It’s finally here: Instant booking for groups

It’s finally here: Instant booking for groups

As published in BizBash

Discover the industry’s first integrated online booking platform for real-time group hotel rates and availability

Planners have long been frustrated with the absence of transparency in rates and availability when sourcing for their programs. The lack of sufficient data to make informed decisions results in the need to send out dozens of RFPs just to secure initial information from prospective hotels.

In 2020, when Groups360 asked thousands of meeting planners if they could wave a magic wand and conjure anything they wanted from a sourcing platform, these professionals said they wanted access to more information and the autonomy to book on their own.

Technology that facilitates online purchases has been part of our everyday lives for decades. We can now buy everything from clothing to groceries to cars—and even houses—online.

But when event planners start their sourcing process, they find themselves working a process that hasn’t changed in decades.

Leisure travelers don’t have to make phone calls and send emails when planning their vacations. They can book flights, rental cars, and hotel rooms online quickly and easily. So why has it taken so long to be able to book group rooms and space online?

The missing key to unlocking this capability has been systems integration.

Though other meeting and events platforms may claim to offer instant booking for groups, GroupSync is the only truly integrated platform that facilitates group hotel booking at scale, globally.

Here’s why that matters when you’re seeking to book meetings online:

An Outdated Industry Paradigm

Hotels and technology companies have previously attempted to create systems that would facilitate online group bookings. A key flaw in these platforms was the lack of integration into the hotels’ reservations and property management systems.

These online booking platforms instead relied on individuals at participating hotels to upload—and maintain—their rates and room availability. This time-consuming process resulted in either a lack of adoption or inconsistent, often outdated data.

Without inventory, an instant booking system is like a brand-new grocery store with no products on the shelves.

For years, only global distribution systems (GDSs)—such as Amadeus or SABRE—have provided real-time access to hotel rooms. GDS technology gives online travel agencies (OTAs) access to inventory such as flights, hotels, and rental cars. Travelers love OTAs for conveniently showing multiple hotel options and room rates in one place.

The well-known limitation of an OTA, however, is the inability to book more than nine rooms at a time. Not only are planners restricted from securing enough rooms for their groups on an OTA, but they also don’t have access to group room rates.

That’s why room blocks have required RFPs, oftentimes just to get initial information like rates and availability. It’s an old industry paradigm that doesn’t allow planners to buy the way they want to buy.

Planners should have the ability to decide whether they want rooms, space, or both while reducing unnecessary steps such as sending an RFP just to confirm rates and availability.

True Integration for Instant Group Booking

The world’s leading hotel brands—Marriott, Hilton, IHG, and Accor—along with other partners have invested $85 million into Groups360 to date to collaborate on an effective solution to this longstanding problem. The result is GroupSync.

What sets GroupSync apart is its direct integration into hotel reservation systems and property management systems to offer real-time rates and availability for group room blocks and meeting space, as well as ancillary services such as catering and AV.

While other meeting and events companies may tout an ability to book group rooms online, they may simply be pulling disparate bookings from a GDS. The only way to offer true rates and availability, as well as the ability to purchase online in a single transaction, is to book through a fully integrated platform.

A More Efficient Planning Process

As the hospitality industry rebounds from the effects of the pandemic, smaller meetings make up the bulk of in-person meetings and events. Many planners are currently juggling the logistics of multiple smaller meetings that have taken the place of larger gatherings. But searching and sourcing for a simple meeting can take just as much time as a larger event does.

More than ever, meeting planners need an efficient way to organize these small programs—and hotels need a less complicated and time-consuming way to sell their rooms and space.

GroupSync Instant Booking currently connects you to live room inventory at over 7,000 leading hotels—including Hilton and Omni—as well as a growing number of IHG properties. GroupSync is also the booking engine behind Hilton’s meetings and events website.

More and more hotel brands such as Marriott, Accor, and other independent properties are connecting their inventory to GroupSync and publishing their real-time rates and availability. With GroupSync, you will soon have access to several million rooms, as well as meeting space at thousands of properties in the coming months.

GroupSync’s search algorithms produce customized results at a glance that show which of the preselected hotels offer Instant Booking.

For larger events that require customized proposals, GroupSync Instant Booking provides access to real-time group rates and availability so you can know before submitting your RFP whether a hotel can accommodate your room block. Thanks to better, more complete data, you can send an informed RFP to a shortlist of hotels that are a good fit for your program.

Instant online booking is also ideal when you need to see if a hotel has immediate availability for short-term bookings.

 

Book Your Next Meeting Online

Through GroupSync, hotels benefit from a streamlined sales process, and planners benefit from immediate insights into essential data along with the option to secure rooms and space in a single online transaction.

Buy the way you want to buy through a process as intuitive as shopping at your favorite online retailer. With the time saved, you can focus on creating an ideal experience for your attendees and guests.

Get started with your free GroupSync account.

3 ways GroupSync is better than other group booking systems

3 ways GroupSync is better than other group booking systems

From the start of GroupSync, our goal has been to bring simple and transparent solutions to booking group travel. Through our technology, we’re helping our customers save time, build trust, and accelerate revenue.

But, hey, we get it…change is hard.

The presence of technology and stylized new software has us constantly adapting for convenience. It’s formed a habitual, first thought: “Is this worth the time it takes to learn something new?”

With GroupSync, you have a better way to source and book hotels for groups, and an opportunity to experience simplicity in an overcomplicated process.

So, why stay in the lengthy cycle of antiquated methods?

Look at it this way: We aren’t changing your process, we’re improving it.

GroupSync exists to facilitate an easier experience for both group organizers and hoteliers. So, we’re explaining — directly, simply, and transparently — the top 3 ways we are better for your business and different from our competitors.

1. No Paid Placements

It’s both lucrative and widely known for advertisers to bid payments on a search engine with their brand predominantly displayed among the results of a keyword search.

Some legacy systems promote a ‘pay-to-play’ system where hoteliers can buy the opportunity to show up high on search results, regardless of how irrelevant they are to a group need or event.

And while this approach may be favored by hoteliers, we’ve always felt that they’re a source of friction in the group booking process and typically end up wasting more of an organizer’s time.

As a result, GroupSync has always been an advocate of no paid placements.

What that means for group organizers and meeting planners:

We position properties that are useful and relevant to your program needs according to your search criteria. With a trusted search, your results fit your search, with zero bias, and no distractions.

We don’t waste your time with irrelevant results. You can choose to filter for specific hotels, but we don’t decide that for you. You are in control of your search journey with access to the most robust data content and information for everyone.

What that means for hoteliers:

Paid placement simply puts you in front of the current customer, not the customer searching for you. Hoteliers are paying a lot of money to show up on an irrelevant search. Those marketing dollars don’t pay to narrow down the relevancy for guests to find you.

Our take: Don’t waste time or marketing dollars on clients that don’t match the accommodations you can provide.

GroupSync employs equal opportunity for both small boutiques and large hotels. All hoteliers have the same access to reach and book relevant group customers, which means all properties on GroupSync are on a level playing field where the best fit and deal win.

2. Instant Booking

We’ve created the first distribution channel to offer real-time group rates and immediate booking availability for both room blocks and meeting space at scale. This key data is imported directly from the hotel into GroupSync. It’s not scraped from other online sources, nor does it come from the Global Distribution Service (GDS) feed for online travel agents—you’re getting the best available group rates and live inventory direct from hotels.

And our lineup of participating hotels is constantly growing — to more than 20k properties in 2023! GroupSync’s Instant Booking is quickly becoming a new norm for group travel.

What that means for group travel organizers and meeting planners:

Immediate booking, real-time rates, and availability. Find properties with Instant Booking options from your search results, “add to cart”, and book your room block. Weeks of work can be done in minutes by skipping the typical RFP process and avoiding the back and forth with hotels.

Group hotel booking in a single online transaction; it’s really that simple.

What that means for hoteliers:

Instant booking and the ability for planners to get real-time rates and availability provide you with a 24/7, 365 online sales engine. Group bookings can be made around the clock, without the spent resources typically used on the RFP process.

You’re also able to offer add-on purchases such as A/V equipment and food & beverage services.

By offering Instant Booking, you’re able to move the smaller group stays and meeting sales online, freeing up resources and time while creating a better customer experience for all.

3. GroupSync is Free!

Yes, really.

Other legacy software will cost you money, while general search engines like Google will cost you valuable time. With GroupSync, you can book properties, via RFP or Instant Booking, at no cost to you.

What it means for group travel organizers and meeting planners:

Free to search over 200,000 properties worldwide. Free to book your group programs. Free to send and receive any number of RFPs. Free to utilize for all your programs.

Find the properties you need, when you need them, all in one place, at no cost to you.

No hidden fees. No fine print.

We promise.

What it means for hoteliers:

Good news, your basic hotel profile is free, making your hotel visible to group travel organizers and planners 24/7, 365.

You’ll even receive RFPs from GroupSync for free.

Not only does GroupSync increase visibility through user discovery, but it also has the potential to increase direct bookings and brand awareness.

If that sounds like free marketing, it’s because it is.

We’re helping groups, planners and hoteliers improve the way they do business—all while building the future of group travel.

Learn more about GroupSync for group travel organizers>
Learn more about GroupSync for hoteliers>

Hoteliers find answers and revenue potential in technology

Hoteliers find answers and revenue potential in technology

The world has experienced some bizarre, and yes, unprecedented times in a short, but monumental, few years.

The hospitality and travel industries, (among the rest of the world) have heard the continuous talk about “the new normal.” But for hoteliers, the only thing proving to be normal is that nearly everything about guest services is new.

Today’s guests want risk-free contingencies, self-service, and contactless support. Meaning hoteliers need innovative ways to manage volume, promptly communicate, and provide exceptional guest experiences, all while facing a labor shortage.

If hoteliers, and the hospitality industry, plan to welcome the volume of group travel then technology will be paramount to not only their survival but also, revenue potential.

 

Progression in the industry presents major challenges for hoteliers.

The past two years changed the way we think about travel and proved just how special exploration can be.

With summer travel fading, the preparation for the 2022 holiday travel season begins. And according to data, this year has already shown a significant rise in group travel booking rates. Most observers attribute this surge in business to pent-up demand from consumers who have been hunkered down at home or recovering financially.

Alliances between hotels and innovative software are helping to broaden reach, secure bookings and open revenue opportunities without additional staff resources. Hoteliers with the capabilities to collect insight into guest profiles, especially those belonging to a group, are better positioned and equipped to manage the volume of bookings and grow new revenue streams without their usual staff size.

 

As group travel continues to grow, group sizes are trying to catch up.

The practice of social distancing for such an extended amount of time left certain pandemic-related behaviors lingering in the business of group travel. For instance, the number of events and gatherings has increased while the actual group size has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels.

In 2022, 63% of event RFPs were for groups of 50 people or less (up 5% from 2019), which has created an additional struggle for hoteliers who’ve experienced less time to plan for group accommodations.

However, the largest struggle of all is adapting to the combination of a higher volume of smaller groups and events in less time with reduced staff.

 

The hospitality industry is currently face-to-face with a labor crisis.

According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), 87% of hotels reported being forced to lay off or furlough staff because of COVID-19.

As of June 2022, only 36% have been unable to bring any of their furloughed or laid-off workers back to full-time employment. Meanwhile, 97% of surveyed respondents said they are experiencing a staffing shortage today.

To meet the demand of travelers, hotels have offered an array of staff incentives, like:

    • 90% have increased wages
    • 71% are offering greater flexibility with hours
    • 43% have expanded benefits

Unfortunately, over the past year, hoteliers’ attempts to manage labor shortages were met unsuccessfully and led to unsustainable labor costs without alleviating their workforce crisis.

So how does a hotelier meet their guest’s exceedingly high expectations with fewer employees?

Technology.

If hoteliers plan to welcome the volume of group travel then technology will be paramount to not only their survival but also, revenue potential.

Embracing technology in unprecedented ways provides a solution to labor shortages.

The use of tech is one of the few realistic ways to lessen the negative impact of the current labor shortages and unsustainable labor costs. Not only can software solutions reduce staffing needs by a significant percentage, but it also satisfies today’s tech-savvy guests and augments their experience in planning group travel.

According to the 2022 Hotelier Technology Sentiment Report, the adoption of contactless technology increased by 66% during the pandemic. In the last two years, hotels have continued to spend 31% more on technology.

While the volume of group travel is expected to continue rising, further data reveals that significant changes will persist. This includes the average lead-in time for an RFP, which has already been shortened by 30 days. Hoteliers have combated the issue of shorter timeframes by placing more capabilities into their guests’ hands.

Digital technology for room block management as an example, allows fewer people to manage more. It offers a resolution for accommodating groups in less time by administering live updates on room blocks, reservation changes, and upsell opportunities. With data always available, attrition concerns become more actionable ahead of time.

Having one operating tool that digitizes a process has become the normal guest expectation, but it also offers convenient advantages to hoteliers, employees, planners, and guests alike.

Given the challenges of today, incorporating technology into hotel operations is necessary to minimize human error, maximize efficiency and improve the guest experience.

Not only can software solutions reduce staffing needs, but it also satisfies today’s tech-savvy guests and augments their experience in planning group travel.

Industry technology is a business opportunity to enhance the guest experience.

Five-star service means something different to every customer now, but having the capabilities to individualize each service, for each group, and for every guest, makes the experience personal.

With prompt communication and group-activity tracking, hoteliers can follow the pace of group bookings. These real-time insights help to understand your customers and prepare for ways to personalize their experience. Technology gives a hotelier the opportunity to approach each booking with a plan to customize guest services more than ever before.

Integrated systems allow you to know more about each reservation so you can do more for each guest. Communication and preparation will be key to winning business in the future of group travel with real-time data playing a central role in successfully improving relationships and building positive guest experiences for all the return visits to come.

Experiences matter: Giving more value with offers & incentives create major potential for hoteliers

Experiences matter: Giving more value with offers & incentives create major potential for hoteliers

From the shadows of the Great Depression to more than 15 million educated students in debt, the generational saving vs spending tug-of-war taught us that material things can be taken away. The economic shifts have tended to culturally shift perspectives as well as our spending habits.

However, acquiring things appears to no longer dictate class or status—at least, not like it used to. Although our lifestyle is largely impacted by what we can afford, we’ve decided it serves us better to ask, “What does this afford me?”

Nearly 1/3 of Americans now prioritize experiences over products—providing clear advantages for hoteliers.

Research shows the shift from buying material things to procuring experiences due to a higher perceived value. Buying habits demonstrate less concern with the status quo and less commitment to big purchases because they feel more like limiting factors in life. We want to be free to carpe our diem. The choice to experience life’s next adventure means we value access over ownership.

And now we have Instagram and TikTok to put them on full display.

The choice to experience life’s next adventure means we value access over ownership.

 

Social Media: A Stage for Sharing

The rise of social media has manifested a world that markets lifestyle as much as, if not more than, acquiring items. Digital diaries and social scrapbooks that showcase life’s wildest adventures like photographs of sublime destinations, highlight reels, luxury retreats, authentic cuisine, and local boutique shops.

Experiences produce Instagram-worthy content because they favor more engagement than showing off designer shoes. Posts that advertise the action of “living life” generate more coveted attention, likes, comments, and ultimately, connections.

Although, the growth of the experiential economy doesn’t solely rest on our shift in detaching from material things. It also rests on our attachment to others. Studies have found that spending money on experiences brings more lasting joy because experiences are something we can share.

Spending money on experiences brings more lasting joy because experiences are something we can share.

 

Memories are More Valuable Than Material

Everything we experience leaves its mark on our brains. For years, research has shown that, over time, our experiences can change our nervous systems and reshape our minds, literally.

So, our experiences become memories and those memories drive our emotions and those emotions drive our spending habits. As a result, consumers continue to seek out or promote brands, hotels included, that leave a lasting impression. As more research shows, experiential rewards have the highest effectiveness.

That sense of connection leaves us with a feeling that we attach to the memory of each experience. Creating a memory, like discovering a milestone in life, tasting the flavors of another culture, or taking a day off from work to feel pampered, is deemed meaningful to our lives and therefore, worth the value of our dollar.

 

Anticipation vs. the Experience

Because, of course, satisfaction doesn’t only come the moment something is experienced. It comes in the form of anticipation—where the excitement builds prior to the payoff.

Our experiences start long before we actually experience them. When anticipating dinner at a new restaurant, we look ahead at the menu online. Once we book a spa treatment, we can relax our shoulders at the thought of finally feeling better. Planning a couple’s weekend away builds the butterflies of anticipation because we can’t wait to have any other obligation than being together. Scheduling a tee time with old friends leaves us excited and looking forward to 18-holes of friendly competition and catching up.

To a hotel guest, satisfaction is directly connected with the experience. Equally, guest satisfaction is directly connected with business performance. With guests focused on purpose-driven experiences, hoteliers that adapt to offer more experience-focused services will succeed in the changing world. The more personal the experience, the more memorable, which offers more value to a customer. The hotelier’s benefit is loyalty.

Deloitte studies say 39% of guests are likely to spend more on a personalized experience and over 30% more than the average hospitality guest. Great experiences increase guest satisfaction and the likelihood of that customer coming back. 41% will tell friends and family about their experience, which increases revenue, brand loyalty, and generates marketing for a business.

Technology has made it widely popular and easily accessible for properties to offer unique experiences and services. Especially for hoteliers that can capitalize on their own amenities. For example, an online gifting program that offers creative and flexible experiences, providing guests with more value than an impersonal gift card.

Memorable experiences are a catalyst for human connection – something that provides genuine value to today’s guests. We no longer presume material possessions define success. Buying experiences is a purpose-driven chance to connect.

While buying a product might make us happy, initially, an experience elicits more meaning and lasts longer than any material item.

Learn more about GroupSync Gifting>

A Product Story: How Instant Booking became the new standard for transparency in group travel

A Product Story: How Instant Booking became the new standard for transparency in group travel

For years, the process that’s connected group travel planners with the right hotels for an event, meeting or group has relied on the Request for Proposal (RFP) system — a system which was, in large part, developed by hoteliers and catered to their own needs, timing and internal sales processes.

This “old school” way of doing things created friction and inefficiencies that have long been unaddressed, leaving planners shortchanged and facing hours of work to source properties without the information that would help them quickly and easily find the hotels that best match their needs.

While it’s understandable that the hoteliers’ need for a lot of specific information beforehand led to the older, complex RFP process. And to be clear, our flagship product GroupSync includes an RFP process, a process that will continually be needed as I mention further below. It’s one that has evolved to a faster, more efficient way to conduct RFPs – by providing deeper relevancy and a more streamlined process.

But now, advanced technology and new ways of thinking have opened the door to innovating a new solution for hotel sourcing and booking for groups — one that does a better job at bridging the gap between a planner’s need for information to more easily and efficiently source, and the hotel’s desire to simply and easily book the best groups for their property.

This is exactly what we set out to create when building one of the most game-changing features of our GroupSync hotel sourcing solution: Instant Booking. And while you are likely familiar with traditional solutions for direct booking or RFPs, we designed our product to be so much more than that. But before we dive into Instant Booking further, let’s do a quick recap of the more common terminology for group booking processes and their differences.

RFP vs. Direct booking vs. Instant Booking

The RFP

In the group travel business, there’s a decades-long practice of sending a Request for Proposal (RFP) to all the hotels a planner thinks might be a good fit to host their meeting, event, or overnight group stay. They do this, however, without any visibility into room rates or availability at these properties. The planner has no way to know if a hotel falls within budget, or if it has rooms or space to accommodate their group until a response to the RFP is received from the hotel.

Depending on the complexity of the request, this can create a long waiting and proposal process where event organizers find themselves in limbo before knowing which hotels may be able to accommodate their needs. This process becomes even more frustrating when the request is for a simpler, less-complex room block or meeting space booking.

Hoteliers, for their part, receive hundreds (if not thousands) of RFPs every month. They must dedicate resources to reviewing and processing these requests, sifting through the opportunities that fit their property’s inventory, availability, and align with the planners needs from a rate, amenities, and service offering perspective. Unfortunately, the majority of RFPs hoteliers receive do not fit — but they still have to be processed regardless. To Groups360, this felt like a process ready for improvement.

Direct Booking

“Direct booking” describes any room reservation that was made in one instant, online transaction — no RFP waiting period necessary. Direct booking has long been the practice for transient business and when individual group travelers reserve their own rooms. But when it comes to directly booking groups (which hoteliers typically define as a reservation of nine hotel rooms or more), it’s been a challenge to create the same efficiency and move away from the RFP process.

That’s partially because RFPs do have their time and place. While meetings of all size require at least some planning, there is a difference in planning a three-day corporate offsite that requires a dozen sleeping rooms, a meeting room and some snacks, vs. flying 6,000 people to Las Vegas for a week of networking, entertainment and speaking engagements in multiple ballrooms. Those larger events will continue to rely on the RFP process due to the sheer complexity and scale. But until now, planners were spending the same amount of time — an average of 75 days — to source and book both large and small group events.

Instant Booking

Which leads us back to why we created Instant Booking. Instant Booking is the industry’s first ever direct booking option at scale for groups — meaning event organizers can book both hotel room blocks and meeting space in one instant, online transaction. It’s exclusive to our GroupSync sourcing solution, and after spending years helping to develop the feature, I can point to many legitimate reasons why it’s taken hoteliers and planners decades to figure this out. But there were a couple pain points that created our biggest hurdles:

    1. It takes serious industry knowledge, connections and incentives to get the biggest hotel brands on board with changing industry norms. Groups360 was founded by hotel veterans, and our investors include the biggest brand names in hospitality. But it took the combination of all the above, plus an incredible time investment, to bring hospitality’s big players together and agree to make such a deep, permanent change in the way business is done.
    2. We had to find a way to make it work without paid placements in our search results. Kemp Gallineau, Groups360’s CEO and co-founder, was adamant about creating a transparent search platform that avoided pay-for-play placements. Many of the legacy sourcing systems that planners and hoteliers have used until now turn out search results that aren’t based on an event planner’s preferences, but rather, based on properties that have paid to show up in a similar search. Imagine how frustrating it would be if, every time you searched on Google, you had to sift through pages of paid ads that were completely irrelevant to your needs? We’re proud to have created a sourcing solution that generates the most relevant, specific options for organizers as they’re planning their event.

 

What group travel planners can gain from Instant Booking:

The game-changing new ability to instantly secure a room block reservation and the meeting space that they need in one single online transaction.

  • Without GroupSync Instant Booking, planners that need to book more than nine hotel rooms must go through multiple transactions, plus weeks or even months of waiting and back-and-forth with hotels relying on legacy RFPs before booking.

Get smaller meetings off their plate so they can invest more time planning large-scale events.

  • The back-and-forth of the traditional RFP process is too much overhead for smaller, simpler events. We save RFPs for larger more complex meetings that require a lot of collaboration and coordination and make it easy to get the small stuff completed quickly.

Access to an unprecedented level of visibility into hotel inventory and real-time pricing data.

  • Before GroupSync, planners tell us they tend to book with the hotels that they know about already. But our marketplace gives you information about destinations or cities that you might not have considered before, with search results delivered via our unbiased scoring algorithm based on the planner’s needs and priorities. And here’s the bonus: this level of visibility into real-time rates and availability also helps planners send a better, more qualified RFP should they choose to do so. By having the information and search results focus on those hotels that are within budget and have availability, we are creating a more efficient marketplace.

 

What hoteliers gain from Instant Booking:

An automated source of group business, lifting some of the burden to review RFPs so that hotel sales teams with limited bandwidth can focus on booking better-fit, more profitable events.

  • “Lead spam,” or RFP spam, is a real thing for most hotel sales managers. Instant Booking streamlines and automates booking for smaller group business so that there is more time to dedicate toward building planner relationships and ensuring large events run smoothly.

A higher volume of group business that’s streamlined and fills key need dates for a property.

  • With smaller teams on hotel staff and hundreds or thousands of RFPs coming in every month, there’s simply not enough time to address all the requests that hotels receive. This leads to dissatisfaction and poor customer service among one of the most vital customer types — meeting planners. Instant Booking enables a planner to book without having to engage directly with hotel staff, filling up group inventory fast and more efficiently, creating time for hotel sales to focus on providing great service to their clients.

 

It’s all about transparency

For more than 50 years, the older RFP process has been the standard operating model for organizing group meetings and events. It’s created a huge imbalance of information that gives hoteliers leverage over event organizers — but we’re trying to show that transparency actually creates a higher quality experience for the planner, the hotel, and at the end of the day, for the ultimate consumer: the attendee.

In-person meetings and events are back—with some changes

In-person meetings and events are back—with some changes

While a semi-return to normal is welcome after more than two years of a worldwide pandemic, event planners remain divided about the best way to host. In-person? Virtual? A hybrid of the two?

Planners again have the opportunity for in-person business events, with flexibility due to the tech lessons learned along the way. The best course isn’t clear-cut and depends on an organization’s priorities; what’s more, attendees will have their own personal safety concerns.

Planners in the B2B space, specifically, know in-person events and trade shows drive the most conversions. While we’re all eager to see people in person again—without “Sorry, you cut out there for a minute” and “Is it my connection or yours?”—there are COVID safety guidelines to keep your IRL event safe and smooth.

 

Why you might want to meet in person again

First, and most notably, the severity of Omicron is diminishing. While it is still raging in hot spots, fewer cases are severe enough to result in ICU stays.

While there’s still a ways to go, the majority of Americans are vaccinated. As of April 20, 2022, 66% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and 77.4% have received at least one dose.

And since it’s safer to meet in real life now, what’s most notable about considering a return to these events is this: the people want it. A whopping 96% of planners say they will opt for an in-person event in 2022, with only 4% waiting until next year, according to a March 2022 Northstar Meetings Group survey.

Planners’ enthusiasm and optimism is promising for businesses, which see stronger engagement with in-person events that get people out from behind their computers and again interacting with co-workers and associates.

Most companies have money to burn on meeting space and travel, too. American Express’s 2022 Global Meetings and Events Forecast survey found 64% of meeting professionals say their overall meeting budget is increasing this year.

 

How to make it work: in-person event considerations

You’ve got the desire and the cash, so … how do you make it happen? The landscape looks different now, so the event-planning playbook has been revised.

Here’s everything you need to know so your group can meet in person again:

  1. Update your meeting policy: Be specific about your company’s requirements for in-person attendance, health screenings, and safety measures so everyone’s prepared and knows what to expect.
  2. Find a large enough space to accommodate social distancing: Within that updated meeting policy, if 6 feet of social distancing is a priority, remember you’ll need a bigger room that allows for this. Plan your seating arrangement in advance.
  3. Review the fine print of venue contract changes: Some venues have changed their capacity restrictions specifically to accommodate social distancing.
  4. Inspect travel guidelines: Will any event attendees fly in from out of the country? The government has mandated travel restrictions that require anyone traveling into the United States to show COVID-related documentation and contact tracing information, or proof of vaccination. This might also mean a temperature check upon landing. Airlines have policies that require some travelers to show their negative COVID test or even quarantine.
  5. Allow for individualized attendance opt-outs: Some attendees will know early on that an in-person meeting won’t work for them, while others will waver until the last minute. Using a room block management solution like GroupSync Housing makes it easier to manage attendee rooms and preferences.
  6. Follow local governments’ masking restrictions, as well as venue requirements like temperature checks and symptom screening: The rules differ from town to town, so don’t assume the law at home is the same as your destination. And if your event location isn’t set in stone, you might plan it based on the local travel and health restrictions.
  7. Define your emergency course of action: Fingers crossed, you won’t need this —- but decide exactly what will happen if someone develops symptoms or tests positive for COVID at the event. Who does that individual need to contact first, and what steps will you follow to keep everyone safe?

 

The cons of virtual events

As you see, there are new considerations for planning an in-person event in 2022. Don’t let these changes force you into continuing to host virtual events, though.

Sure, there are pros to hosting online events: they’re environmentally friendly, and your group has likely grown comfortable with the technology. Yet the cons do include two big hurdles that in-person events can clear:

Engagement

Digital fatigue = all-around fatigue. People have grown tired of attending meeting after meeting from behind a screen. Sometimes, admittedly, their attention moves to something else in another browser window.

To combat this, organizations are incorporating wellness activities, meal delivery, entertainment, games, and more special offerings to keep attendees interested — all of which add more to the overall budget.

Cost

There’s a slight difference in cost for in-person vs. virtual or hybrid events, but there’s a difference nonetheless. Depending on your event’s size, it adds up.

According to American Express’s 2022 Global Meetings and Events Forecast: “The cost per attendee per day for in-person meetings ranges from a low of $484 for small and simple meetings to a high of $851 for incentives and special events (in U.S. dollars). For virtual and hybrid meetings, the cost per attendee per day ranges from $501 for small and simple meetings to $776 for incentives and special events.”

 

So, is virtual event planning a thing of the past?

In a word, no. Worldwide, the virtual events market is forecast to reach $504.76 billion by 2028 according to a 2021 Research and Markets report, so virtual and hybrid events are firmly here to stay.

For one, they’re more inclusive for people of different capabilities or family roles, for whom travel can be challenging.

Second, and perhaps most obviously, tech makes it possible. What started as a pandemic stop-gap has turned into a bonafide win for companies wanting to collaborate on big ideas in a shared space.

 

Next steps

These new considerations for in-person event planning will become old hat in no time, so if you’ve missed gladhanding, you can definitely make it happen.

Plus, GroupSync makes planning today’s live events easy, even with COVID safety guidelines. Source available meeting spaces based on size, get faster hotel RFP proposal responses, and even book your event — all in one place.