To break through to meeting and hotel professionals, marketers must send the right message at the right time.
Meeting planners and hotel executives have become two of the most lucrative audiences for marketers looking to break into or deepen their involvement with the hospitality and travel industry.
According to the Meetings & Conventions 2004 Meetings Market Report, the core group of U.S.-based corporate, association and incentive meeting planners now totals more than 70,000 professionals. These planners were responsible for $44.7 billion in total annual sales, 84.6 million total meeting attendees and 1,058,800 total meetings in 2004, according to the report.
Meanwhile, hotels generated more than $105.3 billion in revenue from more than 47,000 properties of 15 rooms or more and 4 million guest rooms in total, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Specific areas of growth for this market have been in luxury properties and in food and beverage operations.
However, successfully marketing your products, services and facilities to meeting planners and hotel managers is entirely an apples and oranges process, industry experts said.
Meet and greet
"The meetings market is difficult to define because of its broad scope," said Bernard Schraer, group publisher of Meetings & Conventions magazine. "There's a tremendous amount of small meeting activity that takes place on a local level-often without involving travel or an overnight stay-that falls below the radar."
Meeting planners can be tough to reach. They come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from association planners whose sole job is to arrange meetings to corporate managers who plan meetings in addition to several other functions, Schraer said. "It's certainly challenging for marketers to engage planners who have a multitude of other responsibilities."
Moreover, everybody wants a piece of them. "They are continuously barraged by convention centers, hotels and other meeting venues to bid for business throughout the world," said Jack Ferguson, exec VP of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"On average, association planners include just 3.3 cities on their selection list; in fact, 40% of these planners have just one city on their selection list, according to the 2004 Meetings Market Report," added Greg Newland, director of marketing for the Portland Oregon Visitors Association (see case study, page 25 ). "Cracking the planners' short lists has become even more difficult, thanks to recent expansions in first-tier convention cities such as New Orleans, Orlando and Las Vegas."
Newland cited a report in The Wall Street Journal that noted such convention centers were designed to hold megashows that smaller cities can't handle and to steal smaller events that other cities rely on.
Perhaps one of the best ways to break through the clutter is to target specific vertical industries, Ferguson said. "You need to do your homework, and then identify and market to industries and segments you can best serve," he said. "Watch for emerging sectors and then build a media plan that reaches them and will support your direct sales efforts."
Print advertising, direct mail, e-mail and targeted Web sites all work well to reach meeting planners, industry experts agreed. Also important is to partner with vertical and horizontal associations to leverage their networks. "Truly, there is an association that represents any group's interests," Ferguson said.
Because meeting planners have severe time poverty issues, marketers would be most productive by delivering concise information about their product, service or facility as well as a clear benefit, Schraer said.
The best marketers today take innovative approaches to get the attention of planners, Schraer said. "For example, the Palm Beach County [Convention and Visitors Bureau] sponsored a set of online tools that meeting planners could use to help them plan their events more effectively," he said. "This tool set, along with an aggressive and creative ad campaign, has helped get the CVB top-of-mind among our readers."
The Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau also has pushed the marketing envelope. "Through a partnership with an airline and the local hotel community, the bureau offered to fly in all qualified planners to Tucson for a familiarization tour-all expenses paid. It was a compelling offer and received great response."
One major similarity between meeting planners and hotel executives is that both groups are difficult to reach. "Typically you won't find hotel, resort and casino managers a captive audience in their offices," said Jeanne Bischoff, VP-publisher of Hotel F&B Executive. "They're usually out roaming their properties, overseeing events, handling customer relations and managing staff."
Further complicating matters, Bischoff said, is that hotel decision-making resides at three different buying locations: at the corporate headquarters (if it's a chain), at the hotel management company and/or purchasing organizations, and at the hotel property itself.
But marketers shouldn't be put off by all these different levels and number of buyers, Bischoff said. They can be reached with a targeted and powerful combination of a variety of marketing strategies, she said. "They respond well to sales calls, trade magazine advertising, marketing collateral, direct mail, faxing and trade shows," Bischoff said. "And they do respond to Internet marketing, primarily using search engines to research product categories they plan on purchasing."
One strong opportunity for marketers is in the food and beverage operations at hotels, industry experts said.
Hotel F&B Executive defines the hotel food and beverage market as including about 30,000 hotels with some form of foodservice, generating $72 billion in annual retail sales.
"Over the past decade F&B departments have become increasingly independent," Bischoff said. "Hotels have discovered that such independence results in better menus, tighter operations and higher profitability."
F&B managers purchase food, beverages, kitchen equipment, tabletop items, server uniforms, furniture, linens and much more, she said.
Bischoff added that another major opportunity for marketers to exploit is the significant growth in the full-service hotel category. "Hilton's Doubletree chain has just announced a major expansion of new properties," she said. "Hyatt Hotels has acquired AmeriSuites and is relaunching it as a competitor to Marriott's Courtyard brand. Kimpton Hotels is undergoing a major expansion. Inter-Continental recently launched the Hotel Indigo brand. New upscale hotel chains such as the Amalfi and Solis are being introduced."
She also recommended that marketers focus more attention on the individual hotel level, where she said she believes they can make strides. "Hotel properties have freedom to act independently and often do," Bischoff said. "Franchise mandated brands and products only comprise a handful of the thousands of annual product purchases."
Excellent sales organizations can penetrate at the individual property level to drive sales volume much higher than if they look just at chain headquarters, she said.