To meet the needs of event attendees, hotels are hosting more memorable meetings in flexible, innovative spaces.
REPORT FROM THE AMERICAS – In today’s hotel industry, guests are looking for flexible, one-of-a-kind experiences, and that extends to the design of meetings and events space, sources said.
Gone are the days of dark, small spaces that feel closed in. Today's more innovative hotel meeting rooms are being designed and reconfigured to provide light, openness and the flexibility to change and alter spaces at a virtual moment's notice.
"Right now, there is a growing demand for experiential, out-of-the-beige-box meeting spaces. Guests and meeting attendees are seeking spaces that are not only fully functional, but also offer creative details and an inspiring backdrop for their meeting or event," said Larry Traxler, SVP of global design at Hilton Hotels & Resorts.
A recent survey conducted by Hilton found that 80% of young professionals want a colorful meeting space with elements inspired by their surroundings, Traxler said. And 82% said they prefer meeting space with advanced, intuitive technology beyond Wi-Fi.
Meetings held in experiential spaces keep attendees engaged and inspired to produce great work. Through creative details and a visual backdrop, these types of rooms signal to attendees that they are not just in a meeting, but that they are part of an experience, Traxler said.
The local design partners Hilton works with are creating meeting spaces that are both functional and inspiring. For instance, Hilton London Bankside’s AGORA meeting room features a whiteboard to display notes or doodles mid-brainstorm. In addition, it has an emergency creativity button that, once pressed, pushes out a jet of scented, cool air to wake the individual up.
"Event planners are looking for flexible, comfortable spaces where attendees can participate in high-intensity conferences and then take quick breaks to unplug and relax," said Angie Lee, partner and design director of interiors at FXCollaborative Architects. "People attend conferences not only to learn, but also for memorable experiences."
One way hotels are finding these spaces is by reclaiming their rooftops and maximizing outdoor spaces, Lee noted. Her firm also is designing ballrooms and meeting spaces to take advantage of natural light by installing windows and skylights.
In terms of space planning, moveable walls and partitions allow meeting areas to be easily reconfigured to accommodate groups of all sizes. Lee said locating high speed, wireless connectivity and video technology throughout event spaces is critical to attracting meeting clients.
Meeting areas in hotels should have windows or open up to an outdoor terrace or courtyard, sources said. For instance, a space might be used for a yoga class in the morning, a corporate lunch mid-day and a private party in the evening, said Rebecca Stone, principal and resort and hospitality practice area lead at OZ Architecture.
"Driven by social media and the desire for an ‘Instagrammable’ event, event planners are looking for spaces that have views, interesting art or design elements and unique local character," she said.
Kristine Kacarab, director of sales and marketing at The Alexander hotel in Indianapolis, said guests want a different environment from the standard ballroom.
"There is a big push to find spaces that inspire attendees and foster creativity,” she said. “As a result, unique venues are on the rise."
Natural light, relaxed settings and creative landscapes all play into this movement, she said. Incorporating local artworks that capture a sense of place and offers inspiration in meetings also is a growing trend.
"The cornerstone of a successful meeting is one where attendees are engaged and collaborative,” Kacarab said.
Keeping attendees engaged can be enhanced by bringing the outdoors inside, said Nicol Alexander, wedding and events manager at the Bay Gardens Beach Resort and Spa in Saint Lucia. The resort uses spaces with tropical floral arrangements, potted plants, paintings and natural lighting. The conference spaces also are on higher floors, offering views of the marina and landscapes, which help give indoor meeting spaces more of an outdoor feel and ambiance.
One of the hotel's biggest design trends for meetings is having room décor that can easily transition from corporate style settings to themed events, she added.
Kelly McCourt, director of sales and marketing at Thompson Washington, D.C., agreed that guests want more engaging meetings that are innovative.
"More and more, clients no longer want a space where you sit stiffly in banquet chairs listening to a speaker who is positioned behind a podium,” she said.
For instance, the hotel's rooftop bar, Anchovy Social, is ideal for product launches and brainstorming sessions because it is "a space where creativity has room to expand," McCourt said.
The greater desire by meeting groups for flexibility and non-traditional meeting spaces are especially evident in boutique properties, said Brandon Peterson, group sales manager at the Emery hotel in Minneapolis.
Flexibility of lounge seating, unique set-ups or even unique color schemes within spaces are allowing company team members who are not used to sitting in offices anymore a way to reconnect without feeling sterile and distracted, he said.
The hotel is looking into turning some meeting room walls into dry erase walls for brain storming, or utilizing couches and lounge furniture in theatre set-ups instead of standard banquet chairs.
"Anything that allows team members to be comfortable, so they are absorbing the information being presented is key to curating a successful meeting," he said.