by Matt Alderton | February 01, 2017
Small meetings are poised for big growth in 2017, according to American Express Meetings & Events, which in its "2017 Global Meetings & Events Forecast" predicted an increase in the number of small meetings taking place this year.

"While [meeting professionals] anticipate fewer meetings for several meeting types, many suggest the typically smaller internal, advisory, and training meetings will increase in size and/or frequency," American Express Meetings & Events reports. "Moreover, experts … see a growing focus on smaller meetings and more meetings being held closer to home."

Groups aren't just moving to smaller meetings; they're moving to smaller venues, too.

"Meeting planners and owners are increasingly looking beyond the traditional property choices in large cities to more unique, smaller properties, often outside the metropolitan area," continues American Express Meetings & Events, which cites tight purse strings as a major driver of the trend. "Creativity in location and property choice is key to achieving meeting goals within budget constraints."

Cost isn't the only motivation for small meetings and venues, however. Complexity and content also matter. "Smaller meetings become more appealing," one meeting professional told American Express, "as these meetings are less complex in terms of planning, but offer the opportunity to put more into developing the right content and maximizing the output."

One property that perfectly embodies the small-meetings trend is The Reach, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, in Key West, FL. With just 150 rooms and 4,706 square feet of meeting space, it's ideal for small groups of 10 to 20 rooms, which make up 57 percent of its group business.

"What's unique or special about small meetings? Small meetings can focus more on the individual; there's more bonding that takes place between the attendees, which is something planners are always trying to accomplish; and it's much easier to convey a message," explains Andy Rosuck, director of sales and marketing for The Reach and its sister resort, Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, also in Key West. "Also, there's more opportunity for feedback, and two-way interaction is much easier … At small meetings, you're involved, you're consumed, and you're much more productive as a result. That's the reason that small groups are really taking hold."

Supporting small groups starts with offering unique meeting spaces. "One of the neatest locations we have at The Reach is a gazebo that sits on the edge of a pier in the middle of the ocean," Rosuck says. "It's a beautiful, beautiful setting that we can set up conference-style or in a 'U' shape so you aren't stuck inside four walls looking at screens and whiteboards. That's the kind of thing we like to do for small meetings."

It doesn't stop at unique spaces. To help small groups maximize their return on meeting investment, boutique venues also are offering unique services. The Reach, for example, offers a dedicated website through which planners can quickly and easily book small meetings without submitting an online RFP.

The service planners of small meetings are most likely to rave about, however, is provided by a "personal attendant": For just $150 per day, The Reach will assign a dedicated staff member to serve a group at the meeting planner's pleasure.

"They're basically a concierge-type butler," Rosuck explains. "The planner designates when the person arrives and when the person leaves, and they can do anything from getting additional microphones when they're needed to changing the schedule of the program so that lunch comes at one o'clock instead of noon."

The Reach has three staffers who have been trained to play the role of personal attendant. All of them have worked at the property for a number of years, and each has lived in Key West long enough to have local knowledge and relationships that they can leverage on behalf of small groups. For example, if a group decides last-minute that it wants to go on a picnic, the personal attendant can collaborate with the hotel's executive chef to put together portable lunches, then arrange for a catamaran to transport attendees to the perfect picnic spot: a cluster of nearby mangrove islands.

"Remember the show 'M*A*S*H'? The personal attendant is like Radar O'Reilly from 'M*A*S*H.' He can find anything, anytime, anywhere," Rosuck says. "It allows you to change the course of your meeting on a dime in response to your attendees' needs."

And ultimately, that's what the small-meetings trend is all about.