As hoteliers and venue operators struggle to conduct quality post-pandemic site visits, planners are having to expend more time and effort to ensure successful site selection.
Site visits are one of the many familiar aspects of event planning that have gone askew as we continue to recover from the Covid pandemic. Many hoteliers and venue operators are out of practice. Factor in limited and novice staff, renovations, changes to organizational structure, and site visits are troublesome.
The causes may be obvious, but the solutions are not. So what can planners do to ensure their site visits are productive and help them secure the best venue for their meetings?
Acknowledge the Staffing Challenges
Birgess Angelus, founder and CEO of event management company B Line Events, attributes the disruption in service quality to an industry that just came back too fast. “It’s not just site visits, but service in general that is lagging for many hotels, particularly the big chains,” she said.
Meghan Ruona, director of events for Constellation Research, has seen improvement this last quarter but said, “I am still extra vigilant when it comes to my vetting process.”
Then there is the staffing shortage. “When hotels did add staff, they were green, and there was limited, or no time, to train them, and this extends to senior management,” said Angelus.
This translates to staff struggling to speak to, sell, or operate their product. For example, during a recent site visit at a luxury venue in Miami, one of the employees did not know how to work its LED wall. When one of Angelus’ employees stepped up and took over the demo, the venue tried to hire the person.
Group vs. Leisure
In addition to talent poaching, it has been vexing for planners that many hotels still prioritize leisure travel over groups. “While not back to 2019 levels of attention and partnership, I do see an increase in venues’ interest in groups, but some inexperienced sales staff may not fully comprehend their value, and that surfaces in initial conversations and the site visit,” said Ruona.
In addition to experiencing some ghosting and general indifference to corporate group inquiries, leisure guests often get preference for the best sleeping rooms. “Many venues are just not putting their best foot forward for site visits, and even groups with long-term relationships with venues will go elsewhere,” said Angelus.
In addition to the extra time and effort required to vet venues, Angelus is concerned that entry-level meeting professionals need more context and are experiencing a distorted introduction to the industry. “Veteran planners have lived through corrections and sellers’ markets, but we have never had to operate this way.”
Consider Boutique Properties
Despite focusing on leisure travel, Ruona shared that competition for venues in tier one and tier two cities is fierce, and booking space is challenging. “I am struggling to find the right hotel venue in Austin right now, and frequently I resolve these challenges with unconventional spaces,” said Ruona.
Boutique-managed hotels are an excellent choice for planners frustrated with big chains. “Hotels managed by boutique management firms are having a heyday right now,” said Angelus. “Smaller hotel groups frequently manage to circumvent the service and staffing disruptions.”
Angelus encourages planners seeking additional high-touch options to explore high-end property groups like Associated Luxury Hotels International, Teneo, and Preferred Hotels.
Harness the Power of Third Party
Third parties can help ensure your venue search goes smoothly and you secure the ideal location for your event. While planners work with some venues one to two times a year, third parties work with venues dozens of times. So not only can they help with the pros and cons and subtle nuances of every venue, but they know the cities the venues are located in, including infrastructure components, traffic, transport, and offsite options.
“Whenever it makes business sense, utilize the assistance of a specialized third party for venue search unless you know the venue you want to book and feel confident you know the geographical area really well,” said Ruona.
Angelus and Ruona agree that third parties can leverage their volume purchasing power and relationships to advocate for better rates and concessions. “Third parties are always a huge benefit, and in this market, you want to have as many people as possible in your court,” said Angelus.