Even if your meetings and events business is booming, it’s likely that things slow down — or even come to a halt — during the offseason and shoulder seasons.
But there’s good news: Slower seasons don’t have to mean no business.
To keep the group business bookings coming, you’ll just need to employ a few clever tactics.
Offer Luxury on a Budget (With a Backup Plan)
Extending a discount is a smart move in slower months, but consider also incorporating an elevated experience.
Notes Mike May, president of Brightspot Incentives & Events, “We have a business services company that plans a trip to the Caribbean every year with us. To reduce costs, we find offers from hotels open during the offseason at reduced rates to provide an unforgettable top-tier trip on a midtier budget.”
Make sure, however, that you take Mother Nature into consideration. For instance, the Caribbean’s slower months are also hurricane season.
If you’re in a similar situation where weather — or something else — could completely cancel the event, ease planners’ minds with a backup plan.
May says that in 2017, Hurricane Irma hit during his group’s trip, shutting down their event location at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas.
“We had to pivot to the Four Seasons in Nevis, which also had a discounted rate for the offseason. The offseason rates are very appealing for group travel interested in high-end experiences, just as long as you have a couple backup plans in case the worst happens.”
Plan a Major Event
Instead of waiting for bookings to come in, plan an event yourself!
This is what the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce did in 2018, launching the Building Community Conference.
“We saw a need to bridge the destination marketing organization and travel writing communities,” says Director of Tourism Libbey Hohn. “We chose early May as our date as our tourism season takes off after Memorial Day.”
The result? They drew DMOs from eight states and Canada, as well as nearly 40 travel writers!
Don’t forget about existing offseason events, too. If you’re a hotel or events venue, you could offer an incentive to attract annual events to switch to your venue.
Focus on Personalization
Cassandra Rosen, president and co-founder of FK Interactive, a hospitality communications and marketing agency, says that one key factor in getting slow-season bookings is ensuring that your venue truly fits your clients’ needs — and then ensuring that message is crystal clear.
Ask questions beyond the number of attendees, room size, price, and desired location. Strive to learn more about the client and what matters most to them.
If inquiries stop short of booking, Rosen recommends taking a closer look at where your best sales have previously come from, followed by a deep dive into each client type.
Are they a nonprofit, or an organization that cares about health and wellness? Instead of a typical team-building exercise, consider offering a package with an Instagram influencer to host a golf outing or an outdoor yoga class, and provide some exclusive tips for the group. In addition to giving clients extra value, working with influencers allows you to reach a new audience. In fact, the strategy provides an ROI averaging 6.5 times that of traditional advertising methods.
“The slower months are about flexibility, getting creative with marketing, and communicating to your client that you understand them and can provide an incredible experience that your competitors can’t provide,” Rosen says. “When that message is clear, consistent, and combined with real value, your venue can compete on more than just price and get more bookings with planners during slower months.”
Combine Storytelling and Advertising
Well-crafted blog posts have the power to tell moving stories — including ones highlighting your attractive offseason features.
Telling the stories isn’t enough, though; you must also make sure they are seen and continue to get seen.
To maximize your search engine optimization, create content using highly searched, low competition keywords that your potential clients might be searching on Google.
Jessica Parker, a public-relations consultant and the founder of Trip Whisperer, has used this strategy, supporting it with display ads created to visually represent their message — and an enticing special offer. These get placed onto platforms such as AdRoll, Adara, and Sojern to retarget readers online with an embedded link.
Once a planner clicks on the link, they’re taken to a page to read more about the off-peak incentives. Moreover, they can fill out their event details or contact the venue directly.
Parker shares an example from working with The Benjamin Hotel in NYC:
“I had to look at the booking period with my events director to start peppering in messages about the upcoming seasonal menus by Food Network’s Iron Chef at The National, for example, coupled with value-adds like a complimentary Champagne toast, complimentary breakfast at The Benjamin, or 10% discount for booking early, which would help take the risk from that need period. Many times, we would incorporate complimentary copies of Geoffrey Zakarian’s cookbook for those foodie planners or their top executives. We also had partnerships and listings with relevant sites like The Knot who could drive qualified leads to us.”