Online travel agencies are primarily geared towards FITs and leisure travel, but such websites do not intrinsically broach the meetings and events marketplace. That’s where companies like Cvent (www.cvent.com) and other similarly-designed electronic platforms are making strong inroads. Like everything else, the meetings segment has been turned upside-down amidst the digital revolution. Meeting planners and salespeople now rely, to a great extent, on e-RFPs to govern their transactions and the use of this electronic conduit is bound to take over the lion’s share in quick order.
In the past, I interviewed Cvent’s Founder and CEO, Reggie Aggarwal, and gleaned some astounding statics. The company’s sales are growing exponentially with 2012’s final cume at over $7 billion in e-RFPs booked through the Cvent Suppler Network, as tabulated from guestroom sales and ancillary charges (87% of RFPs include sleeping rooms). Cvent is engaged with 43,000 unique organizations and they project $9 billion in meetings will be sourced for 2013 with 30 million guestrooms purchased. This and their reach has yet to officially expand beyond of the USA; an inevitability in the very near future given Cvent’s strong inroads into this salient marketplace.
Here’s the kicker: unlike with the OTAs, Cvent sanctions paid-for prioritization, allowing hotels to promote and differentiate their product offering. Drawing on parallels again, as a hotelier ask yourself how you have established a goal of domination/availability within FIT search. Perhaps fine-tuning your organic SEO with a paid-for-search adjunct? Think analogously for the meetings space and that is where a synergistic relationship with Cvent can exist. To quickly brush over their advertising slate, the company uses a four-tier diamond rating to choose how a property is displayed. The basic is one-diamond; more advanced is two through four-diamonds.
Reconnecting with the Cvent brass, I was eager for an update on their 2012 progress and to hear the firsthand perspective of a satisfied client – in this case, Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego and La Costa Resort & Spa about 30 miles north, collectively represented by their joint Director of Sales and Marketing, Barry Brown. To clarify, the Coronado and La Costa are managed by KSL Resorts, although they properties maintain separate ownership. Both properties utilize Cvent’s four-diamond listings, the highest placement available.
And what does that top dollar get you? ‘Share-of-screen’ is the buzz, and very apt, term casually slipping from Barry’s mouth. With sturdy investments for these two SoCal resorts, Cvent delivers prime placement on the results pages from user searches; searches queried by members of the Cvent Suppler Network who are already accessing the site with the intent to buy.
Raised in the old school world of traditional marketing at Procter & Gamble, the canon for me was always that share-of-voice presages share-of-mind – the internal brand awareness amongst the general population. More specifically, the percentage of spent advertising in relation to your direct competitors would equate over the long-term to your market share. This is marketing 101.
It appears, however, that the contemporary equation is: share-of-screen equals share-of-mouse and all that this implies – namely, share of click-throughs and share of bookings.
If you dominate the visual display of a browser page, a consumer – specific to this case, a meeting planner or event manager – has no choice but to investigate your offer via click-through, or at least remember your name. Think about how this ‘screen superiority’ applies for Google searches or TripAdvisor results. The ones at the top naturally get more clicks. Thank you, Barry, for putting this so clearly.
Bantering in generalizations is all well and good for hospitality school, but I was even more impressed by the results Barry presented. The initial objective for utilizing Cvent was to dominate the website’s share-of-screen for event searches in the greater San Diego area. Undertaking this partnership in 2009, with only 30% of leads coming in the form of e-RFPs at the time, the two hotels’ prospects doubled within a year. At the present, both properties are approaching five times the number of leads they had in 2009.
The causal link between advertising and real-time sales can at times be rather tenuous. Cvent believes that quality traffic can be ‘triaged’ through increasingly enhanced search criteria. Hence, the system works fluidly for those toiling in the mainstream of groups business; paid-for share-of-screen is increasingly viewed only by prequalified consumers and those with intent to purchase. Further, the company likens itself as the perfect hub for the nontraditional planner – those unencumbered by any particular association or licensing agency – and for properties seeking an unconventional means to penetrate the market.
A logical jump from this is to ask about the e-RFP’s function to supplant traditional marketing efforts such as tradeshows, travel publications and direct mail. Although this would be a natural conclusion of this electronically transformative era, the truth that Barry reinforced is that Cvent’s channel acts as an augmentation for his organization. Not a replacement, an adjunct.
The lesson for hotels is, much like the maxims for other digital advents like social media networks, you have to maximize your share-of-screen on all committed channels. Apply your resources in full and not as a cursory aside. And for those interested, give Cvent a browse to see if it can help grow your meetings revenue.
(Article published in eHotelier on November 22, 2012)