With a mass-scale vaccination programme within reach and the promise that life could begin to get back to ‘normal’ from as early as Easter, it appears we could be in the final throws of one of the toughest challenges ever faced by the hotel and hospitality industry. With the end in sight, let’s look at ways for hotels to recover losses from this year.
We look to the future with cautious optimism. There is still uncertainty for hotel owners, but what is clear, is that in 2021, it will be more important than ever for hotels to maximise all potential revenue streams. Not just to recover any losses from this year, but to move their business forwards.
One way to do this is to evaluate how your venue is working as an event space. And there are things you can do to attract not only direct business from end-user clients, but event planners who will use your venue time and again.
The event industry will return. In fact, I am seeing it now. The Spring/early summer is attracting some early nervous optimism with bookings, and late summer/autumn is seeing genuine confidence. There is certainly a renewed appetite for events once they are permitted again. People want to come together, but we’ll also need to bear in mind that corporate and personal budgets will be tight. Companies may be struggling and with a less vibrant economy, the private spend will be more carefully allocated.
In the short term, bookers will need to be less particular about date, we will all be working to shorter lead times and offering more flexibility in the price. Scrutinise your cancellation policy to make sure you are protected. And remember that delaying or changing an event is always better than abandoning it completely. Always have a plan b.
There may be more pressure on key calendar moments in 2021 due to a backlog from last year. So, making the off-peak and shoulder nights more attractive to potential clients, with enticing events deals, could be one way to ease the burden and ensure your venue is full every day of the week.
Package event experiences which offer certainty over what a client is getting and for a fixed price, will be far more appealing. Inclusive residential events can exploit unused bed space and help to maximise profits. Hotels are already at an advantage here, with accommodation and catering all on site. To make the most of your package, think about what is important to include …what will really attract buyers.
As a hospitality consultant, my first step is always to stop and review. A full evaluation of both the venue and the current marketplace, highlighting any USPs and analysing where a hotel actually sits within the market. And not where they think they sit. Believe me, that can be two very different things! That means scrutinising competitors as much as the hotel in question, and frank honesty with hotel owners and managers. Occasionally, tough truths have to be told by me in order to help a business progress. This transparency is well received with my consultancy clients, as it often highlights opportunities that are not being fulfilled.
This brings me on to using spaces in a different way, especially given were likely to be social distancing for a while yet.
Don’t be offended if I suggest change. It’s not criticism. A third party can often see opportunity that the hotelier has missed. Fresh eyes on the business has benefits. But the tough reality is that in order to maximise your hotel’s earning power, you may have to do some things differently. Break with tradition! Be open-minded. Adapt. Reorganise. I find that hoteliers are a dynamic group though – and progress is in their DNA.
So, the next step is to evaluate the potential areas within your hotel and its grounds. Think about how you are using your spaces. Look at them with an event planner’s eye. Are you exploiting every inch of square footage to its full potential? How can you offer COVID-19 reassurance to bookers? What can you do to stand out from the crowd? Are there any opportunities to offer something quirky and unique?
Let me be clear on this. Please – don’t just throw money at the COVID-19 issue. Many hoteliers can ill afford this. Your litmus test should be – if I make these changes, can I use the same space and get a return on my investment after coronavirus? If yes – then it’s worth considering.
Any changes in how you offer events should be something that can include COVID-19-safe events – but not be exclusively for them. Why? As soon as the virus is eradicated – the industry will pick up where it left off and hoteliers don’t want to be left with a huge bill for an event space than is no longer practical.
Reimagine and purpose
Repurpose that outdoor terrace as an event space. Design the area with fire-pits or chimineas, socially distanced seating and offer rain canopies dressed in twinkling pea lights overhead to demonstrate an all-year option. And there’s no reason for these to be temporary additions. Even pre–coronavirus some of my most successful Christmas events have involved outdoor spaces decked out in fairy lights and sparkles for an amazing winter wonderland.
A sure-fire way to have guests flocking to your venue is by creating something unique and unusual. Deck out a forested area as an enchanting outdoor dining space serving fine dining under the stars.
Large car park? A huge asset. Create a drive-in movie cinema in one part of it. Classic movies for a family event in the day, then maximise the revenue from the space with an adults’ film in the evening. The hotel can provide retro food and drinks, served to the cars. Think burgers. Shakes. Ice cream sundaes. And here’s where that package deal comes in – the idea is even more enticing with bed and breakfast! Work with the same cinema company to showcase kid’s movies in the summer holidays, Halloween and so on. Many corporate companies look at these options as staff recognition events – involving the families of their workforce. Summer? Replace the cars with rows of deck chairs for an evening performance.
Outbuildings are never for storage! I recently helped Ashley Hall in Cheshire to transform an old potato barn that was being used for storage into a stunning wedding venue and corporate event space. The transformation was simple and inexpensive, yet now they have an additional event space that offers the opportunity to boost event earnings next year. Agricultural buildings in the grounds of country house venues have a solid roof for shelter, but open sides. Throw out the hay! It has just become a rustic Christmas party or summer wedding area. Large. Well ventilated. With shelter from the rain.
It works for city spaces too, not just country estates. We threw the most amazing party in an underground tunnel in London. Have transformed railway arches, train stations and warehouses. If you’re an inner-city hotel with an underground car park or roof-top terrace, you have a ready-made urban event space just waiting for a party.
Ok. So, health and safety, financial analysis and proper planning is needed. Although creativity is what I offer clients, I don’t want to appear to be simply flippant with ideas here. The real point is – nothing is off limits. Be imaginative and brave.
Understanding the logistics of event space, including access and technical requirements, is a massive advantage for event planners. Having a trusted contact come in to objectively review these requirements and set out an action plan is something that you won’t regret. You may be able to adapt simple things, such as provide better access for large events, that will encourage bookers to choose you. For example, when one venue I know opted to replace old windows in their meeting space with more contemporary sliding doors, it allowed cars to be moved into their event room. And yes, they tapped into a completely new market of car launches. Changes don’t always need to be huge to help your venue secure new business. A case in point. Many hotels changed old storage areas into dedicated lounges for air crew – opening-up the airline contract market to their venue. Think similarly for meeting buyers. What small changes would benefit them?
Shout from the rooftops
A final point and one of the most important, is that once you’ve made these changes, you need to shout about them. Be sure to share images, videos and content of your hotel event spaces regularly on social media channels. Be creative to stand out. Send invitations to key buyers to view the new venue or the changes. Get the message out.
It’s one thing to say your venue has great party and meeting facilities, but unless you can show potential customers the versatility of your space this may not translate into actual bookings. People find it hard to visualise how a space can be transformed. You need to show them with good, professional photography and ideally videography. Virtual reality is all the rage!
I’m absolutely certain that the events industry will return bigger and better than ever next year, so as a hotel owner it’s time to get ahead of the curve. Innovators, those with creative brains who dare to dream will as always come out on top.
By Liz Taylor, CEO and creative director of Taylor Lynn Corporation (TLC). As an event planner, she has over 30 years of experience in the business at TLC.
During the pandemic, Taylor launched her own hospitality brand consultancy business Liz Taylor Consulting.