February 27, 2012
Earlier this year, Benchmark Hospitality International polled the leadership of its 35 conference centers, hotels, and resorts to come up with a list of the top 10 meeting trends of 2012. With the economy improving, the company, based in The Woodlands, TX, finds that corporations are investing more in their meetings, while still watching the bottom line like hawks.

Here are the top 10 trends Benchmark spotted, plus a bonus 11th focused on corporate social responsibility:

1. Luxury is back. Back cautiously, but back. While luxury resorts are no longer pariahs, corporate accountants have long memories, and are “watching the meeting budget as closely as if it were 2008!”

2. Meeting demand is growing. Demand is the strongest it’s been since 2008, and the trend is up across all industry segments. While the booking pace remains short term, the “meeting sale” is over. 

3. Meeting size is trending up, and space is at a premium. With the economy and business climate strengthening, hotels and resorts are being more selective about bookings, giving preference to larger meetings willing to pay higher rates. The flexibility of many hotels and resorts is waning with the strengthening of demand. No longer can planners expect to book a meeting 30 days out and receive premium space at bargain prices. 

4. 21st century meeting space is different. Meeting space isn’t what it used to be—it’s more creative! Today’s planners are looking for properties with outsized, outdoor meeting spaces, inspirational and non-traditional nooks and crannies for small gatherings and breakouts inside, and are requesting oversized chairs and meeting accessories as an occasional alternative to ergonomics.

5. Meetings technology has leapt into the 21st century. Apps downloaded on smartphones and iPads, easily accessible mobile sites, and meeting-dedicated Facebook pages are assisting planners and conference attendees with the registration process, enabling quick access to event itineraries, and offering an easier method to gather feedback from participants post event.

6. The meeting package is coming back strong. Although the past few years saw a slide in demand and an unbundling of meeting packages, in 2012 planners are embracing customized packages for the budget value they offer.

7. Slowly and carefully meeting pricing is trending up. With an improving economy, planners are expecting and seem prepared for price increases in 2012. They are still looking for the best value, but pricing push-back is on the wane.

8. Teambuilding budges continue their comeback. Groups looking for unique half-day options onsite and offsite, and this is influencing site selections.  Properties that come equipped with creative, built-in teambuilding opportunities such as volleyball on the beach, kitchens designed for cooking classes, mixology programs, and even golf courses on which conferees can test their mettle as a group, are winning meetings business.

9. Training budgets are back. As the economy strengthens, corporate America is increasing the training budgets of its sales and management teams, realizing that in an increasingly complex and competitive global economy, companies can't afford to be anything but the best-informed and skilled in their industry. They've seen the impact of losing focus, and so there is money for training once again. This time around, training is more intense and meetings tend to be longer that previously.

10. The destination is as important as the venue. Time invested in a meeting is more valuable than ever before, and the need to counter-balance this with destination experiences is taking on new meaning. While exotic locales are thrilling to experience, it’s about affordable destinations, perhaps closer to home, that offer great value and a relaxed atmosphere, where business can get done and recreation can offer new opportunities for learning in a more relaxed setting.

11. Social responsible meetings are on the rise. The need to give back remain strong in corporate America, and investing in the community is as important for planners and conference attendees as it is for the hotel or resort serving as the meeting venue. Socially responsible meetings are no longer just about helping clean up the environment, they're about helping corporate teams learn ways to more actively integrate into their local community and help develop and strengthen its social fabric.