Road trips, drive markets, and previous visitors are all good targets for the leisure travel market, but what about business travel and meetings? We know leisure travel accounts for over 70% of the total travel spending with business travel accounting for the other 30%. For some destinations, this balance shifts significantly one way or another. (U.S. Travel)
As we look at the 30% of travel for business, specifically the meetings and events industry in a post-COVID world, destinations need to start planning now to ensure their pipelines are full in 6-12 months. We are already seeing several destinations leaning into booking for strength into 2021 and 2022.
For those that are actively working their meetings pipeline, there is success with 1 in 3 planners sourcing and booking future business. For those that are not actively booking, about 40% are researching for the future. Note, fewer than 10% are not planning events for the future. (Pulse Report, Northstar)
Meetings planners are currently scheduling new meetings starting in September with most looking into Q1/Q2 of 2021. With meetings being scheduled about 180 days into the future, destinations need to ensure they are providing the resources needed for planners, especially as many DMOs and hotels have reduced their sales staff. We have provided some recommendations on how destinations should consider moving forward with planning for future meetings.
What do planners see when they come to your website?
While citywide festivals and massive trade shows are going to occur again in the future, planners expect to see fewer of them. The first groups they expect to see return include Association, Government, SMERF (Social, Military, Education, Religious, Fraternal), and Sports. Our first recommendation: ensure you have a landing page that speaks to each of these audiences you want to recruit to your destination.
We know segmentation works across all spectrums of marketing—people need to be able to envision themselves in a destination. For these smaller groups, they often do not have a professional meeting planner assisting them and need additional help to envision their event in a specific venue. With DMO sales staff and hotel sales teams also being reduced, providing these pages with a variety of imagery of events and not just empty rooms will be fundamental to a good user experience. While you cannot show all venues in your destination, we recommend prioritizing resorts, boutique hotels, flat-field sports, and your major brands ahead of conference and convention centers, gaming facilities, and large sports facilities.
What action do you want planners to take?
As your planners engage with your content, we must think about what happens next—do you want them to pick up the phone to call your team, submit a RFP, reserve space immediately? While any option is available, we recommend a strong CTA to have them submit a RFP or provide a guided request for information about their event. This allows you to capture key information and share it with your respective hotel partners.
Just requesting information is not always enough. Destinations need to lead consumers to make a decision, and in a time of uncertainty they will be looking to the DMO for answers. This provides an opportunity for you to work with your partners to create a “safe” planning experience offering cancellation or postponement windows for 2020, technology solutions for added value, packages for attendees, or other creative solutions.
While six months ago planners wanted to see all of the fun activities they could do outside of the event, today they will be incredibly focused on the attendees’ experience at a post-pandemic event. They will want to mitigate risk and ensure their attendees have a healthy experience as well. Consider having your partners make commitments like Connect has provided in their Safe Space 2020 plan.
How are you nurturing your existing relationships?
Keep in mind that many more planners will be working independently, have fewer resources, and will be seeking more assistance from DMOs and partners. With fewer staff members, DMOs need to make CRMs and MarTech solutions work for them. Those long-hated CRMs that “got in the way of relationships” are going to be gold for DMOs who have maintained them and understand how they can help, especially with those third-party planners who have a consistent pipeline. Here is where we recommend you activate MarTech solutions to bring your existing relationships back for in-person and virtual fam tours.
We know in the near future, fam tours may be difficult to do. In the meantime, work with your partners to capture photos, video, 360-degree experiences. If you do not have those, schedule virtual meetings, grab a phone or iPad and FaceTime them or have yet another Zoom meeting walking around your properties. It is that kind of commitment to planners that is going to land a single contract for an extra 100, 200, 500 room nights.
If you are looking for a more tangible touch-point for planners, we recommend looking into IP-mapping technologies that allow for sending direct mail pieces, hand written notes, or custom “planner kits” to planners who you know have been engaged with your content or your destination in the past.
So, you’ve built your landing pages, optimized a great user experience and connected it to your MarTech solutions—so now you’re done, right? Maybe.
Those organic tools are the bread and butter of DMOs and are built on years of personal relationships and experience of planners with your destination. If your pipeline looks a bit light then it’s time to work through putting together marketing assets to improve prospecting and growing that audience of meetings planners. With your newly optimized website experience, you can measure the cost of each RFP or RFI submission through conversion tracking and innovative marketing solutions.
As you look at your marketing plans, recent research shows that smaller local and regional events will thrive before national and international groups gather. Much like your leisure marketing, look at industries and potential targets in your region ahead of looking towards the larger and more national or international events. (PCMA) You know how to attract visitors to your destination—make sure you share those best practices with your meetings planners who need to monetize attendees. Also, look at best practices from others that improve the user experience. You have built tremendous relationships with your partners, now is a great time to translate those relationships into Attendee Passports that can be a value-add for attendees and also brings revenue into your local partners.
In summary, our recommendations include:
- Ensure you have a landing page that speaks to each of the meeting planner audiences you want to recruit to your destination.
- Create strong CTAs to have planners submit a RFP or provide a guided request for information about their event
- Activate your MarTech solutions to bring your existing relationships with planners back for in-person and virtual fam tours
- Create marketing assets to improve prospecting and grow that audience of meetings planners for your destination
At Madden, we are committed to the recovery and growth of the travel industry. For nearly 40 years, we have created and delivered innovative solutions for our partners in the best of times and the most challenging of times. Our team stands with the tourism industry to help lead the recovery alongside our amazing partners.