When it comes to lead times for booking corporate functions, meeting planners seem to be of two minds. They’re booking larger meetings on longer lead times but the far more numerous smaller meetings are being done on short lead times of 90 days or less. Both methods, though, take the bottom line into account.
Diana Marinos, senior project manager on the event team of Boston Scientific, exemplifies the dual strategy that many planners are deploying.
At present, Marinos has booked the medical technology company’s annual national sales meeting for 2,000 people on a two-year lead time, through 2014. But this summer, she expects to receive approval to book the event with an extra year of lead time, or even possibly through 2017.
“It’s getting more competitive to find availability for our national sales meeting,” she said.
At the same time, Marinos continues to book internal training meetings for up to 200 people with lead times of just three or four months.
For events requiring relatively limited meeting space and sleeping rooms, there’s sufficient availability at competitive rates, she explained. So senior managers, still wary of economic volatility, don’t see a need to commit money before absolutely necessary.
Marinos’ experience is borne out by data compiled by Pegasus Solutions, the giant global distribution system for lodging that processes billions of room reservations monthly and represents 90,000 properties worldwide.
Hotel-reservation lead times in February for business travelers in North America exceeded the lead times of February last year by more than 11 percent, according to the company. Significantly, the lead times also exceeded pre-recession levels; nearly 23 days this past February versus just over 19 days in February 2007—the most recent pre-recession data available.
Lead times for leisure bookings are also rising—about 6.5 percent this February over last—contributing to the tightened availability.
While Pegasus reported that overall hotel bookings by corporations remained relatively flat through April compared to last year, the company said in the following statement: “Opportunity lies in the group and meetings market, where increased activity is helping drive rate growth.”
Carlson Wagonlit, the big, Minneapolis-based corporate travel agency, has seen lead times for all kinds of corporate meetings extend to 80 to 90 days this year as compared with 60-70 days last year, according to Nikki McLain, global program manager at the company.
“Most clients have the budgets, so they’re going ahead with their meetings,” McLain said. “We’re not seeing a lot of pushback from clients who want to wait before committing.”
Still, the increase falls within what is traditionally considered a short-term booking window.