After the toughest years that the MICE industry has ever gone through, things are now looking brighter again. Alexandra Weber from Lindner Hotels AG explains how she and her team dealt with it.
The return of the MICE business – an interview series with industry experts
After various lockdowns, the time has finally come again. Travelers in Europe are packing their bags again and hotels are happy to welcome them back to their accommodations. Demand is also increasing rapidly in the event industry. So now is the perfect time to hear from MICE professionals about how they see the future and what they hope for. In this interview series, we speak to industry leaders from Europe's top markets to get an overall picture of the current status quo in the MICE world. As a SaaS provider, we want to do our part to revitalize the MICE industry by stimulating this discourse.
After detours to the Netherlands and Italy, we are now visiting Germany. This time our interview guest is Alexandra Weber, Corporate Sales Director MICE, at Lindner Hotels AG Lindner Hotels & Resorts. She has been with the company for 27 years and in her various roles, she has made a significant contribution to driving digitization and automation in the MICE and sales areas.
Let's start with what we ask all our guests first: How has this pandemic changed you as a person?
Overall, I haven't changed at all as a person, but I have adjusted my attitude on a few points. I'm not as carefree in all situations as I was before the pandemic. Now, when I think about something in the future, the thought often creeps in that hopefully there won't be another restriction. This in turn has made me more spontaneous both professionally and privately. I prefer to do things now before they might not be possible later.
I'm more aware of many things now and I'm more grateful for them. Today, when we share experiences with family or friends, go to events or go on vacation, I always think of how nice it is that everything is working again.
If you look back on the last two years with your current level of experience, what would you have done differently?
I'm not the kind of person who looks back a lot and thinks about what I could have done differently. Right from the start, we have done everything to make the best possible decisions.
However, there is one thing I could have listened to my gut more about. This is about the topic of hybrid events. Of course, hybrid events will continue to play a greater role in the future than they did before the pandemic. But for hotels, they are not nearly as relevant as we thought in between. We are already getting fewer requests for these formats because everyone is looking forward to finally getting together again in person at events. And that's a good thing for us, because of course we like to have guests in our hotel.
What positive developments have the pandemic triggered for you?
A lot has happened in terms of communication, both internally and with regard to our customers.Among colleagues, for example, we use the opportunity to work together online on a document much more frequently and exchange ideas via video call.
Customer communication is also increasingly taking place via video calls. It's just more personal to see each other during a long conversation. We also use tools that enable virtual tours and give the customer an even better impression of our hotels, even if they are not on-site for the house tour. We introduced this technology in all Lindner Hotels before the pandemic – this is now of great benefit to us.
As far as remote work is concerned, we find that many colleagues and customers are still happy that they regularly work from home and can organize their days better. On the other hand, working from home also increases the importance of face-to-face meetings, such as team meetings.
People are often asked what will change in the next 10 years. Jeff Bezos once responded that the more important question is what won't change. So what do you think will remain the same in the MICE and group sector in the DACH region in the coming years?
People want to meet. That will always remain. Who wants to celebrate birthdays or weddings online when there is another way and you can share this experience with your loved ones on-site?
In a professional context, it is no different. Here, however, the content and type of events will change. In the future, it will increasingly be about bringing teams within the company closer together and offering them a platform on which they can exchange ideas. The same applies to larger events. Guest experience and networking will be even more focused than industry firsts or communicating specific information.
With regard to the above points, how should hoteliers continue to develop in the future?
Two points are particularly important here:
The first step is choosing the venue and planning the event. As a hotelier, you have to enable the customer in advance to find out all about the product and the various options. Today, however, that no longer means sending an endlessly long PDF document and a few photos.
Instead, it should be videos, virtual tours, and individual offers that show potential customers exactly what interests them. This saves the customer and yourself time and addresses their priorities. For this, it is important that the individual systems interact and support this personalized approach. If that works, customers who are otherwise not particularly tech-savvy will also benefit.
The so-called "hardware" also plays a role: modern premises, an exciting F&B offer and employees who respond to the guests are decisive for the on-site event to be a (successful) experience for the customer.
The sales process for MICE and groups is still very labor-intensive compared to room sales. What do you think are the main reasons for this?
A meeting or event consists of many more components compared to a room booking. It's about the number of participants, catering, time frame, entertainment, and much more.
Hotel teams need to ask the right questions to provide customers with the right advice and meet their expectations. The implementation also requires more staff and other resources than selling a room. However, this effort is also worthwhile, since meetings generate many times more sales than hotel rooms.
Nevertheless, it is important that we automate as many processes as possible. Manually responding to a single request can take hours. Offloading this work to automated tools saves a tremendous amount of time. When areas such as pricing, quoting, and resource mapping become fully or partially automated, it creates time to focus more on areas that cannot and should not be digitized, such as overall strategic direction and advising planners.
Now to our last question: When will the MICE industry in the DACH region have fully recovered?
In terms of the volume of inquiries, we are already at the level of 2019. The reports indicate that more inquiries were made to us in Q3 2022 than in Q3 2019. In autumn we are seeing a little more restraint again, but we are already getting them for next year's requests, so we cannot speak of a demand problem.
It is now important, as described above, to strategically position ourselves well and to optimize processes, and also to master the challenges that are coming our way. The international political situation and rising costs are currently raising many questions, and the shortage of skilled workers is an issue here, as it is in other industries. The increasing short-term nature of inquiries often puts us to the test operationally.
Now is the time to do your homework and adapt to the changed requirements. But I am very optimistic that we will succeed!