The challenges of putting heads in beds
August 18, 2008
We can not expect to ride the wave of an upward business cycle indefinitely thats why its called a cycle. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the bottom fell out of domestic travel and tourism. Since then, most cities and resort destinations have enjoyed success in surpassing projected revenues. To quote Bob Dylan, times, they are a changing.In the hospitality industry many hotels, resorts and convention centers have seen their booking window shrink. The saying last minute has morphed into last second. The way corporations are booking travel has taken on a watch and see attitude. Who can blame the decision makers for their skeptical approach to booking? People are watching the cost of oil, airline bankruptcies, bank closures, the value of the dollar and the stock market. Companies are weighing many factors in with the fears they face that their own industries may fall on hard times.This apprehension in the meetings and events industry makes for difficult times for hotel sales and marketing teams. Group bookings are important to hotels because they establish a bed base that hotel revenue teams use to forecast rate and occupancy. Businesses that traditionally book meetings and retreats 10 to 14 months in advance are now waiting, often giving properties just one to three months notice. With all of this uncertainty and hesitance in the travel and meetings industries, what does an organization such as Aspen Groups, dedicated solely to bringing new group business to Aspen, do to keep the leads for new business coming into our resort community? Selling Aspen is like selling heaven. Who in their right mind wouldnt want to come here? The challenge is not in finding interest in our mountain town, but rather its in finding people willing to contract for future business. In these tumultuous economic times, who are the travelers that will commit without trepidation? Aspen Groups is looking at companies dealing in luxury products, organizations with international funding, and groups dedicated to booking green destinations.When people who have not been here are asked to describe images brought to mind when they hear Aspen, answers almost always are in line with celebrities, skiing, shopping, glamour and fine dining. Aspen has an image in which other products are aspiring to be associated with. One of the focuses for Aspen Groups is using brand alignment as a tool for directing sales efforts. Luxury items continue to be less affected by the current tides of our economy. Being aware of which luxury products are finding financial success in todays market is key to bringing those companies to Aspen to celebrate their good fortune. Putting aside the negative implications of the declining dollar, there is at least one upside. Aspen is now on sale for the rest of the world to enjoy. Someone with minimal observational skills surely can see the increase of foreign travel into town. Aspen Groups strives to find a way to translate the increased leisure and individual travel into increased group and meetings revenue for our hotels and lodges. For international organizations that have traditionally conducted their meetings and events abroad, Aspen could not be more inviting. Our destination provides allure at a price they can now afford. Companies are conforming to the demands of their clients and are passing the expectation of green stewardship along to their business partners. Consumer pressure on companies to be environmentally responsible does not end on the production line. Not only are companies like American Express and Aveda mandating that corporate travel occur at hotels with environmental compliance, but city and state governments are following suit with Florida being the latest to join the list. The Aspen Canary Initiative is a great service for Aspen in how we position ourselves as a green destination. Aspen Groups is proud to promote the Canary Calculator to meeting and event planners on the Green Aspen portion of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association website. Additionally, the Z Green business certification lends transparency in the marketing efforts of the hotels who achieve the certification. As going green is no longer a trend but a standard for travel, more meeting and event bookers are wise to green washing, and will instantly recognize municipal awards as a reliable verification of sustainable, renewable and responsible environmental practices. The St. Regis, Aspen Meadows, and the Gant are three Aspen Groups properties that currently have the certification.Our destination captures a fair share of travelers in the leisure and group markets when compared to other mountain resorts in North America. Our hotels continue to be successful, sometimes with business arriving just in the nick of time. Aspen Groups strives to stay aware of trends in the meetings and event industry, and to stay in tune with how current events and economic news affect those trends.
JoAnna Eisler is the national sales and marketing manager for Aspen Groups. Before joining ACRA, Eisler spent five years with Kimpton Hotels, and her hospitality experience also includes stints with Vail Resorts, TriStar Restaurants and the Stein Erikson Lodge.Business Lounge is provided by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. It is a feature of Inside Business, published Tuesdays in The Aspen Times.