Benchmark Hospitality International, a leading US-based hospitality management company, which operates 30 award-winning hotels, resorts, and conference centers coast to coast and off shore, announces its "Top Ten Meeting Trends for 2011" as observed by its properties.
Overall, Benchmark Hospitality's properties are cautiously optimistic at the start of 2011, projecting moderate growth with marginal increases in spending.
Looking a bit further afield, indications are that 2011 will have a strong finish, and 2012 may just be a great year.
Trend #1 Business Is On The Move Again!
Business travel (group and individual) is up in 2011 across Benchmark Hospitality's portfolio. Booking pace for most properties is outperforming the previous year's results. Customers remain highly rate conscious and value focused, though, and demand speed - as in fast Internet connectivity!
Trend #2 Planners Want Choice
The Complete Meeting Package, sacrosanct for decades, could now be called the Flexible Meeting Package. Planners still see the value of all-inclusive packages - they just want these customized to suit the needs and budget of their particular meeting. How hotels and conference centers develop and structure packaging components in the future will be influenced by this trend.
Trend #3 Heads In Beds
The plan for 2011 is growing occupancy while maintaining rate integrity, which is generally comparable to last year. To win business, properties are negotiating added-value options, such as complimentary Internet access, cancellation/attrition flexibility, forgiving resort fees, and more.
Trend #4 The Pace is Positive
Booking pace for meetings may finally be turning the corner. Although still short term, more companies are responding to improved economic conditions by projecting increased business needs in every business quarter, especially the latter part of the year - and even into 2012! Along the way, meetings are increasing in quantity, but not size.
Trend #5 Only Connect
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. The exceptions are LinkedIn and YouTube, with groups videotaping sessions and posting these online for the benefit of their colleagues back at the office, for reviewing key points going forward, and for encapsulating business concepts addressed in the meeting.
Trend #6 Cost Still Trumps Green
Being green remains important for many planners who look for properties to have these initiatives in place. In fact, today it's generally assumed they do. Government meetings demand it, as does, increasingly, the pharmaceutical industry. But, if asked to choose between being green or providing maximum cost savings, budgets still take precedence in 2011!
Trend #7 Taking Time For Teambuilding
Demand for teambuilding is back, though unevenly so throughout the country. Where there is demand, planners want unique programs delivered within tight budgets. These teambuilding programs may be culinary events, set up as Reality TV programs, or utilize other clever concepts. It's not likely, however, a ropes course will be involved.
Trend #8 Why So Serious?
Properties are at last seeing the return of recreation and entertainment as part of the meeting experience. To say there is a "comeback" would be stretching things. But inquires for entertainment options as diverse as theme parties, comedians, "meeting camps" and "think tanks," etc., are coming from groups interested - for the first time in a long time - in offering more than a strictly serious meeting experience.
Trend #9 They're Back!
Insurance, financial, consulting, high tech, healthcare and education ... the tried and true industries that have supported the conference center hotel industry over the past decades. As companies within these industries step up hiring, training related meetings are becoming more prevalent. Although somewhat regionally driven, after a brief and deep retreat nationwide in 2009-10, these industries are coming back.
Trend #10 It's No Longer Anyone's Guess
Planners and meeting customers learn about locations, destinations and individual properties through surfing the Internet! Whether searching Websites, perusing online magazines, reading destination coverage, viewing hotel advertising, or receiving an e-blast, it's the Internet! Period. With iPads, smart phones and Apps becoming readily available to promote nearly every product and service today, communicating with customers online has never been more available, more complex, or more important.
Are Planners Making A Comeback?
Quite possibly. 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.