Corporate meeting planners and destinations have watched and responded to the evolution of a number of trends in recent years. Topping the list as the meetings industry moves further into 2020 are sustainability, technological advancement, and customizable experiences—trends that continue to shape the future of meetings.
“We’ve noticed a demand from participants at corporate meetings for more engaging and unique team building activities that go beyond the norm, as well as provide a ‘give back’ component to elevate corporate social responsibility (CSR) for companies, in addition to creating customized, one-of-a-kind experiences,” said Douglas Camp, director of sales and marketing for Salamander Resort & Spa.
The good news is the “2020 Global Meetings and Events Forecast” from American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) found that meeting professionals are “very optimistic” about the events industry, expecting steady to moderate growth across all meeting types. The survey of 550 meetings and events professionals worldwide predicts that North American spend will grow by 1.6 percent, and globally, days per meeting will increase by as much as 2.9 percent with attendance growing by up to 3.1 percent.1
As planners strategically position for success within this positive outlook, they are wise to consider the best ways to address and incorporate tactics that align with evolving expectations.
According to the American Express GBT report, an optimistic meetings outlook has spurred notable investment by technology companies into the meetings industry, opening up a wide array of solutions designed to serve all aspects of the meetings lifecycle. The report adds: “The challenge for planners now lies in creating a seamless experience for meeting attendees by using technology for a purpose, not just tech for tech’s sake. Striking this balance is necessary as attendees expect meeting and event experiences to mirror their own experiences with technology in the rest of their lives.”
Camp noted that in recent years, he has seen the popularization of virtual reality, facial recognition technology, and even seating and guest map technology making their way to the forefront in the industry. In addition, technology that elevates convenience is becoming more mainstream.
“We implement technology for ease of group activities,” he said. “For example, our Amazing Nature Race team event is like a scavenger hunt in nature, challenging teams to flex their physical, mental, and creative strengths by solving clues to earn points. Our recreation director created a mobile app for groups to use throughout this event, making tracking teams in real-time easier, and fun, for this light competition.”
Leslie Menichini, vice president of sales and marketing at Rosen Hotels and Resorts said meeting planners have embraced their Amazon Alexa Ask Rosen skill—an application that recently won a gold award at the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Adrian Awards.
“The Ask Rosen skill can be downloaded from Amazon onto any device and then responds to ‘Alexa, ask Rosen…’ and whatever question a planner may choose to ask,” she explained. “They receive immediate responses. We find it to be an incredible tool with planners who continue to seek to integrate technology into meetings—or during meeting planning process—in unique ways.”
Industry professionals agree the meetings industry will continue to see an increase in scrutiny related to sustainable practices. Camp said the focus will expand from efforts to reduce an event’s environmental impact to also incorporating sustainability into event content and activities that engage participants.
“We’ve seen venues maneuver their space to include more natural light and eliminate unnecessary use of electricity, as well as providing engaging team building activities by way of gardening projects, site clean ups and the like,” he noted. “In terms of Salamander Resort & Spa’s participation with sustainability, the resort has a LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] Certification with 200 of the 340 acres placed into a conservation easement.”
Menichini said she is also seeing steady growth in CSR activities.
“Corporate groups find their attendees appreciate the opportunity to give back and respect their company for providing these experiences. Plus [CSR activities] make for great team building and bonding activities,” she said. “We tend to attract this type of group and activity as our company is quite philanthropic, led by example by our owner Harris Rosen. We are happy to help groups identify and vet local charities to ensure their efforts benefit legitimate non-profits in our area.”
From experiential activities to personalized agendas, findings from the American Express GBT report suggest attendee experience continues to grow in focus with meeting owners and planners, indicating they spend more time focused on the experiential elements of their events and meetings than on the logistics. The report notes: “Make no mistake, logistics remain important—they are integral to the experience—but theming and content are beginning to take on more of the planner’s mindshare, which is great news for attendees.”
According to Camp, these expectations have led Salamander Resort & Spa to put processes in place to ensure individual needs are addressed.
“Regardless if they’re traveling within a large corporate group or for an incentive trip, we ensure every individual’s needs are met within that group whether it’s accommodating unique dietary restrictions to building out customizable activities,” he said.
In addition, Camp pointed out that corporations are becoming more flexible and looking to have groups and attendees experience the destination and locations where a meeting is held.
“They are building in more free time—and more opportunities to unplug—after a day of meetings to increase productivity and creativity,” Camp added. “The group activities being implemented into the daily schedule help to flex creative muscles.”
To address this demand, Salamander Resort & Spa has put together programs such as “Wickets & Wine” for team croquet and “What was I Drinking?” to challenge the group with a wine tasting and scoring closest to the Wine Spectator ratings.
Menichini noted attendees are increasingly looking for greater interaction, unique spaces, and any activity or decor that really sets a meeting apart. And they are also looking for activities that promote wellness. To address this trend, Rosen Hotels and Resorts offers wellness breaks—from simple to extensive—through its full-service spa.
“This was developed as a result of an increase in planner requests,” said Menichini, adding that the resort provides other wellness activities through its 18-hole championship golf course or coffee breaks incorporating golf stretches. “Of course, we will customize any health-related aspect a planner desires.”
Personalized food experiences are increasingly important to meeting attendee satisfaction, according to Menichini, necessitating that food and beverage options accommodate everything from gluten-, sugar-, and lactose-free to most current health trends. Rosen Hotels and Resorts have taken a strategic focus on wellness, championed by the organization’s owner, Harris Rosen. The program includes a self-funded healthcare plan and an onsite medical center.
Underscoring trends for customized experiences is the fact that “bleisure” travel—the blending of business and leisure travel—is here to stay, Camp said. It is why destination resorts, like Salamander Resort & Spa, offer a variety of leisure activities and opportunities for guests to take full advantage of the locale where a meeting is held.
1 Editor’s note: These forecasts were made prior to the realization of the impact COVID-19 (coronavirus) would have on the market.