Title image for article Just a few clicks to make your pitch
TEXT Astrid Schwamberger · PHOTOS Thorsten Jochim

Just a few clicks to make your pitch

For some time now, it has been as simple to market events rooms online as bedrooms. Providers can advertise on the HRS Group's portals and can answer enquiries from corporate customers without having to go to too much effort. Aljona Schulze from the German hotel operator Rilano Hotels & Resorts knows how it works.

If she had one wish, Aljona Schulze would most like to upload hundreds of photos of events rooms to HRS. "Visual representation is hugely important and a key issue for us," the head of sales at Rilano Hotels & Resorts says. She manages the marketing for the group, which operates individual hotels in Bavaria, northern Germany, Frankfurt and the Alps, from its head office in Munich. The group markets its events services through direct sales as well as online sales channels such as HRS Meetings Solutions.

As the number of images is limited, however, Aljona Schulze concentrates on the essentials, presenting the USPs of the individual hotels and focusing on her customers' preferences. When it came to organising photo shoots with a specialist hotel photographer, chairs were therefore laid out in different configurations and the rooms were photographed with various technical set-ups. A variety of images showing individual seating arrangements demonstrates to potential customers that the hotel has experience of dealing with the desired request.

It's thanks to this that the head of sales knows the seating plans "Parliamentary" and "Theatre" are the most frequently booked. Showing seven different photographs of the same room is pointless, as is concealing elements that obscure the view, she says. "It's also important," she says, "that potential customers see exactly what they'll get." The images have therefore been taken in bright light; alcoves and columns can also be discerned, because "What's relevant in the photos is having a good overview, not showing a bouquet of flowers."

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Aljona Schulze: Focusing on special features

Photos, facts – finished

As well as providing visual impressions, Rilano also uploads information about its facilities: the number, size and height of the rooms, technical equipment, whether the rooms get natural light, options for seating arrangements, contacts. Because costs are also a crucial factor in decisions, prices for rooms and conference package fees are listed too. "We list the starting prices, so that customers can estimate their budget," Schulze says, adding that this also helps to accommodate their needs. 
It sounds simple – and it is. "We just enter the facts, and we've already started our pitch," Aljona Schulze enthuses. However, close coordination with the MICE experts at HRS is still necessary to ensure the group appears as high up as possible in the list of results, from which potential customers can then choose up to four hotels. The more requirements a hotel meets, the greater the chances that Rilano will receive an enquiry, Schulze says.

Conquering markets without its own sales team

If one of the hotels is short-listed by a customer, HRS sends an e-mail to Rilano with a link to the customer's requirements, terms and conditions and conditions of payment and cancellation. If everything is in order, an employee on site will enter the specific prices for the requested services. If corporate customers are requesting events services for several days, prices are then quoted for overnight accommodation, either including or excluding breakfast. This frequently happens, Aljona Schulze says. "Most customers enquire about two-day events." In her experience, she adds, "We usually sell packages with catering included." 
In a final step, the contact person's details are then recorded and Rilano states whether the quote is a first or second option, i.e. whether the prospective customer is in first or second place in the queue. If the deadline for the option expires without a contract having been signed with the first prospective customer, the company moves on to the second one. If the latter accepts Rilano's quote, Rilano concludes an electronic contract with it directly.
This process saves a huge amount of time overall, Aljona Schulze says. She has also spotted another advantage: it allows Rilano to raise its profile and gain customers who may not otherwise have been aware of the group or the hotel concerned. "If we receive an enquiry from the UK, for example, we can serve that market without setting up our own sales team there."