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How to win more group business in 2023

By Mike Stengel, Senior Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Venue Relations for Encore
8 February 2023
8 min read
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By Mike Stengel, Encore Senior Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Venue Relations and Andrew Nichols, Encore Senior Vice President, Strategic Accounts

It has become increasingly clear to executives that bringing staff together for training, team building and communicating business initiatives is imperative when companies operate with a dispersed workforce. This driver for group business, combined with pent-up demand for face-to-face experiences, is driving a strong recovery for the meetings and events industry. As we head into 2023, the pace of recovery across segments remains unevenly distributed, but there are bright spots on the horizon. What does the future hold for group business at luxury hotels? Here are four trends you can leverage to win more group business in 2023.

Trend No. 1: Consistently short booking windows

According to the 2022 2nd half Encore Venue Pulse Report, the No. 1 challenge venues have in supporting customer events is shorter lead times. But there are creative ways hotels can turn this challenge into an opportunity to educate meeting and event organizers and adapt to this trend faster than the competition.

One way to make short booking windows work to your advantage is to think of your in-house technology providers as an extension of your sales team. In-house event technology providers understand your available spaces and the technology that shows them to their best advantage and can give examples of what’s possible. Involving them at the beginning of the sales cycle creates greater alignment between the hotel and vendor partner teams, which ensures better planning can take place and can help hotels manage budgets and staffing challenges. Leverage their expertise to establish planner trust in your venue early in the sales cycle to establish a competitive advantage, emphasize team alignment throughout the event cycle, and deliver a seamless experience to secure repeat business.

Technology can provide a solution to short booking windows. Digital platforms or apps used to manage exhibit space needs – like Encore EventNow – may offer a higher, quicker level of service to produce trade shows and conventions. For groups that only require basic technology packages, these apps can streamline the sales process and could transition to help planners manage their show day.

Trend No. 2: Emphasis on relationship-building experiences

Meeting and event professionals acknowledge the rising costs of labor, food and beverage, hotel room rates, and transportation and have adapted their 2023 budgets to accommodate them. According to the Encore Winter 2022 Planner Pulse, 61 percent of the meeting and event professionals surveyed expect their budgets to increase in 2023. Of those expecting increases, 80 percent anticipate their budgets will increase by 25 percent or more.

With more money to spend, meeting and event professionals are willing to invest in elevating group experiences. And their No. 1 priority? Networking and relationship-building activities. According to the Encore Winter 2022 Planner Pulse Report, human-focused elements at 2022 events generated the most participant ROI. Meeting and event organizers say that 74 percent of the value was generated by networking and relationship-building experiences. Sixty-one percent say connecting participants to the organization’s mission, vision and/or values generated ROI. An equal number of meeting and event professionals (61 percent) say education and training activities delivered value. And 55 percent of the meeting and event organizers surveyed say activities that fostered a feeling of belonging to the organization/culture generated value for participants.

Designing memorable physical and digital experiences that support these human-focused elements will require new ways of thinking, new staffing and operational models. To manage shifting expectations and requirements, your in-house event technology provider should be proficient in providing end-to-end solutions. Strategize with your event technology partners and talk about the customer you’re going to meet with, review their needs and wants before the initial meeting. Remember: Some planners, especially for smaller group gatherings, are new to the industry. Don’t assume that they know all the options your hotel offers for food, breaks, walk-in music, mood lighting, and more. Provide them with ‘good, better, best’ options to help them understand what is possible through a thoughtful sales discovery process. If your sales team and provider partners understand the event objective, customer needs and budget, you’ll be successful in creating a satisfying event experience and building loyalty.

Trend No. 3: Importance of ESG initiatives

According to the Winter 2022 Planner Pulse Report, planners expect their venue partners to make environmental, social and governance a priority. When selecting a venue, 55 percent of the meeting and event professionals surveyed say diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are important. Forty-five percent say that environmental sustainability and 42 percent say social responsibility are also key considerations. Another key concern? Forty-five percent of meeting and event professionals want to meet in a destination where local legislation is aligned with organizational values.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies are a growing requirement associated with hotels and events from corporations, planners and attendees. If a venue has taken proactive verifiable measures, it will resonate with customers, thus driving group business. The more successfully your brand integrates and activates ESG, the more market share will be achieved, the more earnings will be generated, and brand recognition and reputation will improve. This will lead to attracting and retaining top talent as well as group business customers.

Addressing sustainability is more than just focusing on environmental opportunities. It is the interrelationship of people, the venue, purpose and wellness initiatives and how decisions affect each area. Customers want to do business with companies that align with their values. However, a hotel and its event technology partner’s response to ESG must be tangible and real. Real actions include using locally sourced supplies and equipment to reduce shipping and emissions, sharing catering menus with other groups to create efficiencies from utilities in the preparation process, using LED walls or monitors and laser lamps to reduce energy consumption and waste, and leveraging digital solutions that drive sustainability and reduce waste.

Encore uses communication and planning applications such as Lighthouse (which enables communication with our team and the hotel team in real-time to eliminate traditional flowsheets) and Cloud CRM systems that allow all our team members to see what is happening with a customer in real time so that we deliver quality service through technology versus utilizing printed communication. Encore continues to build on and prioritize ESG as a competitive advantage.

Trend No. 4: Persistence of hybrid events

Encore Winter 2022 Planner Pulse respondents say 15 percent of their 2023 meetings and events through Q3 2023 will have a hybrid element.

Digital and hybrid offerings not only enhance the experience for those who participate in person but broaden the reach of each session by bringing in remote attendees who, after a good experience with a group, may work harder to attend in person next time.

Hotels that are experts in the hybrid experience can also insulate themselves against future group business fluctuations. Planning a hybrid event is complex and requires a dual event mindset. When hotels demonstrate the ability to produce these technology-dependent events seamlessly, they establish themselves as trusted meeting and event partners. By going the extra step and working in partnership with your in-house technology provider to lead meeting and event organizers through the strategy, design and flawless execution of these events, you cement your reputation as a venue capable of handling much larger, complex and profitable in-person and hybrid events.

By adapting to manage short booking windows, emphasizing relationship-building experiences, and promoting your hotel’s ESG offerings and its hybrid technology capabilities, your hotel will capture more group business in 2023 and accelerate your post-pandemic recovery.

Want more predictions and trends? Encore releases quarterly Planner Pulse reports, available here: encoreglobal.com/planner-pulse/.

About the Author

Mike Stengel, Senior Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Venue Relations

Mike Stengel was named Encore’s Senior Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Venue Relations in September 2020. He leads Encore’s focus on developing relationships with venue partners, hotel chains, hospitality ownership groups, and management companies. 

In addition to sales in his 27-years in the event technology industry, Mike has led operational, revenue management, business process improvement, customer experience and service excellence, and specialized solution groups. 

Mike has served on the Live Events Council Steering Team and has chaired the Membership Committee of InfoComm (now AVIXA). He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Association of Management Companies Institute (AMCI), and the International Luxury Hotel Association (ILHA). Mike earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism with an emphasis in advertising and a minor in business management.

Outside of work, Mike serves on various charitable boards and enjoys scuba diving, snow skiing and traveling. He lives in St. Louis with his wife, daughter and son.


Andrew Nichols was appointed Senior Vice President, Strategic Partnerships in January 2020. His primary focus is enhancing global hotel chain venue partnership engagements, new and renewal concession contracting, relations, innovation, and driving value and productivity.

He has been instrumental in the growth of the industry of hotel outsourced audiovisual and technology services since 1981. As one of the original employees with Atlanta-based Total Audio-Visual Services, Inc. (TAVS), he remained with the company in various executive level sales and operational roles through mergers and acquisitions with GE Capital/Technology Management Services, Caribiner Communications, AVT, Encore Event Technologies, and Audio Visual Services Corporation (formerly PSAV).

Nichols long-term support and ongoing involvement in the hospitality industry’s national associations allow him to regularly monitor the trends and needs of meeting planners and hotel partners. This allows him to ensure the services and technology the organization provides are cutting edge and targeted to maximize productivity and to help clients meet their goals and objectives.