by Matt Alderton | May 10, 2017

Once upon a time, the most successful meetings were the most predictable ones. When they went to an event, attendees wanted it to be the same reliable meeting they'd gone to last year and the year before, with the same people, the same venue, and the same agenda. As the old saying goes: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

These days, the opposite is true: In order to stay relevant, meetings and events must constantly change, evolve, and adapt in order to bring something new and fresh to the table -- starting with a new and fresh venue.

"What's the coolest event you've ever done or experienced? This is the burning question that today's meeting planners first ask when they are selecting a venue," says Mike Schugt, president of Teneo Hospitality Group, a global sales firm representing more than 300 hotels and resorts around the world. "Whatever the answer is, today's planners seek to top -- by far -- that 'cool event'! Why? Because it's what meeting guests demand. An over-the-top experience engages guests in a way that promotes learning retention."

To help meeting professionals choose a venue that exceeds attendees' expectations, Teneo yesterday published eight "top venue observations" that it says will help planners pick a winning venue every time:

1. Pick venues that are universally appealing.

A venue today must appeal to everyone, from millennials who are just starting their careers to veteran executives who have reached the pinnacle of theirs, according to Teneo, which says "attendees of all ages today demand an experiential and interactive learning process that offers a complete immersion into a destination, a venue, and the meeting content."

2. Be adventurous.

Golf meetings remain popular, but more active sports are on the rise, according to Teneo, which says "increasingly it's action adventure that attendees are requesting and demanding." It suggests looking for venues where attendees can partake in extreme sports like skiing, ice wall climbing, dog sledding, rock rappelling, and cattle driving.

3. Connect to culture.

Teneo says cultural authenticity is essential. Specifically, look for venues that offer "a true sense of place, a vibrant culture, and a flexible, creative atmosphere where ideas can take flight," Schugt suggests.

4. Look for flexibility.

Venues should be able to adapt to last-minute changes and new directions, according to Schugt. "Planners today need to respond to rapidly changing preferences of their increasingly younger meeting attendees," he says. "What's discussed six months out can morph into an entirely different event closer to the meeting date. Hotels and resorts and planners need to remain flexible to the increasingly spontaneous and in-the-moment preferences of today's attendees."

5. Embrace unusual spaces.

Convention venues like hotels and conference centers are expected. Increasingly, so are alternative venues like museums and theaters. To truly make an impression, therefore, planners must consider more unusual venues or décor. "How about taking over a parking garage with multiple levels for a myriad of activities," Teneo asks, "or decorating a ballroom with living walls to drive home a message of sustainability to a group gathering, or renting a pier over the ocean and hosting a corporate meeting while reflecting on global warming?"

6. Select for sustainability.

Appetite for green meeting venues continues to grow, according to Schugt, who says water-efficient fixtures and energy-efficient lighting are no longer sufficient. "We see practices from catch and release fishing programs to Tesla Superchargers, and of course, locally sourced food that goes from farm to table," he reports.

7. Incorporate wellness.

Venues shouldn't just be great places to work. They also should be great places for attendees to take care of their minds and bodies, according to Teneo, which recommends looking for venues that offer activities like yoga or Tai Chi on the beach, personal trainers, hikes, bike tours of city landmarks, group runs led by hotel staff, and free loan of workout clothes and shoes.

8. Trust your gut.

Finally, look for venues that have that "je ne sais quoi." "If you've ever planned a special event, or were responsible for its success, you'll understand this," Schugt concludes. "It's always been a given that venues play a huge role in the confidence that a planner has for an event to be a resounding success. But as budgets tighten, and ROI is paramount in the minds of every client, confidence in the meeting and special event team to deliver, and the hotel with its destination's unique ability to create a transformational experience for attendees, has never been more important."

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