Why hotels should embrace instant group booking

by | Mar 15, 2024 | For Hoteliers

Instant Booking—the ability to book hotels for groups, meetings, and events directly online—continues to grow at a rapid pace. Through technology like GroupSync, hoteliers can finally give planners what they crave, more transparency, more flexibility, and a faster booking process. Our VP of Reporting, Data and Analytics, Kristi White, makes a strong case for why hoteliers need to embrace Instant Booking, its impact on sales teams, and how hoteliers should take advantage of the business opportunity.

The title might seem like a science fiction dream. However, it’s not, it’s today’s reality. The real question is whether your hotel has embraced the reality. If you’re still sitting on the fence, perhaps a few fun facts will push you off the fence and set you up for solid footing here in reality.

Before we get to the facts, let’s look at some of the myths associated with instant group bookings:

Myth: Only my sellers can offer the customer the best rate.
Fact: Technology can generate a better rate than sellers in most instances. It can react faster and since it has none of the emotional components so often involved with selling, it can also possibly generate higher rates.

Myth: Technology is trying to replace sellers.
Fact: Technology is trying to make your sellers more efficient. By allowing smaller groups to book instantly, sellers are free to hunt for larger business.

Myth: Customers want a personal touch.
Fact: Customers want what they want when they want it. For certain types of groups, that means they want to book while it’s top of mind, not when your sellers are free to get back to them.

Myth: We maximize and stack our business to get the right mix. If customers book online, it will destroy our efforts.
Fact: Technology allows you to control rates and availability. If you have done that part right, instant online bookings will mesh with your efforts seamlessly.

In 2023, 43% of all hotel guest rooms were booked online

All of these add up to one thing. Technology is making it easier for hoteliers to drive more business and ultimately more profits.

Just the Facts

Let’s look at some of the facts around instant group booking to see if that will make it more intriguing. There are three main areas we’re going to focus on in this first part:

    • Booking Window
    • Booking Day
    • Time of Booking

Booking Window

62.5% of instant bookings occur 16-120 days from arrival. For most group heavy hotels, this is typically outside of normal group booking windows. Additionally, 81.7% of these bookings have less than 40 total room nights. The average rooms on peak for instant bookings is 14.


Jackson Hole, Wyoming
These bookings are smaller and book inside traditional booking windows. The question to ask: Should your sellers even be investing their time in small bookings that are perfect for a self-service model?

Instant bookings are ripe for your revenue management process to yield and manage in much the same way you already effectively manage transient bookings. This frees up your sellers to continue the hunt for larger business and focus your service team on delivering a successful stay.

Booking Day

Consumers are generating bookings Monday – Friday (95.3%). Tuesdays are the highest booking day of the week. Some might make the argument that this is more reason why sellers should be involved in these bookings. People are booking on weekdays which means they want assistance. However, this view changes when we shift to look at the next focus point.

Booking Time

Of all the bookings that occur Monday – Friday, 53.2% of them occur outside of business hours (before 8:00 AM and after 6:00PM). Not hours when a sales office traditionally has someone on staff. And chances are even if there was one, they wouldn’t be able to book because they would need to get a rate. Technology facilitated what the customer wanted when the customer wanted it.

On the opposite side of that, 46.8% of these consumers booked when sellers were available. They didn’t call a hotel, they conducted their research and then selected the book now option. Because what they wanted was available instantly, the rate was within their budget, and availability was there.

Fact: Customers want to book what they want when they want it.

They put money into your hotel’s coffers without the need to interact with anyone. This is passive income at its finest. Even better, you keep your sellers focused on bigger business to keep your sales pipeline filled.

Who Is Booking

Shifting gears, let’s dive into who is booking. What market segments are driving instant bookings? 55.9% of the bookings fall into the SMERF (Social, Military, Educational, Religious, and Fraternal groups) segment.

Park City, Utah

When you examine the SMERF segment more closely, the two largest segments are Sports and Wedding business. Both segments are typically non-repeating business with no growth opportunity for your hotel. In other words, business your sellers shouldn’t be focused on.

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

For the 38.6% of the instant bookings in corporate, 80.0% of them have 40 room nights or less. Additionally, 67.7% occur within 16-60 days of arrival. These are smaller meetings booking closer to the arrival date. Letting the consumer handle the booking and then using those bookings for follow-up for long-term potential creates pipeline opportunity for your sellers.

Where Are Consumers Booking

Fifty-three countries and six hundred markets around the world received instant bookings. The top five countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and Mexico.

The top ten markets are Atlanta, GA, Washington, DC, Chicago, IL, Dallas, TX, Phoenix, AZ, Oakland, CA, Denver, CO, London, Los Angeles, CA, and Nashville, TN.

Regarding the type of market being booked, 45.2% of bookings occurred in tertiary markets, 33.5% in primary markets, and 21.3% of them were booked in secondary markets. While the top markets are dominated by primary markets, instant bookings are happening everywhere, and your hotel needs to be prepared.

Get Ahead of the Curve

Instant bookings are here, and they aren’t going anywhere. The closest comparison for most in the industry is the advent of online booking. Many said it would never be prevalent for many of the same reasons listed above. However, in 2023, 43% of all hotel guest rooms were booked online.1

Consumers are accustomed to booking what they want when they want. Group business shouldn’t be any different. This stands out in the smaller group category. This business often takes a tremendous amount of time and energy from your staff. Time that could be spent on larger groups and building a long-term pipeline of repeatable business. At this point, the question you should be asking is:

How can my hotel take advantage of instant group booking?

There are three simple things you need to get started on your journey and they aren’t that difficult.

1. Availability

You must be on the shelf to be booked. Do you have the ability to book more than nine rooms on your booking engine? If not, you need to be able to do that. If the ability exists, do you have inventory on the shelf? And, more importantly, do you have inventory on the shelf when consumers are looking? The earlier graph shows the average booking window for instant bookings globally. This might differ for your hotel. Look at your RFPs and inquiries to determine your volumes in those booking windows and make sure you have availability within those windows.

2. Marketing

This isn’t a tree falling in the woods scenario. You must tell customers this functionality is available. The data tells us SMERF-Sports and Weddings are prime targets for this shift. Take advantage of this target ripe environment and create marketing messages, emails, etc. to promote self-service functionality. And marketing doesn’t end with telling customers, it also includes putting your best foot forward with these customers in how you display for them. Do you have the right images for groups displayed? Does the copy on your website speak to the group consumer or only to the transient consumer? Having the right imagery and content can help those customers with the propensity to book online decide and stop shopping.

3. Follow-Up

You need a process both to service and grow business that books online. Almost 40% of the business is corporate business and some of the SMERF business is likely to have potential to repeat. Create a defined process of how you will service instant bookings and how you will qualify for future potential. This process will create three things:

a. The ability to create word of mouth exposure from one-time pieces of business who can tell others how well you treated them even though they were self-service bookers.

b. Help your sellers create a pipeline of future business by using each instant booking as a warm lead for future business.

c. By allowing the consumer to transact when they want and then treating them to world-class services, you are creating brand fans.

Now is the time to embrace instant group booking. Those hotels who invest early and lay a solid foundation will be the most successful. It’s time to let go of the myth and embrace the future. Consumers have changed their booking process are you ready to follow them to become a leader in selling?

1Amadeus – Hospitality Market Insights Report January 2024