[Editor’s Note]: This partner content was supplied by Christine Lawson, Senior VP of Sales/Catering at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
As consumers grow accustomed to personalized searches and marketing via social networking sites like Facebook and Google, expectations are growing for relevant and personalized services outside the online world.
In the realm of meetings, that desire for a customer-tailored interaction is being fulfilled through social media campaigns as well as a host of apps that let planners take the reins, from polling to contact exchange to analytics.
Hotels are also entering the fray, as boutique properties and larger hotel chains alike offer their own apps. At Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, for example, we recently introduced the Kimpton iPad sales app, a visual and interactive tool designed to showcase the more than 60 hotels within the Kimpton portfolio.
The key about this and other apps is that technology should enhance rather than replace the human connection. A hybrid approach melding personal interaction with highly visual technology, facilitates conversation and beautiful imagery evokes emotion.
In our case, our sales people can show off all the obvious touch points, like photos, floor plans, dining menus and other venue-specific information, meeting space, adjacent restaurants and catering menus, as well as carry on a meaningful conversation because they are not riddled with a lot of heavy text.
Our sales teams can also send out a targeted follow-up email directly from the app to the potential client, including brochures about the hotels that were discussed during the meeting and comparison grids of all Kimpton hotels in various cities.
It’s important to remember that technology is only one tool in the quest for a closer relationship with the client. Old-fashioned creativity goes a long way in making a meeting or event stand out. Attendees coming to a meeting want to know that they’re not considered part of an event factory, but are truly appreciated for having chosen to do business there.
As an example, we hosted Toyota at the Canary Hotel in Santa Barbara for a media event to launch their new 2014 Highlander. We weren’t merely the host hotel; we saw an opportunity to enhance their event and play a part in the attendee’s experience.
As part of the event, media took the new Highlanders on a spin to Santa Ynez. Prior to taking off, we equipped them with a road trip travel pack for their 40 minute drive including snacks, magazine and iTunes credit for a drive-time playlist.
When media arrived back in Santa Barbara for the evening reception, we ran a loop of images of the drive to Santa Ynez during the evening event. To make the dinner extra special, our chefs decorated their crème brulée desserts with the Toyota logo, which took place at the nearby Santa Barbara Historical Museum. The Highlanders were set up in their outdoor courtyard and the chef prepared all of their food from a temporary kitchen in a tent in the parking lot.
Another example, Nabisco/Mondelez held a meeting where they were rolling out new products and ingredients. We gave the extras to the dessert team at Jackson 20 and they used them to create a custom afternoon break treat for the group.
There are plenty of other unique meeting break options. Why not offer kickboxing classes or hula hoop lessons to get the blood flowing and keep the mind sharp?
From our experience, activity-related meeting breaks yield the best results for both mind and body. We also offer yoga mats and massage chairs for attendees.
The demands for this kind of innovative thinking are on the rise. I have businesses ask me, “How can we make this different? How can food be more of an experience? How can the set up of the room be more collaborative and productive?”
Whether that means synchronized swimmers during breakfast in the pool as we had at the our FireSky Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., or offering “Spike It” stations, where attendees can make their own drinks, everything from a Bloody Mary bar to a hot chocolate station, people want something fun and interactive when they host a meeting.
We also recently organized a painting event with Paint Nite where we invited 30 of our closest customers to drink wine and paint a picture of the skyline of Boston with us. It was a creative way to get the clients to come to our hotel, was fun, interactive and at the end of the night the clients took their painting with them.
As we’re noticing, the industry has to be much more creative and open-minded to remain competitive. We are willing to take the next leap and ultimately, any company who wants to be successful should be thinking the same way.