Of Mice And Men
Dirk Beljaarts, GM, Novotel Amsterdam City tells Vinita Bhatia that by offering holistic MICE solutions, a hotelier’s relation with clients will move from a transactional deal to an engaging mode
Not too long ago, MICE spaces in hotels were fairly straightforward affairs. It could consist of corporate conference rooms in sombre colours, wooden panelling and and the requisite business amenities. The social events spaces would often have a grand ballroom with an ostentatious chandelier and wall carpeting, with smaller offshoots that were less grand, but in similar setting, and an outdoor venue lending additional visual splendour. However, the emergence of a new breed of travellers â€“ the millennials â€“ and the need to optimally utilise every inch of space creatively has encouraged hoteliers to relook at the MICE space, globally and in the Indian market as well. Citing the example of Netherlands, Dirk Beljaarts, general manager of Novotel Amsterdam, said that the need to have a well-connected and inclusive MICE space has become pertinent for hotels, irrespective whether it is upscale or mid-market, since the percentage of business and MICE customers has been steadily increasing. For instance, the percentage of Indians travelling to Netherlands has increased by 30% in 2016 as compared to 2015, as per the countryâ€™s tourism board. This includes those who visit the country for business and leisure purposes. This is not a number to be sneezed at, and the countryâ€™s hospitality industry is going the extra mile to ensure their needs are met in the finest fashion.
BUCKING A FEW RULES
To ensure that its meetings spaces reflect its guest preferences â€“ whether it means according them a localised experience in the banquet or more convenience in the working spaces â€“ Beljaarts has to keep coming up with strategies to tap the MICE segment regularly. He works closely with the regional sales team in major source markets, like India, as they have intrinsic knowledge of the key clients, how to address their needs, etc. For example, when it comes to Indian travellers, one important piece of advice that he received was about the strict dietary preferences of certain communities, which Novotel Amsterdamâ€™s chefs could not do justice too. Hence, though it is not the hotelâ€™s normal policy to permit external caterers or restaurateurs into its kitchen, Beljaarts decided to bend this rule. In fact, the hotel even has a separate kitchen counter where chefs travelling with Indian groups can prepare food for their guests. The result â€“ his guests were happy to eat the food of their choice, and his kitchen staff did not have to worry about being stretched about cooking something they were inexperienced in. This kind of adaptability is important in the evolving MICE business, even if it means bucking a few rules, according to Beljaarts.
ASSESS, EVALUATE, REPEAT
Often, the MICE sales team focuses only on selling every available square foot of the inventory on hand. Instead, they ought to be trained to look at the meetings space not as mere available space, but as a brand that needs to be positioned to the customer. The MICE sales personnel should also work with the revenue management team as the latter is responsible for the overall fiscal wellbeing of the hotel and can evaluate strategies keeping in mind the long term business goals. While it is the job of the MICE sales manager to sell the meeting space in combination with the rooms, the GM along with the revenue management team needs to look at other cost elements like F&B, logistics, etc, to understand the entire sales package being offered to customers. They jointly need to assess whether the deal is viable or is it putting any constraint on the available resources. Ultimately, it is a team effort, as while the MICE team is selling the convention centerand the corporate sales is selling the hotel rooms, they could collaborate to cross-sell both propositions. Beljaarts suggests adopting a strategy where the brand understands the customer segment it wants to focus on and how keen it is to position itself in those segments. Then it should evaluate its performance in each of these sections regularly. Novotel Amsterdam City follows this policy and evaluates its performance quarterly. The revenue and sales team also assesses the inventory daily to see if there are any shifts in the customer mix and inventory sale as well as the market and demand trends. This helps the team understand which way the market is moving and realign its strategies quickly, if needed. It also helps them decipher which market segment contributes the most to the MICE business. For some hotels, it could be leisure, business, weddings, local events, or corporate events. These could be single or spread across multiple day, and could be dependent on the contribution per source market. For instance, some places are popular for hosting destination weddings, while others attract lots of business guests for conferences. Since Novotel Amsterdam City has 1,000 sq mtrs of events space in its hotel (the overall floor space of the 15-storey hotel is 5,000 sq mtrs), it can host 450 guests for meetings, so multi-day MICE business has turned out to be the most profitable revenue source for it. Identifying oneâ€™s core customer and commercial metrics helps, according to Beljaarts, as hoteliers can then evaluate their business mix and alter their strategies as needed.
WAY TO A GUESTâ€™S HEART
F&B is a critical piece of the MICE business, and GMs are innovating to create viable user experiences derived from local nuances. This gives the event an interesting edge while also keeping the budget in check. The entire process starts with one simple element â€“ a will. This is the will to accommodate the guestâ€™s needs and wishes, and work everything forward from there. Beljaarts goes back to the earlier example of calling in external caterers to cook for Indian customers, because he wanted to offer top-notch experience to his clients. And if a group prefers to bring their own chef, he instructs his culinary staff to make the person feel welcome so he knows where everything is and does not feel like a bother. At the end of the day, this is part of the complete hospitality experience that guests will have under the Novotel roof so the team needs to gear up to provide it in every aspect possible. And more importantly, first impressions make lasting ones. It is, therefore, better to invite expert caterers, restaurateurs or chefs who can cook food that the guests prefer and that the hotelâ€™s inhouse culinary staff might not be equipped to prepare, than to leave a bad taste in the guestsâ€™ mouth, literally!
MEETING SPACES GETS A MAKEOVER
Unlike their predecessors, the millennial generation prefers a collaborative meeting space. Not for them the stodgy conference room with circular tables or classroom seating style; they fancy reimagined areas, which then spills over to other areas in the MICE space like F&B outlets and rooms as well. Novotel Amsterdam City is already re-looking its entire F&B concepts, where rather than reinventing its restaurant and bar, it chose to create anÂ attractive communal area, where people can discuss business over a cup of cappuccino, a glass of wine or beer with some finger foods. Rather than demarcating certain sections of the hotel for specific purposes, the hotel has created fluidity in its design so that guests feel comfortable doing business or just relaxing with family and friends without any agenda on their minds. The 36-year old Novotel Amsterdam City also decided to retain some of its traditional meeting spaces, while the remainder will exude a casual vibe targeting millennials with bean bags, digital chalkboard walls, et al. Here, people can draw and write things with a digital pen as they would on a regular board, and this board is connected to their digital device. When the presenter erases the content on the board, it is automatically saved on the digital devices of all people in the room who have connected to the board, thereby helping them save notes and presentations with ease. However, Beljaarts pointed out that not all hotels should jump the millennial bandwagon. Ultimately, they have to judge if their market has a demand from the new-age clientele who wants to work in different way or stay connected all the time and has different needs and opinions. Hoteliers are hoping that by giving a refreshed look to their MICE space, they can not only tap the emerging millennial generation, but also accentuate their brandâ€™s ability to move with the times. They want to
prove their knack to overlay convenience and service while keeping intact their distinctive brand identity. Is this easier deemed than done?