Pamela Carvell, Pampas Training & Marketing
There are three major strategies which are cost-effective for a small chain:
• Field sales activities to secure agreements with companies that can produce business for several of your hotels, with you offering a discount in return for an agreed volume of business.
• Field sales activities to business travel agencies that book hotels on behalf of companies in the feeder market for each hotel. Again the agencies will expect a preferential rate, and they will expect commission, but they will then promote this to all the companies they work with.
• Work with major third party intermediaries (TPIs). More than 60% of hotel reservations are produced via TPIs.
Once you've achieved the above, you have many e-marketing opportunities to fill distressed inventory: e-mailings to bookers, promotions on company intranets, advertising banners, and website flashes.
You also have the flexibility of changing your rates daily with the TPIs, but be careful that you don't alienate any corporate companies giving you high volume by making a lower rate available to the public.
If you don't have a sales force of your own, consider joining a consortium, thus gaining exposure on their website and the booking capability via the global distribution systems.
A few other things:
• Each hotel's general manager should be a member of the local chamber of commerce.
• Organise a bookers' incentive to reward business at times when you most need it.
• Host evening events for local bookers to help generate familiarity with your product and reservations and sales team. If you have a close relationship with local bookers you can often advise them of last-minute availability and deals.
Paul Raymond, Conferma
The general managers of most of your properties will be aware of the large local corporate customers and have established communication with them.
The second route into the corporate market is via intermediaries. This marketplace has become increasingly competitive as the major business travel agencies (Amex, Hogg Robinson, Carlson Wagonlit, etc) have targeted hotels following the reduction of traditional air commission revenues. While these agencies have recognised the business opportunity, they've found it difficult to offer the efficient services provided by the specialist hotel booking agencies (BSI, Expotel, NIS Europe, etc).
It's impossible to ignore the global distribution systems, as these are still the primary search and booking tool for corporate travel agents. However, the cost of distribution, and the length of time it takes for information to be added and manipulated, combined with the expectation of price parity with other distributions channels, can become onerous to manage.
Moving forward, the key to distribution to the corporate marketplace will undoubtedly be about the properties and chains delivering consistent data on a real-time, well-managed basis. The technology for data delivery has reached a stage where a hotel group which wants to be taken seriously must be looking at outward-facing, standardised data delivery, which it can then offer to any distributor.
Conferma's ability to aggregate data from numerous sources, consolidating it into the corporate travel management processes, enables these organisations to improve productivity and increase the added value to their customers and suppliers.
Luke Mellors, Expotel
Two shifts are happening within the UK corporate market. First, larger hotel chains are expanding and have huge visibility in attracting corporate markets through choice, selection and rate. This means that corporate decision makers can increasingly reduce the number of hotel relationships they need to manage.
Second, more and more companies are becoming aware of travel costs and are looking at better ways to manage them.
So how do smaller chains compete? Managing visibility with a small budget can be difficult but not impossible. Gaining visibility through the internet is one option, as more corporates are moving to this space for booking options. Additionally, drawing strong relationships with local (to the hotels) businesses and corporate markets is always a good idea as corporate businesses tend to be destinations and a large source of local travel. Being part of local tourism bureaus handling convention and large meeting facilities or closely associated with conference business can also reap rewards, as can effectively marketed corporate-focused programmes with value-added components.
More corporate businesses are looking at travel management companies and hotel booking agencies to manage their travel and hotel requirements as it is more cost-effective.
Finally, more and more corporate customers are looking for hotels and booking agencies to manage their travel in socially conscious ways, so having programmes designed around environmental awareness, lone travellers and other social and community programmes will be seen as a strength by many corporate clients who wish to ensure that the hotels they stay in reflect their own social policies.