The Top 10 Meeting and Event Trends for 2014

Unconventional spaces, says Miller, are great spaces for meetings and events. // © ACCESS Destination Services

As the president of destination management company (DMC) ACCESS Destination Services in San Diego, Jennifer Miller has seen her share of a variety of meeting and event trends. ACCESS, which has been in business for more than 44 years, has offices throughout the U.S. as well, in destinations such as Orlando, Las Vegas, and Chicago.

Taking a closer look at this year, Miller sees a heavy emphasis on meetings and events that “play on the senses” as well as those that play up a destination’s local resources. Here are her top 10 predictions for the biggest meeting and event trends that we’ll see this year:

1. Multi-Sensory, Interactive Events
“Recently, we partnered with the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina, and they hosted a group of their corporate planners so we created an ‘after glow’ for the clients that focused on sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound,” Miller explains. “When you walked into the room, there were interactive stations where guests could take their shoes off and there was grass on the floor that they could actually walk on. There were ‘scratch-and-sniff’ walls, and build-your-own-drink stations where you could create your own signature cocktail. We had a different variety of areas for people to go over to. There was one station with different headsets that played different types of sounds. It was an all-encompassing type of event and it kept people talking and kept the party alive.”

2. Tasting Stations That Focus on Beer and Craft Cocktail Pairings 
“There’s a big movement toward craft cocktails  and craft beers,” Miller says. “There’s a resurgence of older cocktails like whiskies and scotches, and a movement more toward craft cocktails that use ingredients like cucumbers, lavender, and herbs, spices, and fruits that you might not think would blend together.” She says that “tasting stations are often pairing food toward these craft cocktails and craft beers.”
3. Holographic Performances
“We’ve worked with a few groups where you can bring in a holographic band,” she says. “It’s a completely 3-D experience. Instead of hiring a band and dealing with a ride, you work closely through A/V and lighting, and you hire a holographic band. It’s a band that tapes its performance ahead of time on video, and that image is portrayed at your event as a hologram. Sometimes, groups will also use this for different types of karaoke performances.”

4. Local Sourcing and Food Trucks Will Rule F&B
“There’s still a big movement about consuming food that’s locally grown in your area,” says Miller. “The food quality is much higher when it’s not trucked across the country, and there are so many restaurants in California and around the country that pride themselves on farm-to-table styles of cooking.” For a recent event, Miller says, “We just brought out an all-green food truck. Everything is green, but it’s all local and sustainable foods. It gives planners and groups a wide variety of foods, but it can also be like décor when you have food trucks. The trucks are almost like ‘walls’ of the events when you string lights between the trucks.” The beauty of the specialization of each food truck is also, she says, “a good way to add local flavor.” She adds, “A DMC can usually pair you with the best local food trucks that capture the flavor o f that destination.”

5. Incorporating Social Media and Pop Culture 
From Glee-style flash mobs to kick off an event and Instagram photo booths to custom performances, Miller says attendees can expect to see social media and pop culture to find their ways into more events. “It’s still relatively new in some cases but, in terms of technology, I think we’re seeing Twitter being used more and more in events and for larger groups. Let’s say you’re one of a thousand attendees and you want to try to connect with them, for instance. We see groups do a Twitter feed that’s broadcasted throughout the whole event. Social media is also used not only during the event but also used to build excitement for attending the event through Facebook and twitter. Those are some of the ways people are using it. There are a lot of companies that are doing that, especially those that embrace technology more. I’ve also seen some groups use an iPad as the table centerpiece where people can leave messages; the iPads are centered on the table and used in a decorative way, but are fully interactive.”

6. Budgets Are Coming Back
“I think there is a trend toward groups getting back to spending money in areas that they hadn’t before. Groups are spending more on activities and spa and golf and entertainment and décor than they had in the past,” she explains. “For a few years we saw groups stop doing amenities all together or they cut out higher-end activities and stayed with simpler ones. We’re seeing an increase in those budgets and in what groups will spend on décor and transportation. One of the biggest things that we’re seeing is that people are doing so much more with such a shorter lead time.”

7. Thinking Beyond the Hotel Venue
“Sporting venues like motor speedways and stadiums are becoming huge draw,” says Miller. “Each city is a little bit different but we use our Petco Park stadium in San Diego, as well as military bases and aircraft carriers and even public beaches, or warehouse spaces that are completely blank. Those are great palettes for us to create our own unique event into. Tying a restaurant to the street outside and creating a mini block party is another great opportunity. It gives attendees an opportunity to be outside. We’re using college campus venues and different streets to create a mini block party and bring in local bands, too.” 

8. Unforgettable Activities
“Recently, we worked with a group staying at the Hotel del Coronado, and we brought in a troop of Navy SEAL trainers and about 100 people did a morning ritual activity which is close to what the SEALs do in their training, like carrying a log down the beach as a group,” says Miller. “People definitely got out of their comfort zone. They walk about waist deep in the water and you walk arm in arm with waves crashing in your face and you lay back and let the water rush over you so you have to trust the whole team. They all went out and they all did it. The group and planner said it was one of the best things they did.”

9. CSR
“Another client we’ve worked with for many years ended up in Arizona and wanted to add a CSR event to their program so we worked with them and found a last chance home for older teenage kids between 16 and 18 and focuses on teaching them real-life skills so that they can help their careers. It was a great organization and we worked with them, and took every attendee out there and helped build a complete community center for this organization.

10. A Focus on Storytelling
Events are becoming platforms for delivering a story or message, too. “Events aren’t just using a theme to create an event,” Says Miller. “Now, they are trying to create a story in the event and try to put more purpose and meaning behind an event. There’s more of a telling a story to that event that speaks to why they are hosting that event.”