How Substitutions Hurt Group Sales (And What To Do About Them)

Sheraton Guiyang Hotel—Meeting RoomVisitors to a zoo in China got a rude surprise when the lion started barking.

As it turns out, it was not a lion at all, but a large, hairy dog.

Apparently, the zookeepers of the Louhe city zoo had substituted the lion with the dog, hoping no one would notice. And the lion was not the only animal they did a switheroo with. They had substituted several other animals including a leopard (with a white fox).

This substitution resulted in the zoo losing a lot of business because people felt cheated and therefore lost all trust.

At our hotels, we do a similar kind of substitution that hurts our sales too

While we aren’t deliberately trying to cheat our customers, we have to make last minute substitutions all the time. Whether it is a lack of planning or a matter of circumstance, there are times when we have to make substitutions to a groups itinerary.

Things like changing the meeting room, the color of the linens, or the room types that their guests will be staying at. And there is nothing wrong with making these substitutions.

The problem is when we fail to inform the client about the substitution

It’s not that we want to maliciously hide something from our group planners, it’s that we feel that the change is too small to bother. Much like the zookeepers in China, we figure that no one will notice.

Except that most people do notice the switch

Some group leaders don’t say anything, and others do. But whether they tell you or not, most want to be kept up to date about any changes you have made And they want to know as soon as possible so they can either approve them or at least be aware of them.

And when we fail to inform, we lose trust

Much like the visitors of the zoo, the group planner loses trust and feels that you and the organization you work for is incompetent. After all, they had given you specific instructions on what they needed, and they feel that the lack of communication is a breach of trust.

Even if the substitution is for something as small as the color of the napkins.

Because even dinner napkins are important to some people

Sorority groups, weddings, girl scout groups, and reunions are just some groups that are particular about the linen color. It may not seem so important to you or I but it can be to the group.

Meeting room substitution is another one that many of us are guilty of. We show the group a certain meeting room, and then for one reason or another, we have to substitute for a different one.

Not telling the group about this kind of substitution sets us up to fail

After all, the group could have a whole schematic done based on the room they were shown. Any changes in room size will alter their setup and make the planner quite irritable, at the very least.

And while you may be able to get away with it every now and then, you will end up losing business. Because every time the group planner sees something that is not done properly, it will signal incompetence. And with enough of these signals, you’ll lose their business.

The irony is that many of us would be better off biting the bullet

Most group planners can be quite understanding about any changes. They realize that life happens and things don’t always go according to plan. So if we took the opportunity to simply call them ahead with any changes, we wouldn’t look so incompetent.

In fact, doing so would have us looking even better

Instead of waiting for the group planner to notice any substitutions, imagine that you called them ahead and informed them. While they may get upset initially, they will get over it. In fact, they may be able to come up with a solution that would work for both the hotel and for them.

Let’s recap a bit

Substitutions are normal in the hotel business. Hotel sales people and group planners know that there are going to be last minute substitutions. The problem occurs when the substitutions are not conveyed to the group ahead of time, leaving the group to discover them at their meeting.

Group sales managers should make it their priority to call the group with any changes to their room types or their BEO’s. Doing so creates an even stronger bond between the group planner and yourself. Not informing them in the hopes that no one will notice will only lead to a lack of trust, and loss of future business.

Just like it did for the zoo.

What should you do next?

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