2017 Predictions From the 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry

Industry experts consider what could be on the horizon in the year ahead

2017 Predictions from the 25 Most Influential People opener

Confidence has been rising within the meetings industry, with people across the spectrum of industry stakeholders telling us that 2016 was a record year. But what will 2017 bring? We asked a number of those included in this year's list of Successful Meetings' 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry to tell us what they foresee. These individuals have their fingers on the pulse of meetings and events, destinations, hotel groups, and industry coalitions. We introduced them to readers earlier this year on our annual list of industry influencers. Now, see what they have to say about the year ahead.


Transformation Tipping Point
"We are really at a dynamic inflection point in global meetings," says Matthias Schultze, managing director, German Convention Bureau (GCB). He says that technology, the sharing economy, and Millennials entering leadership positions are creating a transformative force. Technology is facilitating deeper "knowledge sharing, expertise exchange, and networking," he says, but planners can't tap the best of technology unless the destinations and venues they seek to use supply the required infrastructure.

Aware of this, the GCB has partnered with the Fraunhofer Institute and European Association of Event Centres to create the tools and resources needed at this moment of change. Planners can use the GCB's Innovation Catalog, Future Meetings Scenarios, and descriptions of the Future Meeting Room on the GCB's website to "get their arms around meeting technology and how it can be employed, to extend delegate learning and experience quality, whether a meeting is large or small, 100 percent face-to-face, or hybrid," says Schultze.

Another forecaster who sees the industry at a pivotal juncture is Nan Marchand Beauvois, vice president, National Councils, and general manager, ESTO, U.S. Travel Association. She says, "One of the biggest trends we are seeing in the meetings industry is the extension of meetings beyond the walls of the event space. Greater emphasis is placed on building momentum before meetings through social media and event apps, as well as in follow-up contact, which can build powerful business relationships."

Technological tools are facilitating broad change in the industry, but because our smartphones and apps are so much a part of our lives, it's sometimes difficult to see them as the transformative forces they are in the world of meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions. For instance, apps help seal deals; they are not the antithesis of face-to-face meetings, they are a facilitating tool, and they will become critical elements of MICE events, if not this year then soon, several forecasters suggested. Members of the younger demographic, who are taking more and more prominent roles at meetings and in organizations, understand this. Millennials, some of whom are now in their mid-30s, build relationships using their keyboards and cameras.

"We will all need to be nimble to accommodate what they want, balanced against more traditional meeting requirements," says Richard Gray, managing director LGBTQ market, Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB (GFLCVB), adding, with Millennials, "there's an emphasis placed on doing business through different technology platforms, an expectation to have speedy access, and increased interest in conducting meetings virtually."


Designing Events
Experiential meeting design is going to become "a commonplace element of many meeting agendas," says Brian King, global officer, digital, distribution, revenue management and global sales for Marriott International. He goes so far as to predict that experiential design will "reach a tipping point in 2017." Research showing that the meeting space itself influences retention and that more memorable or inspirational settings actually boost learning underpins this trend. But another driver is the Millennial generation, whose members generally want experiences that are authentic.

Similar to the trend King cites is one noticed by Carina Bauer, CEO, IMEX Group, who puts on two global trade shows in the meetings/events sector. She says personalization will continue to grow in importance. Planners will need to "make sure everyone has their chosen experience within the larger event." To this end, you can "tailor the messaging and information" that you give to individual attendees. The data you collect on attendees' past choices can help you do this for future meetings, which "ultimately makes the events more successful," Bauer points out.

Another aspect of the personalization trend is helping your attendees "find their tribe" -- that is, find the people at the event who are going to be their best matches from a business or personal perspective. Bauer says the two sides of personalization "play together." In effect, this trend is about "how do you break everything down for attendees so [your event is] more navigable for them?"

Watch for Apple's iBeacon and similar technology, which "allows meeting planners and vendors to send push notifications to mobile devices in close proximity," to transform the meetings industry, says Marchand Beauvois, by making events and conferences more personalized than ever before. "It's being used in many capacities in the industry, including attracting attendees to conference booths, and letting attendees know about upcoming speakers."

And look to CVBs as partners who can help "leverage local industry expertise in destinations," says Schultze of the GCB. "Delegates want knowledge and insights they can bring back to the office," such as that available in leading research centers, from professors, business community leaders, and others, he says. Meeting-goers coming to Stuttgart, for example, can learn about automotive innovation at the source (Porsche and Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz and Smart, and are both located here). And in Nuremberg and Leipzig, they can tap into the expertise of those creating medical breakthroughs. "We think the demand for that level of learning and content value will become more mainstream in 2017 and beyond."

George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, describes a yearning for deeper experiences on the part of meeting-goers.  "[Meeting attendees] want their time outside the office to not only include education and networking but they want to make a unique connection to the local market," he says. "For us, it's an exciting opportunity to … offer unique-to-our-destination events, tours, and activities."



Hotel Scene
Our 25 Most Influential forecasters made a number of interesting predictions about the hotel industry. Don Welsh, president and CEO of the Destination Management Association International, says that "all the barometers say that '17 is going to be a good year, but when you start comparing it to some of the recent years we've had, it may be a little less in terms of occupancy, rate, and RevPAR… I don't know whether you're going to see the continued rapid growth of new hotels that we've seen in the last few years. I think it's going to be more of a realistic pace."

Gray, at the GFLCVB, where more than 1,000 new hotel rooms are in the pipeline for openings in 2017 and 2018, foresees "exciting new facilities, amenities, services, and technology to facilitate meetings."

But he also sees rates starting to rise. He's not alone in that. August 2016 projections of 2017 rates, based on numbers from Smith Travel Research, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and CBRE, show a modest rise in the average daily rate (ADR), according to a report from ConferenceDirect.

Brian Stevens, CEO of ConferenceDirect, a meeting management company, as well as and chair-elect of MPI's international board of directors says that the indicators his company is watching show the meetings and hotel economy slowing and indeed becoming flat. "We've seen a consistent increase for the past six years, but this year we're flat."

He believes the industry is transitioning from a seller's market to a buyer's market, "but we're not there yet." Stevens, of all our forecasters, expressed the least optimism. "We're doing more meetings but they're smaller in size. We've been through enough cycles that we can see what's going to happen down the road. … We're in a very fragile moment right now and all we need is a 9/11 or perhaps a political upheaval … to be a tipping point to start the downturn again."

The Marriott-Starwood merger has created less competition in some markets, he says. "In the past you could play hotels off each other." He gives as an example Walt Disney World, where if you were considering the Gaylord Palms, Swan or Dolphin, and a Marriott property, they were formerly in competition. "But now they will all be one brand."

Meanwhile, the buyer-seller relationship is changing in a way planners will applaud, as hotels move away from "shotgun marketing tactics," says Danielle Bishop, president of HB Hospitality, which serves as a marketing arm for independent hotels. "They're choosing not to put time or energy into" pursuing customers that aren't right for their properties. Bishop foresees that artificial intelligence will help reps to pinpoint realistic business to chase without the need for qualifying phone calls.

Bishop also predicts that some group intermediaries are not going to be making easy commissions anymore. "If you're copied on the email, then there is an expectation for payment," she says, but hotels are starting to wise up. "The hotels are looking at the complete cost of the program," she says, whereas in the past, commission was calculated in the rooms division, and was largely hidden. "When there's a 15 percent commission eating into that rooms revenue, the program is no longer that attractive."


Bold Predictions
Big meetings are going to get bigger. "The events on the larger end of the spectrum will increase in attendance over the next 12 months due to the demands of globalization," predicts King, of Marriott.

 

And Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer, MGM Resorts International, and executive committee member of the U.S. Travel Association, says, "All forecasts are telling us that although the pace of growth is slowing, we are still growing. Knowing [the U.S.] will be growing off a record RevPAR year, we should still be in the 'record' category in 2017."

But global forces are creating some uncertainty for our industry. As Bauer says, citing the U.K.'s decision to pull out of the E.U. and the U.S. presidential election (still a month off at the time of the interview): "These things on their own don't necessarily affect the industry as a whole, but they do lead to question marks about what the world will look like over the coming year."

Dominguez, too, mentions Brexit, the elections, safety, and security, calling them "disruptive forces." Nevertheless, most of this group of prognosticators believed that the coming year would be a good one for meetings and for their organizations.

"We see a lot of positivity around the industry globally," says Bauer. She notes that, for example, at IMEX's Frankfurt show, which was in April, visitors to the show were looking to do a lot of business. "They were coming with substantial and credible and significant work happening -- it wasn't just talk."

Health and wellness is a trend being monitored by Gray, of Greater Fort Lauderdale. Planners need to think in terms of gluten-free and dairy-free options at meals, he says. He also sees attendees watching closely to see whether planners are "conducting meetings in terms of environmental thoughtfulness and conservation efforts." The younger demographic has growing importance for meetings, he points out, and that means their expectations will drive new trends. For one thing, they'll want "options for shared housing and accommodations provided by Airbnb and other providers."

 

Additionally, says Gray, "as the only CVB in North America with a designated LGBTQ department," he is watching the emerging LGBT family travel segment. The bureau's research indicates that LGBT parents want the same experiences for their kids as straight parents do. That means "they don't necessarily want to stay at LGBT hotels and they want to enjoy the same mainstream experiences and family activities."

Gray says that budgets for meetings are growing, that "2016 will end as a good year for the meetings industry, and we can hope the trend will continue into 2017."

"It absolutely will be [a year for the record books]," says Kelly. "The world has never moved as fast as it is today, but will never move this slowly again."  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the December 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.


Meeting Planner's Role
"I see the position and perception of meeting planners in companies shifting from being tactical and logistical to strategic," says Christopher J. Kelly, cofounder and president, Convene, which provides more than 120 meeting spaces in three cities. "Their role will expand into being orchestrators of intellectual capital who optimize talent and enable transformative innovation."

 

That shift is also central to Bill Reed's vision of the future -- and indeed, he says, it is already here. "More organizations are recognizing that events are the way that you accomplish an organization's mission. It's the way that a corporation sets its brand image and realizes the full potential of that," says Reed, the senior director of meetings and community engagement for the American Society of Hematology, who is also chair of the Professional Convention Management Association. "I know a good amount of headhunters. They struggle because they're working with organizations that want that event strategist, but the talent pool is not yet out there," he says.

The event strategist needs to understand the logistics part of event planning. Reed calls this "the reality component" in event design. But to fill the strategist role, an individual also needs to take business-school-level courses to learn about branding and change leadership and related business concepts understood by individuals sitting at the very senior level of organizations. With such a background, the event professional could "help the organization translate what they want to accomplish from a mission perspective and execute against that through live or digital events," Reed says.

Industry associations are stepping up to provide senior-level education. PCMA, for example, will bring in professors from top business schools to teach strategy components and business components at its January meeting in Austin, TX.

Meanwhile, colleges that teach event-planning curricula are starting to invest more in the professors and the tools, says Janet Sperstad, CMP governance commission, program director, Meeting and Event Management, Madison College, in Madison, WI. In the past, the courses were taught by people with a background in hospitality, not by professors. Now, with the Department of Labor having identified the competencies of meeting, convention, and event planners, "we're growing up," she says. HR professionals now refer to the Department of Labor competencies when they are writing job descriptions, and the academic institutions have decided they're going to put resources in this particular career field, Sperstad says.

The connection between industry associations and academia is also strengthening, with IMEX and Meeting Professionals International -- both of which bring students to Future Leader Forums -- and the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, which provides a Faculty Resource Center and Career Center on its website, forging bonds. Sperstad foresees more of these "investments in academia."

Technologies to Watch
Someday the information that you might already have available, thanks to your conference app, will help you tweak an event as it is ongoing. And wearable technology -- from Apple watches to RFID readers -- present greater options still.

The so-called Internet of Things (IoT) is being hailed as a transformative technology in this and many other industries. Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group, says that she's well aware of IoT's potential but "It's early days."

At this point, planners can start using the data from a conference app to "understand better what people are actually doing when they are on site," says Bauer, and accordingly make changes to the subsequent event. But real-time data could let planners react and shift resources as the event is unfolding.

To accomplish this, the meeting planning team "needs a lot of data from different sources," she says, "and also needs easier ways to report on that data." Bauer predicts that "that's the piece we will see growing and developing in the next year."

Brian King, global officer, digital, distribution, revenue management, and global sales for Marriott International, believes that industry's reliance on digitization of information will reach a point of critical mass in 2017. Referring to "a flood of new technology for planning and executing meetings," he predicts that 2016 will be the last year we're not accessing all the available information to help us make our events better.

"The need to show ROI will drive organizations to use social media and virtual meetings technology to expand the reach of face-to-face events," King says.

And in the longer term, King sees crowdsourcing as a trend to watch. Planners will be using crowdsourcing tools to determine the relevancy of potential topics and to develop content, he says.


Meeting Planner's Role
"I see the position and perception of meeting planners in companies shifting from being tactical and logistical to strategic," says Christopher J. Kelly, cofounder and president, Convene, which provides more than 120 meeting spaces in three cities. "Their role will expand into being orchestrators of intellectual capital who optimize talent and enable transformative innovation."

 

Bill Reed,
Professional Convention
Management Association
Bill Reed, Professional Convention Management Association

That shift is also central to Bill Reed's vision of the future -- and indeed, he says, it is already here. "More organizations are recognizing that events are the way that you accomplish an organization's mission. It's the way that a corporation sets its brand image and realizes the full potential of that," says Reed, the senior director of meetings and community engagement for the American Society of Hematology, who is also chair of the Professional Convention Management Association. "I know a good amount of headhunters. They struggle because they're working with organizations that want that event strategist, but the talent pool is not yet out there," he says.

The event strategist needs to understand the logistics part of event planning. Reed calls this "the reality component" in event design. But to fill the strategist role, an individual also needs to take business-school-level courses to learn about branding and change leadership and related business concepts understood by individuals sitting at the very senior level of organizations. With such a background, the event professional could "help the organization translate what they want to accomplish from a mission perspective and execute against that through live or digital events," Reed says.

Industry associations are stepping up to provide senior-level education. PCMA, for example, will bring in professors from top business schools to teach strategy components and business components at its January meeting in Austin, TX.

Meanwhile, colleges that teach event-planning curricula are starting to invest more in the professors and the tools, says Janet Sperstad, CMP governance commission, program director, Meeting and Event Management, Madison College, in Madison, WI. In the past, the courses were taught by people with a background in hospitality, not by professors. Now, with the Department of Labor having identified the competencies of meeting, convention, and event planners, "we're growing up," she says. HR professionals now refer to the Department of Labor competencies when they are writing job descriptions, and the academic institutions have decided they're going to put resources in this particular career field, Sperstad says.

The connection between industry associations and academia is also strengthening, with IMEX and Meeting Professionals International -- both of which bring students to Future Leader Forums -- and the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, which provides a Faculty Resource Center and Career Center on its website, forging bonds. Sperstad foresees more of these "investments in academia."


Hotel Scene
Our 25 Most Influential forecasters made a number of interesting predictions about the hotel industry. Don Welsh, president and CEO of the Destination Management Association International, says that "all the barometers say that '17 is going to be a good year, but when you start comparing it to some of the recent years we've had, it may be a little less in terms of occupancy, rate, and RevPAR… I don't know whether you're going to see the continued rapid growth of new hotels that we've seen in the last few years. I think it's going to be more of a realistic pace."

Gray, at the GFLCVB, where more than 1,000 new hotel rooms are in the pipeline for openings in 2017 and 2018, foresees "exciting new facilities, amenities, services, and technology to facilitate meetings."

But he also sees rates starting to rise. He's not alone in that. August 2016 projections of 2017 rates, based on numbers from Smith Travel Research, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and CBRE, show a modest rise in the average daily rate (ADR), according to a report from ConferenceDirect.

Brian Stevens, CEO of ConferenceDirect, a meeting management company, as well as and chair-elect of MPI's international board of directors says that the indicators his company is watching show the meetings and hotel economy slowing and indeed becoming flat. "We've seen a consistent increase for the past six years, but this year we're flat."

He believes the industry is transitioning from a seller's market to a buyer's market, "but we're not there yet." Stevens, of all our forecasters, expressed the least optimism. "We're doing more meetings but they're smaller in size. We've been through enough cycles that we can see what's going to happen down the road. … We're in a very fragile moment right now and all we need is a 9/11 or perhaps a political upheaval … to be a tipping point to start the downturn again."

The Marriott-Starwood merger has created less competition in some markets, he says. "In the past you could play hotels off each other." He gives as an example Walt Disney World, where if you were considering the Gaylord Palms, Swan or Dolphin, and a Marriott property, they were formerly in competition. "But now they will all be one brand."

Meanwhile, the buyer-seller relationship is changing in a way planners will applaud, as hotels move away from "shotgun marketing tactics," says Danielle Bishop, president of HB Hospitality, which serves as a marketing arm for independent hotels. "They're choosing not to put time or energy into" pursuing customers that aren't right for their properties. Bishop foresees that artificial intelligence will help reps to pinpoint realistic business to chase without the need for qualifying phone calls.

Bishop also predicts that some group intermediaries are not going to be making easy commissions anymore. "If you're copied on the email, then there is an expectation for payment," she says, but hotels are starting to wise up. "The hotels are looking at the complete cost of the program," she says, whereas in the past, commission was calculated in the rooms division, and was largely hidden. "When there's a 15 percent commission eating into that rooms revenue, the program is no longer that attractive."


Bold Predictions
Big meetings are going to get bigger. "The events on the larger end of the spectrum will increase in attendance over the next 12 months due to the demands of globalization," predicts King, of Marriott.

 

Michael Dominguez,
MGM Resorts International
Michael Dominguez, MGM Resorts International

And Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer, MGM Resorts International, and executive committee member of the U.S. Travel Association, says, "All forecasts are telling us that although the pace of growth is slowing, we are still growing. Knowing [the U.S.] will be growing off a record RevPAR year, we should still be in the 'record' category in 2017."

But global forces are creating some uncertainty for our industry. As Bauer says, citing the U.K.'s decision to pull out of the E.U. and the U.S. presidential election (still a month off at the time of the interview): "These things on their own don't necessarily affect the industry as a whole, but they do lead to question marks about what the world will look like over the coming year."

Dominguez, too, mentions Brexit, the elections, safety, and security, calling them "disruptive forces." Nevertheless, most of this group of prognosticators believed that the coming year would be a good one for meetings and for their organizations.

"We see a lot of positivity around the industry globally," says Bauer. She notes that, for example, at IMEX's Frankfurt show, which was in April, visitors to the show were looking to do a lot of business. "They were coming with substantial and credible and significant work happening -- it wasn't just talk."

Health and wellness is a trend being monitored by Gray, of Greater Fort Lauderdale. Planners need to think in terms of gluten-free and dairy-free options at meals, he says. He also sees attendees watching closely to see whether planners are "conducting meetings in terms of environmental thoughtfulness and conservation efforts." The younger demographic has growing importance for meetings, he points out, and that means their expectations will drive new trends. For one thing, they'll want "options for shared housing and accommodations provided by Airbnb and other providers."

 

Christopher Kelly,
Convene
Christopher Kelly, Convene

Additionally, says Gray, "as the only CVB in North America with a designated LGBTQ department," he is watching the emerging LGBT family travel segment. The bureau's research indicates that LGBT parents want the same experiences for their kids as straight parents do. That means "they don't necessarily want to stay at LGBT hotels and they want to enjoy the same mainstream experiences and family activities."

Gray says that budgets for meetings are growing, that "2016 will end as a good year for the meetings industry, and we can hope the trend will continue into 2017."

"It absolutely will be [a year for the record books]," says Kelly. "The world has never moved as fast as it is today, but will never move this slowly again."  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the December 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.