Although leisure travel has rebounded quite nicely in many places, and business travel has regained some momentum, group travel is still far below typical levels. The reality is that the pandemic has shifted expectations of work, with many reconsidering the heavy travel schedules of pre-pandemic life. There’s still a lingering reluctance to hold large-scale events, which has collided with the hybridization of the workplace.

It’s a distinct possibility that the pandemic has fundamentally and forever reshaped group business. While that may cause a sense of unease, it’s most certainly also an opportunity to expand how your sales team thinks about its group business. Outside of the typical corporate and volume accounts, there are new segments to consider. For instance, companies with hybrid workforces may want to do quarterly off-sites, offer teams workspaces for a collaboration day each week, or even bring together entire companies at many hotels.

As your sales teams look to 2022, these new event types will join a rebound with more typical events, such as conferences, weddings, awards banquets, and corporate gatherings. To optimize engagement with both new and existing segments, here are a few defining trends for sales teams in the year ahead.

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Go all-in on hybrid events

The pandemic forced the events industry to finally figure out how to deliver impactful virtual events. Vendors adapted to this increased demand, which resulted in dramatically improved technologies to stream events and manage virtual attendees as well as the launch of new engagement platforms that create shared experiences for both in-person and virtual attendees.

After a year of virtual under their belts, event organizers realize that hybrid events, which blend in-person and virtual experiences, can expand the number of attendees and deliver profitable economics — even with limited capacities. Hotels are especially suited for these types of events, as they can offer creative options, such as smaller events held at multiple venues to accommodate distributed teams — for example, a group off-site that eliminates travel by hosting shared events at hotels near employees.

Hotels must also continue to expand their operational ability to support hybrid events. For instance, corporate event planners and conference organizers want to be sure that your A/V and IT, whether on-site or via external vendors, can support the additional requirements for bandwidth-heavy livestreaming from multiple cameras and virtual attendee engagement platforms. That seamless, reliable connectivity is a must-have for hybrid events.

Let creativity flourish

While safety remains top-of-mind, another noteworthy characteristic of 2022 will be a push towards creativity. Cookie-cutter proposals with unimaginative options will fall flat. Instead, event planners will be looking for that spark, that extra flourish that sets an event apart. With bosses hyper-aware of budgets and attendees reluctant to travel, events must be exciting enough to merit the investment.

The most successful sales teams will put their creativity at the forefront, showcasing unique ideas and imaginative concepts that will make the event planner look good — and justify the cost of attendance for bosses. These can include ways to emphasize 1:1 connections that facilitate business development, enhanced collaboration technologies that boost productivity and business outcomes, or even an enhanced focus on attendee wellness through healthy food, yoga breaks, and other programming. When budgets are tight, these details derive outsized value for both attendees and organizers.

Be as flexible as possible

There’s still a measure of uncertainty about how COVID will ebb and flow in the year ahead. To overcome this uncertainty, be as flexible as possible; flexibility equates to confidence with groups and events. Those properties and sales teams that do whatever they can to make room for uncertainty will outperform those that stick to rigid policies.

Some examples of potential approaches:

  • Extend the cancellation window without penalties
  • Check-in often with organizers to identify issues and proposes solutions that don’t result in a complete cancellation
  • Collaborate with operations to accommodate more close-in event requests so that organizers can adjust based on current conditions

It comes down to trust

Rebuilding, earning, and nurturing trust will be the theme of 2022 for sales teams. It’s the thread through which hotels will facilitate the recovery of group business. As your sales teams chat with prospects, build proposals, and partner with planners to execute their events, they need to encourage transparency and honesty. Events are already intensive affairs with many moving parts; there’s no space for added complexity. Keep that in mind when building your tech stack to support a transparent and streamlined sales process that deliver the best results with the least amount of effort.

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