It’s no secret that hospitality’s path to recovery has been a long and challenging road. If 2020 was the year that travel came to a grinding halt, 2021 was the year of cautious optimism as hoteliers waited with bated breath for a return to relative normalcy. The industry was braced for a comeback, eagerly awaiting the first rush of excited travelers to spill off the airport tarmac and back into the welcoming arms of global hotel brands. Staff was welcomed back, amenities reopened, lobbies and guest rooms were pristine, processes were reformed, and soon enough, leisure travel became the industry’s beacon of hope.
Once again, guests appeared to be enamored with the promise of wanderlust, eager to escape the realities of everyday life to embrace a moment of excitement, relaxation, and connection that only a plane ticket, a beautiful view, and a different culture or landscape can provide. But even still, a question percolated quietly in the minds of hoteliers as leisure boomed, but another segment was notably missing – what about business and group travel? Was the industry forever changed, or would these segments flourish again and return to their former glory?
With 2022 officially underway, it looks like that question might finally be answered. Recently, hotel executives and industry professionals have been hinting at a “robust comeback” in the group segment this year – especially for meetings.
A Significant Rise in Corporate Meeting Demand
As the saying goes, “a setback only paves the way for a comeback,” and hospitality meetings and events seem to be trending in that direction. Looking at Knowland’s February monthly meetings and events data, we see that meetings volume from January to February increased 48.1%, with a 340% increase from February 2021. Moreover, metrics such as average attendees and average space used are now “level” with 2019, hinting at an imminent return to the pre-pandemic baseline.
Specifically, the average number of attendees per event in February 2022 was 102, comparative to 39 in February 2021 and 115 in February 2019. Of the group travel segment, corporate meetings also appear to be the dominant source of demand, representing greater than 63% of meeting and event business. In response to these findings, Kristi White, Knowland’s chief product officer, shared, “the industry, as well as meeting planners, seem to be shaking off the concerns of Omicron and settling in for steady growth in the coming months.”
Meeting Professionals International (MPI) reiterated this momentum in the 2022 edition of its Winter Meetings Outlook. The report indicated that, slowly but surely, the market is “rebalancing” after the pandemic, and showing signs of growing budgets and enthusiasm for in-person events. Some of the insights gleaned from the report are as follows:
- 82% of respondents project favorable business conditions over the next year, back up to the level seen in the spring 2021 survey.
- 75% of respondents anticipate favorable in-person attendance over the next 12 months, almost matching the all-time high seen in the summer 2021 survey.
- 33% of respondents anticipate business returning to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022
- Fewer meeting professionals are expecting increases in digital or virtual attendance (down 41% since this time last year)
Top Hotel Executives Express Optimism for the Year Ahead
Sourav Ghosh, Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, and Treasurer, Host Hotels & Resorts, recently alluded to an increasingly promising landscape for corporate travel and meetings. “Corporate group room nights increased 11% over the third quarter with a 23% increase in rate,” he shared. “In the fourth quarter, corporate group room nights were 55% of 2019, compared to 29% for the first half of 2021.”
Similarly, Leslie Hale, President, and CEO, RLJ Lodging Trust, shared that there has been clear evidence of an acceleration of recovery in both group and business transient demand as business travel volume increased and, in many cases, in advance of returning to corporate offices. “This trend was particularly noticeable with respect to small- and medium-sized companies,” she explained. “Group demand should accelerate throughout the year as well, with a mix of corporate groups increasing. Our confidence in the momentum of a group recovery has increased, with our definite [bookings] currently representing 68% of 2019 levels. When we look at the mix of what we’re getting from a contribution, the corporate group represents 50% of what we’re booking today. I will tell you that was running 5%-10% before this year.”
Finally, Chris Nassetta, Hilton’s president and CEO, notes that Hilton properties anticipate “meaningful” acceleration in group business this year. “Compared to 2019, our tentative booking revenue was up more than 25%,” Nasetta revealed. “Additionally, meeting planners are increasingly more optimistic with forward bookings trending up week over week since early January.”
Is Your Hotel Ready?
As demand for group business and corporate meetings/events returns, it’s more important than ever for hotels to set their team(s) up for success. In an ever-competitive market, hotel sales teams will have their work cut out for them in the coming months while they work to attract and win new business.
The best way to remain competitive – or better yet, one step ahead – is to invest in tools and processes that allow your hotel to stand out from the competition with ease. This includes tools designed specifically to streamline workflows and simplify core processes, allowing hotel sales teams to respond better to leads, connect with planners, and close business.
With this in mind, platforms like SalesandCatering.com’s STS Cloud and Bluebuzzard’s ProposalPath, offer built-in best practices and features for the variety of industries and market segments hotels serve. STS Cloud is a next-generation, cloud-based, securely hosted sales and catering software-as-a-service. This platform functions as a state-of-the-art CRM that captures catering functionality, document workflow, booking management, leads and opportunities, reporting, and more. ProposalPath, on the other hand, empowers sales teams to create professionally designed, visually appealing proposals that are customized and immersive, allowing sales teams to bring events to life with flair and ease.
Together, these platforms will enhance the efficiency and workflow of any hotels’ sales team and prime hotels for recovery and long-term success as key hospitality segments return to their former glory.