“Learn from the past, but don’t live there. Build on what you know so that you don’t repeat mistakes.” – Harvey MacKay

For many of us this time of uncertainty has really allowed us to reflect and prepare for the future and our entrance back into the market. We tend to look at news, industry trends, reports and feedback to build on our re-engagement plans and recovery strategies, and now more than ever, we need to dissect the information we already have and learn from it. 

For meeting planners, we need to concentrate on what’s most important so that we don’t inundate them with an influx of awareness messaging about our destinations. Instead we should provide them with the most valuable information about our destinations to help them get back to business. 

What Do We Know?

In the 2019 Cvent Meeting Planner survey we learned that meeting planners’ “expectation is transparency, professionalism and efficiency. Planners are busy. They’re searching for hoteliers who provide a collaborative partnership.”

According to Andrew Sheivachman at Skift, “Most planners still have a hard time sourcing and booking the right venue for an event. High costs and rude salespeople are only a couple of the obstacles they face despite new technology aimed to help ease the process.”

That same Skift article states, “planners also said that hotels need to do more to personalize responses to their inquiries. In fact, the lack of a professional sales staff has led 59 percent of planners to choose another venue.”

We know planners are busy and many of them seek support from external organizations, but this dynamic will change with the reduction of budgets and support post-COVID-19. Planners will be working independently and seeking more assistance from DMOs and partners. “For hotels, it is important to build and maintain strong relationships with third party planners and DMOs.” – Cvent’s 2019 Planner Sourcing report 

Of course, COVID-19 has affected the travel industry as a whole, but on an individual level, it’s greatly impacted the livelihood of the meeting planner. Pre-pandemic, often frustrated by things like late RFP responses with mistakes and omissions and strapped for time when it comes to sourcing, 80% of planners said, “researching venues is difficult…the time it requires. Overall, busy planners are telling hoteliers to be efficient and get to the point, so that they can make timely decisions. It shows the importance of speed to busy planners, and that time is a precious resource.”

The most important priorities for planners’ relationships with venues in today’s very busy and ever-changing events landscape: speed to a decision, precise and transparent information, excellent customer service and an exceptional event experience. 

What Will Meetings & Conventions Look Like Post COVID-19?

The landscape of group business is going to change dramatically. There will be a shift from marketing to management, and DMOs will become now, more than ever before, destination stewards. Travel will happen, albeit slowly. It will return, but the industry has to adjust. “The fragility of tourism is now on display.” – Skift

As Rafat Ali, founder of Skift, predicts, travel will focus on “radical localism…the way the travel industry comes back. People … appreciate their rural areas around cities and local small businesses in tourism/hospitality thrived as a result.” We know the uptick in travel will start with regional and drive-in markets as planners adjust to traveling where they are comfortable to start, and then eventually they’ll venture farther out as precautionary measures become the standard. 

We will also see a greater concern for personal health, fear of getting stranded, a newfound focus on payment and cancellation policies, reduced travel budgets, and who knows what other attitudes and perceptions that have formed during this time of social distancing. 

Planners will still be hyper-focused on the attendees’ experience and will still want to know about the destination’s culture, nature, atmosphere and people, especially as the community will have a large impact on buyer decisions. Travelers are going to want to focus on the destination story and how they’ve worked together to collaborate and overcome this pandemic and improve the visitor’s safety and experience. 

What Can DMOs Do Now?

While many of us have worked in times of distress, September 11 and the Great Recession to name a few, it’s been echoed more than once that none of us have ever been through anything like this before. That leaves us all thinking, what do we do now?

LEARN, PIVOT and ASSESS.

With all that we’ve learned, a key concern for meeting planners has been professionalism. In the aforementioned Cvent study, it ranks higher than venue size, available dates, and booking process. 

“This is the time to revise and rethink all destination brands. Everyone is going to travel differently for the foreseeable future. Priorities are not going to be the same,” said David Keen, CEO of Quo Global.

Now is the time to regroup with our DMO sales (Read More on that HERE) and marketing teams to realign and reeducate on the key meetings & conventions message and work to provide a higher level of service to encourage planners and build their trust. 

Learning from what we know, we need to get back to the basics and focus on creating an efficient, professional relationship between the planner, DMO and venue in order to help create a compelling event experience that is built on trust and collaboration. It’s important to prioritize ease of processes: sourcing and booking, utilizing new technologies, AND meeting and exceeding planner expectations around service standards. 

As many DMOs have had to reduce their staff, teams need to assess what resources they have and focus on multi-disciplinary skills and education to provide that higher level of experience. 

“I think that the DMO world will change forever. We’ll be doing business differently, more agile, smaller, laser-focused on what’s critically important to build economic development through travel,” said Gwénaël Mulin, Senior Director France, CWT Meetings & Events.

Agility will be of the utmost importance as more planners and consumers alike will be focusing on the “fine print.” Consumer protection is going to be a primary focus in planning. Bookings, payments, refunds and cancelation fees and policies will likely be scrutinized more than before.

Planners are going to want to get back into the market and they are going to look for DMOs that can deliver more than the typical “amenity package” of rooms, restaurants, and meeting space. They are going to expect exceptional customer services and they are going to focus on the kinds of unique experiences that are making meetings imaginative and meaningful. 

Using this information, we can better prepare DMOs’ sales and marketing teams to fuel them for success. 

We are all excited and looking forward to when we’ll all meet again!

Resources:
https://skift.com/2019/05/15/meeting-planners-anticipate-rough-year-in-2020/
https://skift.com/2019/11/22/these-entrepreneurs-are-energizing-downtown-phoenix-and-capturing-the-attention-of-meeting-planners/

COVID-19