At the end of September, hospitality industry experts Kemp Gallineau, CEO of Groups360, Sandy Hammer, CMO and cofounder of Allseated, and Bob Graham, CEO and cofounder of Event Temple, convened for a panel discussion and Q&A hosted by Event Temple.
The webinar featured insightful conversation about emerging hotel and event technology, as well as strategies hoteliers can implement to evaluate their current technology stack, win more group business, and improve the guest experience as the industry transitions into recovery from the pandemic.
Below are highlights from Kemp Gallineau’s contributions to the conversation, and you can also watch the webinar in full to hear wisdom and insights from the entire panel.
Tell us more about Groups360.
Our company has been hard at it for the last six years. We focused our original couple of years on the group sourcing and shopping process and moved this year into the ability for planners to direct book both guest rooms and meeting space. We understand that we have to support both the planner and the supplier. And we’re trying to make it easy for both sides of the marketplace to communicate in a way that simplifies the booking process. So, we’re excited to be part of this industry and hopefully we’ll be part of how we come back post-pandemic.
In the current climate, what trends are you seeing with your clientele and in the industry in general?
In the industry and more broadly, across the world, the financial implications of the pandemic have been deep. Given the amount of workforce that’s been furloughed or laid off, people are looking for solutions that can allow them to come back and do business differently. A lot of people in our industry are starting to return, and the major brands are beginning to bring their workforce back. And the question for them really is how can I do more with less? What tools will ensure that my customer is taken care of in a way that they were used to in the past? But also how can I take better care of them moving into the future?
When you look at the role of technology, we have to make it easy for hoteliers to use, as complex as a task may be on the back end. We are staying hyperfocused on getting the planner customer and the hotel salesperson to talk in the most efficient way and on providing them with the things they need to have trust and confidence to transact business in e-commerce.
That’s why I think there’s going to be a lot more dependency on technology. And to some degree, as much as I hate to say it, our industry lacks imagination at times to be able to solve these problems. That’s the beauty of the people on this webinar and their companies — we’re trying to attack the problem in front of us.
How can hoteliers leverage technology to win more business and improve the overall guest experience?
The key thing here is trust and confidence — how do we get both sides of the equation comfortable with using technology to create great relationships? As someone pointed out earlier, this pandemic has forced people to consider their businesses from a different perspective. And I would argue that the meeting side of hotels only transacted business the way we wanted it to be on the supplier side.
We have to listen to the customer and truly understand what it’s going to take for planners to book a meeting or event, whether it’s hybrid, virtual or on property. Those hotels and brands that will succeed will be those that adopt available technologies to create that trust and confidence to do business. They’ll enable a planner to say, “I can book this online, because I have the content I need to make a great decision.”
Hotel content will be king. How I present it, what reports I can run, what information I have available, what inventories are made available all will give me a lot of confidence in the technology I’m using to further that relationship with planner customers.
And as someone said earlier, it’s not necessarily a replacement, it’s an enhancement. We need to enhance our relationships — we need to empower our consumer along with the hotel salesperson so that we’re at a better place. And we continue to foster evolution and quite honestly a revolutionary perspective on the way we do meetings and events, pre-COVID and the way we come out post-COVID.
What does the future of hospitality look like in a post-COVID world?
I think the future is about choice. It’s about empowering the customer — whether they want a hybrid meeting, a full-on attendee meeting, or a virtual meeting — to have choice based on their needs. To be able to do that, we have to expose data we haven’t exposed before. The secret sauce that everyone thinks they’re holding close to the vest, they need to expose. Hotels need to empower customers and their sales organizations to have different conversations.
When a planner talks to a hotel salesperson, the salesperson usually asks the same question: “Tell me about your last meeting.” If you believe that 90 percent of meetings are a repeat, that’s not the best question we could ask to show that we understand the customer. Technology will help us be able to say, “Here’s what you’ve done in the past, and here’s what we suggest in the future.” Or, “Here are other people who do similar things as you. And here’s what you should consider, based on the size and location of your meeting.”
We should be able to help people do their jobs. And I think technology is going to empower people to work on a lot of great things. And I also think the future will be one ecosystem, which will make it easy for a planner to go through the whole meeting process in one ecosystem.
Lastly, there’s the issue of behavior change. How do we enable those behaviors that make this process highly effective and efficient? It’s different from just throwing technology at it, right? What we’re all doing and what we’ve talked a lot about is understanding the behavior of what it takes to come out of this pandemic, in a way that’s fruitful for the planner and also for the supply side of our business.
Everyone has talked about transparency of information to enable decisions. What is the key piece of information your customers are looking for?
It’s inventory. How can I spend less time broadcasting an RFP only to find out that 90 percent of the hotels don’t have rooms or space on my set of dates? Transparency in inventory and availability will provide a huge piece to eliminating a lot of unnecessary work that both sides do. The planner has to send the RFP, and the hotel has to respond to it.
I think the planner’s minimal expectation in the years to come will be: “I should be able to see inventory of rooms and space. I should be able to understand a range of pricing, if not exact pricing. And I should have the option to book now, if I have the confidence and ability to make that booking at that point in time.”
What has the crisis taught you about yourself, your leadership and your business?
Personally, I think it’s listening to what’s happening in the industry. When the world’s going well, our technology company runs so fast that sometimes we don’t listen the way we should. We’re creating technology to help the industry, but we’re also a business that needs to make money. And it’s heart-breaking to watch people you’ve known for 25 years be so negatively impacted. How can I as a company and as a person help them to create jobs or bring back the industry faster?
It’s those things that keep you up at night and make you think, “Am I doing the right things? Am I doing it fast enough? Is there something we missed?” I think all those things are what drive great companies to provide much needed solutions.
Lastly, you have to have the right people on your team. Crises pull everyone to do more with less. But certain things will come up, and you have to trust your people as much as you did when you hired them. We’re fortunate to have great people on the team at Groups360. The current crisis has brought us closer but also made us run faster. It’s our industry, and I hope we can help it come back in a way that’s brighter than it was before the pandemic.