Yesterday I was in London and participated on a panel discussion on distribution in the MICE Market and how new technologies may impact the way Meetings and Events are booked in the future. Sharing the panel with me were David Taylor, Chief Commerical Office from glh hotels and Felix Undeutsch, Head of MICE & Groups at Expedia.
On returning home to Ireland on the flight yesterday evening my brain was buzzing with the concepts discussed and questions asked from the delegates. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the future of distribution in the MICE market……
Change is inevitable. Hoteliers may resist it, avoiding putting inventory for their event space online for fear of loss of control – but the same could be said 20 years ago about bedrooms… can you even imagine a hotel now not providing online bedroom booking on their websites?!
It is only going to go the same way with Meeting and Event space. As bedrooms became commoditized, so too will meeting rooms. Particularly in the small meeting space. Particular for the regular business booker. They know what they want, how the room should be laid out, basic ancillary services (projector, screen, flipchart etc), so it just makes sense to allow them to customize their request and book online.
Hotels should embrace this as it reduces unnecessary admin and from an inventory point of view, small meeting rooms are typically booked within a few weeks so hotels should be able to pick up some late business by making these rooms available online.
With regards to more complex events, large conferences and weddings I don’t envisage them moving to online booking (certainly not in my lifetime!) – there are too many moving parts to large scale events like these, something I don’t think you can automate. And more than just the functional elements of the booking; with a larger conference, special event or a wedding people are not only buying the physical space and F&B, they are buying TRUST. They need to build a relationship with the team in the hotel to ensure that they will deliver on their big day.
The current process for booking a wedding or event in a hotel is a very manual and often laborious, frustrating and inefficient one. Visit any hotel website and go to the weddings/events page and more often than not you are met with a generic contact form or worse again just a general events@ email address or the main hotel phone number. If couples do deign to phone, inevitably the person they need to speak to will not be available (most enquiries are actually sent out of hours, but that’s a whole other conversation!) and many reception teams are not trained to try to wow a wedding enquiry. If couples fill out the generic contact form or send an email, typically they will have to wait for a manual response. This can take days (if not longer) and frankly in this age of digital impatience, people are not happy to wait! Result: Hotels are starting on the back foot with couples frustrated from the outset.
What WeddingDates attempts to do is to remove the friction in this process – answer the initial question (availability) and now that the couples anticipation is piqued (their date or a suitable alternative is available (eek! the excitement!)) they then receive a personalised email back from the wedding coordinator with the wedding brochure attached inviting them in for a viewing. Voila! The pain is taken out of the process… the wedding couple are happy as they got speedy answers and a positive first impression of the hotel and the hotelier is happy as they have a qualified lead in their inbox that has been responded to and only needs nurturing now to coax in the door for a viewing.
In saying all that, I also commented at the end of the panel discussion about the importance of strong sales people in converting the enquiries. It echoed something that was mentioned earlier in the day on a talk about Artificial Intelligence – Humans + Machines will always beat the performance of just machines alone. Automation can help with the manual time consuming tasks, but with large conferences and certainly weddings there will always be a need for the human touch, someone who can read the needs of the couples and match their expectations with outstanding delivery on the big day. That I believe, is the future of hospitality – People, supported by technology.
I am very interested to see how Expedia develops in this space of allowing small meetings of less than 30 people to be bookable online and of course the evolution of the WeddingDates platform itself….watch this space!