by Matt Alderton | April 18, 2016
Between the U.S. presidential election and the Summer Olympics in Brazil, 2016 is shaping up to be a busy year already for most Americans. For organizers of meetings and events, however, it will be especially active, predicts hotel management company Benchmark Hospitality International.
"We thought last year was terrific," said Ted Davis, Benchmark's chief sales and marketing officer. "It was the best year in the history of the industry and for our company. Yet 2016 is well positioned for even stronger business growth. There are positive indicators everywhere. Our challenge is to creatively meet demand with exceptional hospitality and service, productive meeting environments delivering rewarding experiences for meeting attendees, and highly seasoned, well trained sales professionals who are skilled at cultivating new business relationships."

Toward that end, Benchmark said it is keeping its finger on the pulse of the meetings industry by closely monitoring industry trends, including the following "Top Meeting Trends for 2016," published today based on observations from the properties in its portfolio:

1. Meeting Pops-Ups
One of the more interesting trends for 2016 is planner requests for pop up meeting rooms that can be assembled or moved at a moment's notice. Often used for spontaneous conference calls, small last-minute gatherings, or just to briefly hang out in between sessions, RFPs are increasingly requesting meeting room pop-ups as part of the meeting experience.
2. Superior Culinary Programs
A request heard most often from planners for 2016 is, 'Wow me with your culinary talents!' Meeting properties are highly skilled in the kitchen today, and that makes 'topping the last meeting's F&B experience' an ongoing and sometimes extraordinary challenge. Consequently, gifted executive chefs and their culinary teams are now a vital part of the sales process -- of winning business over the competition and keeping them coming back.
3. Creative Teambuilding
It's been on the assent, but for 2016, teambuilding is strongly rebounding. Suddenly there is room in meeting budgets for creative and effective teambuilding, which can include a focus on the physical, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of attendees. Many properties are partnering with professional teambuilding companies to help planners gel their participants into effective work units. 'Escape from the Office,' 'Chef's Challenge,' and 'Beach Olympics' are current popular themes with planners.
4. Business Growth

We've already alluded to budgets being on the uptick for 2016. So are rates. So is meeting demand. The booking pace for 2016 is positive across the country, and happily so, and the pace for 2017 is even stronger. But that's a year away and a lot could happen between now and then, like a presidential election. Meeting group size in 2016 is steadily increasing as well. So are the privacy and competitive concerns of select meeting groups who buy out entire properties to avoid competitive compromise.
5. Custom Complete Meeting Packages

Change is inevitable. The where one size fits all has, for all practical purposes, evolved well beyond the sacrosanct meeting product of the past. Most meeting packages sold today are individually created to meet the specific needs and desires of each meeting planner and their meeting attendees.

The package of the future will provide for the meeting needs of the conference group and offer something unique to each individual participant by focusing on the whole person -- the mind, body, and spirit. It will include greater immersion into the hotel's destination, and may provide mind-clearing moments of Zen with the aid of spa and wellness professionals, or a focus on mindfulness utilizing specially-created meditation alcoves and tranquil outdoor settings.
6. Strong Sectors
The more things change, the more they stay the same ... Leading the demand cycle for meetings in 2016 is major pharma, followed by the financial and insurance industries. Toss in tech for the Northwestern U.S. and Northern California. Yes, this could have been written 20 years ago, too, but the current message here is that these industry segments just keep getting stronger for group properties across the country as demand for their respective products increases nationally and globally year after year.
7. Social Media as a Business Tool

It's de rigueur in the business world today, and so providers need to be strategically aware of their social presence. Planners use Trip Advisor to evaluate prospective facilities, Twitter to post updates to meeting schedules, Facebook to reach out to speakers and attendees and to communicate with meeting venues for information and room requests. Specialized meeting and event apps deliver an advance glance at the conference schedule for attendees, provide updates during the meeting, enable immediate in-session feedback, as well as a concluding evaluation. Social media is no longer just about socializing. It's a strategic tool for doing business in the 21st century.
8. Gluten-Free F&B
Planners in 2016 are absolutely obsessed with special dietary needs, requirements, and menus … and the No. 1 request is for gluten-free options. This is followed by vegan meals and low-calorie diets. Conferees hitting the fitness center every day are interested in healthful living at home and on the road, and are counting calories and mindful of what they put in their bodies like never before. Properties need to be creatively up to this culinary challenge and deliver every time.

Related: For Successful Meetings' take on the year's top meetings trends, head here.