management company like Noble-Interstate Management Group (www.ihrco.com), speed is important. There are instances where the group buys a hotel and may need to be up and running within 30 days. Noble-Interstate uses Newmarket’s Delphi Multi-Property sales and catering software (www.newmarketinc.com) for its hotels and is currently looking at the hosted system. “We don’t have the luxury of being able to pre-plan and get hotels set up to our infrastructure,” says Nelson F. Garrido, CHTP, VP of information technology. “We can really leverage the infrastructure that Newmarket is putting in place to get properties up and running.”
Ease of integration is a priority for Fred Khoury, director of sales and marketing for Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago (www.radissonblu.com). “We are the first Radisson Blu in the U.S., so we’re looking at it from the standpoint that something that works for us might potentially work for other Radisson Blus as they come onboard,” notes Khoury. The Radisson Blu has selected the OPERA sales & catering system from Micros (www.micros.com), primarily because of the ability to quickly integrate it with the existing PMS system, which is also OPERA. “The analytics portion has excellent reports that are useful for everything from forecasting to just year-over-year,” Khoury adds.
Khoury emphasizes that ease of use is critical and something he urges other hospitality operators to look for as they’re considering a product. “It’s great if the system does miracles but, for us, we want something that is very intuitive,” he stresses. “It has to be easy to understand.”
For smaller facilities without the marketing support and brand awareness of the major players, a healthy pipeline of leads is critical. The Westward Look Resort in Tucson (www.westwardlook.com) uses SpeedRFP, a product from Elite Meetings (www.elitemeetings.com) that automates the RFP process. Subscription levels start at just under $100 per month per hotel for the Enterprise Solution, making it a very viable option for smaller companies.
“It’s an excellent database and also a method for meeting planners to communicate with the hotels and request information and proposals,” says Jerry Jensen, director of sales.
SpeedRFP allows buyers to book any kind of group business, direct from any hotel website, anywhere in the world, by using a single RFP form. This opens up business not just to meeting planners, but to wedding and social buyers as well, by using a single cloud-based solution that is completely portable. “In the past year it has increased our incoming lead flow by probably 40 percent. That’s huge, especially for a small independent,” says Jensen.
The solution is attracting larger brands, too. With more than 9,000 rooms across 35 luxury and upscale properties, Destination Hotels & Resorts (www.destinationhotels.com) is the third largest hospitality management company in the country. “Since replacing our previous online RFP form with SpeedRFP, the number and quality of RFPs Destination Hotels & Resorts received has increased exponentially,” says Andre Fournier, vice president of sales & marketing for Destination Hotels & Resorts.
Sales and catering technology offers improvements not only in efficiency, but in service as well. According to Garrido, the number one bonus that Noble-Interstate achieves through its sales and catering software is the ability to share information between properties. In addition, he adds, “Being on a DMBI (data mining and business intelligence) system assists regional folks because we have all of that data in one place.”
Garrido also describes the deployment of new information as being simplified through the system. About a year ago Noble-Interstate implemented e-proposal and e-cards for use by salespeople. “It streamlines the sales process by being able to make adjustments to all hotels versus having to make sure that each property makes the changes,” Garrido describes. At the same time, because of the mass updating, it helps to cut down on the potential for
errors or omissions.
Seeing into the future
It can be challenging, of course, to remain current when it comes to the continually evolving field of options. “It’s moving so far — it’s just incredible and I fully expect that it’s just going to continue to explode,” says Jensen. “You can’t be stagnant or you’ll get left behind.”
Being part of a large organization can help, admits Khoury. “Being a brand new hotel, Carlson Corporation did their homework about what is exciting and what would last,” he says of the company’s choice to launch Raddison Blu. Smaller operators can stay on top of what’s happening in the market, as Westward’s Jensen has found. His goal, he says, is “to stay on the curve, not ahead.” He does this by reading white papers and information from various sources and by being attentive to the vendors that contact him frequently. He views this as an advantage. “Be open to what they’re offering because the only way you’re going to stay competitive is to be as current as possible,” Khoury advises. “Don’t be afraid to listen and learn.”
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