In a recent Internet poll from SpaTrade.com, spa directors rated "maximizing treatment volumes during off-peak times" as their most important operational focus. We are driven to ensure that we have covered all marketing ground when it comes to midweek business. On this drive, the corporate meetings market is too important to miss. At the MGM Grand Spa [Las Vegas], we are fortunate to enjoy a healthy volume of convention business. Depending on the market mix in-house, 30 to 50 percent of our midweek business can come from the convention segment. You don't have to be a 5,000-room resort in Las Vegas to successfully cater to the meetings market; you just have to meet the market.
The ClienteleIn most cases, the meetings segment consists of groups that will come to your spa as a result of business conferences or meetings. These groups will either be sponsored as a company incentive, or they will be conference attendees who book spa services on their own. Both types of group exposures can provide extensive opportunities in the long-term. You may be catering to spouses of attendees, group VIPs, or segments of the group that the company would like to reward. We value group business not only because we want this group's business, but also because we want the future business that this group can bring to us through corporate and individual referrals.
Typically, conferences will hire a meeting planner who will opt to offer a spa visit as one of several recreational incentives for the group. The meeting planner is a key component of the group experience. Meeting planners frequently pick the spa option because they are always assured of a hit, whereas other incentive choices, such as golf, shopping, or a city tour, may not be as impressive or regenerative. A great spa experience will make the meeting planner a hero. Because meeting planners work with various corporate conferences, making them look good will make your spa a star when they choose a spa for their next conference. It's also a good idea to offer meeting planners a spa service at the end of their stay, as a reward for their hard work and a thank you for their business. Spas have become an increasingly popular incentive because the spa escape portion of the stay can be controlled (no rainy day concerns), be a short investment in time, and make people feel better afterwards.
The Spa AttractionIf you know the demographics of your location, you will understand the types of groups you hope to target. While such destinations as Las Vegas or Palm Springs may regularly host business conferences, resorts in your area may not. For most hotel resort spas, the sales process is internal. If your hotel hosts meetings and conventions, the sales and convention services department should be among your best business chums. The spa should be represented at sales and convention service staff meetings throughout the year. Any new service, award, or spa special should be updated to this team. When meeting planners visit for a property site inspection, the spa should be a part of the inspection, and you or a sales-worthy member of the spa team should conduct the spa portion of the tour. Be prepared to discuss group spa experiences with the planner. The sales department will appreciate your expertise, and the spa will shine as a valuable amenity when the hotel is selling its worthiness for this booking. Consider sending out spa introduction letters to future group attendees. If the location of the spa is not physically connected with meeting space, the external marketing process could consist of relationships with non-spa hotels, convention/visitor authorities, and chambers of commerce. Contact destination management companies and meeting planner organizations. Establish links with local business, medical, and professional organizations in order to promote group visits. Schedule spa presentations at their regular meetings or advertise in special issues of their trade publications.
Selling the ExperienceDetermine what you are offering as a group experience. Are you offering packages or a la carte treatments? Will you customize for the group? How many appointment blocks will you dedicate each hour? Can you bring in services that are not part of your regular menu, such as catering, instruction, or fashion? Groups do not necessarily expect discounts, but they do expect flawless service and perceived value. Consider adding value to some of your spa packages by including service add-ons as an alternative to discounting. Customizing packages is particularly important if your hotel does a lot of repeat business. Keep the experience fresh each year. If the group is not sponsoring services for their attendees, offering special packages is the most effective. Develop spa collateral with specials customized for each group. Our spa has a fun time naming packages for various conference groups. Send spa amenity baskets to group planners and VIPs. If the group is checking into a hotel or a conference site, find ways to arrange a spa representative to pass out the collateral, be available for questions, or even give complimentary seated massages.
Make sure that every member of your spa team is familiar with the fact that you are assertively promoting group visits. Group visits should be welcomed, not feared. Communicate the long-term benefits to your staff. Smaller spas may not have dedicated group sales coordinators, so choose the people on your spa team who will be responsible for the sales process with the group. This is the person who eventually "cuts the spa deal." Everyone on the team should be familiar with who this is. The initial group contact is critical for your image and should not be fumbled by a spa receptionist who is uncertain of where to refer a group inquiry call. Remember that the majority of the conference planning is done over the phone, so detailed notes and follow-up are crucial. Once the spa offer has been accepted, the group should be assigned one spa contact to handle the visit from beginning to end. The accepted spa offer should be in writing with agreements made about price, sponsored payment for group blocks, any guaranteed gratuities, and cancellation requirements.
A Great Experience for AllAdvance planning is 95 percent of the sponsored group visit. Create a standardized checklist for each group visit including items like an appointment block template that is readily e-mailed, a preprinted appointment card template that includes directions to the spa and arrival time suggestions, options for a group spa check-in location, spa sample gifts, a special group spa newsletter that goes out to staff the night before, and subtle signage welcoming the group to the spa. Be prepared for last-minute changes. Place the meeting planner or onsite contact in charge of change approvals based on the appointment block. Operate with agreement cancellation requirements, but decide to be flexible in a few cases when it seems most beneficial. Plan to save the day for the meeting planner at least a couple of times that visit.
Don't underestimate the importance of checking supply levels prior to the group visit. Prepare the staff to capture the additional sales opportunities. Clarify the payment methods for upgrades, cross-marketing services, and product purchases. All retail products should be high profile for a group that just received sponsored spa services. Once the group has gone, conduct a follow-up interview with the meeting planner. Note the successes and the need for fine-tuning. Maintain all of the group's information from first phone call to last in a file for your database. Wrap it all up by sending a thank-you note for the visit.
After your spa has experienced a few midweek corporate group visits, it will come to embrace this market as much as we have. And this will contribute even more to the value of our industry.