. The Top 6 Meeting Trends of 2016 | Successful Meetings

The Top 6 Meeting Trends of 2016

6 Meetings Trends art opener

"There is a sense of optimism going ahead -- that the skies are blue," says Andy Finn, vice president, group sales, for Benchmark Resorts & Hotels. Indeed, the meetings industry can look forward to 2016 being a strong year. For one thing, attendance is predicted to increase by 2.7 percent, according to Meeting Professionals International's November 2015 "Meetings Outlook" survey. And while budget growth is predicted to be conservative -- just 1.9 percent, according to the "2016 Global Meetings and Events Forecast" from American Express Meetings & Events (Amex M&E) -- the improving economy will mean more meetings, says Issa Jouaneh, senior vice president and general manager of the organization. "In 2015, the mantra was how to do more with less," he notes. "For 2016, it's how to do more with a little bit more."

Meeting and event venues large and small say largely the same thing. "From our members' perspectives, this is probably the most positive time we've seen since 2007," says Mark Cooper, CEO of the International Association of Conference Centers. This past December, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reported a 3.8 percent increase in the CEIR Total Index, which measures the exhibition industry's performance. It was the 21st straight quarter of growth, according to CEIR president and CEO Brian Casey, who adds that the organization "anticipates growth to continue into 2016 and 2017."

Here are six industry trends to watch for.
 

1. HOTELS FLEX THEIR MUSCLE 
It's a fact of life in the post-recession world: North American hotels are likely to retain the upper hand in price negotiations this year. According to the "2016 Meetings and Events Forecast" from Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) Meetings & Events, room rates will grow by 4.3 percent, while Amex puts the number at 4.2 percent. This won't end anytime soon, according to the "GBTA Global Travel Price Outlook 2016," which notes that while almost 100,000 new rooms were added in 2015, "demand continues to grow at up to quadruple the rate of supply." It predicts the daily cost per attendee will grow by 4.5 percent.

Kristin Torres, executive director, meetings and events, for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, says negotiating with hotels in this seller's market is the greatest challenge to her group's ability to execute meetings this year. "It has been incredibly difficult, and it seems like it will only get worse," she says. "Hotels truly know they have us over the barrel."

To fight this, Torres has recently turned to a third-party site-selection firm for help, and she is careful to provide detailed information about her attendees' spending history to prove their worth. Still, she says, "Hotels are a lot less willing to be accommodating." She adds that even small requests like branded room keys, room drops, and special decorative displays are attracting stiff charges and even flat-out refusals if it's a hassle. "We run a TV show on the in-room channels," Torres says. "In years past they would negotiate the cost down, now they will not even talk about that."

Even worse, the fall "MPI Meetings Outlook" reported that some planners are finding that hotels are not honoring room availability commitments in previously signed contracts.
 

2. LEAD TIME BECOMES SCARCER 
As a result of the strengthening seller's market, planners are going to have to work harder to convince their meeting owners to commit to events farther ahead.

"Lead times for [attendee] registration and venue contracts are continuing to shrink," says Cindy Fisher, vice president of CWT Meetings & Events. "For 2016, plan ahead and be aware that some hotels in high-demand markets no longer hold space when responding to availability requests. By increasing their lead time for larger events, planners can increase their negotiation power. Make your internal decision-makers aware and decide if you can be flexible on dates. Flexibility will be key in planning ahead."

 

It's possible that message is getting through. In the Amex forecast, planners surveyed said the average lead time for 2016 would be 18 weeks in North America, far ahead of Europe (seven weeks), Asia (eight weeks), and Central and South America (six weeks). There is some skepticism, however, as global hoteliers on the whole predicted an average of just four weeks.

"Working quickly and far in advance to secure key properties has become a necessity and is predicted to be even more significant in 2016," says Jouaneh. "While new hotel builds are in progress, supply has not yet caught up to demand in many popular cities. This availability challenge is putting more pressure on tight lead times and is an added incentive for meeting owners to secure approvals in a timely fashion."
 
 
3. F&B GETS HEALTHIER -- AND PRICIER 
Planners are facing a bit of a double whammy when it comes to food and beverage budgets. As the GBTA Foundation's forecast says, "food and beverage continues to be a significant driver for cost," even as attendees increasingly expect planners to follow expensive foodie trends.

"Healthy options are really what we've been seeing for several years," says Benchmark's Finn. "But people are taking it to the next level with organic, vegetarian, and gluten-free, as well as locally sourced -- everything -- from produce to microbrews."

Last year the U.S. Consumer Price Index jumped by 2.9 percent year-over-year, CWT noted in its 2016 report, which suggests "trading down on menu items that don't heavily impact attendees (e.g., swapping in tap water for bottled) or reducing the number of breaks to contain or even save on F&B." Finn adds that family-style meals are in vogue and can help keep prices in check.

Destination Hotels' "Fourth Annual State of the Meetings Industry" survey, released this past December, found that F&B pricing was the third-most critical factor among respondents in choosing a meeting location, with two-thirds rating it either a nine or 10 in importance. Suggestions include portioning buffets closer to what will actually be eaten and trying to share ingredients with other groups at the property, or its restaurants.

 


4. MEETINGS MORPH INTO EXPERIENCES 
One of the biggest changes the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Torres sees going forward is the changing expectations of attendees. "They want more than just a trade show and a couple of dinners," she says. "They want an experience. Now we have education sessions on the show floor, and lounges with music. We have themed parties now, and we've made lighting changes on the floor to make it more inviting."

She's not alone. Nearly two-thirds of the meeting planners polled in the Successful Meetings' "2016 Trends Survey" said the "need to create a compelling meeting experience" for attendees was one of the most important trends to follow in order to create effective meetings in 2016.

"First and foremost, we're seeing a definite increase in the demand for experiential learning," says IACC's Cooper. "People don't meet in the corridor or over the water cooler anymore, so an important part of bringing people together is to build relationships and bond. To do that [planners] need to find ways to create a meeting experience, such as teambuilding or experiential learning." Popular ways include culinary exercises, as in teams competing to build the best giant sandwich and blindfolded cake decorating, as well as volunteering in the community, Cooper adds.

"More companies are looking at integrated value when it comes to their strategic meetings programs and events," says CWT's Fisher. "Absolutely, return on investment is critical, but so is ensuring that it's an impactful event experience for those attendees that they walk away with a memory." This type of "high-sensory" experience leads to a greater emotional connection, she adds, noting that this in turn is "what can ultimately drive better brand recognition, sales, client retention, and behavioral change."
 

5. MOBILE APPS MATTER 
Mobile meeting and convention apps are becoming ubiquitous for all but the smallest gatherings. The most common way they are used is to improve engagement of attendees (29 percent), improve communications (27 percent), communicate schedule changes or emergency information (15 percent), and deliver documents electronically (10 percent), according to Amex.

Just 8 percent use them to measure overall event effectiveness. Amex's forecast finds. Yet that is what innovative event organizers are doing, says Alon Alroy, co-founder and CMO of Bizzabo. Pointing out that data has little value by itself, Alroy says it is the insight that planners draw from that data that is key. By using event-management software to help them find and organize this data, savvy planners can use it to make smarter decisions, he adds.

These event apps will "mature into full-featured event intelligence and data analytic platforms in 2016," adds meetings technology guru Corbin Ball of Corbin Ball Associates, in his year-end TechTalk newsletter. "Modern smartphones have an array of sensors. When combined with mobile events apps, they can provide a goldmine of information about participants' likes, dislike, interests, movements, and more that can be used to improve future events and to provide customized marketing content based on the participants' individual needs."
 

6. VIRTUAL AND HYBRID MEETINGS MULTIPLY
 
For the second year running, Ball predicts that 2016 will see an increased use of virtual meetings technology. He's not alone. One third of the respondents to Successful Meetings' trends survey said they planned to hold more virtual meetings in the coming year, compared to just 2 percent who will plan fewer. This was far and away the biggest increase in any type of meeting reported. Hybrid meetings were second, with nearly 17 percent planning more, and 2 percent planning fewer.

The top reasons planners use virtual/hybrid meetings are to reach a broader audience, save on costs, and to reduce travel and time out of the office, according to Amex. It also found that only 13 percent of planners surveyed say their company has a clearly defined virtual meetings policy or strategy.

Even with a strategy, Ball is not a fan. "Webinars and other virtual meetings are great for short information exchange," he says, but that "30 to 45 minutes is usually the maximum you can expect someone to pay attention to a webinar while sitting in front of a monitor. Meetings, on the other hand, take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions. As long as attendees are informed, entertained, and fed, event hosts can keep them engaged for days. The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at face-to-face events than online."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the January 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.
Five F&B Trends for 2016 From Wolfgang Puck Catering
Founded in 1998 to serve the meetings and conventions market, Wolfgang Puck Catering (WPC) has locations in first-tier U.S. cities like Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Stephanie Edens, vice president of sales for WPC, says the following are five ways food is becoming more fun in 2016:

1. Unique presentation. A block of ice with flowers frozen in it can serve as a sushi station. A donut wall lets guests choose their desserts from a vertical "platter."

2. Interactive team-building exercises. From moviemaking at NBC Universal Studios in Hollywood to pickling vegetables with the chefs.

3. Artful displays. Maximize the time and experience, providing access to food and beverage throughout the day and not just at set meal breaks.

4. Add entertainment. Have the chef prepare a meal behind a shadow box, or ceremonially break the pastry of truffle chicken pot pies in front of each guest, enticing them with the aroma.

5. Small plate menus. Take lunch beyond the standard buffet with small plates that provide a great variety and are more visually appealing.


4. MEETINGS MORPH INTO EXPERIENCES 
One of the biggest changes the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Torres sees going forward is the changing expectations of attendees. "They want more than just a trade show and a couple of dinners," she says. "They want an experience. Now we have education sessions on the show floor, and lounges with music. We have themed parties now, and we've made lighting changes on the floor to make it more inviting."

She's not alone. Nearly two-thirds of the meeting planners polled in the Successful Meetings' "2016 Trends Survey" said the "need to create a compelling meeting experience" for attendees was one of the most important trends to follow in order to create effective meetings in 2016.

"First and foremost, we're seeing a definite increase in the demand for experiential learning," says IACC's Cooper. "People don't meet in the corridor or over the water cooler anymore, so an important part of bringing people together is to build relationships and bond. To do that [planners] need to find ways to create a meeting experience, such as teambuilding or experiential learning." Popular ways include culinary exercises, as in teams competing to build the best giant sandwich and blindfolded cake decorating, as well as volunteering in the community, Cooper adds.

"More companies are looking at integrated value when it comes to their strategic meetings programs and events," says CWT's Fisher. "Absolutely, return on investment is critical, but so is ensuring that it's an impactful event experience for those attendees that they walk away with a memory." This type of "high-sensory" experience leads to a greater emotional connection, she adds, noting that this in turn is "what can ultimately drive better brand recognition, sales, client retention, and behavioral change."
 

5. MOBILE APPS MATTER 
Mobile meeting and convention apps are becoming ubiquitous for all but the smallest gatherings. The most common way they are used is to improve engagement of attendees (29 percent), improve communications (27 percent), communicate schedule changes or emergency information (15 percent), and deliver documents electronically (10 percent), according to Amex.

Just 8 percent use them to measure overall event effectiveness. Amex's forecast finds. Yet that is what innovative event organizers are doing, says Alon Alroy, co-founder and CMO of Bizzabo. Pointing out that data has little value by itself, Alroy says it is the insight that planners draw from that data that is key. By using event-management software to help them find and organize this data, savvy planners can use it to make smarter decisions, he adds.

These event apps will "mature into full-featured event intelligence and data analytic platforms in 2016," adds meetings technology guru Corbin Ball of Corbin Ball Associates, in his year-end TechTalk newsletter. "Modern smartphones have an array of sensors. When combined with mobile events apps, they can provide a goldmine of information about participants' likes, dislike, interests, movements, and more that can be used to improve future events and to provide customized marketing content based on the participants' individual needs."
 

6. VIRTUAL AND HYBRID MEETINGS MULTIPLY
 
For the second year running, Ball predicts that 2016 will see an increased use of virtual meetings technology. He's not alone. One third of the respondents to Successful Meetings' trends survey said they planned to hold more virtual meetings in the coming year, compared to just 2 percent who will plan fewer. This was far and away the biggest increase in any type of meeting reported. Hybrid meetings were second, with nearly 17 percent planning more, and 2 percent planning fewer.

The top reasons planners use virtual/hybrid meetings are to reach a broader audience, save on costs, and to reduce travel and time out of the office, according to Amex. It also found that only 13 percent of planners surveyed say their company has a clearly defined virtual meetings policy or strategy.

Even with a strategy, Ball is not a fan. "Webinars and other virtual meetings are great for short information exchange," he says, but that "30 to 45 minutes is usually the maximum you can expect someone to pay attention to a webinar while sitting in front of a monitor. Meetings, on the other hand, take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions. As long as attendees are informed, entertained, and fed, event hosts can keep them engaged for days. The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at face-to-face events than online."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



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