Off the beaten path: Consider these 5 destinations for your next event

Off the beaten path: Consider these 5 destinations for your next event

Orlando might be the top U.S. choice for hosting meetings, but it doesn’t have to be O-Town or bust. There are other cities not commonly considered for meetings and events that might work in your organization’s favor.

But how do you choose from so many unknown destinations? Well, that’s where we come in. Based on GroupSync data and our own travel experiences, the team at Groups360 has selected five cities to shine a spotlight on to get you thinking beyond the destination status quo.

What matters when sourcing a city?
While we will encourage you to think outside the box when picking a host city for your next event, let’s also acknowledge there is a box. A group travel or event planner’s must-have search criteria typically includes:

1. Easy air travel
2. Convention center and meeting room capacity
3. Entertainment opportunities
4. Public transportation

If you know your needs for the above but are stumped when it comes to the destination, the below list offers some guidance. GroupSync’s AI will also make city recommendations suited to your preferences and search criteria.

Our top 5 destinations to consider for meetings and events

Myrtle Beach

Anaheim, CA

We can all agree the hotspot San Diego is beautiful this time of year—no matter which season you’re reading this. Yet take a mostly coastline drive north, and you’ll be in Anaheim in less than two hours.

It’s got theme parks, sure. Plenty of them. (Insider tip: Opt for hotels close to the Anaheim Convention Center if you plan to wear your mouse ears, as they’re still a short drive from the parks while being on the more economical end.)

The Anaheim Resort, which contains the convention center, is your one-stop shop. Disneyland. Meeting space. Hotel rooms. Restaurants. Shops. Hosting more than 25 million visitors a year, it’s still being developed and built out.

Your outdoors-loving group will still enjoy California’s beauty while bonding, as Anaheim GardenWalk is considered an “eatertainment” destination. Its venues accommodate groups from large to small, at 3,300 capacity down to 60.

Don’t miss it: Bringing Fido along? No judgment. Anaheim has dozens of pet-friendly hotel accommodations, and some parks even offer daytime boarding.

Start here: Visit Anaheim

Myrtle Beach

Fort Myers, FL

Fort Myers is so intent on increasing its event capacity exposure that its Conference Services team partners with meeting planners for some of the heavy lifting. That includes touring and inspecting facilities, meeting with local suppliers, and convention registration assistance, all of which is especially helpful for part-time planners.

Lee County also offers grants and incentives to companies booking meetings that are held by a specific date.

You might be here for work, but don’t miss the opportunity to recharge at the beach. A short drive away, Sanibel Island’s beaches are known for their shelling, a meditative and relaxing hobby. There’s even a name for those seen taking part in the practice: the Sanibel Stoop.

In the evening, walk around the downtown core’s River District before showtime at the Florida Repertory Theater, which the Wall Street Journal called “one of America’s Top Repertory Companies.”

Don’t miss it: If you’re here for the weather, get the full outdoor experience by chartering a boat at one of 20 marinas.

Start here: Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach, SC

There’s a preconception about Myrtle Beach that isn’t wrong:

✓ Sandy beaches
✓ Golf courses
✓ Seafood
✓ Hotels galore (425, at last count)
✓ Tourism ($7 billion in annual economic impact)

Yet it’s an ideal conference, trade show, and meeting choice, too. The Myrtle Beach Convention Center—welcoming more than 14 million visitors each year—is connected to the Sheraton and steps away from the beach (which, let’s be honest, remains the main draw).

To take advantage of that ocean breeze, opt for the Events Plaza. The hotel and convention center’s concessionaire provide all food and beverage services, meaning one less vendor for you to book.

Don’t miss it: Visit Myrtle Beach and the Champion Autism Network partner to train staff at hotels and restaurants so they’re autism-aware and experiences are sensory-friendly. The Myrtle Beach International Airport even has a quiet room for decompressing before or after a flight.

Start here: Visit Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

San Antonio skyline

San Antonio, TX

While Austin’s been keeping it weird, San Antonio’s been keeping it beautiful. USAToday called the city’s 15-mile River Walk one of the country’s 10 most attractive sights—and luckily the 1.6 million-square-foot Henry B. González Convention Center sits right on it.

Yet the River Walk isn’t the only gem. There’s LEGOLAND Discovery Center, the Carver Community Cultural Center, and a steady stream of events celebrating the city’s diversity. Book a shoulder stay at one of the hundreds of hotels for extra exploration time.

As for selling your higher-ups on San Antonio, the city’s made it easy to present on the meeting and event destination: Find B-roll, descriptive text, floor plans, and more on its website.

Don’t miss it: As the seventh-biggest city in the United States, San Antonio covers its bases for visitors to easily navigate—by double-decker bus, plane, boat, bike, foot, and public transit.

Start here: Visit San Antonio and Visit San Antonio – Meetings

Myrtle Beach

Savannah, GA

While Atlanta is a perennial favorite due to its plethora of hotel rooms and reasonable average room rate, the very fact that the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the country’s busiest airport is a deterrent. It might feel efficient to fly your team into this major hub, but after navigating through the nearly 200 gates among thousands of fellow travelers, don’t forget you still have post-airport traffic to contend with.

Why Savannah? First, it’s downright charming with its Spanish moss-draped parks, riverboat cruises, and architectural tours. It’s also extremely walkable, due to the city’s grid.

Before you let loose for playtime, though, consider the Savannah Convention Center’s impressive stats:

● A 330,000 sq. ft. complex
● Divisible exhibit space of 100,000 sq. ft.
● 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space
● A 25,000 sq. ft. Grand Ballroom
● 367-seat auditorium

Don’t miss it: The convention center defines its sustainability practices, and choosing a lesser-known location like Savannah shows you’re already considering your impact.

Start here: Visit Savannah

Bonus Destination

Myrtle Beach

Omaha, NE

Omaha, named after a Native American Tribe, means “Those going against the wind or current.” That’s what you’d be doing by planning a meeting in this unexpected event destination—a city that claims to have invented the Reuben sandwich, cake mix, and TV dinners.

Here’s why we love it:

1. Flight ease: nonstop service to 30 busy airports
2. Convention center: CHI Health Center Omaha (346,000 sq. ft.) is 4 miles from the airport
3. Rooms galore: 15,000+ throughout metro
4. Transportation: taxis, rideshares, hotel shuttle service, rental vehicles, motorcoaches, and pedicabs

Don’t miss it: Also unexpected when it comes to Omaha? Its zoo—known as one of the best in the United States—is home to the continent’s largest indoor rainforest. The zoo’s millions of annual visitors can vouch for it.

Start here: Visit Omaha

Reinvigorate your experience by choosing a unique city

Group travel and event planners can burn out on only having the same handful of options. Opting for a unique city can bring some much-needed change as well as give attendees an experience to look forward to.

While GroupSync will always provide you with alternative destination ideas based on your travel and event requirements, be on the lookout for future blog articles offering up additional recommendations.

Sustainable Group Travel: 4 Tips When Booking Hotels

Sustainable Group Travel: 4 Tips When Booking Hotels

Looking for ways to minimize your company’s environmental impact when hosting events, meetings, or groups? Of course you are. Group travel might raise concerns when sustainability is a company priority, but sustainable event planning is still achievable, even if attendees must travel from several cities to reach your event.

We’ve entered a new era of group travel, and travel’s effect on climate change can’t be ignored. While it’s difficult to be 100% sustainable, there are still ways to make a small impact and highlight the importance of sustainable practices.

What is sustainable travel?

Sustainability is promoting and undoing harmful human impact on the natural environment, including an economic, social, and supply chain perspective. Earth-friendly travel is the effort to minimize all-round impact, often focused on lowering carbon emissions.

For businesses, the desire to embrace this worldview can conflict with cost containment: Sustainability often comes with a higher price tag, particularly as travel prices rise.

Create more sustainable group travel practices

Environmentally-minded organizations, group travel organizers and event planners grow closer to sustainable travel practices simply by booking hotels smarter. A shift in perspective — such as choosing a lesser-known location, patronizing local businesses during travel, and actively reducing waste at your event — contributes to a positive impact.

Here are four tips to get started:

1. Put on your walking shoes

Cut down on fuel use and greenhouse gasses from driving to and from your selected venue by booking hotels within walking distance.

With GroupSync Marketplace, you can achieve exactly that: Filter your search by address and proximity so results meet this criteria. Searching, sourcing, and booking for a solution matching your needs, budgets, and amenities has never been easier.

 

search boxes and filters for hotels

 

A walking commute is also the best way to get to know the city you’re visiting, making you more likely to duck into a local bagel shop and put money back into the community.

“[Shopping locally] allows for a more circular economy, which affects other sustainability factors like cultural protection, local sourcing, and so on,” said Jaclyn Yost, founder and CEO of ecomadic, an online green travel magazine.

When walking is a challenge, comfort doesn’t have to sacrifice sustainability: Many cities’ public transportation systems make it easier to get from A to B, though unfamiliar attendees could be transportation-shy. Research and share how to use public transport so your group feels comfortable. Or, you might also plan ahead so your group has a clear carpool plan.

“Event planners should make sure to consider ADA and accessibility needs when planning their event to be truly sustainable,” said Hazel Horvath, founder and CEO of Ecolytics, which works with businesses to assess and improve their environmental impact.

Bonus point: If carbon-intensive air travel isn’t a must—say you’re traveling within Europe—opt for the train. Pluses of railway travel include site-seeing opportunities, group socializing, work time, and rest.

2. Book hotels with onsite amenities

Event planners can make it ultra-easy for attendees by booking a meeting space and accommodations at the same venue to reduce the need to travel. Beyond a commute, though, consider a hotel’s additional offerings, accounting for every beat of a guest’s experience:

Transportation:
Does it have an airport shuttle?
Can you rent bikes or does it provide bike storage?
Are there electric vehicle recharging stations?
Will it subsidize public transportation passes?

Temperature regulation:
Does its meeting rooms have digital thermostats?
Are there occupancy sensors to control temperature and lights?

Housekeeping:
Does it track water usage and have a conservation practice?
Are there water bottle refill stations?
Do guest rooms have bulk shampoo dispensers?

Bonus point: A hotel’s amenities can go beyond a one-off experience. Hotels that are really embracing these efforts think long-term, like vegetable gardens, beekeeping, timed landscaping water systems, green infrastructure, monthly beach cleanups, and donating extra food. These hotels are growing from a “me” responsibility (a single guest’s stay) to a “we” responsibility (contributing to the community at large).

3. Reduce waste

Once working with a venue that has the same Earth-first approach, planners need to think through their own event supplies: name tags, signs, and the many paper products that are often trashed afterward.

Not only can you move to suppliers that make the green choice their standard, you can reduce plastic use, single-use signage, plastic straws, and more. Some small shifts that have a big impact:

● Event signage listing the date → Signs with generic branding (can be reused)
● Mandatory attendance → Optional attendance (incorporating virtual attendance)
● Swag bag with useless items → Canvas swag bag with metal straw, reusable water bottle, a natural fiber bento box, ballcap made from recycled fabric, biodegradable ballpoint pen, etc. (More ideas can be found here.)

Bonus point: Make sustainability part of your meeting or event’s program. Point out what efforts have been taken—here are the recycling bins, these are compostable forks, this is why we’re using a QR code instead of printed materials—so the conversation is encouraged to continue.

 

sustainable meeting specifications on a sign

 

4. Push hotels on their sustainability policy

Hotels that have incorporated sustainable practices are likely already touting their efforts. Some, like Marriott International, are being recognized for their commitment.

 

twitter example of Marriott practicing sustainable hotel principles

 

Yet organizations and companies say they feel held back by their inability to determine the authenticity of sustainability claims. The commonly used term “greenwashing” is when a company misleads consumers about its environmental efforts.

A hotel’s sustainable practices may not be entirely altruistic, of course. Just think about when the hotel industry moved to let guests skip new towels each day. This saves water, sure, yet it also lowers a hotel’s laundry costs.

Ask hotels to be specific about how they incorporate sustainable practices, and request a copy of their environmental policy. When communicating with hotels via a GroupSync RFP, questions to ask include:

1. Do you use renewable energy sources?
2. What steps have you taken to reduce your carbon footprint?
3. Are you able to work with me to make my event carbon neutral?
4. Our event will include some paper and plastic products. How can we reduce on-site waste and make recycling and composting easier?

Bonus point: Research a hotel’s third-party certifications to see how success is measured, as not all are created equal, Horvath said. She recommended looking at how many metrics are tracked and how claims are verified to start with.

Small steps toward social responsibility make a difference

The hard-hit travel and tourism industry is still recovering from 2020 losses of $4.5 trillion GDP and 62 million jobs, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s economic and trends report. Yet, the sector remains focused on rebuilding better than before, prioritizing climate and environmental issues “not only on ethical grounds, but also because the travellers of tomorrow will demand it.”

Sustainability is both fashionable and here to stay, and being eco-friendly can feel next to impossible when planning for group travel and events. Yet there are small, minimally intrusive ways to make a lasting impact on the planet. Every little bit helps. Just like how hotels’ sustainability efforts are a win-win for them, so, too, is an organization’s work toward greener travel operations.

Planner Stories: Simplifying Group Hotel Booking for Conferences

Planner Stories: Simplifying Group Hotel Booking for Conferences

As CEO & founder of the Academic Orthopaedic Consortium, a company that organizes university-based musculoskeletal enterprises across the United States, Michael Gagnon was looking for a better way to lock in superior hotel destinations and negotiated rates for his annual meeting. Running a company with a rapidly expanding membership base left him with little time to identify and negotiate with hotels each year.

In my five years managing accounts for part-time planner customers, I’ve found that this is a common scenario. Not all event planners intentionally landed in their role. Often, they’ve taken on the task to support an overloaded team. Or maybe planning was one of their duties while the company was still small, but now that it’s grown, they’re being pulled in too many directions.

There’s no dispute, even part-time event planning can be a complex and busy job that requires your time, often it’s a lot of time. Not only are you fielding multiple websites and sources of hotel information to find and narrow down your shortlist, just to get to the point of submitting a variety of hotel RFPs and negotiating hotel rates.

Fortunately, a colleague referred Michael to our hotel booking solution for groups, GroupSync.

“For people who plan large meetings,” Michael said, “there’s nothing they can do on their own that could ever remotely approach what GroupSync can do. In the past, I personally had to handle it all, from identifying suitable hotels to negotiating with those hotels for everything from room rates to the price of bagels. It was exhausting, highly inefficient, and ultimately not cost-effective.”

 

GroupSync: A crystal ball with better data

After a huge drop in hotel/motel market size in 2020—from $210.74 billion in 2019 to $93.07 billion in 2020—the industry is recovering. Conference organizers like Michael are glad to again gather with their community in person, and I find it rewarding to witness planners getting the best deals out there using GroupSync. After all, thanks to our partnership with Smith Travel Research, a hotel industry data pipeline, GroupSync is a sourcing solution with the latest market data.

GroupSync employs that data to forecast rates, know market occupancy, and more. In the past, data like this wasn’t planner-facing to help educate buyers while they’re shopping to know if they could, for example, afford the market on their preferred dates or have the potential to negotiate for better concessions.

I like to think of this GroupSync-educated buyer as having a crystal ball empowering them to make better business decisions. The software shows you exactly what you want, asked and answered, with no day-of surprises.

 

“For people who plan large meetings, there’s nothing they can do on their own that could ever remotely approach what GroupSync can do.”

It’s time to reconsider your event planning tools

A Splash research report found the majority of companies haven’t changed their pre-pandemic event marketing tools. Yet the landscape is different now, and with event costs rising, a reevaluation of tools that worked before is necessary.

Online comparison shopping is what we’ve created for the meetings industry. If you’re shopping online for a car or a house, you’d educate yourself on market rates, reviews, extra features, and more. This is what GroupSync is for meeting planners and hotels—it’s the one place they can gather all their information so that by the time they need to book their hotel, they can make a quick decision armed with all data.

 

Easing your group hotel booking pain points

GroupSync was built by veteran hoteliers with decades of experience in hotel sales, group travel and event planning. Our solution—specifically created to meet the unique needs of part-time planners and seasoned event organizers—addresses hotel booking pain points and brings innovations to the industry that no other solution has.

Michael and other meeting planners I speak with say they find that GroupSync alleviates so many of their pain points, including:

1. Uncertainty about getting the best deal
2. Lack of confidence while negotiating hotel rates
3. Have specific criteria for a venue but overwhelmed by options
4. Can’t or don’t want to spend a lot of money on an event planner
5. Need to get things done quickly (like yesterday)

Let’s take a look at how GroupSync addresses each of the above frustrations.

 

1. Uncertainty about getting the best deal

To me, the winning piece of our tech’s value is just how much data we have access to. It looks beyond a specific date’s room rates to help you forecast a budget and know where a hotel’s data falls within the market.

Because GroupSync pulls together the most important data in one place, planners are set up for deal success.

2. Lack of confidence while negotiating hotel rates

Clients have free, direct GroupSync access without needing to rely on us as an intermediary. We turn over all available search results—no information withheld, no paid placements or ad redirection—to our users so they can negotiate from a more informed, empowered position.

In Michael’s case, he coupled his negotiation skills with all the supporting data he could ever want to plan the exact right event for his organization.

3. Have specific criteria for a venue but overwhelmed by options

GroupSync Marketplace shows you hotels that are scored based on how well they meet your criteria. That includes budget, airport proximity, weather, group size, meeting space, and more.

Planners can get as specific as they need to: For Michael, that included a centrally located U.S. city with open water access that’s within 30 minutes of an airport with a lot of direct flights. He also wanted a $269 or lower room rate and access to a meeting space with a specified square footage baseline.

4. Can’t or don’t want to spend a lot of money on an event planner

A limited budget means outsourcing your hotel sourcing isn’t an option for you. Already stretched, you also don’t have time to account for the learning curve of a complicated hotel booking solution for your group.

GroupSync’s intuitive interface makes it easy to search, compare destinations and properties, submit proposals, and book hotels, thus eliminating the need for outsourcing your hotel booking. Necessary details—the only ones you care about—are broken down for you to easily review and make decisions.

“The way the platform is laid out visually makes complete sense,” Michael said. “The information that’s included for properties and destinations, the rates, the details—it’s all very easy to navigate.”

5. Need to get things done quickly (like yesterday)

On average, traditional hotel sourcing—from the start of a search to closing the RFP—takes planners 75 days.

With GroupSync, the average sourcing time is only 12 days. That’s an average savings of more than 60 days (two months!) of time spent sourcing. And because our solution is directly integrated with the world’s leading hotel brands, response times can be as low as 24-48 hours. (I once sourced hotels in Ireland for a program. Because of the time difference, I sent RFPs to 10 properties before going to bed—and woke to seven responses the next morning.)

And when planners choose Instant Booking for their smaller events, there’s even less time spent since the transaction is—you guessed it—instant.

 

“The time savings and the financial savings are game-changing..I would never go back to doing this on my own.”

Find the right hotel fit with GroupSync

Time is money, and that’s why planners switch to GroupSync. They value their time, and efficiency is crucial. Efficient teams save a ton of money. Think about how much you pay someone for two months of work, even at an hourly rate. Using GroupSync, Michael found an exact fit for his needs without signing a paycheck. It’s worth emphasizing one more time: GroupSync saves the monetary investment of two months.

The biggest testimonial is Michael’s continued use of GroupSync. Since planning his symposium in Austin, he’s used GroupSync to book another room block with meeting space in Philadelphia, and a board of directors retreat in the Cayman Islands. That’s three meetings, sourced and booked, since his initial outreach.

“I would not only recommend, but urge, every group that schedules meetings to stop doing this on your own and to instead try GroupSync for at least one meeting. The time savings and the financial savings are game-changing. You get these reports that are delivered straight to your desktop, containing all of the essentials and rates and locations that are far better than anything you could achieve on your own. I would never go back to doing this on my own.” said Michael.

Want to learn more? Connect with us today and see how GroupSync makes hotel booking for groups a faster and simpler process.

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.

Your Ideal Booking Window: Sourcing Too Early or Too Late?

Your Ideal Booking Window: Sourcing Too Early or Too Late?

When it comes to getting the best meeting package, timing really is everything. And due to the pandemic and its consequent economic fallout, hoteliers and event planners have been forced to reorganize and find new ways to streamline their business. Finding the right time to source in an industry that’s been flipped on its head is a brand-new challenge. It’s not uncommon for corporate event planners to fit in hotel and venue sourcing when they have the time — or to source at a specific time simply out of habit.

However, the timing of your venue search has a massive impact on your event and budget. Industry experts agree that sourcing at the wrong time can be extremely costly. Booking a program too late could affect your incentives, rate offers and attrition/cancellation allowance while limiting your options and undermining your negotiating power.

On the other hand, sourcing too soon could mean receiving less than ideal offers from hotels. For dates far into the future, a hotel’s primary focus is booking base business with full-house groups or programs requiring a minimum of 80% of the property’s guest rooms and meeting space.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the ideal booking window. It’s a delicate balance that requires a balance of knowing what your event’s value brings, and leveraging available data to help make faster, better decisions.

Ryan Morris, vice president of sales, Americas for Groups360 and former associate director of sales at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Conference Center, shares what every event planner — from newbies to veterans — can do to determine their program’s ideal booking window.

 

Understand the value of your meeting

A rule of thumb: The best time to source is when hotels want to sell. According to Morris, understanding the value of your meeting to a city and its hotels is crucial to lock in the best deal. One fundamental element many corporate event planners tend to overlook is a city’s supply and demand. After all, a city at 60% occupancy over your event dates will offer a drastically better package than a city already at 90% occupancy. Other vital factors that impact your booking window and your meeting’s value include the number of guest rooms and meeting space required.

Having a grasp of their program’s value was a game-changer for the National Swimming Pool Foundation, resulting in a savings of $21,000. Corporate event planner Michelle Kavanaugh wanted a unique destination with room rates under $170 for the four-day program (260 rooms on-peak). Within minutes, GroupSync found their preferred markets of Baltimore, Cincinnati and Detroit were more than 83-87% full over the event dates, with rates right at $170 and up. Meanwhile, Williamsburg, Virginia, came up with rates starting at $130-160, with lenient attrition and favorable concession packages and cancellation agreements.

Relevant destination and market data – before you send an RFP

Don’t lean on assumptions or even your previous experience in a city. Markets change all the time. What you may have experienced when booking a spring event in Denver last year will unlikely be true today. Instead, become familiar with the market occupancy and a city’s expected rates before sourcing.

Imagine how much stealthier you can work armed with this type of data for all major destination cities, including New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Diego and San Francisco. The ability to enhance the amount of data available to planners is why we’ve included projected room rates and availability — powered by STR, a leader in data intelligence for the hospitality industry — into our hotel group booking solution, GroupSync. Knowledge is power and gives you a favorable position when negotiating. Having this information ahead of time is vital to narrowing down destination and hotel choices and driving educated decisions. Plus, this info will tell you if a hotel’s offer is aligned with market expectations and mitigates the need to send RFPs just for ideas on rates and availability.

Hotel sales and revenue managers rely on data throughout the sales journey. With today’s technology and solutions evolving group travel and event planning, you can too.

 

Offer to sign within a tight timeline

Hotel sales managers are motivated by quarterly closings and sales goals. Because of this, they’ll be more driven to close proposals with meeting planners serious about sourcing, site inspecting and signing in a timely manner. In addition to your decision timeline, they will want to know if you’ve cast your sourcing net far and wide. How many other destinations or properties are you considering? Are they one out of 30 hotels or 10? If they have a higher chance of winning your business, they will be more motivated to offer the best package possible.

Achieving the ideal booking window doesn’t simply mean glancing at the calendar and working in reverse by several months or fitting it in when you have a chance. Understanding the value of your event and leveraging market data is the secret sauce to smarter sourcing.

 

Destination weddings are back and bigger than ever

Destination weddings are back and bigger than ever

You’ve long pictured the photos from your dream destination wedding: white shirts and khakis. A cotton dress. Bare feet in the sand. Eyes happily squinting in the sunlight.

But between now and putting together the photo album, there’s work to be done. First, you have to plan this event remotely, in a location you have limited knowledge of and won’t be able to visit before the big day.

But don’t write off the destination event just yet—organizing a wedding can actually be fun when you have the right resources to help.

Why have a destination wedding?

There are four big pluses to a nontraditional wedding:

  1. They tend to be less stressful. Many hotel venues offer wedding packages, with coordinators who handle local marriage license requirements, music, cake, the officiant, linens, seating, and everything in between.
  2. They’re surprisingly cost-effective. Before you dismiss destination weddings as an extravagant money-pit, you might be surprised by the numbers. And those numbers look even better if you honeymoon at the same location.
  3. You avoid family competition. Planning a wedding on neutral ground eliminates potential conflicts about hometown venues.
  4. You’re on vacation time. Spend leisure time with your nearest and dearest, or opt to party on throughout the week.

More couples are choosing destination weddings than they were pre-pandemic

One in four weddings is held in another country from the couple’s home base. Although we typically think of #islandlife when we hear “destination wedding,” insiders know this option is about more than sandy beaches.

When loved ones can’t travel, connect them with your event by going to them.

Or, plan a destination wedding with no passports needed, choosing a special location within your own country.

A note about COVID

Give your guests all the upfront information they need about health and safety. (Will you offer masks? Hand sanitizer? Hold all events outdoors to stay distanced? Require testing?)

Some couples might opt for special event insurance to cover themselves and the cost of the big day should there be an unforeseen risk. In that case, be sure to specifically ask providers if their policy covers COVID, as some may not offer protection for pandemic cancellations or amendments.

It’s old hat for professional destination wedding planners

While specifics may vary across properties and locations, the general process for working with a hotel wedding venue is the same. A seasoned wedding organizer can help smoothly navigate this unfamiliar territory for the couple.

For the Roberts wedding, a wedding coordinator assigned from their Chapel of the Flowers venue took care of all the heavy lifting — coordinating limo drivers, arranging a videographer and photographer, and even making arrangements for the marriage license.

“Paying for someone to help sort the paperwork for our marriage license and then drive us to collect it was one of the best decisions we could have made,” the bride said.

A suggestion from the experts: Do your research before relying on the resort’s onsite coordinator. A venue should be able to provide a clear point of contact and confirm the level of support they’ll provide before you begin.

But whether you’re working with a professional planner or organizing a destination wedding on your own, the biggest items on your to-do list will be the same.

Wedding planning pain points 

  • Sourcing and organization for booking venues and guest hotel rooms. Even for professional event planners, it takes an average of 75 days to find and book the right hotel for an event. Explore online solutions that can help save time researching and submitting RFPs to your preferred options.
  • Acting as a liaison, communicating with venues and vendors. It’s a lot of emails, phone calls, and waiting for approvals/decisions—a long and time-consuming process. Get help managing and comparing your RFPs to help deal with overwhelming details.
  • Have your own wedding website created to provide details to the wedding party and guests and manage reservations.

Brides and mothers-of-the-bride might take on more than they can handle

What brides and mothers-of-the-bride know going into planning a wedding is … not much. Unless they have a planner or have an interest in event planning themselves, couples generally know as much about wedding planning as their parents or friends can tell them.

This means they rely on anecdotes and individual, one-off experiences instead of, say, a decade of embedded industry know-how.

Tips for self-planners

  • Start planning early. Popular destination wedding spots book an average of 12-16 months in advance — and that’s only after you’ve decided which venue you like best. But picking a venue sight unseen doesn’t have to be a gamble; couples can use an online hotel marketplace to narrow their search and discover the best options in their destination.
  • Consider the needs of friends and family — starting from the time they arrive. Make a list of the amenities your guests and wedding party will need and use that as a guide for your hotel shopping process.
  • Finding the best deal means both the couple’s budget and the guests’ budget are taken into consideration. While it may not be possible to cater to everyone, being conscious of your guests’ limitations will help avoid complaints about expenses.
  • “Time-sensitive” freakout emails will happen, and they’ll feel urgent. If your chosen destination is on the other side of the world, expect to spend time biting your nails until you hear back. Factor in the wait time across different time zones to give yourself peace of mind.
  • If you’re new to the event planning game, you probably don’t have a great reference point for hotel room rates and event service costs — which means you’re probably easy to sell to. Knowing the estimated market rates for your destination can give you an edge when it comes time for negotiations.
groupsync-destination-tiles

The GroupSync Marketplace rates destinations based on your personal search criteria.

This isn’t to say it’s impossible to remotely plan a wedding without a professional by your side. But do keep these tips in mind as you embark on your (often-yearlong) endeavor.

What to know when planning a destination wedding

If you’re planning your own wedding:

  1. Ask questions. You don’t know the answer until you ask, so don’t be shy here: Learn what you don’t yet know. (This podcast has some points to consider when planning a destination wedding.)
  2. Use GroupSync to find exactly what you want from a hotel, down to specifically coveted amenities.
  3. Make it easy for guests to book a room. Some hotel booking solutions help event organizers create a personalized event website that keeps track of hotel room blocks, providing real-time data on which guests have booked their rooms already. If you really want to go the extra mile, you can even hire a travel agent to book flights for family and close friends.
  4. Create a wedding itinerary so your guests know what’s happening, and when. Options are plentiful for do-it-yourselfers, and pre-designed templates are available on Etsy.

GroupSync Housing makes it easy to manage guest room blocks.

If you’re a pro planner handling a client’s wedding:

  1. Invest in the right technology. Find the right venue, with the right amenities, within budget, in a remote location that you and your clients may only have a glimpse of before the big day. Easy, right? (Just in case, we’ve got a solution that simplifies the entire group booking search for you.)
  2. Streamline communication wherever you can. Use online room block and attendee management tools to make it easy for wedding guests to book their rooms and reduce the risk of attrition fees. Solutions like GroupSync Housing provide real-time reporting so that both planners and hoteliers can monitor pickup at a glance.

It all comes together in the end

You know that when you’re putting together your wedding album, all you’ll see are smiling faces, and any memories of stress or last-minute scramble will fade as the years pass. Until then, make your planning process as simple as possible with the right tools and support.

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