Over the past few weeks, I am delighted to have seen a noted change in business optimism around co-existing with COVID-19. The published road map for coming out of Lockdown measures, the impressive vaccine rollout programme and the economic support pointed to in the Budget, is all contributing to an upbeat attitude. And that is being reflected in the encouraging green shoots of business return – primarily fuelled by domestic business travel and the meetings sector, as businesses plan to re-engage, re-focus and re-energise their Zoom weary teams and plot a course to “back to business”.
In my engagements with senior hotel and venue owners, I have seen some mixed approaches as to what an effective return to business will look like in the meetings sector. On one hand, I have heard about inspiring leadership with redefining processes and practice around meeting enquiry handling and diary management. Plus reimagining the customer of the future and the changes that post COVID-19 bookings necessitate and the profile of what future meetings will demand – the reconfiguration of space, pricing and packaged models, and innovative hybrid meeting models (offering physical and virtual connections).
But for each great conversation, I must balance that against the hotels and venues that are just optimistically “hoping” things will return to the ways they were, which is greatly concerning.
I encourage that meetings operators consider the recovery of the business as an opportunity to “reset” and return differently so as to navigate the new world and address some of the legacy challenges that were clear to see pre the pandemic.
As we went into this pandemic the meetings market was highly competitive. More and more venues coming onstream with re-purposing of sporting venues space, historic buildings and new builds, and specialist adaption (training centres) meaning customers had and have plenty of choice. The demand was highly concentrated into the three core midweek days. New ways of meeting were already starting to take shape as the well-being (work:life balance) & cost agenda was starting to align to be a win: win for corporations. Technology and digital advancements were changing training delivery to online channels (particularly in regulated areas).
At property level the challenges were evident. The cost of processing enquiries was onerous and absorbing valuable resources in mundane administrative tasks of enquiry handling. Too many meeting “options” were blocking the diary with communication channels, to make that decision easier and quicker, very much limited in the email back and forth. And in many ways, too much emphasis was on price comparison between venues with little focus on the value each of these unique venues has to offer to make a meeting / conference / event truly achieve its objectives.
So as a passionate advocate of the meetings sector, I call on meeting venue operators to ask themselves “How are they going to manage enquiries better as business demand recovers?” Have they established a plan to address the key points to:
1. Increase conversion, increase speed of decisions and so reduce lost opportunity of options blocking diaries.
2. Get value in front of the customer and give meeting decision makers the ability to see how their meeting and the venue are a match made in heaven.
3. Look to influence meeting decision makers with speedy cost options for lower demand days of the week (visual guilt created the revolution of the Travel self-booking tool – giving information ensured conscious decisions), which will be vital as fewer meetings means optimising every enquiry.
4. Do all of this in a highly productive and profitable environment, where skilled meeting enquiry handlers are focused on converting the high margin business and reducing their unnecessary admin down time and less experienced staff can become effective extremely quickly.
I have had the luxury of working with so many businesses over recent months mapping out what that “reset” button should look like in the meetings sector and see that change can be achieved quickly with a purpose and a plan. The technology exists – Wizme of course is well positioned to take this strain, but it starts with operator mindset and consciousness to lead that “reset” position within their business.