The hotel and MICE industries have been through a turbulent time but now we’re moving in the right direction once again. Lex Visser from Mövenpick Hotels shared what he thinks the future will bring.
Travel restrictions are finally a thing of the past in most countries. Both leisure and corporate travel are seeing a healthy pick-up in many regions – much to the delight of hoteliers and event management professionals.
Given this promising recovery phase, we wanted to hear how MICE professionals feel about the future and spread some positivity. This idea gave rise to the Return of MICE interview series with seasoned pros from Europe’s key markets.
In the first edition, Antonio Ducceschi from the Italian Starhotels Group shared his outlook. For this second issue, we spoke with Lex Visser, Cluster Director of Sales & Marketing at Mövenpick Hotels in the Netherlands. In this position, he’s seen the MICE industry develop by leaps and bounds over the years. But he also knows where there’s room for improvement, especially in a post-pandemic world.
Now, let’s hear from Lex, about which learnings he gained during the crisis and what he expects to see in the future.
Let’s start with what we ask all our guests: How has this pandemic changed you as a person?
That’s a good question. For one thing, nothing feels as sure as it did in the past. In the beginning, I didn’t expect such a drastic impact on the MICE sector. But business patterns have changed completely and we’re all still adjusting to the many shifts we experienced throughout 2020 and 2021.
The pandemic also changed how I look at MICE and hospitality. Instead of growth, the focus is on recovery now. My team and I are constantly thinking about how we can contribute to rebuilding and futureproofing the industry.
Looking back to the last two years and knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?
I would have taken a long vacation… Jokes aside, I would have focused on implementing more tech solutions for virtual events sooner. For example, in the early days, we tried everything under the sun to get business into the hotel because we thought everything would go back to normal quite quickly. But had we known how long the pandemic would last, we would have focused more on virtual solutions earlier on. These tech tools were always there but we didn’t implement them right away because we expected the pandemic to end sooner.
What positive developments did the pandemic set in motion?
People appreciate trips and live events more than in the past. Yes, most small corporate meetings are still held virtually. But we are seeing a strong comeback for larger in-person gatherings. On top of that, organizers invest more in these events than before because there’s a renewed focus on high quality. We fully support that because it benefits us as a venue. While we have fewer meetings, we’re able to generate more revenue from each one.
People often ask experts what’s going to change in the next ten years. Jeff Bezos once responded that it’s more important to look at what’s not going to change in the next ten years. So, what do you think will stay the same in the MICE & groups sector in the Netherlands?
Put simply, the hospitality industry is a people industry. Without people, be it staff or guests, we don’t have a business. This will never change. On the contrary, it will keep getting more important to provide outstanding personalized service.
Our opportunities for doing that have evolved a lot and will continue to do so. Especially when it comes to technology, there’s still a lot of untapped potential. In this regard, our industry is still rather old-school, particularly when compared to other sectors. Just think of how many hotels and event venues still lose time working with paper contracts…
That ties in well with our next question. The MICE & group sales process is still labor-intensive compared to room sales. What do you think is the main reason for that?
MICE and group sales involve a lot of separate steps which creates a drawn-out process. Technology can streamline this but there’s a lot of closed-mindedness about how things should be done in the market. Unfortunately, there’s often a reluctance among venues, organizers and clients to try innovative approaches that would actually save them time and money. Instead, they prefer to stick with trusted yet outdated procedures. For example, sometimes we still get asked for our fax number…
How should hoteliers continue to innovate knowing the above?
The goal is always to delight guests or clients with your service. Achieving that while changing things can be difficult. That’s why hotels and their partners need to learn from each other and develop together. Businesses should react to changing guest demands while clients should be open to their partners’ new processes.
Both the challenge and the solution for hotels and venues is to leverage technology to provide the same or even a higher level of service than in the past. For instance, automation can give you back time to spend with your customer because you’re not stuck behind the computer all day doing admin work.
Online event proposals are the perfect example. Clients like them the moment they see them. But sometimes they’re skeptical about the electronic signature. However, once we reassure them and everything works out smoothly, they see that this process benefits them as well. And next time they’re on board from the get-go.
Having said that, it’s not always easy to implement something new in hospitality businesses that have been around for generations. Start-ups and disruptors like OTAs in the early 2000s and Airbnb today have a much easier time with that. They don’t have cemented processes and ingrained client expectations to overcome.
And our final question: By when will we see a full Return of MICE in the Netherlands?
We’ve seen more positive development than we expected over the past months. Demand is back up which has led rates to rise. Overall, 2022 has been a huge jump in the right direction. We’re still not where we used to be, but we’re on the way there. If this keeps going, 2023 will be a particularly good year for MICE travel. After all, we’ve learned that there’s nothing that beats in-person interaction.