Benchmark Names Top 10 Meeting Trends of 2011

At hotels, the next 12 months will likely bring more business travel, more flexibility, more choice and more meetings, predicts Benchmark Hospitality, which yesterday released its list of the "Top 10 Meeting Trends for 2011."

According to the Houston-based hospitality management company, which operates 30 hotels, resorts and conference centers nationwide, 2011's top trends will be:

1. The Return of Business Travel: Both group and individual business travel is up in 2011 at Benchmark properties, according to the company, which said booking pace for most properties is outperforming the previous year's results, although customers remain "highly rate conscious and value focused."

2. Customized Meeting Packages. According to Benchmark, "the Complete Meeting Package, sacrosanct for decades, could now be called the Flexible Meeting Package," as planners still see the value of all-inclusive packages, but want them to be "customized to suit the needs and budget of their particular meeting."

3. Value-Added Amenities. The plan for 2011, Benchmark says, is "growing occupancy while maintaining rate integrity," which is comparable to last year and at hotels translates into "added-value options," such as complimentary Internet access, cancellation/attrition flexibility, forgiving resort fees and more.

4. More Meetings: Although still short-term, booking pace for meetings is turning the corner, according to Benchmark, which said more companies are responding to improved economic conditions by projecting increased business needs in every business quarter, especially the latter part of the year. Along the way, it says, "meetings are increasing in quantity, but not size."

5. Social Media Grows: Social media usage is "beginning to take hold within the meeting planning industry, but is not dominating communications like it is for the general public worldwide," according to Benchmark, which said LinkedIn and YouTube are exceptions, as many groups are videotaping sessions and posting them online.

6. Cost Still Trumps Green: Being green remains important for many meeting planners, according to Benchmark, especially those who plan government and pharmaceutical meetings. Still, cost savings take precedence over sustainability.

7. Creative Teambuilding: Demand for teambuilding is back, "though unevenly so throughout the country," Benchmark says. Where there is demand, it points out, planners want "unique programs delivered within tight budgets," such as reality TV-style culinary events.

8. Recreation Returns: Properties are seeing the return of recreation and entertainment as part of the meeting experience, according to Benchmark, which says inquires for "entertainment options as diverse as theme parties, comedians, 'meeting camps' and 'think tanks'" are on the rise among groups that previously demanded a "strictly serious meeting experience."

9. High-Growth Industries Meet: Companies in high-growth industries — such as insurance, finance, consulting, technology, health care and education — have long supported the meeting industry over the past decades, according to Benchmark, which says, "after a brief and deep retreat nationwide in 2009-10, these industries are coming back."

10. Research Rules: Planners and meeting customers learn about locations, destinations and individual properties online, according to Benchmark, which says meeting planners will continue to do their due diligence — but with new tools, such as iPads, smart phones and apps.

One more trend, according to Benchmark: Meeting planners are making a comeback. "Whereas planner positions were streamlined or eliminated over the past years, with a recovering economy and improved business conditions, we may be seeing a renewed focus on these professionals and their valuable contributions to meeting productivity," the company predicts.