Technology, F&B and educational programming will figure heavily in the future of meetings at hotels.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Sources said technology, food and beverage and educational content are three key areas of hotel meetings likely to evolve in the coming years. In some cases, future upgrades are intended to make meetings smoother and more productive. In other instances, a bold reinvention of longstanding traditions is needed.
It all starts with a core concept within the hospitality business: Know your customer.
Today’s conference attendee is likely to be increasingly tech-savvy, and more attuned to facets like the food and course content than ever before. Smart companies are adjusting their offerings accordingly, both now and in the future.
“There is no such thing as a traditional meeting—or meeting planner—anymore,” said Kathy Maher, SVP of global sales and revenue for Wyndham Hotel Group. “Millennials continue to change the way we do meetings business, both as planners and attendees. The new generation of planners wants to create experiences and keep attendees engaged. Hotels will need to adapt to meet those needs.”
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Meeting evolution through technology
According to multiple sources, a large part of the engagement process centers on technology, and at multiple stages of the event, from planning and booking to execution and follow-up. From a conceptual standpoint, new and forthcoming technology will aid planners with a suite of tools intended to provide greater control and reporting.
“Technology will continue to be a focus in future meetings,” said John Pochopin, director of meetings and special events for The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples, Florida. “From hotels exploring new ways to support meeting planners to meeting planners looking at tools and apps to simplify the planning process, increase attendance, broaden reach and enhance engagement, technology will be a key component in events. In order to support meeting planners and their programs, hotels will need to be adept at navigating these new technologies.”
To this end, Ritz-Carlton launched Chime in 2015, a meeting services app that allows meeting planners to make real-time requests, such as in-room temperature changes, service attention, setup changes and more. The request is then immediately confirmed by an event concierge. Other tech-based services meanwhile are guest-centric, especially those looking to drive engagement and connectivity among convention attendees.
“For instance, we have created conferences where attendees can text and engage the facilitator from the audience,” Pochopin said. “As a result, hotels need to be able to support this need for increased technology and work with planners to help balance both interactive as well as in-the-moment interactions during an event.”
Changes to F&B
F&B is undergoing a similar renaissance, with greater emphasis on unique and locally sourced food and cocktails redefining staid classics at conferences like breakfast, coffee breaks and evening socials. Many of the ongoing changes reflect an overall embracing of the TV-driven “foodie” culture that’s on the rise and expected to continue.
“A Danish pastry during coffee break doesn’t cut it anymore,” Maher said. “Meeting attendees have more sophisticated expectations—we’re all foodies at heart—and seek nourishing, creative and local food options. Food and beverage must be memorable and creative.”
Maher cited meeting activities such as Wyndham Grand’s Brew Parlor, a caffeinated happy hour with specialty concoctions created by celebrity chefs, featuring local cold brewed coffee. There’s also the work of its meetings-focused Dolce Hotels and Resorts division, whose “Thoughtful Foods for Thoughtful Minds” initiative aims to ensure menus are “created with wholesome ingredients and convenient, flexible options that help nourish the minds of guests and keep them alert and productive.”
Healthier, energy-producing meals are truly what’s needed, too, Maher said, because today’s meetings are increasingly working greater amounts of educational content and programming into their daily itineraries.
Ideally, a range of speakers, panel sessions and team-building exercises all play a vital role in creating an engaging meeting. It’s another philosophy expected to dictate key aspects of future meetings at hotels.
“The bells and whistles are great, but there’s a real focus on substance: ‘Why are we getting together, and what is going to be my objective? How does it help my overall strategy with an organization?’ That’s kind of a back-to-basics piece,” said Mike Dominguez, SVP of hotel sales for MGM Resorts International.
Aside from lectures and panel sessions, experts say other opportunities for one-on-one and small group engagement—like team-building exercises—are becoming popular, too.
At Dolce’s Silverado Resort and Spa at Napa Valley, California, the resort runs a “Build-a-Bike” program, where team members compete to be the first to build a bicycle from the frame up, with the finished product donated to needy children. Or at The Alexander Hotel in Indianapolis, groups try their hand at “Concoctioneering,” a mixology competition. In other instances though, engagement can be as simple as allowing enough time on the agenda for attendees to have personal, impromptu conversations.
“There tends to be a lot more need for what we call ‘white space,’” Dominguez said. “You don’t have to fill my calendar from 8 to 5.”