Focus on distribution. “Brands need clarity, empathy and consistency to provide an experience. Stories with a wow factor are often retold.” The keynote speech of Oliver Loh kindled the enthusiasm of the nearly 140 delegates at the 2018 HSMA MICE Day at the Palatin conference hotel in Wiesloch. Loh, the Strategic Planning Director at Saatchi & Saatchi, knows how successful brands can generate demand. Responding to HSMA President Georg Ziegler, who asked how to turn an individual product into a brand, he stressed the importance of a mission and staff motivation.
The motivational aspect was key at the HSMA MICE Day, which had what Ziegler referred to as the “rather dry topics of distribution and revenue management” on the agenda. This was achieved by means of unusual scenarios and formats. Discussions at the bar replaced panel debates and were entertaining as well as informative. A guitarist interrupted anyone who spoke too long. To make a contribution, you had to catch a dice thrown to you. How-to workshops, best practice examples and bar camp sessions stimulated discussion.
“We need to modernise how we communicate with customers and digitalise the request-for proposal (RFP) process,” argued Ullrich Kastner of myhotelshop, pleading for a direct sales approach in the MICE sector. Currently up to 20 emails are sent before there is a deal, according to Kastner. Instant-booking applications would also introduce measurability. Bernd Fritzges, who moderated the bar discussion and runs the portal fiylo International, which includes 2,000 venues, advocated hybrid portals, which combine the RFP and live-booking processes.
“Airbnb will undoubtedly soon by offering meeting rooms as well,” he warned. The portal business often isn’t understood pro‧perly by hotels, he believes, and planners are changing how they operate. Anna Heuer, the HSMA Board Member responsible for MICE, confirmed this. “Customers often go to our website first and then book through Booking.com,” said Heuer, the Sales Director at Upstalsboom Hotels.
Birgit Haake of Haake Revenue 4U addressed total revenue management in her presentation. Although MICE business accounts for up to 60 per cent of the revenues of many hotels, revenue management is still in the very early stages, she observed. “There are no valid ratios or options for measuring the effects of strategy in the MICE sector. I need to know how to use my meeting rooms to optimum business effect,” continued Haake. There are no dynamic meeting packages. “Our focus is on dynamic minimum sales figures, not dynamic meeting packages,” responded Alexandra Weber, MICE Sales Director at Lindner Hotels AG.
“The customer looks for the best price and tries to negotiate,” observed Oliver May, a Partner at meetago. “Dorint is to offer a ‘from-to’ meeting package. But there will be a process involved in getting our colleagues in event sales to understand that,” said Kathrin Scharrmann, MICE Cluster Revenue Manager at Dorint Hotels & Resorts, which is a new post. It’s an indication that conference hotels are beginning to adopt yield management.
“Hotels are having to move fast. Customer demands have changed. Ensuring participants have an experience is key to an event’s success. Learning, networking and active participation are now essential. New formats such as multi-day co-working conventions will emerge that offer participants the chance to withdraw,” said Matthias Schultze, Managing Director of the German Convention Bureau. He explained the results of the second phase of the Future Meeting Space, a joint research project of the GCB and the Fraunhofer Institute. One finding was that more deals are struck after highly digitalised events. Schultze also fondly recalled his days as a student at the Heidelberg Hotel Management School.
The relevance of agencies to the hotel market was addressed in another bar discussion. Johann-Henrik Winner of Banks Sadler advocated the use of agencies, which bring process optimisation, transparency and fair market prices, while host Klaus Michael Schindlmeier sung the praises of his in-house agency. “We set up our own agency eight years ago because close ties to our customers and region are important to us. It helps us prevail in the market,” said the hotelier, who has won multiple awards. The creative ambience at the Palatin and the passion of its staff, 20 of whom took part in the HSMA MICE Day, contributed to its success. As Schindlmeier said, “Young people are our future. We should stand by them.”