by Terri Hardin | January 03, 2017



Thomas Faust,
Benchmark Global

"Experience, adventure, and teambuilding," lists Thomas Faust, vice president of sales for The Woodlands, TX--based Benchmark Global Hospitality. "People will continue to look for experiences and adventures; and in meetings, the organization's goal is to leverage that into teambuilding experiences to provide an ROI by improving performance as a result of that meeting. The experiential event drives a higher level of success for that organization."

Faust notes that destination hoteliers seek to provide compelling experiences by creating a synergy between location and property, such as "skiing in Jackson Hole, or horseback riding in Cheyenne or Colorado Springs, or parasailing or surfing in Hawaii. That authentic experience can be reinforced by cuisine, music, or art, and should reflect what sets that region apart. That is what participants really want to experience."

Two Roads Hospitality's Fournier also cites the Cliff House Maine -- a newly refurbished 1872 property, in Cape Neddick, ME, with 132 rooms and 15,000 square feet of event space -- that offers Nubb's Lobster Shack, a venue used by planners in lieu of transporting attendees off site. "The Lobster Shack immerses people in an authentic experience right on property," Fournier says, adding, "We're able to provide meeting groups what they want from the destination but at a lower cost. And giving attendees an extra hour in their day by not traveling off site is also a strong benefit."

Bonnie Boisner,

 Thumbs Up for Hands-on Learning
Experiential meetings are also becoming part of the conference program. Bonnie Boisner, vice president of event management for Aimia, says that sessions are being shortened to create opportunities for hands-on learning and for interactive breakout sessions that will accommodate many learning styles -- "not just those who learn best by listening to a speaker in the front of the room," she says.

"What is old is new again," says MGM's Dominguez (who also co-chairs the Meetings Mean Business Coalition). "How many books were written about the 'experience economy' back in the late 1980s? We are now just able to deliver those experiences in a much more affordable and easy way due to technology and other innovations."

Much like the Earth, budgets in 2017 may look flat, but it depends on where you're standing. Fournier tries to explain: "Thirty-seven percent of Destination Hotels' survey respondents say that they have more money to spend on meetings in 2017 -- a significant jump from the 31.5 percent who said so last year. Fifty-seven percent say they have the same amount to spend in 2017; just 6 percent say their total meetings spend will decrease, down from 11 percent of respondents last year. But 30 percent say they will also plan more meetings in 2017, while just 5 percent say they will plan fewer meetings.

"Taken together," Fournier adds, "these figures show that more money will be spent on more meetings in 2017 -- but not that planners will necessarily have any more money to spend per meeting."

For Dominguez, "We are not experiencing customers with flat budgets, but we are finding that the budget increases are not covering growth in airfare, the cost of technology, or the increased cost of labor and F&B."

So whatever way one approaches it, there is not enough money to go around -- even in what is being called a softening market in the U.S., where buyers should have the upper hand. Cindy Fisher, vice president and global head, CWT Meetings & Events, observes that meeting and event organizers are always expected to do more with less. "However, even with the likelihood of flat budgets year-over-year, there is still an expectation to elevate the strategic impact meetings drive for their organizations."

Kevin Barosso, vice president of global group sales for Two Roads Hospitality, suggests that planners adopt a variety of strategies for making budgets work next year. "Start with date and pattern possibilities, as well as the proposed destination for each meeting," he says. "If there is flexibility in one of these areas, we can often fit a meeting into one of our properties on terms that deliver additional value to the group." Another strategy is to negotiate a multiyear deal.