By Dennis Nessler
The challenge for hotels looking to secure group business is significant in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped The Hotel at the University of Maryland, which is leveraging technology to bridge the gap.
Vienna, VA-based Southern Management Corporation—which manages the 297-room luxury hotel and conference center that is affiliated with the University of Maryland—recently launched digital solutions to provide clients with tools to virtually experience and interact with its properties and event spaces.
Jeff Brainard, vp, sales and marketing, Southern Management Corporation, talked about the driving force behind the property’s effort. “We were looking for ways to improve the journey for people to see the property and to site the property remotely. We’re trying to make it easier for people to book and be comfortable in doing so without having to plan a separate trip down specifically to see it,” he said. Brainard later added, “it’s just another arrow in the quiver for the sales team to be able to get people to experience the property.”
As part of its initiative the company is utilizing a platform that allows for live interactive video tours of sites. At the conclusion of the tour, the recorded video is automatically emailed to the client where it can be saved and forwarded to key decision makers.
Brainard pointed out the digital solution, which is provided by Realync, had originally been utilized by the company on the residential side of the business before determining it could be effective for hotels as well as he noted “it’s got a lot of flexibility to it.”
He added, “This gives us a competitive advantage versus other properties that don’t have it and don’t have a site tour in their budget. It’s a great way to adapt technology from a different industry and leverage it to what we’re doing now,” he said.
Brainard further touted the benefits of the platform, particularly in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. “As travel restrictions and things tighten up around the country it was important for us to really push on this. We know there are going to be better times, people are going to plan meetings again and want to have weddings, but they need to see the property…You can show all the spaces as they are, you can see the distances and ask questions as you’re in it. It really is the next closest thing to being there,” he said.
Brainard added that based on the initial success of virtual tours at the Hotel at the University of Maryland, Southern Management plans to tap into the digital platform at some of its other hotel properties as well. In addition, the hotel has also partnered with multiple video-conferencing companies to complement in-house capabilities by connecting groups of any size from anywhere around the globe.
Brainard also stressed the user-friendly digital solutions represented a very minimal investment for the company equating to roughly a few thousand dollars a year. He acknowledged the significance of bringing this to the hotel side. “This type of stuff for whatever reason has been slow to come into hotels. It really is to me a game changer,” he said.