A guest’s first impressions of your hotel can determine how they judge their overall experience at the property, and often have a huge impact on the reviews that they will leave after their stay. For group bookings and events, these first impressions are potentially even more important.
Groups often arrive at the hotel around the same time, share their impressions with each other right away, and have conversations about their experiences with each other during their stay. They can also influence each other positively or negatively, leading to individual members of the group having a better (or worse) experience because of what other members of the group have said. Because of this, it is important to do everything you can to make a great first impression on groups staying at your property. Read on for tips on increasing group bookings and wowing groups with a great website, group sales process, and lobby.
Your website: Master the digital first impression
In today’s “digital first” environment, the first impression you make online through your hotel’s website is more important than ever. In almost all cases, the group bookings process will begin with an event planner, organizer, or group member searching online for hotel options that will meet their needs. To win the business of the group, your hotel needs to stand out from the crowd and clearly show why it is the right choice for that group. A few best practices can ensure that your website has the best possible chance of bringing in group business:
- First ensure the basics: your website needs to have fast processing times, no broken links, intuitive navigation, and be mobile friendly.
- Clearly describe the amenities available for groups. Include room capacities, food and beverage options, example room layouts, and all of your group perks & rewards.
- Regularly check the accuracy of group booking information on your website, OTA’s, event planning sites, and review sites to ensure the information is compelling and up-to-date.
- Provide high quality photos of meeting spaces, shown with various furniture configurations to inspire different uses of the space.
- Include reviews & testimonials for the group booking process – Groups want to know that you have welcomed a group similar to theirs in the past and that the group had a seamless experience.
- Have a clear Call-To-Action with one point of contact at the bottom of each group booking page, ensuring that those who want to proceed have simple and clear next steps.
Your digital first impression also extends beyond your website. Make sure to highlight positive group experiences at your property in social media, so that other groups can begin to picture themselves in the space.
Your group sales process: Impress prospective customers with simplicity
As you might expect, the group sales process is another area where first impressions can make or break your hotel. An overly complicated or inefficient process can send seasoned event planners running. But with a few adjustments to your group bookings process, your hotel will be sure to impress:
- Whenever possible, have a single point of contact for a prospective group throughout the entire sales process. This gives your staff time to develop relationships and understand the needs of the potential customer.
- Use a CRM system to track your sales process, qualify new leads, and establish relationships with potential customers.
- Make sure staff for event spaces and F&B are aware of site visits – having set days of the week when they occur is a great way to make sure everyone is ready to impress. Find out as much as possible about the event before the site visit so that you can customize your tour and highlight key amenities.
- Use automation for routine communications with potential customers, including inquiry response emails, site visit bookings, site visit reminders, site visit thank yous, and booking confirmations. This ensures your communication is clear and consistent, and that nothing falls through the cracks.
- Make sure your confirmation emails include all the relevant information that a planner might need: group reservation details, local area information, transportation options, luggage & storage logistics, meeting room information, group perks & rewards, discounts & partnerships with local businesses, and point of contact if they have questions.
- Prepare ahead of time for group check-in: have keys ready, staff ready to take the planner or organizer on a tour, storage room ready, and any relevant welcome gifts.
The most consistent way to ensure that groups are impressed with your process is to make sure you are listening. Try to understand the group’s needs, motivations, and concerns throughout your process so that you can deliver an outstanding event experience when the time comes.
Time to Shine: Your Lobby and Public Areas
When a guest walks in to your property’s lobby, they make an assessment of your hotel as a whole. This is just as true for groups, with the added pressure of them having lots of people to share their initial opinions with! Now that your group has arrived, you have a chance to impress them in person. This is curb appeal in the most classic sense: how do your guests feel when they walk in the doors of your property? Here is how to create a winning first impression with your lobby and public areas:
- Set up multiple “zones” for different uses. You miss out on an important opportunity if you think of your lobby only as a transitional space between your front door and the guest rooms. Guests, especially groups, often use the lobby as a place to congregate, get some work done, have a few minutes of down-time between meetings, or charge their devices in preparation for a day out. Think through how your guests will use the space, and set up a few different zones with those focus areas in mind. Provide a mix of private individual spaces, group gathering spaces, and open social areas to give your guests flexibility and meet their needs.
- Provide all the information that groups may need during their stay. Clearly display information on the local area, transportation options, local weather, and the group’s meeting logistics so that guests can orient themselves upon check-in or in between sessions. Using digital signage or tablets in the lobby ensures that you can keep information updated and accessible to all of your guests.
- Depending on your budget and the size of your lobby, consider offering water, coffee, or snacks for your guests. These make guests feel welcome and encourage them to spend time in the space.
- Light the space appropriately. Poorly lit public spaces can make your property look dated and dingy, or even make it seem less clean. Make sure that your lobby and public spaces look friendly, safe, and inviting by keeping them well-lit. For an added ambiance in the evening you can introduce colors or slightly dimmer lights.
- The scent of your lobby should be clean and fresh, and not too strong. While certain scents – like warm woods or sandalwood – evoke luxury, they can be too heavy for a public space. Consider something light and refreshing that will appeal to a large portion of your audience, like green tea or cotton. Even if you choose not to have a specific scent for your hotel, you can reduce the chance of a bad first impression by making sure things at least smell clean and new.
- Customer service is the number one driver of online reviews for hotels. While every interaction has the chance to create an impression, ensure that the first impression is positive by investing in training for your front desk staff. Give your staff the option to forward phone calls to reservations or your back office when a guest is at the front desk. Make guests feel comfortable and welcome by acknowledging them visually at 10 feet away, and verbally when they are 4 feet away. Greet group planners by name, and be ready with additional information about the area or the hotel when asked.
- Your group guests may need more orientation to the property than individuals, since they may be spending more time on-site for an event, meeting, or conference. If the whole group arrives together and it is logistically feasible, consider taking them on a quick tour or pointing out event locations on a map. If you can’t orient them during the check-in process, make sure that there are clear signs with event locations marked for the group’s use, and that those signs are visible on the walk from the lobby to the guests’ rooms.
By putting a bit of extra time and energy into your website, group sales process, and public areas, you can make sure that the first impressions groups have of your hotel are positive ones. And as with all of your hotel’s operations, make sure you are listening to both positive and negative feedback to continue updating and improving the experience for your group bookings.
Ready to take your group bookings to the next level? Take a look at Social Tables group sales and catering CRM software to see how you can streamline your process and get valuable information about your sales leads. Or dive in to preparing for groups with our top meeting room setup tips.