Meet and Greet
Hotels are investing in making their meeting areas more efficient, utilitarian and elegant. The objective is to utilise these spaces to maximise revenue
By Pradeep Suvarna
Hoteliers are now trying to better understand their guests’ requirements and then provide them with tailored offerings based on their specific needs.
Meeting rooms have often remained the underutilised business areas in a hotel, with most properties focusing more on ensuring room occupancy and getting more footfalls into its F&B outlets. Not any more. They are waking up to the fact that by harnessing the opportunities in meeting spaces, they can achieve both these objectives in one shot.
To be able to do this, hotels need to put in place a well-managed meetings programme. This begins from the moment a guest makes an enquiry about the availability of a meeting space to finalising the event details to its successful completion. Through it all, it is imperative that the hotel’s team is in sync with the guest’s needs, without the latter encountering any inconvenience or issues.
Suman Dutta Sharma, general manager of Hyatt Regency Amritsar defined a well-managed meetings programme as one that ensures a seamless experience offering the best of solutions. “This not only ensures that all the stated requirements are fulfilled but proactively determines non-stated requirements, which may come up at the last minute and makes sure that things are in place in advance to cater to these needs.”
For Archis Khanwelkar, groups, conferences and events manager at Hilton Bangalore Embassy GolfLinks an accomplished meeting programme is one where the customer has been able to achieve their core objective, i.e. an event, without any hassle. “This involves multiple aspects, viz. pre-sales experience, 360 degree qualification of customer needs to ensure we know what they want, being transparent with customer in terms of what the hotel can provide and what is not doable – to ensure they are well prepared for last minute changes to their programme needs, proper internal communication with the operations team to ensure they know the event’s objective, improvisation during the event as per customer’s need, offering flexibility, having multiple solutions for a customer’s problem. Additionally, it is necessary to have a feedback mechanism that allows customers to share concerns during the event in order to arrest issues on the spot,” he explained.
STEP RIGHT UP
Depending on its business segment, brand and its location, a hotel’s meeting areas can vary from a small boardroom to a large convention center to cater to meetings as well social gatherings. With the number of properties currently in the market for conversions as well as new constructions coming up, hotels are considering ways to make these areas more efficient, utilitarian and elegant.
Take the case of Hyatt Amritsar, which was rebranded to Hyatt Regency Amritsar recently. As part of the upgradation and rebranding, the hotel decided to bring some innovative technology and solutions and invested a sizeable amount on upgrading its facilities to ensure they are contemporary, user friendly and ahead of the competition. “Offering an experience that puts everything a guest needs right at their fingertips, Hyatt Regency Amritsar delivers a full range of intuitive services and amenities, including technology-enabled ways to collaborate; the space to work, and expert planners who can take care of every detail,” said Sharma, talking about how investments are based on market needs and changing dynamics.
Similarly, last year, Hilton Bangalore Embassy GolfLinks introduced a larger meeting space to meet growing demands of its corporate clients. The hotel intends to upgrade the technology it uses at its meeting venues, renovate its interiors to bring freshness in the ambience, introduce props for various F&B breaks, provide regular training of C&E service team to smoothly manage multiple events, improvise the poolside lawn area to make it more conducive for corporate meetings and invest more in one of its F&B outlets, which is often used as an additional venue.
Talking about these initiatives, Khanwelkar said that being part to a business park, the requirement for day-to-day events range from small to medium sized events and the same is mostly from repeat clients, or from clients who have explored the conferences and events space earlier. “Hence, the idea is to always extend something fresh and magnetic, which suits their meeting requirement. This involves working closely with the people who are part of the meeting, understanding the agenda for the meeting, the idea of the company, etc,” he noted.
While hotels focus on ways to improve efficiency across all departments, they follow a more holistic approach when it comes to management of meeting spaces. They take the practice beyond just the space’s design and its elements by delving into the requirements of a particular meeting and their attendees.
Pankaj Chaudhary, director of sales and marketing, JW Marriott Chandigarh explained, “For instance, since social media and online platforms have become integral and crucial to business meetings, our focus is on further improving internet connectivity so that these platforms can function seamlessly to the attendees’ satisfaction.”
With the increase in clients’ spending power in the last decade, there is a corresponding rise in the number of events that they host at hotels. At the same time, this has heightened their expectations from meeting venues.
Vikalp Raj, director of sales and marketing at Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway explained, “Guests generally prefer to have a planning session after their event with a small breakaway session for better productivity. They prefer to host their meetings at our hotel as we provide them with an expansive meeting space of 25,649 square feet, with varied F&B offerings. Being a part of a lifestyle enclave, they have the flexibility to venture and explore for entertainment options at Orion Mall or in the neighborhood.”
Multi-functional meeting spaces are gaining ground and hotels are customising these spaces to suit a variety of needs. Talking about this Sharma stated, “We introduced the White Box, a versatile space that can accommodate about 100 covers for intimate occasions like family get-togethers, private parties and celebrations, and is adaptable for corporate events. It is also the only dedicated kitty party space for Amritsar residents, supported by enthusiastic associates and state of the art audio-visual facilities. It offers three private dining rooms and an outdoor seating space for 24 people with customisable menu offerings and seating arrangements.”
Hotels can come up with innovative ways for space utilisation, like using the poolside area for the Hindu rituals, pre-function areas for other small-scale social events.
MONETISING UNDERUTILISED AREAS
Hoteliers are now trying to better understand their guests’ requirements and then provide them with tailored offerings based on their specific needs. The key to success here is assessing the flexibility and limitation of one’s own resources before offering the solution that can best meet the client’s expectations.
Take the instance of The Living Room at JW Marriott Chandigarh, which is a suitable meeting space for social and corporate training events as it goes well with the idea of providing the right combination of indoor and outdoor covered space. The Grand Ball Room, on the other hand, is suitable for catering to large groups and is preferred by corporates holding customer-centric events.
At the same time, meeting spaces have various under-tapped opportunities that can be leveraged to maximise revenue, especially the pre-function areas. Ajinkya Kulkarni, sirector of sales and marketing, Oterra Bengaluru cites the example of wedding and social functions, where hotels can come up with innovative ways for space utilisation, like using the poolside area for the Hindu rituals, pre-function areas for other small-scale social events.
Khanwelkar opined that a lot of times some pre-function areas are under-utilised due to different timings or when no events are held at a particular point in time. “But, in case a property or a company wants to showcase their product, they can maximise on these real estate slots for exhibitions or product showcase,” he suggested.
Raj of Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway agreed with him. “While we utilise every facility to its maximum potential, pre-function areas and sections for breakaways are extremely useful. This is especially when events require extra space for increasing buffet spread or hosting exhibitions, etc,” he stated.
GAINING AN EDGE
Unconventional spaces can give a strong and steady fillip to a hotel’s bottom line. Hence, the events teams at properties like Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway come up with innovative ways for this vertical; by making the décor lively or adhering to a theme of the season, or food that will be served at the event. Raj said, “This not only motivates the team to work towards extending impeccable guest service, but also provides a refreshed experience to guests after a long session. They even organise thematic breaks and octanorm stall during the exhibitions. Or if it is for an exhibition, we utilise the areas effectively by spreading it over strategically for flexible movement.”
Marriott recently introduced a new concept called ‘Meetings Imagined’, which focuses on the specific purpose of the meeting and provides facilities accordingly. Based on the purpose of the meeting, the brand provides expert tips in accordance with the latest trends and gives access to an ‘inspiration gallery’ to help guests plan essentials well in advance.
While leveraging this concept at all corporate events taking place at JW Marriott Chandigarh, Chaudhary said that the hotel does other things to ensure it stays ahead of the market curve. “To maintain an edge over our competitors, we consistently review the events we host in our meetings, thereby ensuring that our marketing initiatives are in sync with the requirements of our guests. JW Marriott Chandigarh’s services and location, coupled with a dedicated events team, serve as the right combination for ensuring the success of MICE events,” he stated.
Similarly, Khanwelkar said that Hilton strongly believes that the bottom line of its business is to ensure customer gratification. “The higher the satisfaction, the more achievable the goals are. Hence, as a team, we always move beyond our comfortable space and reach out to our customers with ideas, which help them to think beyond a regular meeting,” he maintained.
Talking about how Hyatt Regency Amritsar is using its events space to optimise revenues, Sharma revealed that the entire meetings space is suited to cater to a variety of events and activities. “These contribute in increasing our events bottom lines. The hotel has also worked on concerted plans to ensure optimization of spaces through activities which include exhibitions, flee market, cultural evenings, high energy events, launches and leadership meetings to name a few,” he noted.
Ultimately, to stay ahead of competition and also etch a positive image in the minds of their clientele, hoteliers need to constantly relook at their events space. There might exist areas that can be better augmented for revenue. All it needs is a closer look and some out-of-the-box thinking.