After a painfully slow year for booking events—can you believe it has been only/already 12 months of pandemic pause?—third party sourcing companies are reporting that interest in getting meetings marked on the calendar in ink has shot up in the last few weeks. An increase in vaccinations, a decrease in cases reported and announcements some state removing restrictions on group sizes is causing meeting professionals to pick up the phone again. We surveyed a few to find out the when, where and what of these rebound RFPs.
The first query during any Q&A session in the Covid era is, “When will meetings start happening again?” Our sources shared some of their indicators.
“We have a lot of hope right now,” said Desi Whitney, HPN, senior vice president of sourcing operations and industry relations with HPN. She participated in a company “fireside chat” complete with virtual fire and reported that almost a third (30 percent) of business booked in the year for the year in January 2021 was for the first half of the year. “That is a decent amount of short-term business, considering the current status,” she said.
The majority of groups are planning into 2021, a good amount into 2022, and then some trickling into 2023 and beyond.
The company is experiencing twice as much lead volume for the fourth quarter of 2020 and January 2021. “Our clients are optimistic and also understand now is the time to book business for the best rates and contract terms,” she said.
“With the country starting to open back up, conversations with our clients are starting to heat up even more. Clients that were previously able to utilize force majeure will start to see that opportunity diminish. Hotels will begin to really hold the line on cancellations and rebooks where they can,” she concluded.
Mike Ferreira, owner of Meetings Made Easy, reported a similar uptick in interest. “We have seen a 180 in RFPs in the past 30-60 days!” he said. His team has been telling clients to send out their RFPs quickly since the meeting space and dates could be limited for Fall of 2021 and beyond due to pressure from “lift and shift” meetings. “I believe that the entire industry now understands this and clients do, too.”
The favored properties are those that acted in good faith over the last year. “Companies want to book with hotel partners that are flexible. A lot of people have realized what partnership means throughout this pandemic,” he said.
The other significant trends he is noticing? A significant number of clients say there are not “going hybrid” with their events.
J.J. Wills, senior vice president of marketing programs and business development with ConferenceDirect, is noticing that in the short term, groups are booking for this summer and through 2021, with flexible contract terms to allow for any changes or challenges that may arise that impact attendance or their ability to meet.
Not all groups are alike. Understanding the group demographics can determine whether they are ready to shake hands again.
HPN’s Whitney said just over half of groups booking now come from the corporate segment. “That is surprising compared to what we’ve been hearing from other industry sources. Corporations are booking small, short-term business,” she said.
The groups are booking for all sizes. Meetings Made Easy’s Ferreira said he has seen anywhere from 10-1,500 on peak being planned for 2021.
ConferenceDirect’s Wills is seeing smaller meetings (50-100 on peak) that want to meet later this year with strong confidence for October and beyond. She is seeing association meetings coming back faster than corporate and for 2021, and likely into 2022 if not longer, groups are planning hybrid events with a smaller in-person component and then a virtual platform for additional attendees to participate.
The entire country is not experiencing the pandemic the same way. We asked where the most popular destinations are for new meeting bookings.
Meetings Made Easy’s Ferreira pointed to Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas as the destination for the majority of RFPs because their gathering sizes are larger. Proactive planners are getting their RFPs in now for Las Vegas, which might open up at the beginning of May. “Clients want to ensure they book somewhere where they know a gathering ban won’t decrease,” he said.
HPN’s Whitney shared that that just over half (55 percent) booked into first tier cities, and just over a third (36 percent) chose second and third tier destinations combined. Many of the RFPs she is seeing are specifying a desire for outdoor spaces and socially distance space set ups (no surprise there).