Understanding the needs of meeting planners

The report estimates an increase in group meeting spending, with 37 percent of survey respondents claiming they expect to plan more meetings this year, up from 30 percent in 2017.
Hotels successfully booking new group business are those that take transparency and communication seriously for the benefit of the planner. Photo credit: Getty/Ridofranz

While you have worked hard to take the necessary steps to reopen your property safely and within local and industry guidelines, it is crucial you communicate that hard work not only to potential guests but also to those that help get heads in the beds: the meeting planners.

Communicating that you have a solid duty-of-care plan in place and that your teams are ready to provide the level of service travelers will demand in this new world will help ensure the level of trust necessary to build your group business pipeline into 2021. 

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Meeting planners represent many of the guests that will come to your hotel. They are also keenly aware of the level of nervousness and concern and are already fielding any number of questions on this topic. It is becoming more apparent every day that hotels successfully booking new group business are those that take transparency and communication seriously for the benefit of the planner. 

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Now the trick will be to communicate your new standards to those working in the trenches and help them to identify and match up the needs and desires of incoming group business with the proper venue. What information will you need to convey to them to help them do their job efficiently and in turn help you gain back group business, even as the industry looks to identify what that means?

Ensure Duty-of-Care Standards

While this process may be dictated by your brand, others might be dictated by local authorities. We now understand duty-of-care procedures should be well documented. Additionally, each department should be able to communicate how they are delivering those procedures. This should be locked before you start communicating with planners. 

Once your DOC policy is established, make sure it is readily available to meeting planners and your local convention and visitor bureaus and beyond. Ensure that your cleaning and sanitizing practices are well documented not only on your website but also on those pesky online databases, including Google business and any online travel agencies you may be working with. You’ve worked hard to develop and hone your policies, so be confident and shout it to the rooftops. Keep up to date on local rules and be sure you have communicated any local rules that might be in play.

Reimagine F&B Offerings

It’s clear that buffets and self-service food offerings will become a thing of the past, at least for now. Individually wrapped cookies and muffins will become the new normal, and most of you have already taken steps to mitigate the open-service food stations. These standards will need to be reflected in your menus and your pricing. Don’t forget to update your menus if they have changed and document how you will handle your catering foodservice, and it couldn’t hurt to take a picture of individual wrapped items and share via your social media platforms. 

A word about pricing: All of this safety doesn’t come free and clients seem to both recognize and value it. This should be the easiest price for value argument your sales team ever has to make.

Rethink Gathering Spaces

We are all aware now that there will be new capacity rules to keep in line with local restrictions. Even more likely, your customers will have their own requirements. Be prepared for any configuration for meeting space; 6 feet, 7 feet, 12 feet. Determine what the capacity of your meeting space looks like in the new social distancing spectrum and document those capacities in advance in order to guide meeting planners as they book or look to rebook. 

Be prepared to have consultative calls with planners to discuss the best set-up with each of these arrangements. A room that might have worked for 40 U-shape before might not work the same with social distancing standards. Help them understand what will work and be their partner in making adjustments. 

Bring Revenue Management Team Together

Before starting your sales process, it is advisable to work with your revenue management team to better understand how you will price and optimize meeting space with the new social distancing guidelines. 

You will need a plan for each social distancing protocol (6, 7, 8 and 12 feet.) A few things to have answered before you pick up the phone:

  • How many rooms will be required to waive meeting space fees? 
  • Will you need to require meeting room rental on all groups? 
  • Will you require food-and-beverage minimums and how will those change?

Factoring in these protocols will allow your sales teams to sell without friction right from the start.

Answer the Phone

Once you’ve initiated and established the above steps, it will be time to ensure you have communicated your policies and procedures to key stakeholders, both internally and externally. By now you will have worked with your internal teams to ensure they are well versed in your DOC, food policies and meeting room restrictions and/or event layouts. Don’t forget to make sure your front desk, operators and sales teams understand any limitations or space restrictions. Update them often because we all know things will shift and change.

Be sure your new policies are front and center on your website, or at least there is a visible link to the information. It’s best not to make busy meeting planners or potential guests search for these new policies. Create a landing page to make it easy for guests and meeting planners to view your DOC and other policy changes. This will make it more efficient to share online and in your advertising efforts. There will be many questions, so if you haven’t already done so, gather those together and create a detailed “FAQ about COVID-19.” Add to it as new questions come in and don’t forget to update this page as changes occur.

Remember to update your Google business presence and social media and include links to your policies and FAQ pages. Then don’t forget to share this hard work with the world. Use this to your advantage through advertising that touts the efforts your team has made to ensure the safety of incoming groups. 

Finally, as mentioned above, don’t forget to update all channels regularly. As the world moves forward, your policies will need to adjust as well. Ensure you are keeping pace with government and local restrictions and update all forms of communication, again both internally and externally, as changes happen.

It’s a New Day

Things are shifting and changing daily. But we all know there is a tendency to become lax or slip into a new normal. Be vigilant in ongoing communication to your community, meeting planners you work with and your staff. Doing so will build a strong camaraderie. The time for active outreach is here; groups are booking now. They may look different, with hybrid meetings becoming a new way to conduct business, but meetings and group activities are already happening. Will you and your staff be prepared? Touting your flexibility and resilience to meeting planners is going to mean a lot as you build those relationships. Express it and prove it.

Kristi White is VP of product management at Knowland.

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