by Matt Alderton | March 19, 2015

(Note: For the 2016 version of this list, head here.)

During the balance of 2015, hotels and meeting planners are likely to see rising group rates, customized meeting packages, and an increased focus on experiential meetings, predicts Benchmark Hospitality, which has released its list of the "Top 10 Meeting Trends for 2015."

According to the Houston-based hospitality management company, which based the list on a survey of the leadership at its 39 conference centers, hotels, and resorts, 2015's top trends will be:

1. An emphasis on experiences. "Meeting professionals today are seeking to deliver unique, creative experiences and more ROE (return on experience) as well as ROI with their planning and programing activities," Benchmark explains. "Teambuilding and rich meeting destination immersion that extends far beyond the four walls of a hotel, resort, or conference center are in demand -- and in some cases high-adrenaline adventures. The result: unique, heightened inspirational and educational takeaways that challenge a group while bringing them closer together as a cohesive and productive team."
 
2. Strong group demand. "All indicators point to 2015 being a great year for the meetings business," Benchmark says. "Group demand is strong and rates, especially during peak periods, are trending up. The focus is on yielding high value customer profiles for high demand dates, and then filling shoulder seasons and long-term demand -- 6-12 months out."
 
3. Social media. "Social media and the meetings business are now indelibly partnered, primarily through LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and smartphone apps," Benchmark says. "Facebook is still more of a personal communications platform, with planners and suppliers using LinkedIn to communicate meeting agendas and logistics, and utilizing specialized smartphone apps, Twitter, and Instagram to communicate and solicit participants' ideas and feedback during and after a meeting."
 
4. Increased connectivity. "Powerful and reliable Wi-Fi is absolutely essential to win meetings business today," Benchmark insists. "Optimized bandwidth is extremely important as most conferees today come with one or two iPads, business and personal smartphones, laptops, etc. Connectively during the meeting is as important as connectivity later on in the guestroom. A property that stumbles in this area risks losing the business next year, and unhappy commentary on social media."
 
5. Mobile technology. "Smartphones drive everything about meetings today -- whether an advance virtual tour of hotel and meeting facilities via FaceTime, communicating agenda and destination information through specialized apps, providing transportation logistics and updates and live streaming, or communicating during meetings with fellow attendees and session presenters," Benchmark observes. "Gone forever are the days when planners asked conferees to leave their cellphone in the guestroom -- today smartphones are a critically important business tool for planners, conferees, and suppliers for use during a meeting."
 
6. Customized meeting packages. "The 2015 Complete Meeting Package is completely customized," Benchmark says. "Today the complete meeting package (CMP) -- sacrosanct over the last four decades in the conference center business -- essentially no longer exists. Every package is completely customized to the planner's exact needs and specifications. Generally the end product has many of the CMP components, but these are arranged in ways meaningful to the meeting experience and no longer standardized."
 
7. Sector success. "We've already noted meeting demand is promising this year," Benchmark says. "Active meeting market segments contributing significant volume in 2015 include education, associations, finance, health care, pharmaceutical, energy-related, insurance, and especially technology. An improving economy is providing a great environment for renewed investment in people, in training and development, and in strategic planning."
 
8. Winning with wellness. "Believe it or not, some of today's chief meeting influencers are a property's chef and F&B director, in addition to the overall service team," Benchmark says. "Meetings are a significant investment for companies. Proper attendee wellness and nutrition drive productivity and learning. Bringing chefs into the decision-making process with menu customization to maximize and sustain energy levels, accommodating dietary preferences, and considering allergy awareness has become a significant part of the meeting planning process, and is top-of-the-list with planning professionals today. Having the chef involved can be critical to winning the business. When it comes to in-house teambuilding initiatives provided by a meeting venue, talented chefs hosting unique culinary programs are a major selling point to planners."
 
9. Unique venues. "High-end boutique and personal luxury properties -- once shied away from by planners -- are now sought-after venues for important and especially high-level meetings, and these properties everywhere are taking notice," Benchmark says. "Many smaller high-end boutique hotels and resorts offer a highly personalized and intimate meeting experience with a unique ability to blend a client's corporate ethos and values with the hotel's culture for a seamless meeting experience."
 
10. Room to grow. "For those meetings looking for more traditional conference venues, space clearly rules," Benchmark concludes. "Those conference facilities offering vast meeting space both inside and out-of-doors are in high demand for midlevel and traditional training meetings. Planners are looking for an ever growing number of breakout rooms and unique gathering places often located outside and off the beaten path to facilitate small group communication, discussion, shared experience and learning during a meeting."


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