Houston, Texas—Global hospitality company BENCHMARK has released its “Top Meeting Trends for 2018” as observed by its properties. Benchmark operates 70 hotels, resorts, and conference centers within its Benchmark Resorts & Hotels and Gemstone Collection brands nationwide and internationally.
The pharmaceutical and healthcare industries are topping the business segments for 2018 meetings and events. While pharma is taking a step back in 2018 as a significant contributing industry to meetings, when combined with healthcare, the joint segment will still dominate demand for the year. Education is a close second followed by financial services, associations, and technology.
Below are the top 10 meeting trends that BENCHMARK is reporting for 2018.
Entering 2018 Cautiously Optimistic
The meetings marketplace is cautious nationwide for 2018, but optimistic in major markets like Boston and Los Angeles where demand is strong. BENCHMARK says that the American business environment and consumer sentiment is encouraging and the pending tax implications are expected to create a positive effect for meetings throughout 2018 as businesses leverage the opportunities and increasingly invest in their employees.
Technology is revolutionizing meetings in 2018. Properties are being asked to create apps for a specific meeting to be accessed on demand during the meeting, to live stream sessions so team members outside the conference can participate, to set up dedicated WiFi signals for specific meetings or sessions within a meeting, and to provide Apple TV for connectivity.
For the first time, “privacy” is a top demand from planners coast to coast. As business becomes increasingly competitive, privacy within meetings and apart from all other groups on the property is essential and demanded by planners.
Despite all the unique team building programs out there that have moved well beyond the ropes courses, trust fall, and Outward Bound-like activities, culinary teambuilding initiatives originating out of the hotel’s kitchen remain, by far, the most popular and most requested by meeting planners, as well as one of the most approachable activities for meeting groups. What’s on the horizon? Bar Wars, where a team creates its signature cocktail and then samples the recipe.
Nourishing Body and Mind
What are top priorities with meeting planners going into 2018? Superb, creative, participatory, and healthy food options sourced locally and that may include food trucks on the property, Iron Chef competitions, customized dining experiences, and highly creative refreshment breaks. After the body is sufficiently and creatively nourished, the mind needs a perfectly lit environment for productive learning, and planners are demanding 21st Century lighting in all rooms—not just the meeting space—complemented wherever possible by natural daylighting.
What’s happening in a property’s neighborhood matters to today’s meeting planners—importantly, what the locals recommend as the quirky, under-the-radar highlights of their destination.
Many groups like to get off property for a couple of hours or for an afternoon and explore the unique aspects of the locale where they are gathering. At Doral Arrowwood in Westchester, N.Y., treks to nearby Sleepy Hollow are in order, particularly around Halloween. At Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore, groups can catch some rays at Queen Lili’uokalani’s private bathing beach, or take surf lessons on some of the world’s best waves. Or at Hotel Contessa in San Antonio, guests can immerse themselves in Texas history at the legendary Alamo a few blocks away. The activities are designed so that afterward, meeting attendees return refreshed and invigorated.
Free and Private On-property Experiences
Complimentary on-site and recreational amenities providing tangible and unique experiences for meeting attendees is another top request from meeting professionals in 2018. In today’s fitness-crazed world, recreational facilities are expected to include state-of-the-art and challenging fitness options that can be accessed at guests’ leisure 24 hours a day.
Making It Personal
Planners are looking to hotels and resorts to create meeting environments that empower attendees to be introspective and inspire engagement, openness, honesty, transparency, and epiphanies that are mutually beneficial to the attendee and their organization. Those properties stepping up let loose with a little whimsy that stimulates joy, spontaneity, appreciation, and fun during the meeting experience.
Email and Text Communication with Planners
Professional meeting planners are busier than any previous year with more on their plates and fewer team members to deliver expected results. Though they still love personal visits when schedules permit, severe time constraints dictate email communications as their preferred method to stay in touch and learn opportunities and special promotions. They’re also open to texting in a strong professional relationship.
Meetings Packages Pack Value
No matter how hot the economy, value is always in vogue and properties must remember this and negotiate accordingly. How to meet this challenge? Sell value-packed meeting packages covering all the basic needs of a meeting, whether a modified package or full-on CMPs. New supply is coming online in multiple markets, creating pricing pressure for everyone and planners are using this to negotiate best-value pricing with no hidden costs.
Demand Holds, Length Shortens
Meeting demand is healthy nationwide, with select markets looking to exceed last year’s numbers and select mature markets falling a bit behind. The expectation, though, is for demand growth in 2018. Group size is steady to last year with some planners discussing considerable larger group sizes for meetings later in the year.
Meeting lengths are tightening up, and the average meeting for 2018 is projected to last just two days. Off-shore or remote meetings are longer, given transportation logistics getting to islands or more distant resorts. A lot needs to be accomplished this year in a shorter period of time, making every meeting minute important, including off property and culinary experiences.