4 winning and losing group travel trends for 2017

Nobody is certain about what 2017 holds for hotels, with projections for occupancy and rate ranging anywhere from near-record levels to completely flat. But one common thread throughout 2016 that is projected to continue to give the industry strength in the coming year is the group-booking sector.

A report released by TravelClick in early December showed that committed group occupancy for the first quarter of 2017 is expected to increase 6.8 percent, compared to transient leisure at 6.2 percent and transient business at 4.4 percent. 

“Even with the slowing transient reservation pace this month, especially within the business segment, hoteliers should look to the new year for a promising outlook,” John Hach, TravelClick’s senior industry analyst, said in the report. “Group occupancy and booking pace in particular are showing notable signs of improvement in 2017, especially within the first quarter.”

Though this is big news for bookings, average daily rates for the group sector are only projected to increase 1.5 percent, compared to transient leisure at 4.5 percent and transient business at 2.7 percent. Hach has long suggested that the industry needs further bespoke or personalized touches on an individual basis to allow properties to stand out and improve rates over the competition, particularly with the strong rate parity that blankets many markets.

Offering experiential options for groups, particularly for meetings and events, can be a differentiator in 2017.

Kindred Resorts & Hotels, a collection of independent properties with a focus on the group and meetings market in North America, released its own report on meeting trends in 2017, providing insight as to what operators can anticipate will be of importance next year. Here are two trends hotels should pick up and two they should drop for 2017:

Winning trends

1. Experiential team building: Resorts are offering more destination-focused activities for team building, leaving the meetings room for meetings and taking advantage of the location rather than strictly on-property amenities in order to provide a unique experience. Examples include paddle boarding, hiking, golfing and fishing excursions in locations where these are most feasible.

2. Wellness: Health is the new addiction, and guests want to ensure they can maintain the lifestyle they have at home when they are on the road. This desire for healthy eating combines with a thirst for experiential travel, meaning unique culinary offerings for meetings and coffee breaks are an opportunity to wow guests. Thirty percent of the properties surveyed in Kindred's study noted decreasing requests for soda, an amenity often replaced by organic juices, water or smoothies. In addition, the most requested dietary menus are gluten-free (61 percent) and vegetarian (32 percent).

Losing trends

1. Formal events: Even business travelers are going casual, with formal lunches and dinners on the way out. They are being replaced with casual receptions and beach barbecues or clambakes over events with formal seating and dress-code requirements.

2. Traditional meeting rooms: Most meeting hotels have access to unique and often intricate venues that aren't always in the actual meeting space. Any room with a good view can make for a good location for break-out sessions, and local areas such as historic buildings, upscale guesthouses, luxury boats and gardens can take the place of a traditional meeting room.

In October, Hach recommended competing aggressively for the group segment because it is on pace to grow at a faster rate than any other, and it's looking more and more like he may be right. If these trends can be used to your hotel's advantage, you may be set for a better 2017 than some would have you think.