The following script is from Evention’s Automated Back Office Briefings Podcast, Episode 2: Bouncing Back to Group Business. Automated Back Office Briefings explores the digital reinvention of the back office through the lens of Eventioneers, clients, and industry experts.
Listen to the full episode here.
HOST: Hello & welcome to Episode 2 of Automated Back Office Briefings. I’m your host, Claire Kenney, Marketing Communications Manager at Evention LLC.
Last episode, we explored ways Evention automation is reinventing the back office and reinventing the workplace. Today, we’re taking a deeper dive into how the back office is being reinvented within the hospitality industry.
Today I’m joined once again by my fellow Eventioneer, Marie Davis, Evention Group Billing Product Manager
Welcome back, Marie.
MARIE: Good to be here again.
HOST: I wanted to bring you back on Automated Back Office Briefings because, besides having such great input in our inaugural episode, you and I are currently collaborating on a white paper focused on the automation of hotel group billing within the hospitality sector.
MARIE: Yeah, absolutely.
HOST: Despite the fact that COVID has reduced group event capacity, group billing still remains a very relevant topic, doesn’t it?
MARIE: It does. We definitely have seen a huge drop off in group business due to COVID. I mean, just the nature of group business. And, by group business, we mean non-leisure travel. So, non-leisure guest stay and food and beverage consumption at hotels.
Our (group billing) application has been absolutely critical for our customers on the platform to track and manage – in fact even all of the lost business due to COVID and making sure that the billing is squared away for those contracts. And we’re really hopeful that this downtime has certainly been an opportunity for our teams to get caught up, our customers to get caught up on that billing.
2020 was slated to be a massively successful year for the hospitality industry, domestically here in the states and globally. And just to have that all fall off, you know, it was a huge shuffle and a big pivot that our customers had to make and it (Group Billing by Evention) made it so much easier to manage that transition, which is fantastic while not ideal. But having that in one spot for all of the different hotels to manage allowed that element of lost business, regardless of their circumstances, has been huge.
We’re really hopeful that on the other side of COVID, and while we are seeing upticks and a decrease in the number of businesses, group pieces of business, canceling – that’s a trend that we’re seeing going down, which is great. We’re hopeful that on the other side of this our teams are going to come back stronger than ever with the ability to manage the pre-arrival group billing cycle and post-departure group billing cycle.
HOST: Right, that’s what a lot of news outlets are really reporting now is essentially you thought 2020 was going to be a big year economically, just wait for 2021. It’s going to be that much bigger, which, I think, is another reason why hotels should and can take a serious look during this downtime on implementing this group billing solution to manage what they have now, but also be that much more prepared for what 2021 is slated to bring.
MARIE: Absolutely. And another trend that we’ve seen across all of our hotel brands is that they’ve taken this downtime as an opportunity to implement some more advanced technologies, where previously were a little antiquated.
One of the biggest headaches just in the back office and the accounting departments in most hotels, coming from experience – that’s where I started my career in the hotel industry was on an accounting and finance team in group billing or accounts receivable – and it was just wild to me that we were a massive hotel management group that was using Excel spreadsheets and manually preparing for every single piece of group business and all of the elements that come in and play into just even the pre-arrival.
Before we even get the group on property, we’re spending so much time and manual effort just to get ready for that financially to mitigate some of these risks that, we couldn’t even conceptualize some of them. All the risks and the attrition battles that I’ve gone through, we could not see them coming from a mile off.
So the elements of that are, and this is a very simplified explanation, you need to plan for how much one piece of group business is contracted to spend at your property. Then you also need to evaluate how much that group is probably going to spend because those very often are two separate numbers. And then, the very last piece, the big ticket, how’s the group going to pay for it?
And with these uncertain times that we’re in right now, there’s no guarantee, right?
MARIE: And with the world that we’re in right now and, that’s not going to be our normal forever, guaranteeing payment is going to guarantee that you can keep people coming back to work. It’s going to guarantee that you can continue making these huge technological advances and investing in these other software that make a more enticing guest experience.
Guaranteeing that group business. Guaranteeing that the funds are going to be there once all of those services have been consumed, is so critical and it’s been a big battle. And nobody’s figured out the right way, before our (group billing) application, nobody had found the magic sauce, if you will, of how to make that happen, consistently in a way that mitigates as much risk to the hotel as possible.
The beautiful thing about our (group billing) application is that it consolidates all of the data from the different source systems, into one area so that when hotel brands come back online – and hotel brands have a really good, historically speaking, get really used to and get really good at, operating with lean staffing levels – so I can imagine that when we start to bounce back we’re not going to bounce back the workforce quite as quickly as the business will bounce back, so having an application where all of that data that’s typically so manually cumbersome all in one spot, is going to make it so much easier for these teams to rebound and hit the ground running once we start rebounding from COVID.
That’s just how I feel about the future, especially around group business and the hotel world.
HOST: Well, I think you’re right. And you talked about optimizing staff, you talked about optimizing dollars pre-arrival. But then, on top of that, we have just the general error rate that comes with manual accounting.
HOST: And, so, there’s even more money saved down the road. And, like you said, in these times with extremely thin margins, when so much is trying to bounce back, that’s just another hurdle that this overcomes.
MARIE: Absolutely and being able to assure that that’s there, it’s going to be peace of mind for the accounting teams that are trying to bounce back and, honestly, it provides a really great cover for the operations teams that are preparing for those services to be consumed.
It used to be, prior to COVID, that you could use historical weeks or very similar weeks from the immediate past to plan your future weeks of housekeeping staffing levels, kitchen staffing levels. We’re going to be, I think, and this is just my humble opinion and how I view the outer hotel world from my lens, we’re going to have some weird weeks ahead of us. And not just in the immediate future, we’re going to have some very hit and miss (weeks). Some weeks we’re going to have big hits where business is going to come just as we thought it was and we’re going to see those expectations in our views and I think we’re going to have some weeks where we have some big misses. And it’s covering those missed weeks, they’re not going to be able to cover all of it, but doing everything you can, smartly and efficiently to cover those missed weeks and to maximize on the weeks where you have big hits, that’s going to be so critical for our customers, to be able to manage and to take the most advantage of to stay afloat for the next foreseeable months, maybe a year, while things start to level out back to a norm.
HOST: So it (automated group billing) better guarantees jobs and it better guarantees dollars and we’re going to walk through that in our white paper. We have some research in there that will highlight, essentially, in a case study or two. And then prior to that, what we’re slated to collaborate on is, like you mentioned, these risks and rewards. And our hope is really that when any reader takes a look at this, they have a better understanding of what it’s like in the real world.
MARIE: Absolutely. My goal with the white paper is to speak to my former self – my former hotel finance teams and people and the family of hotel finance professionals throughout the world – and really appeal to just how wild it is to be in the finance office of big function hotels and big group business property. It’s so fun. Those properties are so full of energy and it’s wonderful and it’s great to be part of those teams, but you know that they come with days that are just mega-frustrating. And I’m speaking to that time in my life.
I would love to share some best practices with the teams out there that are listening. So, be on the lookout for this white paper. I’ll have a couple of best practices for you.
The group billing application is the newest product in our suite of products and I was on the team that planned it and took it from just a concept to fruition. So, you can guarantee that there’s a lot of those experiences built in there. You can tell the love that I have for the hotel finance team through that application.
HOST: I don’t want to put you on the spot, but since you’ve been doing more of the research and I’ve been doing more of the creative side to this paper, is there a nugget or a stat that can sum up some of the research that you’ve put together or thoughts that you’ve put together that you have found.
MARIE: I don’t have a specific number, but I will give you a specific sentiment.
The customers that are on our group billing platform have expressed sincere gratitude to the application, specifically for this time of COVID, that this application is web-based. It has made the transition to working from home so much easier for the teams that do all of the managing of the business through the application.
But, even more so than that, just having one application where all of the data comes in from the different source systems that we’re used to working with in one spot, a lot of those applications that are not web-based and are very much just server-based and you have to be logged into the VPN and it’s not super accessible, it’s made that transition really easy for those teams and it’s also made it really easy to see, while kind of grim but very optimistic, what groups have canceled managing the cancellation process of those groups and then watching those groups re-book in the future and watching the future group business grow.
That’s been critical, I think, for the teams to get just a little glimmer of hope and sunshine in kind of some grim numbers day over day. It’s been really great to watch these teams, these resilient sales teams, event management teams, and finance teams bounce back and look forward to the future. And get business on the books next year and the year after.
HOST: Better able to forecast.
MARIE: Yes and it’s (the group billing application) given people a reassurance that this too shall pass.
HOST: Look for our group billing paper on our Automated Insights Page at www.evention.com/automated-insights. The paper is slated to be published later this month. And, in the meantime, you can access a library of white papers on other automated accounting topics via the Automated Insights Page. Thanks, Marie!
MARIE: You’re welcome, Claire.
HOST: And thank you all for joining us today. Be sure to follow us to stay up-to-date on the latest in back office automation. Leave us a review or 5-star rating on your favorite listening platform.