Every year, Benchmark Resorts & Hotels announces its Top 10 Meeting Trends, culled from its 40+ member properties located primarily in North America, with a growing selection of offshore resorts like the newly branded Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort Curaçao.
Executives from Benchmark’s sister company, Personal Luxury Resorts & Hotels, a collection of small luxury resorts, also contributed to the 2014 trends report.
Meetings and conferences are embedded in the very DNA of Benchmark Hotels, which launched over three decades ago. Prior to that, founder Burt Cabañas worked for many years as a senior meetings and conference services executive in the hospitality industry.
“The good news is there’s good news!” says Alex Cabañas, president & CEO of Benchmark Hospitality International. “Booking pace is very strong and the economic hangover is mostly worn off, and companies are spending again on training and development.”
Here are Benchmark’s Top 10 Meeting Trends for 2014, in full. The #1 trend is no surprise to anyone, but a lot of meeting hotels still have some work in this area:
#1: Lightening Speed! Free, FAST (and it better be reliable) WiFi is the #1 issue for planning professionals and conference attendees in the meetings business today. Meeting participants often come with up to three wireless devises each, so greater bandwidth is a necessity to drive multiple devices. Planners are expecting adequate bandwidth to keep their meeting guests not only connected and engaged, but happy as well.
#2: Content Leads to Discovery. Planners and conference attendees discover and learn about properties in 2014 primarily through good old fashioned Google searches. Targeted exposure on the Internet has never been more important, or more utilized by planners. What drives this? Meaningful web content.
Be visible and connected, but never forget that well executed, timely and informative website content is king when trying to communicate a message, delineate one’s brand and engage meeting professionals.
#3: Demand Trends are UP! Meeting demand and booking pace are consistently on the upswing. As the economy picks up momentum, so goes meeting demand. Short term bookings are still prevalent, but the booking window is increasingly stretching into 2015, 2016 and beyond. Not quite the good old days, but getting closer!
#4: Creating The Experience. Just as with consumer travel today, the demand for out-of-the-ordinary, unique experiences is increasingly factoring into meeting destination decisions. Those properties partnering with local assets, such as wineries, historic and natural wonders, intriguing adventure resources, and unique offsite reception and dinner venues have a strategic advantage in the pursuit and the capturing of meeting demand.
#5: Green is Good, But. Though it sounds enticing, and feels like the right thing, being green is not seen by most planning professionals today as a critical factor in property selection, and no one is losing business because of the lack of it. This isn’t to say properties aren’t doing their utmost to be good green citizens; it’s just that other issues are often paramount to the success of a meeting.
#6: Select Social Media has a place in Meetings. Social Media has minimal impact on securing corporate meetings business, with the possible exception of LinkedIn. During meetings, however, planners and conference attendees use Twitter and LinkedIn for communicating with each other, and also with moderators.
On the horizon, expect to see a rise of meeting-specific property apps tailored to optimize communication during the planning and implementation phases. These may soon supersede the role of social media. Facebook is rarely utilized to bring in meetings business or communicate during a conference, as it’s seen to be a personal communications tool for staying in touch with friends and family.
#7: Meeting ROI. This is a big one. Meeting budgets are finally increasing following over six years of recession. This is especially true in the association market with larger meetings growing in attendance. As corporate purse strings slowly loosen, meeting professionals are increasingly becoming more firm with their demands of flexibility, including the negotiation of attrition clauses. The demand for value in their investment has never been higher. It all ties back to more accountability for meeting ROI.
#8: Health Conscious! Food and beverage in 2014 is all about health and variety, from refreshment breaks to gala meal menus. Planners and attendees want healthy choices verses pre-ordained menu options, and they want value. Creative Spa breaks may substitute for refreshment breaks at those properties that offer this service. A 10-minute “Lift Your Spirits” Yoga session can be an energizer as well. Planners and attendees want breaks that perk them up—not the opposite.
#9: Teambuilding Climbs Back. Groups that have the budget are looking for unique ways to motivate, inspire and build camaraderie as the business environment continues to improve. Socially-conscious groups or those with a more streamlined budget tend to look for other camaraderie-building opportunities, such as developing fellowship through volunteerism initiatives, like building bikes for kids in the local community.
#10: Who’s Meeting in 2014? Across the country, the traditional industry segments are once again delivering business to meeting properties, including the Financial, Pharmaceutical, Insurance, Association and increasingly Healthcare industries. Silicon Valley and the High Tech Northwestern U.S. are on the rebound too, significantly benefiting properties in this market.