Prevue Advisors Meet at IMEX: Higher Rates, Lower Service Levels

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From left: Samantha Marie: OminEra; Josh Adams, streamlinevents; Catherine Jones, The Edventives Group; Steffi Kordy, Cocoon Incentives; Venessa Grant, Manifest Site Selection; Agnes Canonica, MCI Group; Dave Stevens, Data.World; Beau ballin, CWT Meetings & Events; Andrea Cannistraci, ANDGREAT

The annual meeting of Prevue Advisors, held Monday at Delano Las Vegas, revealed a past year fraught with frustration, but also some solutions for dealing with the new normal.

With compression forecast to continue through 2023, the annual gathering of Prevue Advisors shared stories and solutions from a past year full of converging challenges: higher room rates, lower service levels and challenging airline conditions—but clients (internal or external) with the same expectations as always.

Many have meeting owners who still expect immediate responses and the same level of service as before, and are willing to pay more. But the planners literally can’t even get anyone at the hotels to call them back.

Hotel pricing is all over the board: “In your top-tier destinations, the pricing is so high for your basic hotels, not even luxury hotels, and they are charging $500/night. That’s insane,” said Venessa Grant, owner, Manifest Site Selection and Event Services.

Leisure is taking up group rates in many cities, like Miami, where the hotels are getting rack rates.

But the issue is that, in many cases, the higher pricing goes hand in hand with lower service levels because of staffing issues. “A number of hotels are struggling. They’ll sell it to you, but you don’t know if they’re going to have enough housekeepers to serve those rooms,” said Josh Adams, industry relations strategist, streamlinevents, who was recently at an event where his room was not addressed for four days.

How are the Prevue advisors addressing this? Many are writing in service levels and including expectations in their pre-con communications and meetings—but still not getting the service. Another area that’s affected is room service, with take-out from food outlets in its place, or nothing at all.

Grant recently held a meeting where service levels were discussed during the pre-con meeting, “but once we got there, they didn’t service the rooms. Nobody complained because it was a group that travels all the time. They no longer expected it.”

The key is communication, the group agreed, praising hotels that state up front that they offer optional room service: “I like that hotels are giving you that option of whether or not you want housekeeping. If you’re staying for three or four days, do you really need it if they’re going to bring you clean towels anyway?” said Nicky Baumohl, president & CEO, Evolutionary Events.

But it all comes back to the expectations of some groups and meeting owners that nothing has changed—and the steep increase in room rates. “If it’s a four- or five-star hotel and these are amenities that you used to get, and they are going to cut back on those things, then maybe they should cut back on the rates,” said Grant.

And then there’s the air. “Its a disaster right now,” said Adams. “Air booking agencies are having the same staffing problems as everyone else. The rate complaint has nearly tripled when you try to use an agency. It’s painful.”

Many members are considering cities they never have before, but then they run into challenges with air. Others are getting higher hotel rates from second-tier cities, such as Nashville, as from first-tier cities.

On a positive note, some are finding that higher-end executive retreat groups prefer second-tier. “They want to be in a more secluded location,” said Andrea Cannistraci, president, ANDGREAT. “They don’t care if it’s not a direct flight and they have to drive an hour when they land because that’s part of the retreat.”

Is this changing the destinations they are considering? “I think it’s just an odd year,” said Steffi Kordy, president, Cocoon Incentives. “It’s shaking things up.” She just had a group booked and ready to go, planned right down to the menus, that couldn’t get their visas until next year and had to cancel.

Air travel to Europe is just as challenging. “Look at what happening at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, there are lines that extend out of the airport into covered tents that are a quarter-mile long. And you can not make a connecting flight. It’s very similar with Charles De Gaulle,” said Beau Ballin, vice president, commercial leader, CWT Meetings & Events, whose company is moving meetings out of Europe as a result.

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Barbara Scofidio is Editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In her 30 years in the industry, she has become known for her passion around greening meetings, growing awareness of human trafficking and promoting CSR activities as part of business events. She is currently a member of SITE's Women IN Leadership committee and the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee. She was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of SITE for 30 years, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. Before joining Prevue in 2014, she served as Editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives (MeetingsNet) for more than 20 years. She has a BA in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.